Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs): consultation analysis - final report

Analysis report on the responses to the consultation on Scottish Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) which ran from 12 December 2022 to 17 April 2023.

Annex 5: Views on the consultation process

The online consultation questionnaire included two questions seeking views on the consultation process:

Evaluation Question 1: How satisfied were you with this consultation? [Very satisfied / Quite satisfied / Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied / Quite dissatisfied / Very dissatisfied]

Please enter comments here.

Evaluation Question 2: How would you rate your satisfaction with using this platform (Citizen Space) to respond to this consultation? [Very satisfied / Quite satisfied / Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied / Quite dissatisfied / Very dissatisfied]

Please enter comments here.

This annex provides a summary of the responses to these questions. Note that these questions were only available to respondents who submitted their responses through Citizen Space. However, the discussion below also draws on comments made about the consultation process by respondents who submitted their responses by email and post.

Satisfaction with the consultation process (EQ1)

Table A5.1 shows that, overall, 15% of respondents were slightly or very satisfied with the consultation process, compared with 61% who were slightly or very dissatisfied. The views of organisations and individuals on this matter were almost identical.

Table A5.1: EQ1 – How satisfied were you with this consultation?
Respondent type Organisations Individuals Total
Response Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Very satisfied 15 9% 88 7% 103 7%
Slightly satisfied 19 11% 96 7% 115 8%
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 45 26% 323 24% 368 24%
Slightly dissatisfied 24 14% 166 12% 190 13%
Very dissatisfied 67 39% 662 50% 729 48%
Total 170 100% 1,335 100% 1,505 100%

Note: The table is based on the views of respondents who submitted their responses through Citizen Space.

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

Respondents who were satisfied noted the comprehensive nature of the consultation, and the opportunity it provided to explain the rationale for their responses. These respondents welcomed the consultation, were pleased that the deadline for responses had been extended and thought the workshops had been a helpful and a useful addition to the process.

Respondents who were satisfied, however, also raised a range of caveats about the consultation process. Their caveats mirrored (in a less emphatic way), the reasons that other respondents gave for their dissatisfaction with the process. The main issues raised (either as reasons for dissatisfaction, or caveats to satisfaction) were as follows:

  • The consultation was not thought to be accessible to ‘members of the general public’, ‘fishermen’, ‘community groups’, ‘non-experts’ etc. The supporting documents ran to well over 400 pages, and were described as being complex, difficult to understand, full of technical language and jargon, and very time consuming to read and respond to. It was thought that this complexity would ‘put people off’ and would limit the extent to which they could (or would) engage with the consultation. Some respondents suggested that the consultation had been deliberately designed to put people off responding. It was suggested that a short summary of the technical documents (written in plain English) would have been useful. The absence of a Gaelic versions of the consultation documents was also noted.
  • The consultation questionnaire itself was described as ‘not well-designed’, and respondents found the questions difficult to understand. Individual questions were seen to be ‘complex’, ‘technical’, ‘vague’, ‘biased’, ‘unclear’ and not written in plain English. Some thought the questions were ‘leading’ or assumed agreement with the overall policy direction.
  • Respondents thought the widespread use of support / oppose tick-box responses did not allow people to easily express their views on the underlying policy or the implication of its implementation. (Some respondents explicitly said they were unsure what they were supporting or opposing.)
  • The Scottish Government had not communicated early enough or effectively enough with the people and communities whose lives would be affected by the proposals. Many respondents said that the views of directly affected communities had not been taken into account in devising the consultation process / consultation questionnaire. Moreover, the consultation had not been well advertised, and the launch of the consultation just prior to the Christmas break had not been helpful.
  • Some respondents said the documents showed that the Scottish Government lacked understanding of the issues raised by the HPMA policy, and how this would affect coastal communities; others said they did not trust the Scottish Government to take their concerns into consideration. There was a widespread view that the decisions on HPMAs had already been taken; the consultation was therefore regarded as ‘not genuine’.

Additionally, respondents were often critical of or reported difficulties using the online consultation platform and questionnaire, and there were calls for more direct, face-to-face engagement and consultation. See the section below for further comments on the online platform.

