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Effective Policy Making

Workbook Five:
From Consultation to Announcement

Policy Innovation Unit

5. INTRODUCTION

FROM CONSULTATION TO DECISION

This workbook is the fifth in a series of five which seeks to provide a practical overview of the key steps in the policy development process as outlined below:

Workbook: 1. Justification and Set-Up

Key Areas Addressed: Establishing the Need for Policy Intervention Planning Your Approach and Engaging Stakeholders

2. Developing and
Analysing the
Evidence Base

Gathering the Evidence Analysing the Evidence Presenting the Analytical Report Agreeing the Aims and Objectives

3. Identifying and Appraising Policy Options

Identifying Policy Options Costs, Benefits and Risks Appraising the Options

4. A Practical Guide to
Impact Assessments

Defining the Aims Screening the Policy Assessing the Impacts Consultation Prioritising the Impacts Agreeing Recommendations and Implementation Decision and Publication of Report on Results of Impact Assessments Monitoring and Evaluation

5. From Consultation to Announcement

Formal Consultation Exercise The Submission

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Announcing the Decision

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Each workbook seeks to provide practical guidance and draws on existing guidance material and best practice, in particular A Practical Guide to Policy Making in Northern Ireland. The workbooks are intended as an introduction and a reference point for more detailed guidance. They are structured around the key stages of the policy process to enable policy makers to dip into the guidance as appropriate.

In using the workbooks it is important to acknowledge that the policy process is cyclical and continuous as demonstrated in Figure 1 below. Policy makers rarely if ever start with a clean sheet and as we work though the process it is often necessary to consider the other stages. Therefore, it is advisable that before using the workbooks you familiarise yourself with the contents and the key messages of the Practical Guide.

Figure 1:

The Policy Cycle

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What is Policy Making?

Policy making is the process by which the administration translates its vision into actions to achieve desired outcomes. Good policy making is therefore essential if government is to achieve its aims and deliver real change and benefits.

There is no single uniform approach to policy making which can be applied to all areas and all departments. The range of factors and the environment within which policy makers operate can vary considerably. The policy maker may be addressing a regional, local or even international issue. They may need to consider any number of social, economic or environmental factors. There may also be considerable variation in the resource consequences of the policy and the number of groups or individuals which the policy may impact upon. However, there are a number of broad steps or stages which can be applied to most policy areas and these are outlined in this series of workbooks. The key is to tailor the policy process to needs.

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CONTENTS

5.1

OVERVIEW

5.2

FORMAL CONSULTATION EXERCISE • • • • • •

When is Formal Consultation Required? Minimum Consultation Period The Consultation Document Template for a Written Consultation Document Distribution of the Consultation Document Analysing the Responses

5.3

THE SUBMISSION

5.4

ANNOUNCING THE DECISION

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5.1

Overview In Workbook One we looked at the importance of consultation and the need to develop a consultation plan at the outset of the policy process. It highlighted that consultation should be a continuous process that needs to be started early in the policy.

This section builds on this and deals specifically with the formal consultation period which often precedes a final decision and should involve the issue of a written consultation document. In particular it looks at planning the formal consultation, provides a best practice template for a consultation document developed from the Cabinet Office guidance and outlines the process of analysing responses, taking account of best practice guidance from Northern Ireland and beyond.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has set out seven guiding principles for consultation. These are set out in Appendix One.

The formal consultation should include a written consultation document; however, it should not be restricted to a mass mailing paper based consultation. The formal consultation exercise should include alternative approaches to consultation such as those outlined in Workbook One. It is useful to consider again at this stage the needs of those with whom you wish to consult and the objective of the consultation exercise. This can help identify other approaches, such as public meetings and face to face meetings with key groups, which you may wish to undertake alongside the issue of the consultation document.

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5.2

Formal Consultation Exercise

When is Formal Consultation Required? A formal consultation exercise is required: • On matters to which the statutory duties (equality) are likely to be relevant; • On equality schemes; • On the impact of policies.

Formal consultation should be undertaken at least once during the development of the policy. However, formal consultation is also required with regard to proposals for legislation, even where consultation has previously been undertaken on the associated policy area.

Minimum Consultation Period The recommended period for a formal public consultation exercise is 12 weeks1. However, where re-consultation takes place on the basis of amendments made in light of earlier consultation, a shorter period may be appropriate.

