RIS QUESTION 5

Who will you consult and how will you consult them?

In this section of the RIS, you must:

  • Explain the purpose and objectives of consultation.
  • Outline a plan for conducting consultation.
  • Explain who should be consulted—and who does not
    need to be consulted.
  • Outline a strategy for the most efficient and meaningful consultation.
  • Summarise the major topics to be covered and what issues might be raised.

In the event your policy proposal is market sensitive, or if you believe open public consultation may compromise your policy analysis, you should discuss your consultation options with
OBPR at the earliest opportunity.

Proper consultation delivers better outcomes

There are many reasons why you should consult in advance of a policy decision. Common courtesy is one; not to mention being confident you haven’t missed something important in your analysis. But there are other reasons why consultation can make an important contribution to the success of your policy proposal.

Understanding the attitudes and likely reactions of the people affected

If you have useful insights into how people are likely to react to your proposal, you may be able to tailor an implementation or evaluation strategy to address their concerns or suggestions.

Making sure every practical and viable policy alternative has been considered

Decision makers can choose between policy options more confidently if they know every viable policy option has been considered. Whether through local knowledge, deep or specialised experience, sometimes the people closest to the problem can suggest useful ways to solve it.

Confirming the accuracy of the data on which your analysis was based

It pays to disclose your sources of information and the assumptions you have made. Consulting affected groups lets you check that your conclusions are based on a solid foundation. Consultation also provides you with useful input on the real costs and benefits of policy proposals to test the accuracy of your own estimates.

Ensuring there are no implementation barriers or unintended consequences

The experience of business people or community group leaders can be invaluable in understanding how a market or a community sector really works. If your policy analysis has not considered how the market might behave in the real world talk to people with hard-won experience. It may be a way to avoid serious negative consequences.

Affected groups will feel you have listened and considered their views

Consultation is not just being polite or courteous. People need to know that their opinions count on matters that affect them. It may not even be possible to accommodate the views that emerge from consultation, but your policy decision may gain greater acceptance if you demonstrate your decision was based on an understanding of the full spectrum of community views.

Use the right consultation tool for the job

Transparency can encourage genuine dialogue and build trust in the policy process, but in order for your consultation to be credible and effective, you need to engage with stakeholders in a way that is relevant and convenient for them. You also need to give stakeholders time to consider the information you give them and time to respond.

Social media can be a good way of generating discussion and feedback, but it isn’t the only way and it may not be appropriate for certain groups. Tailor your consultation process to the needs and characteristics of your audience and ensure the resources devoted to it are commensurate with the significance of the issues. And remember: the people you consult may have families, businesses and other calls on their time. Make sure your consultation schedule is respectful of their constraints.

Four options for consulting stakeholders

Make sure your consultation plan isn’t an afterthought. Professional policy makers should already have well established lines of communication with stakeholders as part of their daily work. Policy consultation should be a natural extension of those relationships, although it’s normal for some policy matters to be highly contested, controversial or market sensitive.

Whilst open and comprehensive consultation should be your aspiration, in certain circumstances being too consultative can compromise your policy goals. Judgement may be required to strike the right balance between being consultative and being decisive. This is why there are four consultation options available to policy makers.

Full public consultation

You should treat this as the default form of consultation. Although it can take many forms, full consultation brings the benefit of encouraging openness and trust in a decision making process.

Targeted consultation

When your stakeholder group is in a small geographic area or other well defined category, targeted consultation may be the most cost effective way of achieving your objectives. If consultation identifies a policy option you had not previously considered, you may need to revisit your analysis.

Confidential consultation

Sensitive issues may require discreet handling of the process of consultation. This may be because of the sensitivity of the issues, or to avoid triggering needless concerns, confusion or other unintended consequences.

Post-decision consultation

The final option available to you is to not consult upfront, but instead to ensure your analysis is as robust as possible, proceed to a decision and then discuss the implementation and evaluation of the decision with affected stakeholders. This may be because of the market sensitivity or controversial nature of the issue. This approach to consultation is not without its risks.


 

 

When is it appropriate? What forms can it take?
Full PUBLIC Consultation

  • This is the default approach
  • When transparency and public accountability of decision making is the most important priority.
  • When the integrity of the decision process will not be compromised by early public scrutiny.

  • Public meetings and briefings.
  • Calls for submission.
  • Industry or sectoral meetings and briefings.
  • Direct communications to affected entities.
  • Media and advertising.
  • Large scale social media activities.
  • If consultation identifies a policy option not previously considered, revisit analysis.
Targeted Consultation

  • When an affected group of stakeholders is in a small or well defined geographic area or business sector.
  • When consultation should be contained so that effort is not wasted involving unaffected parties.

