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1.1.1 Consultation

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1.1.1 Consultation

Consultation is the process of formal discussion and collaboration with at least one other person. This may be done among the team and/or organisational members and even professionals or experts that may be key sources for information. In the context work groups, consultation is a tool that would help better establish team purpose, roles, and responsibilities.

Consultation helps you identify and monitor trends, challenges, and perceptions over time with respect to specific stakeholders – in this case, your team members. Therefore, it allows one to:

Possible forms of consultation may include meetings, interviews, brainstorming sessions, email/intranet communications, and other processes that would provide all members with the opportunity to contribute to both team and individual performance plans. By its design, consultation requires feedback from all those involved in the process. This clarifies the outcomes of the consultation and brings to light other relevant matters.

Engaging in consultation has a number of benefits for both the team and the organisation. These include:

  • Decision-making will be more informed and in tune with those who will be affected by the actions.
  • Stakeholders will be greatly satisfied with the outcome.

Because the process involves them and considers everyone’s views, stakeholders would feel like they have impacted decisions. Moreover, they will also understand that their perspective may not be shared by all and that there is a need for compromise.

  • There is a greater chance of successful implementation of the initiative.

Stakeholders would feel their ownership of the venture and are, therefore, more likely to want the venture to succeed.

  • Consultation speaks well of the organisation. 

Consulting with those who will be affected by a development is an example of a best practice. It exemplifies good governance and transparency, shows a desire to engage in meaningful two-way communication, and recognises the significant contribution stakeholders at all levels can make to future changes which will directly or indirectly affect them.

The Consultation Process

Consultation is an opportunity for your stakeholders to seek information and provide feedback. Using this to establish your team’s purpose, roles, and responsibilities in accordance to organisational task and objectives would be beneficial as it would allow your team to raise issues and concerns, make inquiries, and potentially shape decisions by giving suggestions you can consider as well as respond to. It is, therefore, necessary to have a planned process for consultation in place, starting with clear objectives about what is to be achieved. The process generally involves four steps (the 4 Ps), as shown in the following figure.

1. Planning

During the planning stage, aims and objectives, as well as the usefulness of the process (i.e., the likelihood that stakeholder views need to be incorporated into strategic planning), require clarification. The availability of resources necessary to carry out the process must also be established. One must also consider the necessity for any pre-release information (e.g., data about project design, brief, plans, and/or strategic positions).

Once the aims and objectives have been identified, the actual process of consultation ought to be planned. Some guide questions for this sub-stage include:

  • Who are they key stakeholder groups?
  • How accessible are these stakeholder groups? 
  • Are there hard-to-reach groups?
  • How can the co-operation and engagement of the stakeholders be gained?
  • What is the most effective method of consulting with the groups?
  • What do the stakeholders need to see beforehand?
  • How can this material be disseminated?
  • Is pre-consultation necessary in order to prepare stakeholders for the exercise?

The appropriate method of consultation will then be identified, balancing the resources available and the level of feedback required.

2. Process

The process stage is the ‘doing’ stage, and it involves the actual execution of the consultation. Good planning is necessary for this stage to run smoothly. In this stage, considerations mainly focus on developing effective relationships with stakeholders and facilitating open and honest sharing of views, as well as an accurate recording of the process and the data.

3. Presentation

The next stage, presentation, deals with data reporting. The data will need to undergo analysis and then be prepared for subsequent reporting to the relevant audiences (i.e., the corporation, policymakers). Aside from the data, feedback of those who have engaged in the process must also be discussed in the reporting. The selected method of reporting must take into consideration the target audiences and ensure the highest possibility of actions taken as a result of the consultation.

4. Promise 

The final stage is the promise, and it centres on actions as a result of the consultation. A major part in the process of stakeholder engagement is investing in a longer-term relationship built on mutual benefit and trust, therefore explaining why this stage has an element of public relations contained within it. Without evident use of stakeholder feedback in resultant action, this can be damaged. Therefore, proper communication about resultant actions ought to be carefully considered in order to reach stakeholders. 

Methods of Stakeholder Consultation

Consultation with stakeholders involves the same methods commonly used by market researchers. The key consideration in selecting a method is what aspect of knowledge the consultation requires (i.e., depth, breadth, or a combination of the two).

Seeking depth of knowledge calls for largely qualitative research approaches, and these use open styles of discussion and debate. In these approaches, the facilitator must tease out or extract the views and perceptions which are truly held by the stakeholder. The most common methods under this are the focus group, individual depth interviews, and observation.

If breadth of knowledge is sought, the approaches needed are those that reach larger numbers of people and use more standardised measurement tools (i.e., quantitative methods such as short street interviews, surveys and e-surveys). These methods can reach wider audiences but are limited to closed questions and rating scales. The data gathered is numerical, so statistical analysis is employed. Through this, the generalist viewpoint is demonstrated. 

Some methods of stakeholder consultation are able to gain both depth and breadth. These include the large public meeting and online open debate consultation which is now doable through the digital media tools made available to us.

Each of the following methods has both strengths and weaknesses. The method or the combination of methods to be selected should reflect the aims and objectives of the consultation. The chart below highlights the strengths of each consultation method.

Strengths of Commonly Used Methods of Stakeholder Consultation

AttributeSurveysFocus Groups and individual meetingsPublic meetings
Quality/depth of feedback Checkmark 
Speed of executionCheckmark  
Level of engagement with stakeholder Checkmark 
Relationship building CheckmarkCheckmark
Opportunity for idea sharing, consensus building CheckmarkCheckmark
Ability to show something (e.g., plans, branding, etc.) CheckmarkCheckmark
Measurement of attitudesCheckmark Checkmark
CostCheckmark Checkmark

The Longer-Term View

Stakeholder consultation plays a key role in assuring the long-term effectiveness of an organisation, empowering it to build sustainable new directions and carry its audiences with it. Through this consultation, a more informed and reflexive organisation that is both responsive to its users’ needs and in tune with prevailing perceptions is built.

To ensure the effectiveness of your team, you must begin by consulting them regarding what the organisation expects of them as a staff member. They must understand their role in relation to:

Team Purpose

Establishing team purpose is a process that may vary depending on your undertaking. Generally speaking, gathering up the team to collaboratively decide what the purpose of the team is the usual and ideal setup for setting up your team purpose. However, there would be times when upper management would solely be responsible for determining the team purpose, and the designated members of the team would only learn about this once they join the team.

The reason for the teams’ purpose is to provide a framework that would increase staff members’ ability to participate in planning, problem-solving, and decision-making in order to better serve customers. This increase in participation promotes:

In order for teams to successfully fulfil their role of improving organisational effectiveness, it is necessary that they evolve into working units that are focused on their goal, mission, or reason for existing.