[Originally published on Australian Government DesignGov under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]
Does the public sector engage in real consultation with business or does it undertake ‘nonsultation’?
One of the issues that has come up in the project on improving business and government interactions is that of consultation – or as one stakeholder referred to it – nonsultation (a process of not-consulting that also evokes notions of nonsense).
Criticisms or problem areas, in what on the surface can appear a simple process, have included:
- That agencies tend to consult towards the end of the process – issues may already be locked in by then or the consultation process might be asking the wrong question
- It can be difficult to get a sense of how a particular consultation fits with the ‘big picture’ – for instance what has happened previously or what will happen from the consultation
- Or the consultation is too broad, and it would be helpful to have some clear ‘guides’ as to what is currently considered important
- On some issues, stakeholders are exhausted by too much consultation – with businesses losing productivity by contributing to an unfocused process
- Sometimes it can feel like your input or submission to a consultation process goes into a big black hole – what happened to it, was it useful, did it make any difference?
Concerns about consultation were also raised by public servants, often reflecting those of industry but also including that the current processes:
- Do not make it easy for public sector agencies to test things with industry – for instance there can be challenges around unfair access for some businesses which can raise probity concerns
- Are not helpful for establishing a common or shared understanding of the issues
- Do not encourage agencies to explain why they might not value some views/evidence as much as others
- Have become a tick-a-box exercise.
That is not to say that efforts have not been made to improve things. For instance a valuable service available through the business.gov.au site is the ability to subscribe to notifications of new consultations, according to interest areas. However it is clear that there is some obvious dissatisfaction with current consultation processes on both ‘sides’ of business/government interactions.
If you don’t think consultation processes used by the public sector are that effective, then we ask that you take a look at the ideas around consultation on our ideas platform and comment on them or add your own.
One idea that has already come up would be for the business consultation service to be expanded to be a portal for all consultations – a oneconsultation.gov.au – rather than a directory or linking service to consultations on other websites. Would this be workable? Could agencies synchronise policy and program development in this way?
The platform will be open to new ideas and comments until Friday 7 June 2013 (and we are after your thoughts on other areas of interaction between businesses and governments as well).
(We aim to post some more posts around other key areas of interaction over the few weeks.)