Where a consultation takes place over a holiday period or lasts less than 12 weeks, extra effort should be made to ensure that the consultation is still effective, in that all persons likely to be affected by or with an interest in the policy should have the opportunity to engage with the public authority. This may require additional promotion of the consultation to raise awareness among stakeholders, utilisation of additional methods to consult and consideration of requests to extend the consultation period.

OFMDFM (2003), A Practical Guide to Policy Making in Northern Ireland, UK: OFMDFM, page 45.

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The Consultation Document The consultation document should be as simple and concise as possible. It should include a summary, in two pages at most, of the main issues/questions it seeks views on. Documents should set out the main information and competing arguments relevant to a decision, or say where they can be found. The document should be set out in plain language, as free as possible of jargon (visit the Cabinet Office’s plain written language guidance for more information). Technical detail may be unavoidable, indeed central to the issues; but documents should be as widely understandable as possible. Paragraphs in a consultation document should be identified by numbers or letters (in preference to bullets, which are less easy to refer to in responses). Pages should be numbered. It should make it as easy as possible for readers to respond, make contact or complain. Details (address, phone, e-mail, text phone and fax) should be given of a contact who can respond to consultees’ questions. Similar details should be given of someone who will pursue complaints or comments about the consultation process. This should be a person outside the team responsible for the document. Details of how responses will be handled should be given, for example, we will acknowledge receipt of your response, but will not be able to reply to all the points you raise.

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Template for a Written Consultation Document The following template is a best practice example of a written consultation document:

1. Foreword/Introduction 2. Executive Summary 3. How to Respond 4. Chapters 5. Impact Assessments 6. Annexes

1.

Foreword/Introduction

Many consultation documents carry a foreword from the relevant Government Minister. This would be particularly appropriate for major or high profile policy proposals. A ministerial foreword will outline the aims of the consultation and may add weight to the process.

2.

Executive Summary

Provide an executive summary to the written consultation document that covers the main points of the document, preferably no longer than two pages. Even if the document is technical, ensure that the executive summary is accessible to all. Having read the executive summary, consultees should be in a position to decide whether the consultation is relevant to them, and whether they need to read further.

The Executive Summary should: • •

Be as succinct as possible (no longer than two pages). Set out the aims and objectives of the consultation.

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• Provide a summary of the issues and options being consulted on so that respondents can quickly decide whether or not the rest of the document is relevant to them. • Make clear the period for which the consultation is open. • If the consultation is running for less than 12 weeks, state clearly the reasons for this and emphasise the measures that have been taken to ensure that the consultation is as effective as possible. • Ask respondents to also look at your attached impact assessment and to comment.

It is also useful to include a very brief overview of each chapter of the document, or each option under discussion. This will enable those respondents who have little time to quickly decide which sections of the document they should focus on most closely.

3.

How to Respond

This section should include: • A summary of the questions on which you want respondents to
comment.
• The closing date of the consultation. • The name, postal address, email address, telephone and fax numbers of the person to whom responses should be sent. • A brief outline of other consultation exercises running alongside the written consultation and details of how to get involved in these. • Information about how the responses will be used. • A standard disclaimer on Freedom of Information and confidentiality.

The consultation document should state the date when, and the web address where, responses will be published, if applicable and/or where the summary of responses will be published. As far as possible this should be within three

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months of the closing date of the consultation.

It should be made clear that responses may be made public unless confidentiality is specifically asked for. With some subjects – such as where the responses may concern individuals’ private lives, or matters of commercial confidentiality, this may need to be flagged up especially prominently, so that no-one inadvertently fails to register a wish for confidentiality. In some cases, confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, for example, where a response includes evidence of serious crime: this may also need to be brought out. In addition you will wish to highlight to potential respondents that under Freedom of Information, public bodies cannot guarantee confidentiality.

4.

Chapters

Each chapter should give information on a discrete issue relevant to the consultation, or one of the proposed policy options. Chapters should be comprehensive, but as concise as possible. Ensure that you use plain language throughout and explain fully any unavoidable abbreviations, acronyms or technical language.

It is useful to summarise the information contained in the chapter in a very brief introductory paragraph – draw attention to this by highlighting the text in bold or a different colour. Similarly, make sure that each chapter has a clear conclusion.

