Wednesday, 09 January 2008

Ask them what they want Last night I ran another workshop with local people in Manningham, designing a consultation plan for their new library. Participants worked on eight themes - such as access, governance, stock, the garden, décor and furniture etc - and in each case looked at who should be consulted, how they should be consulted, what need there was for 'expert' or professional advice to consultation groups, and so on. They used the pink boxes to keep their notes and ideas in place, and it certainly gave a sense of accumulating achievement which you don't quite get from a pile of flipchart sheets. Using small slips of paper probably helps to get contributions from the less forthright or confident; and the boxes will be shared with others groups in the coming weeks to generate more input. By the end of this third session I was struck by the clarity and immediacy with which people were deciding, for instance, whether or not it was appropriate to consult everybody or just a core group; when (eg with regard to décor or the garden) they thought it appropriate to let a design team come up with options first or after a brief from residents; whether or not to consult on a short list of options or to use open questions; what face-to-face or remote methods were appropriate, and so on. There were none of those naïve claims that everybody has to have a say, or that professionals shouldn't move a finger without local people's approval. More a mature recognition that there are various ways of soliciting people's views, based on a mix of methods, a stimulated culture of involvement and a flow of information. And that consultation does not remove the responsibility for decision-making, rather it clarifies the requirement for those affected by decisions to be given the time, information and opportunity to contribute views, and that those views be taken into consideration. It's not difficult: so why is it not commonplace?

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