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4. Public consultations: principles, rules and recommendations

Before starting to understand how to use the platform and see the specialized guides, it is necessary to understand certain questions to prepare for this process.
Published onJun 17, 2021
4. Public consultations: principles, rules and recommendations

Before starting to understand how to use the platform and see the specialized guides, it is necessary to understand certain questions to prepare for this process. This is essential, since making public consultations without understanding what they are for and what principles govern them can result in an exercise of citizen participation of very poor quality or with notable deficiencies. In fact, it may happen that by learning the following recommendations, you realize that what you need is another participatory process and not necessarily a consultation.

Principles for online public consultations

Involving civil society, experts, other government actors and the general public in the development of state action plans (in this case, the PENL) is a critical step to improve dialogue between all actors of the society. This in turn is one of the main objectives of open government.

The principles and rules of some of the most relevant international actors on the subject of open government are presented: Open Government Partnership, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, United Kingdom Cabinet Office and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform of Ireland.

Why have a consultation?

Public consultations save money, time, and effort in the long run.

  • A public consultation process helps the developers of a public policy deepen their understanding of the problems they seek to address.

  • It helps to identify all available policy options (solutions) and assess their respective costs and benefits, including assessing whether specific solutions would be feasible in the existing circumstances (in this case it would be to improve the content of the plan).

  • It helps to find the right balance between conflicting or opposing interests.

  • It helps to identify the unwanted effects and previously unnoticed weaknesses of the proposed approaches.

Public consultations improve the implementation of public policy and adopted legislation:

  • Public consultations create a sense of shared ownership by providing all stakeholders and the general public with a meaningful opportunity to influence the content (of a public policy or legislation).

  • They also increase the openness and transparency of the process, resulting in greater public confidence in it (legitimacy).

To consider: Public consultations should be seen as a way to obtain information that would not otherwise be available to anyone and that helps increase the legitimacy and acceptance of public policies.

The three principles of a consultation:

  1. Consultation with the public must be genuine, meaningful, timely, balanced and with the ultimate goal of achieving better results and a greater understanding by all involved of the benefits and consequences of implementing certain policies.

  2. The consultation should be directed and easily accessible to those who have a clear interest in state policy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to consultation (this justifies why not use PubPub for everything, for example).

  3. A systematic effort should be made to ensure that stakeholders and affected parties have the opportunity to participate in open consultations at all stages of the process.

Guidelines and recommendations:

You should try to provide the following details of the consultation process:

  • Inform who to contact in case of doubts about the consultation.

  • Explain the purpose of the consultation process.

  • Explain the role of the entity creating the consultation in the process and in what stage they are (example: is the # evaluation , required by law, etc.)

  • Report on the scope of the consultation and the methods to be used, as well as what to expect after the consultation has been formally closed

  • Publish a timeline of the consultations, events, etc; including objectives, expected results, and extra information (such as logistics and panel guests).

  • Publish the list of invited participants directly (from government, civil society and other stakeholders).

  • Inform about who can participate and how.

  • Specific predefined topics to be discussed during the consultation in case a thematic focus is planned.

  • Explain the roles and responsibilities in the process.

Important notes: make the consultation rules explicit and that they are clear and understandable; that are easily accessible to all interested parties. Explain how the consultation will affect the state's decision-making process.

It is important that multiple channels are used to effectively advertise the consultation process. This can include:

Rule: This should begin at least four weeks before the consultation begins.

  • Post a document on the website that explains the consultation process and how the government will address the responses.

  • A very concise summary where all the key information of the query is condensed is necessary.

  • See Annex 1 for a complete list of what this document should have.

  • Clearly indicate a deadline for responses and any alternative ways to contribute.

  • Indicate the date and place where the summary of the responses will be published.

  • Explicitly indicate who to contact if respondents have comments or complaints about the consultation process.

  • Make reference to all relevant antecedents of the consultation.

  • Openly show the preliminary work done on consultation and other open government issues within the organization.

The word of the consultation should be spread, but it should go beyond a simple publicity of the process:

  • Present the information in a way that is accessible and useful to interested parties.

  • Relevant documentation should be posted online to improve accessibility and reuse opportunities.

  • Create a website (or section) that explains the basic concepts of open government, providing information about the consultation process and that has all the key documents about the organization, as well as the bases for the consultation.

  • Ensure that the query page is easy to find and easy to understand.

  • Organize outreach activities to publicize the process:

  • Work with the media; active use of social networks; press conferences, etc.

Important note: All interested parties should have a clear understanding of the purpose of the consultation, its procedure, and the type of information you expect from them.

Simple language should always be used that anyone understands.

The mechanisms can be of a wide variety, but they must consider certain important things:

  • Ensure that the online platform is user-friendly, easy to find, and be clear about how the government will receive and respond to contributions.

  • Ensure that mechanisms reach a diverse group of stakeholders.

  • Allow enough time for responses.

Important note: the quality of the information that reaches the consultation portal must be monitored and evaluated regularly (periodically during the process) in order to identify problems or possible improvements.

Constructive and timely feedback to stakeholders improves the transparency and accountability of the process. The following are some suggestions for documenting contributions and providing feedback:

  • Include the consultation website and its information on the organization's website.

  • Post a summary of the comments received.

  • Posting responses within 12 weeks of consultation is optimal or in effect, an explanation should be provided as to why this is not possible.

  • Post all written submissions and important documents (grouping submissions by topic) and explain why they were or were not included in the final product.

  • Be prompt with feedback to stakeholders after the consultation closes.

  • Post a summary of the next steps in the consultation process, once completed.

  • Invite respondents to comment on the consultation process and suggest ways to improve it further.

  • Prepare and include a report (evaluation) on the consultation. That report could also contain details and statistical information about the participants (i.e. number of respondents, their type, geographic distribution).

General issues:

  • Permanent dialogue is an important factor in building a true partnership based on trust and understanding, the exchange of experience and the monitoring of the implementation process of any policy (in this case, the strategic plan). The consultations must be periodic.

  • Consultation exercises should generally not start during local or national election periods.

Annex 1: List of important things to consider in a query summary document

  1. The title of the query and the draft chapter.

  2. The name of the body making the query.

  3. The purpose of the strategic plan (or chapter).

  4. Purpose of the query.

  5. Summary of the plan and the chapter.

  6. Explanation of who is likely to be affected by it and how.

  7. Specific issues or aspects of the draft or chapter that you want participants to focus on, comment on, provide additional information.

  8. References / links to other related documents such as an explanatory report, an evaluation, etc.

  9. References to external sources that can provide interested parties with additional relevant information.

  10. The method / format of the query.

  11. Procedure and deadlines for submitting responses.

  12. The name, telephone number and email address of the person to contact for the inquiry.

  13. An explanation of what type of feedback will be provided and how.

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