Correct view on Future Fit consultation
With reference to your Future Fit proposals comment piece , I applaud you.
As a professional consultant, ‘Consultation apathy’ is a common ailment among the communities I administer services within – unless of course they have or make time to be vocal, have a cause to vocalise, and a vested interest.
I would argue that all in Shropshire – not just Salopians (speaking as a non-native Salopian but who lives and has a business based in Shropshire) but all who live, work and enjoy leisure activities here and who may require the services of our county’s A&E health professionals – have a vested interest.
From experience, it is often those little nuggets of information – those pieces of information that some would think little of but can actually have the biggest impact – which can shed light and potentially open up another course of action, point of discussion, or a variation to make the outcome the absolute best possible the land, community and environment.
Stakeholder engagement and consultation is for anyone who is or likely to be impacted or affected by – and interested in - a change or proposal – such as the Future Fit proposals. You are right that saying nothing is not an option – yet it is so often selected as a course of inaction.
One cannot another to have the same view, experience or concerns. Nor can one expect rely on another individual to make the same point they would if they were to engage with the consultors and provide feedback in the consultation. But simply saying ‘I disagree’ is not enough; consultees need to be specific about what element of the proposal they are unhappy or concerned about.
They also need to be clear about what they agree with or are happy about. Consultees should be constructive, providing insight only users of the services can provide, and provide the perspective patients and carers live with every day, or as infrequent visitors to the services. All views have the same value and all deserve to be heard.
In the health world, they say prevention is better than cure.
In the consultation world, engaging and being a consultee is better than being a stakeholder and not allowing your voice to be heard.
We stakeholder engagement professionals have a constant challenge to engage the ‘hard to reach’ or ‘seldom heard’ groups; to devise appealing opportunities to attract those who would not ordinarily choose to engage to talk to us; to create a quiet space within the noise of the ‘usual suspects’ whose voice so often (too often?) drown out those whose views we also need to hear.
We prefer to hear from all groups of people and individuals – regardless of how many times they have already expressed a view – than not. Views evolve and change; new thoughts develop and additional concerns can arise.
These are what we need to hear. No consultor can be expected to mitigate concerns, consider views and review new alternatives if we are not alerted to them. As much as a consultor can pre-empt issues likely to arise, we are not mind-readers.
It was refreshing, therefore, to hear a voice of reason from an influencer stakeholder (such as the media) about a proposal, rather than simply taking a side and refusing to see the different perspectives.
Like you, I doubt there will be a consensus but that’s not what a consultation is about.
Instead of aiming for a consensus, let’s aim for the best outcome, based on a high percentage of engagement from across the county, with meaningful, multi-directional dialogue which actually informs and justifies the decision-making.
Ruth Shepherd, Director, Results Communications Ltd & Associate, The Consultation Institute