Finally, a range of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the consultation process because they (i) did not agree with the designation of HPMAs and / or because they (ii) did not agree that the documentation offered a fair and accurate assessment of the issues under consideration (particularly the negative impacts which respondents thought had been underplayed in the documentation) or (iii) thought it was a ‘waste of money’.

Satisfaction with the Citizen Space platform (EQ2)

Table A5.2 shows that, overall, 28% of respondents were slightly or very satisfied with the Citizen Space platform, compared with 27% who were slightly or very dissatisfied. Organisations (43%) were more likely than individuals (27%) to say they were satisfied or very satisfied. Conversely, individuals (28%) were more likely than organisations (18%) to say they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. A relatively large proportion of respondents (45%) said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

Table A5.2: EQ2 – How satisfied were you with the Citizen Space platform?
Respondent type Organisations Individuals Total
Response Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Very satisfied 26 16% 166 13% 192 13%
Slightly satisfied 42 25% 182 14% 224 15%
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 67 41% 588 45% 655 45%
Slightly dissatisfied 14 8% 115 9% 129 9%
Very dissatisfied 16 10% 247 19% 263 18%
Total 165 100% 1,298 100% 1,463 100%

Note: The table is based on the views of respondents who submitted their responses through Citizen Space.

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

Respondents who offered overall positive comments on the online Citizen Space platform described it as ‘easy to use’, ‘excellent’, ‘intuitive’, and ‘user-friendly’. Some gave more measured responses, describing the platform as ‘fine’, ‘ok’, or ‘easy enough’.

Respondents in this group said they found the site easy to navigate. They appreciated being able to access relevant documents for individual questions via links, and to save their partially completed response (which they could then return to at a later point). Some, though, said that those less accustomed to IT may have found the system challenging to use.

However, it was also common for respondents in this group to highlight particular issues they had encountered in using the system. These included: difficulties finding the link to the consultation; difficulties navigating around the system and to and from the survey and the linked documents; and losing text when moving backwards in the survey. These points were also commented on by those offering overall negative comments on the system, as described below.

Respondents who were generally critical of the online Citizen Space platform described it as ‘clunky’, ‘unwieldy’, ‘cumbersome’ and ‘not user-friendly’.

Respondents in this group frequently commented on the (lack of) accessibility of the Citizen Space platform. They thought it would be difficult for people without good IT skills to use – some highlighted that this could affect older people in particular. It was also pointed out that the system was only available to those with computer access and a good internet connection.

Many of the individuals who responded to the consultation by email said that they had found the online system too difficult to use. Related to this, several respondents criticised the lack of paper copies of the consultation paper and related documents, were critical of the lack of alternative ways to respond, or said that it had not been easy to find out about alternatives to the online system.

Those who used the online system and who expressed general dissatisfaction highlighted the following issues:

  • The numerous links to different documents, and the difficulties navigating to relevant documents while responding
  • Links not taking people straight to the relevant document or page
  • The questionnaire page closing when users accessed links which meant it was not possible to type a response while referring to relevant to documents
  • Difficulties retrieving a previously started response, and losing previously input responses when returning to a part-completed questionnaire
  • Particular difficulties accessing, navigating and completing the consultation on a phone
  • The absence of a ‘back’ button to allow previous response to be re-read without losing text, and the absence of a spell-checker.

Respondents also reported experiences of the system freezing or crashing, and links not working.

The main suggestions from respondents – both those expressing general satisfaction with the system and those expressing general dissatisfaction were that:

  • Linked documents should open in a new window
  • Links should take the user directly to the relevant point in a document
  • A save button should be included after each question, rather than just at the bottom of each section in the questionnaire.

Organisational respondents made a number of specific suggestions that they said would assist them in responding to consultations. These included being able to:

  • Download a copy of the questionnaire to share with members for discussion and internal consultation purposes, and to use in preparing draft responses
  • Access the questionnaire and all the associated documents in a zip file
  • Print a PDF output of responses before submission to assist with internal consultation.

Organisational respondents also reported difficulties copying footnotes into the system.

Finally, in a few cases respondents said they did not know what ‘Citizen Space’ was or did not understand what the question referred to.


Email: HPMA@gov.scot

Back to top