Participation handbook

This handbook provides a guide to good practice in participation work across Scottish Government. It provides information about participatory methods and when to use them, the development of an effective participation strategy, and signposts to further resources.

When to consult

Consulting is the most common approach to engagement used by government.

Consultation is widely used to collect a range of viewpoints held by the public and stakeholder groups to inform decision making. It is not limited to a formal written consultation, although this is the approach many people first think of when they hear the term ‘consultation’.

Consultation methods may vary but the key feature is that it is an ‘extractive’ process. This means that the issue to be addressed is framed by government and decision makers are seeking responses to already identified questions, options or proposed courses of action.

The ‘offer’ made to participants is therefore limited to:

  • we will keep you informed
  • we will listen to and acknowledge your concerns and aspirations
  • we will give serious consideration to your contributions
  • we will be open to your influence
  • we will provide feedback on how your input has influenced the outcome

Written consultation that is open to anyone to respond to is an established practice in the Scottish Government, and will continue to have a fundamental and legitimate role within government. It is a proven and well understood means of seeking the views of the public and stakeholders in the development of new policies and legislation.

But it is important to recognise that written consultations are only one of many ways that we can ask, listen to, and act on the views of the public and stakeholders.

Other methods for consultation, include:

  • surveys
  • public opinion polls
  • qualitative interviews
  • roadshows or public meetings
  • focus groups
  • workshops
  • roundtables or working groups

Consultation at different stages of the delivery cycle

Visioning: can help you collate the range of different opinions and perspectives on the issue you are seeking to address. It can also identify elements of the issue that you may not yet have considered.

Development: can help you collect ideas for a solution or a range of alternatives.

Appraisal: can help you measure levels of support for a proposal and identify where there is a need for amendment.

Decision making: there is no role for consulting approaches at the decision making stage. Instead it is about decision makers using what they have learnt through consulting with people at the earlier stages to help inform their decisions.

Evaluation: you can hear views on the impact of an initiative. Read more about consultation in Scottish Government.



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