If your chapter outlines a key policy option, you should: • outline the current situation • set out the proposed option clearly and comprehensively • briefly outline the potential costs and benefits of implementing the policy option. Remember to include a ‘do nothing’ option here: what would happen if you made no policy changes at all and things remained as they were?

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In each chapter, reiterate the questions from your summary of questions which are pertinent to that particular topic/policy option. Highlight these in a shaded box or a different colour so that they stand out clearly.

Include relevant case studies or practical examples wherever possible in each chapter. This breaks up what might otherwise be dry, sometimes theoretical or technical, text and allows the reader to identify with the issues under discussion more easily. Again, it is useful to distinguish these from the main body of the text by highlighting them in a different colour or a shaded box.

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Impact Assessments

The outcome of any impact assessment or screening exercises must also be included, inviting comments from consultees. Where the impact assessments are made available separately, an overview of the findings should also be included in the consultation document.

6.

Annexes

The annexes can be used to accommodate any additional information not included in the main body of the consultation document. It is often useful to include more complex data or tables in an annex rather than the main body of the document.

In addition, the following items should be included somewhere in your consultation document and it is usually best to attach these as annexes at the end. •

Membership of the Steering Group Where a steering group has been established to take forward the policy area, it is useful to provide the names and organisational details of those involved.

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• List of Stakeholders Consulted You should attach a list of all stakeholder organisations you have consulted informally, as well as all those who have received copies of the consultation document. You should also invite respondents to contact you with the names of any other stakeholder groups not on the list who they feel might be able to contribute. This will help to ensure that all those who wish to are given ample opportunity to comment on your consultation, making it as broad and diverse as possible. • Relevant Current Government Legislation If your consultation and policy proposal will directly affect, or be affected by, existing Government legislation, it may be useful to include a summary of this. Include a web link or contact name / address for respondents who may require further information on this, or who would wish to access the legislation in full.

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Distribution of the Consultation Document On issuing the consultation document, departments must also take steps to raise awareness among the public and relevant groups about the consultation exercise. This may include press releases, prominent advertisements in the general press and specialist press of affected groups, the Internet and direct invitations to key groups to respond. Once again, it is important to consider the needs of potential consultees.

Consultation must be both meaningful and inclusive, in that all persons likely to be affected by or with an interest in the policy should have the opportunity to engage with the public authority. Therefore, relevant interest groups as well as the Equality Commission, other public bodies, political representatives, relevant Assembly/Parliamentary Committees, voluntary and community sector, trade unions and other groups with a legitimate interest in the area should as a minimum be made aware of the consultation exercise.

Feedback from consultees indicates that mass mailing of a full consultation document to all groups on the public authority’s list of consultees is not particularly effective. Recognising this, it is recommended that initially departments should circulate an executive summary, so that consultees can decide whether or not they would like to obtain the full document or respond to the consultation. Where appropriate, this can be in the form of a letter from the department and should include the following points: • • • • •

The proposal; The timeframe for consultation; The aim of the policy; The key issues; and A contact point for further information.

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Analysing the Responses Responses to any consultation exercise should be carefully and objectively analyzed, and the results made widely available, with an account of the views expressed, the policy makers response to those views and reasons for decisions finally taken. Analyzing responses is not a science and the precise method of analysis will depend on the public involvement technique used. Policy makers also need to be mindful that analysis can often be complex and time consuming. Sufficient time, therefore, needs to be built into the policy timetable to facilitate this process.

It is important to bear in mind that analyzing responses is never simply a matter of counting votes. Single-issue groups should not be allowed to monopolize the debate. However, due regard should be given to the views of representative bodies, such as business associations, trade unions, voluntary and community sector, consumer groups, and other organisations representing Section 75 groups especially affected. Eventually it is for Ministers to assess the argument and evidence and reach decisions in the public interest.

However, the following broad steps can be applied to most exercises:

Step 1:

All responses should be acknowledged on receipt where possible. Ensure that accurate and complete records are kept of all responses received, whether through a formal written consultation or more interactive dialogues. It is useful to keep a copy of all responses, both formal and informal in a central file, not only to ensure that everyone’s view is fairly considered, but also to help address any allegation of privileged access.

