8 December 2006

Who's afraid of community consultation?

Consulting local communities and other stakeholders as part of developing new plans and projects can be a difficult process. But it needn’t be so.

Communities are not scary, incomprehensible and unpredictable aliens from outer space! They are just like you and me. They have the same aspirations and dreams and the same worries and anxieties for their families and neighbourhoods that we all have.

Here are twenty top tips to help you make community consultation a rewarding, involving and engaging experience.

  • Know your audience.
  • Make sure you know why you are consulting, engaging or involving.
  • Make sure you let everyone else know why you are consulting, engaging or involving.
  • Be truthful even if that means saying “I don’t know”.
  • Then find out what you don't know and get back to them with an answer.
  • Be yourself.
  • Plan for how things might go wrong.
  • Smile, make eye contact and be warm.
  • Recognise that consultation and involvement generates uncertainty and unpredictability – for you and them.
  • Listen, listen and listen.
  • Ever promise what you can’t deliver.
  • Start consulting without getting agreement on a clear plan of action.
  • Assume that everyone in the team knows what they’re supposed to be doing.
  • Be disrespectful to people or their views.
  • Lose your cool.
  • Walk away leaving people feeling dissatisfied or aggrieved.
  • Finish the consultation without letting people know what the next steps are.
  • Get scared. Each consultation is unique and we all make mistakes.
  • Take comments at face value. If you have the chance, ask people why they’ve said what they have and what evidence they have to support it.
  • Forget to say “Thank you”.
Further Information: A Ladder of Citizen Participation - Sherry R Arnstein