Public consultation techniques

The selection of the proper techniques during the consultation period is one of the most important steps toward the inclusion of citizens in policy drafting. Since the stakeholder groups and issues addressed are various, there are also various techniques of consultation that may be used to gather the thoughts of the citizens. The best known techniques of public consultation are: written consultation, conferences; meetings with interest groups; workshops; interviews; opinion research; citizens’ panels; street booths etc.

The techniques of public consultation that are mostly used are: written consultation and public meetings.

Written consultation – is the most common way of including stakeholders and gathering their opinions on certain draft proposals. In the majority of written consultation, the Government/Assembly shall provide information regarding the proposals that it is drafting and invites key stakeholder groups for comments to see if they agree or not with various aspects of the proposals.

During the legislation drafting stage, written consultation frequently takes on the form of presenting key questions for specific issues of policies and not the form of presenting detailed information. However, during the verification stage of the legislative process, written consultation which covers key issues of the legislative text may be developed. To explain the contents of the legislation it is insufficient to just provide the draft law as such, but additional explanations are required. The effectiveness of each consultation depends on the information provided by the public institution which organizes the consultation and the quality of the responses frequently depends on the quality of the consultation documents which are drafted by the respective institution. Any written consultation must be supported by an explanatory document provided by the institution that organizes the consultation, where details of the policy and the draft law are explained, and not only the text of the proposed law.

The consultation document which is distributed to the stakeholders must be written using clear language which can be understood by the general public, must present the issues as simply as possible and needs to avoid using technical language.

Meetings with stakeholders – may be informal meetings between the respective public institution and organizations that operate in the sector, as well as conferences and formal meetings.

Meetings with stakeholders may be meetings open to any member of the public where the public have an opportunity to provide their contribution in the consultation process and express their respective opinions to the respective public institution on the contents of the proposed legislation.

While written consultation may provide more focused and specific responses, using such meetings with stakeholders may stimulate discussions and frequently results in alternative proposals which may not have been raised during written consultation.

Meetings with stakeholders offer an opportunity to gather various interested organizations to discuss a policy or a draft-law for which the respective public authority is being consulted. These may be formal meetings or conferences, or informal meetings or roundtables. The format shall depend on the contents and complexity of the policy and the number of stakeholders or interested organizations.

As was the case with written consultation, preliminary and clear information for those invited shall also determine the success of the meeting. If they have the main information beforehand, the meeting shall be more focused and consequently the public authorities will be able to manage it a lot easier and to derive more concrete responses to their questions. For this reason, a document similar to the written consultation document may be attached to the invitation to the meeting with key stakeholders.

Meetings with stakeholders are an opportunity for individuals and non-organized civil society to engage in the consultation process. These are groups which are frequently left out of the formal processes and they can provide meaningful contribution in the consultation process. Such groups may be neighborhood or village councils, or even citizens of a certain region which may be impacted by the policy or draft-law.