Tuesday, 9 December 2008

More thoughts on consultation

I attended the launch of Say&Play yesterday, a toolkit for improving local government consultation, based on a series of recent events held in Lambeth. On the one hand it was great to hear politicians and local goverment officers talking about the need to do positive, creative consultation with residents. I found the thinking about how consultation needs to move away from 'research', from extracting information from people, towards creating a transaction, where those who are consulted get something out of the process, whether that's social networks, useful information, entertainment etc. really interesteing and useful.
On the other hand I found the event frustrating. That might be because of the lack of opportunities for discourse and conversation (a bit ironically!) which I suspect were due to keeping the launch short and sweet. But it was also born from my feeling that surely local government can't have only just woken up to the fact that we should talk to people, find out what their lives are like and what could make them better. If that is the case, I find it both remarkable and depressing.
My final frustration was with the exercises we did as a way of demonstrating how this kind of consultation can work. One of these involved being given 3 blue stickers and choosing 3 out of 6 statements as being the most significant issues faced by local authorities conducting consultations. You put your stickers on the 3 most important issues. And that was that. I buy the argument that this can work as an activity that doesn't feel too difficult or time intensive, or laborious, and therefore it's accessible to people who might otherwise not engage with consultation activities. However, 2 of the choices were: 'complex subject matter' and 'tickbox culture'. To me they are the same thing: the desire for easy clear answers and the fact that such answers are perhaps impossible and maybe misleading. There was no space for me to voice this. There was no subtlety or complexity in the exercise. Maybe I'm being naive. Maybe it's about having a range of activities that range from the do it in a couple of seconds straight forward answer, to something more complex, and through that variety we put together the bigger picture. But I wonder if we are dumbing down, if we are assuming that people who don't usually take part in consultation can or will only do activities that are non-complex.
I hate to feel like a cynic, and I appreciate that we need to be exploring different ways of doing things. Perhaps the issue was that we didn't get to explore the complexities at the launch event which left me with this frustration, I'm not sure...
Anway, you can find more info on Say and Play on the Involve website, here.

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