  • Face-to-face meetings, telephone calls or doorknocking of affected people.
  • Other direct communications to affected entities.
  • Small scale social media activities.
  • Direct public engagement of peak bodies or other representative groups.
  • If consultation identifies a policy option not previously considered, revisit analysis.
Confidential Consultation

  • When the sensitivity of the issues requires that you gauge public sentiment or inform affected entities discreetly without needlessly triggering widespread concern, anger or confusion among affected households or businesses.

  • Narrow or in-camera consultation of select groups of opinion leaders or peak bodies.
  • Quantitative research into the general views and likely responses of affected entities or areas in which two-way dialogue is not sought.
  • Alternative forms of consultation must be followed by broader post-announcement consultation on transition or implementation issues.
  • If consultation identifies a policy option not previously considered, revisit analysis.
Post–decision Consultation

  • When the decision is highly market sensitive and some could gain unfair advantage from being consulted.
  • When public debate is strongly polarised and consultation is likely to generate conflict or compromise good decision making.
  • When an issue has already attracted significant and prolonged public debate and consultation serves no useful policy purpose.
  • When open public consultation could compromise the confidentiality
    of cabinet deliberations.

  • OBPR approval must be obtained before this consultation option can be exercised.
  • Consultation can take any of the above forms, but takes place after the decision maker has made the decision.
  • Consultation seeks detailed dialogue with entities on transition and implementation issues rather than on the policy decision itself.
  • If consultation results in material changes to the policy proposal, the proposal should be returned to the decision maker for further consideration.


 

As a rule, the best consultation processes are:

Continuous

Relationships with stakeholders should already exist. If you are seeking out people to discuss your policy proposal when developing your RIS, you’re missing the point. Build consultative relationships whenever the opportunity presents itself, not merely when you need them. Be mindful of when RIS documents are publicly released and proactively advise consultation groups as a courtesy.

Broad-based

Consultation should capture the diversity of stakeholders affected by the proposed changes. This includes diverse business interests as well as segments of the wider population. State, territory and local governments are also stakeholders in some cases, as are many government agencies. Always consult with other regulators who have similar policy responsibilities to yours across the same jurisdiction. This will identify any overlapping regulatory functions and give you an opportunity to streamline or avoid creating a cumulative regulatory burden.

Accessible

Channels for consultation should be relevant to the groups you are consulting with. You should consider strategies to assist stakeholders who might be significantly impacted by your policy but do not have the resources and/or the ability to prepare a submission or response. Agencies should be able to respond promptly to queries from stakeholders. This could be facilitated by the use of social media, inbound calling numbers or face-to-face meetings.

Not burdensome

Remember: many people you wish to consult have full time jobs or business commitments, especially small business proprietors. Don’t make unreasonable demands of people you wish to consult or assume they have unlimited amounts of time to devote to your consultation process. If your stakeholder group is the subject of frequent consultation efforts, try consulting jointly with other agencies to minimise the burden on stakeholders.

Transparent

Agencies should explain the objectives of the consultation process and the context in which consultation is taking place—be careful to explain when and how the final decision will be made. Feedback should be welcomed and responded to, even if it is not adopted. Dissenting views need not be accommodated, as long as they are dealt with respectfully.

Consistent and flexible

Consistent consultation processes show you are an experienced and professional public servant. But don’t be a slave to process if there is a simpler way to consult in the circumstances.

Subject to evaluation and review

Agencies should evaluate consultation processes to ensure ongoing relevance and effectiveness.

Not rushed

When you provide detailed information as part of a consultation, people need time to understand it, consider it and respond. Give people as much time as is reasonable to absorb the information you provide and gain a proper understanding of the issues so they can offer a considered view. Depending on the complexity of your proposal, this could be as much as 60 days but should not be less than 30. Even then, this is likely to be less time than you had to develop the policy. Rushing the process is unlikely to win the trust or respect of stakeholders.

A means rather than an end

Use consultation as a way to improve decisions, not as a substitute for making decisions.

One more thing: it is not uncommon for legislation to set out an agency’s obligations to consult stakeholders in the course of introducing new policies or effecting change. Where this legislated obligation exists and all relevant requirements for consultation are met, then there is no need for further consultation as part of a RIS process.

If you’re unsure about your consultation options, speak to OBPR as early as possible.