The following principles underlie all good consultation
Everyone should be clear on why consultation is being undertaken.
Every significant project, policy development and strategy
should have a consultation plan as part of the overall project
plan. Refer to section 5 for more detail about how to develop
a consultation plan.
There must be a statement of what the purpose of the consultation
is. It should be clear to all involved why the consultation
is happening and this will assist in ensuring that appropriate
methods are used and the consultation is targeted.
In particular, it is important to identify whether the
consultation is "closed" (ie: do you agree or
disagree with proposition X) or "open" (what do
you think the issues are in dealing with situation or problem
It will help participants' understanding of the process
and their expectations of the outcomes.
It is also desirable to identify the start and finish of
the consultation process. It is helpful when participants
are aware of when consultation is finished and decision-making
is to take place.
Why is this consultation being done?
What exactly am I consulting about - am
I looking for comment on a draft recommendation or conclusion
(ie: a closed consultation) or am I generating ideas about
an issue (ie:. an open consultation)?
Is the start and finish of the consultation
How will the consultation improve the final
Inclusiveness, accessibility and diversity
All affected parties must be consulted. Care should be
taken to ensure that all affected parties are identified.
Some interests may be less immediately obvious than others,
but may be just as important. The extent of consultation,
though, needs to be considered in light of the significance
of the project or issue.
The process should be accessible for all those who should
be involved and everyone must be given an equal opportunity
to be included. The council should take active steps to
ensure that all interests are adequately represented.
The diverse nature of the Australian community must be
recognised and issues of language and culture need to be
addressed. The Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV)
can be consulted for advice on consulting with culturally
and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.
All groups and individuals should be actively encouraged
to participate and any barriers to participation should
be tackled. This is particularly relevant for groups and
individuals who have traditionally not participated for
reasons such as language, age or mobility.
The choice of venue can impact on the accessibility of
the consultation process. An interesting, accessible venue
can make it easier to attract people to participate.
Remember that staff, particularly frontline staff, can
make an important contribution.
Councils should always try to take consultation to the
target groups rather than making them come to you.
Who are the stakeholders with regard to
the issue/s under question?
Are there any groups of stakeholders which
are difficult to access?
What am I going to do to ensure these people
have the opportunity to be heard?
How can I take the consultation to them?
If a venue is involved, is it suitable and
Provision of information
Consultation should be based on informed comment and input
and this means that information must be made available,
in an appropriate form, to those participating in the process.
Good information for those impacted by the issue and potential
participants will result in better understanding, more informed
input, better access to the process and a greater sense
of ownership of the process and outcomes.
How the information is presented is very important. Information
should be readable, well set-out, interesting and feature
pictures, graphics and cartoons where possible.
What information am I providing to those
people who are being consulted?
Is the information adequate to ensure that
they can express an informed opinion?
Is the information provided in a way which
is easily understandable, meaningful and fun?
Am I providing adequate opportunity for
people to receive the information or was it a "one-off"
The consultation must be timed to ensure that the results
of the consultation are able to achieve its purpose, namely
to inform the policy, planning and decision-making processes.
The consultation must take place early enough in the decision-making
process to ensure that its outcomes may be considered prior
to the decisions being made. As a general rule, the earlier
in the process, the better. This means that where possible,
consultation should occur on the scoping or identification
of the issues rather than just on the final decision. It
will also enhance the credibility of the process if people
feel that issues have not been resolved prior to consultation.
At what stage of the process is consultation
Is it early enough to help identify all
the issues or is it merely seeking comment on already
Is it sufficiently early in the process
for people to feel that the council is genuinely interested
in their opinions?
Responsiveness and feedback
Consultation should be transparent and open and the council
should respond to all issues raised. Where possible, participants
should know at the start of a process how their input is
to be used.
The council should be genuinely open to input and be prepared
to take on new ideas. Participants should be clear about
how their input is being treated and how it might impact
on the final decision. The council should respect the diverse
range of interests and views which may exist around a particular
issue and make genuine attempts to resolve conflicts, while
recognizing that it has the ultimate decision-making role.
The requirement to provide feedback can help ensure that
all input is considered in the decision-making process.
The receipt of input makes participants feel that their
participation has been valued. Feedback can be general (ie:
it is often not practical to provide a tailored response
to each individual input) but the feedback should go to
Communicating the decision-making process, both at the
beginning and end of the consultation, may also help people
feel that they were listened to, even if they disagree with
the ultimate decision.
It may be appropriate at times for participants to be involved
in the decision on how their input is to be used.
Consultation processes should be evaluated following the
completion of decision-making to assess whether the goals
of the consultation process have been achieved. In this
way, the council is able to review and improve its consultation
processes while also increasing the credibility of consultation.
Participants should be involved in evaluation processes
Is evaluation part of the consultation plan?
Is there a commitment to undertake the evaluation?
How will my council use the outcomes from
the evaluation to ensure better consultation practices
in the future?
How will participants contribute to the
While not strictly a principle, adequate resourcing is
fundamental to good consultation. Consultation involves
both direct and in-kind resourcing and this needs to be
identified when the consultation plan is being developed.
Ideally, these resources should be included in the budget
for the overall issue or project.
While resourcing consultation appears to add costs to an
issue or project, in the long-term investment in consultation
can mean that the overall cost of an issue/project is less
than what it might have been through getting it right and
having community ownership.