Suggestions to Improve Government of Canada’s Public Consultations
Today is the last day of the Canadian Government’s consultation on open government. They are asking for public direction on issues of open data, open information and open dialogue. Here’s my submission on how the Government of Canada could improve how it consults with Canadians.
Improving the Government of Canada’s Public Consultations
Consultations can benefit immensely from increased interactivity and informed exchanges among participants, with a government commitment to respond to what is heard.
Typical public consultations ask participants to share a pre-existing opinion, similar to a poll, without grappling with new information or listening to the perspectives of other Canadians. This is often of limited use to decision makers because it does not result in new ideas, new agreements or better understanding of the issues. Reporting back to participants can be a forgotten feature of typical public consultations, leaving the public unsatisfied because they are unsure how their involvement made a difference.
There are many proven and promising methods to foster improved public engagement, in-person, digitally and with mixed methods. At the core of any of these methods is an opportunity to learn, share one’s opinion, hear the perspectives of others and be notified of the government decision and rationale.
For ongoing or low-stakes policy questions, the government of Canada should utilize social media and in-person discussions to share information and receive feedback from the public.
For important and complex policy questions, the Government of Canada should consider a mixed method, multilevel, step-wise consultation approach. For most policy issues, each of the following steps can be wholly online, in-person or a mix of methods.
- Define the issues: engage a balanced group of established and grassroots thought leaders to define the question, key issues and options
- Explore values and priorities: engage a representative diversity of Canadians to discuss and establish the overall direction and key requirements of the policy
- Establish options: convene a balanced group of stakeholders and committed participants to establish options
- Provide feedback on the options, make recommendations: invite Canadians as individuals and in interactive opportunities to examine the options and provide feedback
- Make and communicate a decision: Use a variety of communication channels to let participants and other Canadians know what decision has been made, how public input has been used, and what the next steps are
- Support action: foster the capacity of government leaders and staff as well as committed community members to implement the resulting recommendations
- Evaluate: Invite Canadians to evaluate how well the policy is meeting its objectives and indicate if ongoing public involvement is required
A consideration for improved consultation is depth of engagement. Offer a mix of consultation opportunities that appeal to people of differing commitment levels to the issue. For example, a social-media based consultation might offer:
- Low commitment opportunities for participation with friends and communities of interest such voting and seeing other’s responses, invite a friend, or play a simple game.
- Medium commitment participation might encourage people to respond to existing ideas submitted by conveners or other participants, sharing relevant online resources, or numerically evaluating ideas and tradeoffs.
- High commitment opportunities ask participants to contribute new ideas in a forum or distribute the discussion onto many people’s walls where discourse could unfold within online communities.
Lastly, Canada’s public consultations should strive to meet these public engagement standards, developed by Frewer and Rowe, 2005:
- Representativeness: The public involved should comprise a broadly representative sample of the population affected by the decision.
- Independence: The process should be conducted in an unbiased way.
- Early involvement: The participants should be involved as early as possible in the process.
- Influence: The outcome of the process should have a genuine impact on policy decisions.
- Transparency: The process should be transparent so that relevant/affected population can see what is going on and how decisions are being made.
- Resource accessibility: Participants should have access to the appropriate resources and information to enable them to deliberate meaningfully.
- Task definition: The nature and scope of the exercise should be clearly defined.
- Structured decision-making: The process should use appropriate mechanisms for structuring and displaying the decision-making process.
- Cost-effectiveness: The process should be cost effective.
For engagement case studies and methods see
For online engagement tools and case studies see
For some international best cases