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A simple guide to public consultations

2 Oct, 2012

Discusssion at the DFID Youth ConsultationWe hear a lot about public consultations around major issues, most recently around new treatments for mitochondrial disease. The Wellcome Trust submits to many different consultations on scientific issues. But what is a public consultation and how can you help make your opinion heard? We asked our Strategic Planning and Policy Unit for their tips.

What is a consultation?

An opportunity for you to have your say on issues that the Government or other public bodies are currently reviewing. They can be very specific questions on a certain topic or cover much wider general issues. At the end of the consultation a report summarising the findings is made. Your opinion, experiences and knowledge can be invaluable in shaping the outcome of this.

Why should I respond?

Your view is important and unique – it will be helpful for the consulting body to hear what you have to say. They really do listen – they want to hear what people think, that’s why they’re consulting. You can influence decisions that may affect you or a family member. Relevant personal experiences and examples are important. If the Government, or the consulting body, has information from many sources it is more likely to have a better picture of the issues, ideas, experiences and evidence around a topic.

How do I respond?

Most consultations are an online survey. They usually come with background information you can view or download, followed by questions with space for comments. You can always email or write letters in addition, or instead of, responding to their set questions.

What should I say?

Anything you want! You don’t have to follow the questions or the structure they have set but it makes it easier for them to analyse and collect the responses into clear messages if you do. Personal examples, stories and even pictures or film can be very powerful in helping you make your point. Try to answer the questions they have asked and then think about:

  • What do I want to say about this?
  • Are they asking you the right questions?
  • Is anything missing?

How do I say it?

  • Say who you are e.g. “I am a patient/parent/researcher…”
  • Keep it as concise as possible, less is definitely more. Make it clear to read and write in plain English. You can always include additional details, data or documents in an appendix.
  • If you are answering the questions they have set, make sure you read through all the questions first then answer the question they have asked, not the one you wish they had asked!
  • Use evidence where possible and include real life examples or specific instances.
  • Decide on your main message and make sure this comes across clearly.
  • If you want to respond but you’re not sure what to say, you could write it with friends or family, or get in touch with an organisation that has similar views to you such as a patient group.
  • Send it in as early as possible – aim for well before the deadline.

What else can I do?

  • Find out if there are any public events in your area on this issue. Often charities or organisations interested in the issue will run parallel events to the consultation.
  • Encourage other people or organisations you know to submit a response.
  • Be active in social media – engage in discussions about the issue with the consulting body and others.

What happens next?

The consulting body will collect all the responses they have, analyse them and try to present a clear picture of the whole array of opinions in their final report. Sometimes these will include recommendations or alternative suggestions – depending what they are consulting about. The final report can often be quite influential for politicians who will make the final decision.

Further resources and organisations

Image credit: Flickr/DFID
2 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 Oct, 2012 4:33 pm

    A long time ago, I made a very silly video about this very subject. Here it is:

    http://www.simplyunderstand.com/2010/01/what-is-a-consultation-and-how-do-they-work/

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