Memorandum by the Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions
Thank you for your letter of 16 February about the
Select Committee on Public Administration's inquiry into "Innovations
in Public Participation".
My officials have prepared the attached note
responding to the questions raised by the Committee. From this
you will see that my Department has a fairly good record in using
innovative consultation methods, including routinely publishing
documents on line and holding regional seminars to encourage discussion
of issues and feedback. In taking forward the Modernising Government
Agenda, we will be looking to continue to deliver and improve
our approach to consultation. However, I also think it is important
that innovative approaches run alongside more conventional methods
and are not seen as a substitute. Indeed, experience shows that
many respondents still prefer a more conventional approach.
I am copying this letter to Sir Richard Wilson,
Cabinet Office Colleagues and Nick Brown.
DETR REPORT ON "INNOVATIONS IN PUBLIC
1. A SUMMARY
DETR SINCE 1997
DETR, as a matter of best practice, routinely
places consultation documents on its website to allow concerned
parties the choice of responding by electronic means. However,
listed below are examples of more innovative methods of public
1.1 Rural Policy
When consultation took place for the Rural White
Paper in 1999, Rural Policy ran regional seminars with an invited
audience and commissioned (via the Rural Development Commission)
an on-line discussion of the consultation document.
Rural Policy also ran an online discussion,
as part of three elements of consultation, on the discussion document
"Rural England" to assist in the preparation of the
Rural White Paper. The other elements of the consultation were
a series of seminars and a written consultation exercise (approximately
800 responses were received).
The online discussion forum on the internet
was run by RuralNet at the National Rural Enterprise Centre (NREC),
with the support of the Countryside Agency. RuralNet is a voluntary
sector partnership that runs an online service for rural people
combining e-mail, working groups, data libraries and online discussion
conferences. 320 people subscribed to the on-line discussion of
who most were passive observers. However, 80 subscribers actively
contributed posting a total of 1,154 e-mailed contributions. A
questionnaire was then sent to all 80 on-line contributors to
find out more about their background.
An NREC "moderator" attempted to steer
subscribers towards the questions contained in the discussion
document. Subject threads developed over time and some were more
relevant than others. The electronic medium allowed contributors
to raise issues of their choice and begin a dialogue with other
subscribers. Its relative anonymity meant that subscriber's contributions
were often less formal than the written responses received.
Innovative approaches to public consultation
were used in conjunction with the following documents: Leasehold
Reform, Home Buying, Best Value in Housing, and Tenant Participation
Compacts. For example, seven regional seminars were run for the
Tenant Participation Compacts targeted at tenants who wanted to
hear about the proposals and feed in their own views. A tenant
sounding board under an umbrella organisation was also set up
to help develop draft proposals and initiate feedback.
A Research, Evaluation and Analysis team supporting
Housing Policy have advised housing providers on effective methods
of public consultation, for example user testing guidance on consultation
for Large Scale Voluntary Transfers. This project was based on
focus group work in a range of case study areas. Tenants discussed
their views on the guidance that they had received in relation
to the transfer. They highlighted what they perceived as good
and bad practice and the type of information they needed. The
results gained will be developed as guidance to Local Authorities,
outlining what information they need to put across and the best
ways of communicating this to tenants. Housing Policy have also
sponsored and published "Developing Good Practice in Tenant
Participation" which documents innovations in consultation
by Local Housing Authorities.
The same Research, Evaluation and Analysis team
also advised Cabinet Office in 1998 on setting up the "People's
Panel". This is a novel form of consultation and there are
still some areas to be resolved eg, difficulties in retaining
Panel members over time.
The same team also used innovative consultation
techniques to find out what the implications of the (then) rent
restructuring proposals. A structured preference approach was
employed that aimed to find out what people would really do if
rents and benefits regimes change. Some very useful information
was received from this exercise.
Looking to the future, a new "Innovation
into Action" programme has been launched to fund projects
to develop new and radical ways of involving tenants in management.
Nick Raynsford launched this new grant programme on 31 March.
Innovative consultation on the Integrated Transport
White Paper included regional seminars and national seminars based
on Chatham House rules, the latter were largely aimed at professional
A new national bus passenger satisfaction survey
is also planned to monitor the performance of the bus industry.
This will complement an existing London survey and existing rail
passenger satisfaction surveys.
1.4 Local Government
The research paper Enhancing Public Participation
in Local Government, commissioned by DETR in 1998, shows evidence
of what is termed "on the surface ownership" of the
public participation agenda right across Local Government. Local
Authorities have taken up some of the more innovative proposals
for stimulating public participation in the 1990s and have been
relatively quick to take up opportunities afforded by new technologies.
