About Public Consultation

Public consultation is a means to improve democratic governance by helping governments consult their citizenry on the key public policy issues the government faces.

Public consultations are conducted with representative samples of the citizenry. Using standard scientific methods of random sampling, a sample is chosen and subsequently weighted to reflect the population census on all major demographic variables, thus producing an accurate microcosm of the citizenry.

Standard public opinion polls using representative samples can be an effective means of consulting citizens on issues for which they have already given significant thought.

The public consultation process has the potential to go beyond the limitations of standard public opinion polls and to widen the scope of possible areas on which the public can be meaningfully questioned. This requires giving respondents key information and presenting them a wide range of arguments on the issue. The goal is for respondents to have a deliberative experience that simulates that of a policymaker.

A key feature of the public consultation process is that it is, to the extent possible, developed in conjunction with policymakers, including those representing a range of views on the issue at hand. Policymakers, as well as advocates on different sides of the issue, are invited to propose and finally approve the information and arguments that are presented to respondents.

The most common form of the consultation process is through an in-depth survey in which respondents are presented key information and the opportunity to deliberate by evaluating the full range of arguments on an issue. Finally, they are asked to express their views in response to a complex menu of policy options. Ideally such a process is conducted on-line so that the respondent can take all the time they need to read and re-read the presentation of information, arguments and policy options.

In some cases respondents engage in trade-off exercises in which they are required to make graduated choices among competing priorities, just as policymakers must do. For example, respondents may be asked to construct a budget by distributing revenues among numerous spending areas and considering the option of raising or lowering the level of various types of revenue.

Why Public Consultation is a Good Idea?

  • Public consultation responds to Americans’ demand for greater democratic responsiveness and can help restore Americans’ confidence in government
  • Public consultation can improve policymakers’ understanding of the views of their constituents
  • Public consultation gives policymakers a way to test new ideas
  • Public consultation can be a force for greater consensus
  • Public consultation is a way to draw on the collective intelligence and even wisdom of the society as a whole.