The Importance of Being Consultative – Part 1

The following is part 1 of a paper on consultation – other parts will follow over the coming weeks. Your feedback would be welcome.

Consultation Practice

Community engagement processes that do not make a genuine attempt to consider the views of citizens / the community may be seen as tokenistic or even a form of manipulation that will lead to a greater degree of cynicism from the public.

Assuming open and transparent processes will automatically lead to an empowered citizenry /community is problematic, however, as it raises the question of where legitimacy should lie in a system of representative democracy. It also ignores the issue of who is likely to participate and how decision-making will be improved, given that providing opportunities for participation may simply increase the power of those who already have it. Nevertheless, we should be open about WHY we engage the public, and should not use consultation processes to simply justify a decision that has already been made.

A more sensible and pragmatic approach is to view public participation as an activity that should be shaped by the issue at hand (e.g. policy; process; service; programs; activities – current and proposed etc)

A Consultation Model

  • There are many consultation models available, however the model that I think has most relevance to libraries / Councils is the Spectrum Model [1]. Spectrum is a public/citizen consultation model, however, it could easily be used to inform internal e.g. staff consultations.

Spectrum Model

This model outlines the choices that decision making bodies have when engaging the community, depending on the degree to which citizens are expected to be actively involved in the decision making process.

The spectrum model cover the following public participation goals:


  • Provide the public balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the problem, alternatives, opportunities and/or solutions
  • What it delivers (promises to the public) – We will keep you informed.


  • To obtain public feedback on analysis, alternatives, and/or decisions (this would include their analysis/feedback on services, activities, programs etc)
  • What it delivers (promises to the public) – We will keep you informed; listen to and acknowledge concerns and aspirations; and provide feedback on how (your) public feedback influenced that decision


  • To work directly with the public throughout the process to ensure that public concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered.
  • What it delivers (promises to the public) – We will work with you to ensure that your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the alternatives developed and provide feedback on how (your) public feedback influenced the decision.


  • To partner with the public in each aspect of the decision, including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution.
  • What it delivers (promises to the public) – We will look to you for direct advice and innovation in formulating solutions and incorporate your advice and recommendations into the decision to the maximum extent possible.


  • To place the final decision-making in the hands of the public
  • What it delivers (promises to the public) – We will implement what you decide.

[1] Developed by the International Association of Public Affairs

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2 Responses to The Importance of Being Consultative – Part 1

  1. Peter says:

    Can you broadly explain. What does “being consultative” means to you?

    • admin says:


      To me being consultative means many things to me but particularly its about:
      – being inclusive i.e. meaningfully involving stakeholders (not just token involvement); seeking their input / feedback, collaboration etc.
      – Informing – a consultation with an individual or group can also be used to inform (open communications)

      Finally, as an individual I appreciate being consulted on matters that affect me, and thus follow the same principle as a consultant