Step 2:

Try to sort the responses into particular types, for example, the views of business groups in one, employees’ representative groups in another, individual 16

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views in a further category. This will help you to identify variations in perspectives on particular issues.

Step 3:

Develop a ‘framework grid’ for analysis by identifying the key policy issues, themes and proposals, and then summarize the primary viewpoints on each aspect.

Step 4:

Examine the primary viewpoints and consider the implications for the policy. In particular, responses should be analyzed for: • Possible new approaches to the issue / question consulted on; • Further evidence of the impact of proposals; and • Levels of support among particular groups.

Step 5:

Draw together the three facets of the consultation analysis (i.e. the different strands of viewpoints; an assessment of the implications for the policy; and an outline draft government response) into a single ‘outcome’ paper.

Step 6:

Deliberate with relevant stakeholders in government to develop a clear position on the ramifications of the consultation analysis as set out in the outcome paper.

If significant new options emerge from consultation, it may be right to consult again on them, though a shorter consultation period may be justified.

Step 7:

Decisions in the light of consultation should be made public promptly, with a summary of views expressed (subject to respondents’ requests for confidentiality), and

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clear reasons for rejecting options that were not adopted. As far as reasonably practicable, this material should be accessible to all who responded, including on a departmental website. Respondents who ask why individual proposals have been rejected should receive an explanation.

Individual responses should also generally be made available to anyone else who asks for them. Failure to make material available may be incompatible with Open Government or Freedom of Information provisions. It is legitimate, in accordance with those provisions, to make a reasonable charge for copying and postage. However, where respondents have sought confidentiality, it should generally be respected. It may also be necessary to keep confidential those responses that may unfairly affect third parties’ interests or privacy.

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5.3

The Submission

Overview Detailed guidance on handling of submissions will be available from each Private Office. Those guidelines usually detail the Minister’s personal preference regarding, for example, font, layout, timings, and distribution lists. This document does not seek to replicate that guidance, as it will vary according to each Minister’s preference. However, there are some general key points to take into consideration when preparing a submission to the Minister. In addition, an example of a Ministerial submission is available on page 20 below.

The Submission You will have determined at the initiation stage who the key decisionmaker is, usually the Minister. The next stage is to present to the Minister the detailed options and recommendations.

Having analysed your options and consulted widely with stakeholders, you will make a recommendation to the Minister and they will agree the way forward for the policy. This will take the format of a formal submission to the lead Minister. (It is assumed that you will have had ongoing meetings/correspondence with the Minister throughout the policy process, so this will take the form of a signing-off of the agreed option and arrangements for presentation and delivery.)

Special Advisers In certain circumstances, advice should be included from the Special Adviser on submissions going to Ministers. Policy makers are advised to check with their Special Advisers’ Office for up-to-date guidance.

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Example of a Ministerial Submission FROM: Date: TO: Ann Other 1 February 2007 Copy Distribution List Below Colleagues

Issue:

To Notify Colleagues of the Appropriate Style of Submission

Timescale:

mmediate I

Presentational Issues:

Likely interest from Media, Political Parties, Interest Groups

FOI Implications:

Most Submissions are likely to be disclosable – if in doubt speak to your Local Information Manager

View of Special Adviser:

Must be here before in certain circumstances before going to the Minister – please seek advice from your Special Advisers’ Office

Financial Implications:

Outline the financial implications of the issue under consideration

Legislation Implications:

Include relevant information about the legislative implications in respect of any proposal.

Recommendation:

That this form of submission is always used in future

Background 20

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5.4

Announcing the Decision Detailed guidance on handling announcements/policy statements will be available from the individual Private Offices. Each Private Office will issue guidelines on the Minister’s preferences regarding the preparation and format of announcements. The Departmental Press Office should also be contacted regarding requirements and advice. This document does not seek to replicate such guidance. However, there are some general key points to take into consideration when preparing an announcement. Communication Strategy Communication of government policy should be an integral part of policy development. To ensure that your policy will really benefit those it is designed for, and can be successfully implemented, you should ensure that communication is part of all stages of the development of the policy. It is important to consider both internal and external communication strategies.

