188.8.131.52 Transparency in Consultations
Transparency in consultations can show the public that their views have been considered while plans and policies are being developed.
There have been many public consultations in which the government explains what is planned and people are given the opportunity to comment. Walk-in consultation meetings and websites are both used. What is much rarer is any visible evidence of what happens to those comments or the decision-making process.
The consultation on the northern leg of Britain’s HS2 high speed railway was referred to above as an example of unfulfilled best practice (6.8.4). It might have been exemplary, had it proceeded, but the consultation on the initial phase of the project, from London to Birmingham, was fairly badly handled. It was referred to as an example of “tokenism” in a highly critical report, The “whys and wherefores” of citizen participation in the landscapes of HS2, in which the writer describes a process of having a lot of information published without any realistic opportunity for people to comment:
“The complete Phase One ES [Environmental Statement], at over 50,000 pages spread across five volumes, was made available online in December 2013 (HS2 Ltd, 2013). Citizens were given 71 days to submit comments, meaning that non-experts had around 704 pages of report to digest per day.
In 2014 the HS2 Independent Assessor summarised the public’s comments on the ES. A large number of responses were about the consultation process and a significant number said that the consultation “focussed on relaying information rather than a dialogue” (HS2 Independent Assessor, 2014, p. 16). The short comments period arguably excluded any possibility of two-way communication evolving.”
People need to be able to see that their views have been taken into account, with descriptions of how decisions are being made. Transparency in consultations should be an integral part of meaningful negotiation. Formal records of decision-making could be made available to the public: showing the data and calculations which were taken into account; listing who has been consulted and what they said; and showing the basis upon which the decision was reached. The Internet has made it much easier to give people access to such data, and the use of artificial intelligence might make it much cheaper to provide such a service in future. It is something that governments should aim for.
When decisions have been made, and a project is underway, a different form of transparency is needed. Performance reporting should be available, as described below (184.108.40.206), to ensure that the project is delivered within the cost and time that were promised. It should still be possible for the public to interact meaningfully with those in charge, though, so the need for transparency in consultations continues.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6844.htm.