How to have your say through consultations

Do you know your consultations from your elbow? It occured to me (quite late, alas!) that I haven’t really explained *what* I’m translating here! So here’s a quick run down on consultations, what they are, and what you can do about them.

What is a consultation?

  • A consultation is basically an idea. It could be a good idea, or a bad idea, or an idea with promise, but it is still an idea that someone (probably a government person) had about how to improve the lives of people in these Great British Isles.
  • As a rule, they will talk to their colleagues and their bosses, and collect more ideas together with as much proof as they can find about how the idea might just work. The result will be in the form of a consultation paper.
  • No matter how long or short the paper, keep asking yourself one question as you read it – do I agree with this?

Where can I find these consultation papers?

  • Check out this Directgov list of central government departments. If a department is running a consultation, it should be on their website. Some departments have a consultation link right off the home page. If you can’t find it, check the publications area.
  • So if you’re interested in say, health, you can go to the Department of Health website and click on the consultations link in the top right corner.
  • Consultations all have an expiry date, so the ones you are interested in are the liveor activeconsultations, not the closed ones.

What do I do now I’ve found one?

  • Read it! Keep the question – do I agree with this? in mind while you’re reading.
  • If you find bits you don’t understand, or you disagree with, or you think are okay but could be done much better your way, write them down.
  • This is the part where we at Simply Understand want to save you the hassle of wading through the ancient and indirect language the writers like to use. They mostly do this because they’re academics or lawmakers. These are both wonderful breeds of human being, but a bit… wordy, and often fond of keeping things vague!

I read it, I read it! I don’t have to do anything more, do I?

  • I’m afraid so, old chap. A consultation usually lasts about 12 weeks. Before that 12 weeks is up, you need to tell the people who wrote the paper what you think.
  • This is what consultation is all about – you getting your point across to the people who just want you to say “yes, alright, that’s fine” and let them get on with it. Well it’s not alright, and it’s not fine, and you are absolutely entitled to have your say.
  • Write to them at the address they give (usually at the beginning or the end of the paper), email them, contact your union if you have one and tell them what you think, contact your MP. Then spread the word to everyone else you know who might care!

There are some other strange creatures you might encounter along the way. Here’s a quick guide:

  1. Impact Assessments – these are where the people who wrote the consultation paper take an educated guess about how much their idea is going to cost to make real, and what affect it’s going to have on you, the voter.
  2. Executive Summaries – this is a shorter version of the consultation paper. Not generally easier to read, unfortunately, but otherwise not as overwhelming, but will miss key details.
  3. Charts and tables – never take these for granted. Are they giving you enough data so you can understand what they really mean?
  4. Appendices – many consultations will hide some of their content in appendices, and may not automatically put them at the end of the document, so you might have to go hunting.

If anything’s not clear, let me know. Good luck and happy consulting!

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Corinne Pritchard

Corinne Pritchard

Information Designer at Simply Understand
I believe design and designers can and should make the world a better place. I love designing things that help people understand complex ideas.
Corinne Pritchard

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One thought on “How to have your say through consultations

  1. I love the site, the tone of the comments and this simple guide to consultation, as well as your continued enthusiasm for it – well done and thank you! 

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