A communication strategy should set out the team’s approach to handling both stakeholders and the media at all stages of the strategy development process. It should include the formal launch, the consultation process, the presentation of analysis to stakeholders, the publication of the interim report, the communication of the conclusions and the publication of the final report. The plan should identify activities, responsibilities and timescales. After each phase of the project, communications should be evaluated to monitor success and identify any learning points.

It is therefore important to discuss your policy with the Executive Information Service (EIS) from an early stage in the policy process. EIS provides the full range of news and public relations services to Ministers and their departments. There is a central unit and staff are also out posted to provide the service in departments. The Press

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Office within EIS will arrange press conferences; issue news releases and articles; and provide advice on media handling.

The following points should assist planning in this area. Communication should: • Be planned from the start of the policy process and tackled as an issue throughout; • Be based on a sound awareness of the political and wider context within which the policy is being developed; • Be focused on what is likely to be of greatest public interest, highlighting the policy proposal and resulting likely criticisms, and include an overview of the consultation responses, outlining how these have been taken into account; • Target relevant audiences and make use of a range of media and formats in order to reach those audiences; and • Involve all those who will have a part to play in presenting policy – Ministers, policy-makers, press officers and service deliverers/implementers.

The Announcement For significant policy decisions, Ministers will want to ensure that the Assembly/Parliament is informed (usually before the media). The Minister may also wish to ensure that relevant Assembly or Parliamentary Committees are informed of the proposed announcement in advance. You will want to get a steer on how the Minister would like to present this to Parliament.

The team should always work with and through the Press Office rather than dealing directly with the media. When communicating with the media it is important to remember: • Keep it simple and ensure that the story is clear.

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• Be as open as possible, secrecy adds interest and value to a story. • Be fully briefed and know the facts. • Avoid the void: if you don’t provide some information, someone else will. • Create a Question and Answer brief to cover areas that the media will be interested in. • Don’t be tempted just to answer the easy questions or cover the areas they ‘should be interested in’. Test the answers to ensure that they are robust. • Consider whether a press briefing or conference is required and whether there are any key stakeholders that the media will automatically contact. If so consider briefing them in advance.

The Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit has produced a Strategy Survival Guide which highlights some key points to note in relation to the launch strategy, including: • Detailed briefing notes are vital for any launch. The Question and Answer brief must be exhaustive and must address sensitive issues. • If possible, the launch strategy should include a large number of briefing sessions to cover stakeholders and the media. This is extremely time-consuming but effective. • Briefing small groups of the media helps to improve their understanding of the report – especially for non-specialist media – and results in measured and accurate reporting of the key recommendations. It also allows specialist media more opportunity to delve into their areas of interest. • Do not forget to plan for the dissemination stage post-launch. Activity should not stop the day after the launch.

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APPENDIX ONE Guide to the Statutory Duties at Section 4 paragraph 2(c)

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has set out seven guiding principles for consultation. These require that: • consultation with groups and individuals should begin as early as possible; • consideration must be given to which method of consultation is most appropriate in the circumstances. Consideration should be given as to whether face-to-face meetings, small-group meetings, focus groups, discussion papers with the opportunity to comment in writing, questionnaires, or internet discussions are best; • engagement with affected groups or umbrella groups to identify how best to consult or engage with stakeholders is recommended; • the accessibility of the language and the format of information must be considered to ensure that there are no barriers to the consultation process. Information should be available on request in accessible formats for example Braille, disk, and audiocassette and in minority languages to meet the needs of those who are not fluent in English. Public authorities must ensure that systems are in place to ensure that information is available in such accessible formats in a timely fashion. In addition, specific consideration should be given to how to best communicate information to young people and those with learning disabilities;

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• specific training should be considered to ensure that those facilitating consultations have the necessary skills to communicate effectively with consultees; • adequate time should be allowed for groups to consult amongst themselves as part of the process of forming a view. The Commission recommends a period of at least two months for consultation exercises; • appropriate measures should be taken to ensure full participation in any meetings that are held. Different groups have different needs and may have different customs. Public authorities will need to consider the time of day, the appropriateness of the venue, in particular whether it can be accessed by those with disabilities, how the meeting is to be run, the use of appropriate language, whether a signer is necessary, and the provision of childcare. Public authorities should recognise and in good faith meet access related costs; and • Information should be made available to ensure meaningful consultation. This should include relevant quantitative and qualitative data and other documentation such as consultants’ reports.

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