Code of Good Practice on consultation:
A guide for the relationship between Hampshire County Council and the Voluntary & Community Sector
This code of practice sets out how to ensure that consultation between the voluntary, community and statutory sectors is appropriate, easily understood and effective.
Local authorities have a community leadership role, and work with other partners to secure the economic, social and environmental well-being of residents.
Voluntary and community organisations fulfil a number of roles: as users of services; representatives and advocates for particular sections of the community; service providers. By working together all parties can help to promote social inclusion and increase the involvement of those who may be harder to reach.
This code of good practice is a supporting document of the general principles of the One Compact for Hampshire. This Code is specific to the relationship between Hampshire County Council and the VCS and does not apply to the other partners of the One Compact for Hampshire. This Code is not a legally binding document but should be seen as a good practice guide to strengthen the way the two sectors work together.
The Hampshire Compact (section 4) states that:
Both sectors recognise that consultation is a two-way process, which is in many cases influenced by Central Government. Both sectors agree to:
Build on, coordinate, develop and improve existing consultation mechanisms ensuring they are inclusive
Appraise together new policies and procedures, particularly at the developmental stage, to identify as far as possible the implications for both sectors.
Members of the Hampshire Compact are committed to open and honest dialogue, subject to compliance with confidentiality where appropriate.
This code applies to all members who may wish to adopt it as a standard for their organisation. Where members do not follow the code for a particular consultation exercise they must satisfy themselves that they have good reasons for not doing so.
Consultation is one way to involve others in the decision-making process. There are various other ways of involving people; depending on how much influence others will have on the final outcome.
Consultation: Is the intention to seek the views of others before a policy or service is developed? By taking this approach you intend to consider the views of other groups and people in the decision-making process.
Delegation: Where others have the skills knowledge and experience is there an intention to delegate the decision-making process to them? For example: give a local youth group the money to develop a skate park themselves.
Information: Is the intention to give information about decisions already made? Often decisions are publicised and explained before implementation without allowing others to make changes.
Partnership: Is the intention to give other people an opportunity to influence decisions and to take part in the development of policy or service delivery?
The method chosen will depend on the individual circumstances. There will need to be a clear understanding of the aims of each particular exercise. This Code only covers consultation but many of the principles also apply to Information, Partnership and Delegation.
The Code of Good Practice: Consultation
The aim of this code of good practice is to enable a wide range of diverse views and experience to inform and influence decision-making processes through effective and appropriate consultation.
In order to assess the impact of policy development and service provision on statutory, voluntary and community sector organisations and service users. Consultation is a two-way process that aims to:
Enable others to contribute to the process of developing policies and services
Demonstrate a commitment to be open and accountable
Lead to more realistic and robust policy and procedures that better reflect individual and community needs
Create better partnership working and mutual understanding
Enable policy development and service planning to be influenced by a wide range of experience and expertise
Provide opportunities to review policies and procedures
Help plan, prioritise and deliver better services
Written consultation is not the only way. There are a variety of methods, including meetings, focus groups, telephone survey and workshops. There is no one right method. What matters is that the approach taken should be flexible and respond to the needs of those being consulted. All forms of consultation should be easily accessible and all consultation documents should be concise, clearly written in simple jargon-free language appropriate to the audience they are aimed at. Steps should be taken to reach people who tend to be socially excluded.
Publicise the consultation
Publicise forthcoming consultations to encourage wider involvement and to allow organisations time to plan their work
Plan and consult early
This will allow organisations time to seek and represent the diverse views of their members and help ensure that the maximum benefit is gained from the consultation exercise.
Allow reasonable timescales for response.
Plan for the recommended minimum of 12 weeks for written consultations and take account of particular times in the calendar when additional work may be more difficult to accommodate, for example holiday periods. If this is not possible then explain the reasons clearly, as sometimes external pressures can affect good intentions.
Open and honest
Consultation should be meaningful and open if it is to have credibility and allow everyone to make the best use of their time and resources to deliver useful results. Be clear about specific roles. Explain who has responsibility for what and how much influence others may have.
Allocate sufficient resources
Limited funds can restrict the breadth or depth of consultation and undermine the intention to be open and honest. All parties should be clear about their commitment to the costs and time involved.
Voluntary and community organisations help represent the diverse needs of Hampshire residents. Therefore, it is important to understand that a variety of approaches will be required as there are those who are less likely to feel comfortable with and take part in the usual channels of communication for reasons relating to race, ethnicity, language, disability, age, location, ability to communicate, low income.
Consultation is just one part of an ongoing dialogue, which can help to keep everyone informed about developments, and avoid unnecessary surprises. Continuous dialogue can improve the development and delivery of programmes, policies and services, and help to improve mutual understanding, deliver successful outcomes and reduce the need for big consultation exercises.
Tell people what has happened as a result of the consultation – even if that is a decision not to do anything – and why. Ensure that careful analysis of the responses and participant feedback is built into the consultation programme, and is reflected in both the timescales required and the resource allocation. Also publicise the results of the consultation in more general terms so that those groups who were unable to respond are still kept informed.
Aim for all consultation documents to be concise, clearly laid out, avoiding jargon and written in simple language that is more likely to be understood by the intended audience. Documents and information should be available in different languages and formats if requested.
Consultation documents should either contain or be accompanied by the following:
a consultation calendar that makes clear to all parties the processes, overall timetable and highlights relevant deadlines for responses and feedback
the name, address and, wherever possible the telephone number and e-mail address of a person who can be contacted for further information
a front sheet summary with:
the purpose of the consultation and how it will be carried out
a description of the issues, proposal or problem under consideration
the issues on which views are being sought should be fairly presented and provide clear questions to answer, as well as inviting other additional comments
an explanation of who has responsibility for the final decision or outcome and what is open for change
relevant background information
where appropriate, an explanation of who is likely to be affected, and how; including an assessment or impact statement covering the likely effect of the proposals on voluntary and community organisations
where appropriate, an invitation to respondents to submit their own ideas or assessment of how the proposals will impact on Compact members
a list of those being consulted; this document may also ask consultees to suggest any organisations or individuals who should also be consulted
a request that those responding explain who they are, who they represent, who they have further consulted with and how those views have been reported back fairly and accurately
an evaluation form on which to feedback comments on the consultation itself and suggest improvements that could be made in the future
Regular monitoring of the exercise will help you to keep track of progress and the rate of response. If there is no response from more excluded groups e.g. minority ethnic or disabled people, further action may be required.
Monitoring will also ensure that the exercise conforms to the principles of the code.
The results should be carefully analysed ensuring that the views of small organisations are not overlooked. Particular attention should be paid to the views of those most affected by the proposals.
Once a decision is made on the way forward notify respondents promptly. Explain the consultation process and how the decision reflects the views expressed with a summary easily available. A list of those who responded could be included.
Anticipate that some respondents may wish to question why their views have been rejected and ask for a full explanation.
Effective evaluation tells you what worked, what did not and why. It helps to make sure that you get best value for money from your efforts and time. This will help continually improve the process. The response forms will have some comments from participants but the organising body should also evaluate their approach.
Aim to answer the question ‘What would I do differently next time?’
Points to think about:
Were clear objectives set in the first place?
Did you receive the response you wanted from underrepresented or socially excluded groups?
Can you show which methods achieved success and which did not?
Was the timetable realistic and achieved?
Were sufficient resources allocated? Was the information easy to access, relevant and available in alternative formats?
Has anything changed as a result of the consultation
Evaluation is also an effective way to identify any training needs in relation to consultation and policy appraisal. It can be a useful way to share experience and best practice.