1.5 Highways Agency
The Highways Agency has long experience of public
participation and has developed a range of research programmes
and innovative approaches:
Developing guidance in public involvement techniques
for Highways Agency managers
Public consultation is being researched as one
component of the Highways Agency's "Managing Integration"
outward facing research programme. The Highways Agency recognises
that its managers need to develop strategic plans for public consultation
that are tailored to the aim of the plan, as there is no single
method that is suitable in all situations. A chart has been developed
allowing the user to match different types of schemes with the
most appropriate public consultation techniques. The suggested
techniques range from travelling interactive exhibitions to citizens'
juries or the use of community newsletters. To accompany the chart
a series of worksheets have been written giving more detail on
each technique. These worksheets give advice on using the technique
and include real-life examples.
Another area of research includes multi-modal
environmental assessment. One element of this involves addressing
public consultation issues in the development of strategic environmental
assessment. The aim is to produce guidelines for stakeholder strategies.
This is much needed research as there is currently no such guidance
available. One example of a scheme where such guidance would be
used is in the development of the stakeholder strategy for the
proposed Stonehenge development on the A303.
Involving the public in identifying service targets
The Highways Agency has just completed its fourth
national Road User Satisfaction Survey, which included focus groups
and interviews. The Agency is also conducting several surveys
aimed at targeting service improvements. These focus on customer
interaction with the Agency, eg at road works, correspondence
and calling the Agency information line.
The Agency have also carried out a series of
focus groups across the country and held full discussions with
the Road Users' Committee to review the service targets in the
Road Users' Charter. The proposed revisions were then tested in
the Road User Satisfaction Survey. The Agency will be publishing
a revised Charter later this year including targets that have
been identified in collaboration with their customers.
1.6 The Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency
Within the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency,
the Graduated Vehicle Excise Duty project team has made considerable
use of a series of focus groups. External consultants were commissioned
to recruit and organise groups to establish their views on a variety
of topics relating to graduated vehicle excise duty. These included
policy lines, publicity material and influences on vehicle purchasing
Information from the focus group proved valuable
in pinpointing the types of questions customers were likely to
ask about the graduated vehicle excise duty scheme. The information
gained was used in drafting information leaflets, resulting in
a reduction in queries to the Agency.
1.7 The Maritime and Coastguard Agency
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency have used
a variety of innovative methods when consulting with industry,
the public and recreational users. These have included roadshows
and seminars, for example "Search and Rescue" seminars
with shipping representatives. The Agency has also participated
in national and regional exhibitions such as the London and Southampton
Boat Shows to demonstrate to fishermen what the effect of the
"Global Maritime Distress and Safety System" would be.
1.8 The Rent Service
The Rent Service is keen to involve external
and internal customers in the work of the Agency. Customers are
defined in the broadest sense and include DETR, DSS, landlords
During the life of their new Business Plan,
the Agency intends to issue satisfaction cards to landlords and
tenants at every inspection, set up a user panel of stakeholders
to discuss key changes in service delivery and introduce a quarterly
newsletter for customers. They also intend to hold a national
conference to discuss their Business Plan for 2001-02 and Corporate
Plan for 2001-05.
1.9 The Environment Agency
The Agency is involved in consultation on a
wide range of statutory and non-statutory activities. An internal
"Best Practice" workshop was held in February 2000 to
bring together staff carrying out public involvement activities.
Fifty-six members of staff attended, representing all regions,
head office and a wide range of functions. An article reporting
on that workshop was submitted to the Agency's newsletter Focus
and will appear in April's issue. It is attached in Annex 1 for
The Agency is reviewing approaches on an ongoing basis and this
process is aided by research and development projects to ensure
they achieve a balance between widening efforts and use of resources.
The Agency consults on many issues at a number
of levels that can be broadly listed as the following:
project/local level eg flood defence
projects, licence applications;
river catchment/plan level eg Local
Environment Agency Plans; and
the strategic level eg Strategy for
Water Resources, extended public consultation proposals.
Flood Defence Schemesthe Agency carries
out Environmental Impact Assessments, which involves an element
of public consultation. Typically, a consultation plan is set
up at the early stage of the process to formalise the ways communication
will take place. It lists consultees and stakeholders and defines
appropriate ways of communicating. The approach taken is that
of mixed methods of consultation to reach different people in
different ways eg post (letters, leaflets, mailshots), advertisements,
visits, notices, bulletins, progress notes, press releases, radio
Collaborative projects with mutual objectives
are also a way to encourage greater engagement. A case study from
the Midlands Region is attached in Annex 2.
