There are two key points within the consultation timeframe when consultors should consider preparing reviews so that they can assess whether their original objectives and activities are on track.
- A mid-point review
- Closing review
A mid-point review usually takes places around the half-way point so change sponsors can mark their progress against the project plan, identify where there has been successful engagement with impacted groups, where there has been less successful engagement, and to reflect on the mood of the consultation, initial feedback and learnings to date. As responses will be periodically uploaded by the CAA, sponsors should regularly check the online portal for feedback but at this stage it is good practice to have an audit of the responses, checking who has fed back and where there are gaps.
Tracking against the project plan
It is important that consultors review all the activities up to the mid-point review, checking whether they have met their original objectives so that areas for remedial action can be identified. This is a good opportunity to reflect and assess what has been learnt so far in the consultation, and how this might guide you through the rest of the consultation. For instance:
- How have the public events gone; did a sufficient number of people attend; what was the attended demographic; did it cause a spike in response rates?
- Where things have not gone to plan: it is useful for change sponsors to take the time to review why that happened and what could be put in place to make sure it is avoided for the rest of the consultation;
- Specific challenges raised: if a specific and reoccurring question is raised, does this highlight the need to publish additional information or an explanation in the form of an FAQ?
- Are we engaging with the most impacted audiences: if not, this is when flexibility and a willingness to adapt your approach can help you towards achieving your objectives?
In particular, the mid-point review presents a useful opportunity to reflect on the stakeholder engagement work that was carried out ahead of the consultation, and if this needs refreshing.
At this stage of the consultation, useful questions to consider will focus on the stakeholder engagement strategy as follows:
- How engaged are the key target groups, specifically those most impacted by the proposals and those identified through the equalities impact assessment?
- What further top-up engagement could be done to reach out to these audiences?
- Referring to the stakeholder mapping, have any of the groupings moved ie is a stakeholder previously identified as a top priority no longer considered to be?
- Have any further impacts come to light and as a result and are there any newly impacted groups that need to be engaged?
- Are any further actions needed to help engage with the identified audiences, and if so, what does that look like?
If anything needs to be updated to changed, then this is the right stage to do so, as there is still enough time to correct the approach and ensure you deliver a successful consultation.
Complaints and corrections
This is also the point at which to fully consider any issues or complaints that have been made against the consultation and to establish the best way to mitigate against these. Attention should be given to new and specific issues being raised by stakeholders or audiences, including:
- Complaints made by academics / professionals
- Complaints that reference the Gunning Principles
- Complaints on equalities grounds
- Complaints about the options being presented
- Complaints around misinformation or changes to narrative being circulated.
Particular attention should also be paid to the conversations that are being had around the proposals and the impacts they will have on people’s lives. Most consultations run the risk of having misinformation spread around so taking the time to properly reflect on what is being said and by whom can help you amend the narrative for the remainder of the consultation.
Use the FAQs to correct or resolve any issues or queries, and where possible use media opportunities to respond to any misinformation that is gathering. If false statements are circulated and not addressed, they could present a very credible threat to the consultation. Likewise, pay close attention to whether any opposition groups have formed and if any petitions are developing. Update FAQs to reflect any changing circumstances.
This typically takes place within the last fortnight of the consultation and allows the consultor to review and determine whether the consultation has met its objectives (as set out in the consultation mandate) and whether the consultation has sufficiently engaged with the impacted audiences to understand these views on the proposals. Depending on the outcome of the analysis, the decision can then be taken to close the consultation as scheduled or for further steps to be taken to extend the consultation or engage with specific audiences.
As with the mid-point review, it is an opportunity for change sponsors to check their progress against their project plan and see whether the activities have helped to meet their objectives and whether they have managed to gather feedback from the identified impacted groups.
If there are gaps in the responses then appropriate follow-up action may need to be considered – this could include further reaching out to community representatives, holding pop-up events in key areas, further targeted promotion or even extending the consultation. It is vital that every effort is made to acquire responses from those identified impacted group and that there is sufficient evidence that considerable effort was made to try and gather feedback from those groups.
The criticisms and complaints that were identified at the mid-point should also be reviewed and assessed to see how they have been handled and whether there are any outstanding issues.
Plans should also be developed for the forthcoming analysis stage and next steps regarding communication of the feedback to both the public and the CAA.
Deciding to close the consultation
If the closing review highlights any considerable gaps or issues, then it may be advisable to consider extending the consultation as it would demonstrate that as Change Sponsor you have analysed the situation and taken all considerations have been properly taken into account.
There are several factors to consider before deciding to extend the consultation:
- Does the feedback show a wide-range of representation from the impacted groups?
- Is further action required to engage the identified groups?
- Are there any outstanding issues that need to be addressed before the consultation is brought to a close?
- Is there a justifiable risk of appeal (ie a complaint referencing the Gunning principles or on equalities ground) if the consultation closes on schedule?
- Have any emerging issues impacted the consultation timeline?
- Does the change sponsor have the resource and time to extend the consultation?
If the change sponsor does wish to extend, then the CAA must be informed, and clear communications must be distributed informing stakeholders of the new timeframes.
Change sponsors can close the consultation if they haven’t heard from a priority group, but it is advisable to undertake top-up engagement with that group while the post-consultation work gets underway. As long as any extra feedback is incorporated in the consultation analysis and their feedback is considered then there is no reason why the consultation cannot be closed on time.