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.
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.