A government must know what people want if it is to do the best for the population. Different groups of people in a society can be consulted about their concerns and priorities in relation to a particular issue, to overcome the limitations of representation through voting in democracies (18.104.22.168) and through the shortcomings of politicians as representatives (6.5.1). It is particularly useful in safeguarding the interests of minority ethnic groups, ensuring that everybody’s views are taken into account.
Consultation can also be considered as a mechanism for public deliberation, whereby people can gradually change the opinion of others by putting forward arguments in a formal published process.
It is not a simple panacea, however. As discussed in the following sub-sections, there are several aspects to consider:
● There is a choice of consultation techniques (22.214.171.124). Modern technology has made it possible for large numbers of people to be consulted electronically, for example, but best practice guidelines suggest that this should not be the only method used for difficult issues.
● There are problems in ensuring that all views are fairly represented (126.96.36.199): the participants must be seen as legitimate representatives of their communities. This can be achieved by careful statistical sampling or by choosing spokespeople from recognised interest groups.
● Some safeguards are necessary, to ensure that the results of consultation are accepted as legitimate (188.8.131.52). Decisions must be weighted in accordance with the numbers of people affected and the strength of their interests – and transparency is essential, so that everyone can see that the process has been fairly conducted.