Licence ApplicationsThe Agency is currently
involved with DETR in drawing up a policy on extended public consultation
for selected licences. This will enable a three-stage consultation
process to take place concerning licence applications that are
of significant public concern eg waste disposal licences, industrial
process licences and water abstraction licences. Innovative ways
of approaching controversial licence applications have been carried
out in a number of cases across the regions. An example from the
South West Region is attached at Annex 3.
Local Environment Agency Plans (LEAPS)These
plans aim to provide environmental information about the local
area together with key issues and options for action. Over 150
of these plans have been produced by the Agency which aim to engage
local stakeholders at the first stage and them communicate the
issues to a wider public at the second stage. Innovative techniques
used are aimed at engaging the key stakeholders, who are often
the statutory consultees, plus other known local interest groups.
An example of an approach taken to three LEAPs in the Thames region
is attached in Appendix 4.
2. WAYS IN
DETR's decision making processes have always
taken account of public consultation in line with the inclusive
policy making commitments in the Modernising Government White
Paper. It is common to place all consultation documents on the
DETR website (www.detr.gov.uk): which is the most visited in Whitehall.
Access to material on the site has been improved by the introduction
(in January 2000) of a new, more powerful search engine. We are
also making the site more easy to use by providing a summary of
DETR's Modernising Government Action Plan includes
a commitment that existing guidance on consultation will be reviewed
to see whether it can be improved and ensure that it is in line
with best practice. This will be done in conjunction with Cabinet
Office's proposed Code of Practice on Consultation.
Where innovative consultation techniques have
been used, structured and systematic ways of dealing with responses
have been developed to ensure a fair reflection of the responses
received and to limit the load on policy divisions. These new
techniques involve applying qualitative and quantitative research
methods to the responses received.
3. LESSONS LEARNED
BY DETR REGARDING
3.1 DETR (C), Agencies and NDPBs
The key lessons learnt are:
When initiating on-line discussions
it is essential to plan the layout of the site at the outset.
Links with the structure of the discussion document enhance the
value of the feedback by allowing it to be easily linked and summarised
with the written responses.
The consultation must be tailored
to the situation, just taking an "innovative" method
off the shelf will not ensure that the process is successful.
This refers to both the organisational situationhow the
organisation will deal with the type of information that might
come out of an "innovative" method, as well as the external,
local, political situation.
It is very helpful to pose very specific
questions on which views are sought, otherwise responses are very
hard to make sense of.
There is a need to find a way of
giving weight to responses from umbrella organisations that represent
the views of perhaps hundreds or thousands of members.
It is best to consider contracting
out the analysis of the results if a large response is anticipated.
If not there is a need to think carefully
about the analysis techniques used in relation to the questions
It is essential to be responsive
to the expressed opinions of consultees/participants. If consultation
has taken place there must be a mechanism, and a transparent one
that shows how respondents' comments are taken on board.
Those who are participating in consultation
must be told how much they can influence a decision.
For increased engagement, public
meetings can be considered. However, these need to be well managed
and chaired to be effective. A public survey is also another option
of consultation but also needs very careful management and design.
In the rural context IT has a particular
value in overcoming the problems of communication over distance
and between dispersed small settlements; online discussions are
a good example.
Overall consultation must be genuinemore
is lost by doing a bad piece of consultation than not doing one
3.2 Local Government
The key lessons learned by Local Government
Best Value will enhance Local Authority
awareness of how to use consultation effectively.
Pilot experience shows that Best
Value has increased contact with those that do not use Local Authority
services and those that are typically hard-to-reach.
Consultation is one of the "4Cs"
mandatory in Best Value Reviews, but Guidance is not prescriptive
on how authorities approach it.
The adoption of new political management
structures (Local Government Bill 1999) will enhance the community
representation role of councillors.
The Representation of the People
Act will allow for piloting of new innovative initiatives to increase
voter registration and turnout.
The new power to achieve economic,
social and environmental well-being will require authorities to
consult the community on a community strategy.
Research on the impact of innovative
methods of public participation in Local Government is in its
There is currently a lack of qualitative
evaluation of the extent to which innovative techniques can help
a Local Authority to achieve its objectives.
Prescription of particular methods
is undesirableeach has advantages and disadvantagesand
appropriateness will depend on the overall objective.
The publication of Best Value Performance
Plans will initiate research and help evaluation of the impact
of public participation on service delivery, and upon the wider
corporate objectives and strategies of local authorities.
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