Consultation Watch

An invitation

Simon Pardoe, Consultation Watch 2021

This is an open invitation to a committed group or organisation to take up the idea of Consultation Watch to make it happen, as an independent body in the UK. I explain the initial thinking below.

The idea and proposal for Consultation Watch was inspired from two directions:

  • The first was the positive experience of having run innovative national public consultations, and seeing the extent to which ordinary people rise to the challenge of tackling highly complex technical and societal issues with good sense, if they are given the chance and above all given the respect.
  • The second inspiration, or rather prompt, is seeing the extent to which public consultation is regularly used and misused in the UK. Sometimes that’s strategic for commercial reasons. Sometimes it’s just to rubber stamp decisions already taken by undemocratic councils and governments to make them look good. Often it’s because of the familiar arrogance of decision-makers towards the great British public. Sometimes it’s just through sheer institutional incompetence. You have probably witnessed them all.

In other words, there is a need for an independent body to inform, inspire and empower ordinary people, including our elected representatives, to observe and critically review the public consultations that impact on their local environments and lives. The function would be to enable people to hold governments, councils and others to account.

Consultation Watch – what exists so far

There is already a registered Trade Mark for the name: Consultation Watch. It is also registered as a not-for-profit company in England & Wales. (It is still a new company, having been dormant.)

1. The legal entity

Consultation Watch is registered as a not-for-profit company: specifically a ‘Private company limited by guarantee without share capital’, registered in England & Wales. It is therefore also ready to convert to a Community Interest Company or Charity if desired.

It remains a new venture, having been formally dormant since registration.

Nature of business (SIC)

70210 – Public relations and communications activities
72200 – Research and experimental development on social sciences and humanities
73200 – Market research and public opinion polling
74909 – Other professional, scientific and technical activities not elsewhere classified

2. The registered Trade Mark

The Trade Mark is registered for the term ‘Consultation Watch’, so it is not limited to a particular font or visual design or logo. It covers the term in upper or lower case, and both with and without a space between the words. It was registered in September 2019.

You can view the Consultation Watch Trade Mark. The Trade Mark is deliberately broad to embrace the range of activities that Consultation Watch would need to engage in, and may want to engage in. It therefore covers a range of service activities within 5 classes: 16, 35, 41, 42, 45. These activities include:

16: Printed matter; publications; posters, … educational materials; training and instructional materials; … magazines; periodical publications.

35: Business services in publicity, advertising, campaigning, … public and stakeholder engagement; … market research, opinion polling, … data protection, freedom of information, transparency and accountability, and relating to governance, … reviews of organisations, … reviewing consultation and notification practices, transparency, public participation…

41: Education and training services, advice and consultancy; … Information and guidance relating to research, including research methods, participatory and action research, … surveys, polls, … Information and guidance relating to politics, culture, education and citizenship, including data protection, freedom of information, social inclusion, environmental protection, community development, public involvement in decisions, participatory governance, deliberative democracy, transparency, and accountability; … community development and capacity building, … Authoring and publishing… Audio and video production, … Journalism.

42: Scientific and social scientific research; Participatory research and action research; … theoretical and practical aspects of citizenship, social inclusion and exclusion, participatory governance, representative and deliberative democracy, public involvement in decision-making, data protection, freedom of information, transparency and accountability;   Research and evaluation… The development, analysis and reporting of public and stakeholder consultations; The development of computer hardware and software; … Website design … Electronic data storage; … forums for discussion.

45: Legal services; Legal research, advocacy and information services … Personal and social services to support citizens, communities, third-sector organisations, elected representatives and others in making requests under the freedom of information act, … challenging commercial and governmental claims, … calling organisations and governmental bodies to account; Political lobbying and lobbying services.

3. The domains

Consultation Watch has the domain (It also had 4 similar domains to cover potential mis-remembering and prevent confusingly similar spoiler sites: these have finally lapsed but are publicly available.)

Making it happen

I believe this project needs to exist. For us, after creating the company and working on the trademark and getting it accepted, the collaboration, timing and funding sadly didn’t happen just prior to Covid.

I am therefore looking for a committed group or organisation to take it over and make it happen. In terms of cost, I would just like a fair recognition of the value of the unique name, the company, and the cost and work on the Trade Mark. I also want to be as sure as I can that this important name stays in good hands. You can check all the details using the links above. If it interests you, please email me – ‘enquiry’ at this domain.

The context

Public consultation is being carried out increasingly across policy areas, as an important mechanism to give legitimacy to policy decisions, and potentially to ensure they are informed by public experience, hopes and concerns. That is especially important when public services are outsourced to corporations, so at one-remove from the council’s own professional staff.

Public consultation is increasingly required by law, on issues ranging from ward boundary changes to the selective licensing of rental properties. This means that council policies can be challenged by developers and corporations for ‘breaches’ of consultation procedure, leaving those procedures as much attuned to commercial threat as to local communities. 

In the corporate world, public relations companies promote ‘public consultation’ and social marketing as an essential strategy for any developer wanting planning permission. Corporate ‘public consultations’ may convince council planners, policy-makers and communities that the proposals have already been consulted on, have already taken all public concerns into account, and have even earned public support. In such cases, informed scrutiny and/or independent public consultation can be vital to test and challenge the PR.

Whatever the various motivations, in practice public consultation is inevitably about centralising knowledge. It involves bringing grounded public knowledge and experience into the centres of power, and then interpreting and presenting it.

Like representative democracy, public consultation is about informing policy-making, rather than making policy. While that is a strength, it is also a weakness: without transparency or adequate oversight, public consultation can become a mechanism for injustice and misrepresentation, as well as inclusion. Public consultation can bring an appearance of being open to ideas and accountable to citizens, but it can also powerfully obscure a reverse process of closing down ideas, and helping to legitimise institutional decisions and put them beyond criticism.

It seems that the time is overdue to empower and equip both the public participants in UK consultations, and the overseers and users of those consultations: our elected representatives.

People need networks and support to ensure that public consultations become accountable as mechanisms for justice, fair representation and social equity, rather than the reverse.

Making it happen – see the email suggestion under this ‘Making it happen’ heading above, and get in touch.

© Dr Simon Pardoe, Consultation Watch 2021