I was interested in this article on Community Care website yesterday that more than half local authorities did not comply with the twelve week period for consultation when setting their adult social care budgets for 2011-12.

I had to stop and think whether the authority I work for did this. I think they did. I have vague recollections of something like a consultation being circulated but we’ve been subject to a number of different consultations for a whole variety of things and I’ve lost track of which were for what.

Facilitator works with participants for final strategies

CWGL @ Flickr

I’ve probably been directly party to more consultations over the past 18 months than I have at any other point in my career and to say I’m disillusioned is an understatement.

Consultations, in my experience, are never about actually consulting. They are about presenting decisions that have been made in smoky rooms, behind closed doors as a fait accompli.

These ‘management consultants’ who are engaged at high cost to produce these consultations only do so to meet statutory guidelines about what ‘consultations’ should be but I’ve been party to consultations which seem to arrive during the Christmas period, at Easter, over the summer holidays – whatever time seems to be the least convenient to actually gain the opinions of those directly affected and in whatever way seems to stymy any kind of criticism the most.

Do I sound cynical? Well, maybe just a teeny bit. It’s because we’ve been blasted by some massive changes presented through consultations-that-are-not-real-consultations and I’m bitter. I’m very bitter.

One of the major issues I’ve noted is the short periods of time between the ends of the consultations and the publishing of proposals as if, by magic, all the submissions could be judged within a week.. oh, not many responses? Well, that’s awfully convenient.

I’ve seen documents accompanying the consultations which don’t even try to disguise what the final outcome to the so-called consultation will be.

I have no doubt whatsoever in  my mind that consultation is about the most misused term in local government and the NHS that I have ever come across and that’s saying a lot.

Large organisations don’t want to consult. Or rather, they want to consult with their own consultants. They want to consult with the same group of people whom they can explain and describe to at detail. Thinking about creativity, if there was a real desire to consult about changes rather than impose them, the organisations should be forced to use more creative means to garner responses. Questionnaires don’t always work. Public meetings attract the same time-rich people who will always attend. What is done in a consultation to seek out those who are least likely to respond? Is three months really sufficient time for this?

As I said, I’m a cynic. I can’t see the work ‘consultation’ without laughing cynically and reading the end of the document to see what is proposed and what will, no doubt happen.

I’d love more openness in the process of putting together proposals and garnering ideas rather than being given consultation documents which appear to be vastly resourced ‘fait accompli’ type documents justifying why ‘we’ are changing what ‘we’ are changing.

Does anyone have any positive experiences of consultations? I’d really be interested in hearing.

8 thoughts on “Consultations

    • Thanks for that Kirsty – very interesting reading. Doesn’t really help with my blood pressure though!

  1. CB how I agree with you. Consultations are a sham. How I wish I could give you a positive reply to your question about consultations. What I deplore most is the PR speak that precedes these ‘consultations’ where they insist that are ‘listening’ and ‘will take on board’ what you say. What an utter false and corrupt way to engage with the Joe public.

  2. I was reminded by your post of the time back in 1979 when I was a community worker and the local county council wanted to change from secondary schools with sixth forms to 11 – 16 schools and sixth form colleges. They issued a consultation, leafleted every house and held a whole series of public meetings to present the reasons why we wanted sixth form colleges and then the reasons why we didn’t want to retain sixth forms in schools. There was an overwhelming response to keep what we already had, something like 95%, so of course the Council brought in sixth form colleges. At that time we as community workers in the volntary sector were trying to work with what I think was called a ‘ladder of participation’. I have the file in the attic somewhere but thought it might be hard to find given how long before the interweb it was. I thought it might still be in use and discoverable and indeed I found it – Arnstein, Sherry R. “A Ladder of Citizen Participation,” JAIP, Vol. 35, No. 4, July 1969, pp. 216-224

    3.1. Manipulation
    3.2. Therapy
    3.3. Informing
    3.4. Consultation
    3.5. Placation
    3.6. Partnership
    3.7. Delegated Power
    3.8. Citizen Control

    It is worth a read and using to respond to the myriads of consultations which are either informing, manipulation or placation.

  3. One of my provincial government’s favourite tactics when having a consultation on a controversal subject is to release it late on a Friday afternoon in the summer (perferrably on a long-weekend). And they wonder why they don’t get many responses.

    I just finished a survey for my employer (provincial health service) and there were grammar mistakes in it. How embarassing! One of the comments I made was that perhaps they would like to learn the rules of possessives (when and where to place apostrophes).

  4. Here in America I am disgusted with the NASW. There are many great people very qualified to do social work and who have done social work for many years. Some of these people I have trained and are some of the best in the field. Yet, the NASW in order to protect it’s turf has taken credentialing to a ridiculous bureaucratic high that prevents people from getting the help they need and prevents sociologists, psychologists and others from practicing without their redundant credentials. They are counterproductive and unnecessary. Stop trying to pretend social workers are more they they are. I taught social work and worked as a social worker for 20 years but I would advice any new social work major to bypass this field because of the NASW and go into psychology if they want to do counseling, or grief counseling, or marriage and family. The NASW is a bureaucratic entity with no merit.

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