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The ways in which we consult

Consultation is a process which involves two crucial elements:

  • A purpose - which is to set out views and to seek answers to questions on  particular policies. The overarching aim of a consultation is to ensure that relevant stakeholders have been informed of proposals and have had the opportunity to contribute to the formation of policy.
  • A method to achieve that purpose of effectively engaging stakeholders (for example, that method could be a meeting, a letter, a formal written consultation “FWC” or a combination of those methods)

Consultations broadly fall into two categories, formal written consultations (FWC) and other consultations.

Consultation can be done in a number of ways, including formal written consultation (FWC), and less formal approaches including meetings or workshops, letters or surveys. It may be that one method alone is sufficient for a project, but in general, a variety of methods will be used, possibly at different stages in the project.

Officials are encouraged to think very clearly from the outset what they are trying to achieve from any particular consultation, before choosing the most appropriate method or methods. They must also be clear about what is actually up for discussion and wider input, and what has already been agreed to.

There are some circumstances where there has to be a FWC, for example where there is a formal Green Paper or prior Ministerial commitment, which can be used in combination with other methods or stand alone. In the alternative a FWC may not be needed, otherwise, there are a number of other recognised and very effective forms of consultation, where stakeholder views and input are as valued as in any FWC.

Formal Written Consultations:

Defra follows the Government Code of Practice on Consultation. In most circumstances, the consultation period is for 12 weeks and requires written responses. In some circumstances where the consultation runs for less than 12 weeks, Ministerial approval will have been sought and the reason for the shortening will have been stated in the covering letter. If you have any thoughts on the consultation process itself please email the Better Regulation Team in BIS.

Other consultations:

There are many other forms of consultation including workshops, online surveys, web discussions which engage stakeholders effectively, and which depend on the scope, reach and timing of a particular policy. Defra recognises that with its many areas of specialism, careful targeting is needed to encourage participation. So for example, if the scope of a particular policy is very narrow and the level of interest highly-specialised, possibly the best approach would be face-to-face meetings with a small number of relevant stakeholders. These methods may supplement a FWC or be used as an alternative to a FWC.

Examples where other forms of consultation are more appropriate than FWC include:

  • where an informal consultation is going to be used to inform a later consultation exercise;
  • during on-going negotiations over EU legislation where the relevant texts are likely to change significantly over a 12-week consultation period;
  • when a very rapid response is needed.

Calls for information or evidence

We may also send out a “call for information” or a “call for evidence” early in the process of developing some proposals, to help us understand the issues and people’s views about them.

After a Formal Written Consultation

Once a consultation has closed, all comments will be carefully considered by Defra in developing its policies, plans for legislation etc. After this stage, a summary of responses to formal written consultations will be made publicly available on the Defra website.

Defra intends to publish the summary of responses within three months of the formal written consultation closing. It is after this that your reply will be made publicly available. Please see the section on Freedom of Information in the BIS consultation guidance for more information.

You should also be aware that there may be circumstances in which Defra will be required to communicate information to third parties on request, in order to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations.

The main Departmental library is at the Information Resource Centre (IRC) at Ergon House, c/o 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR (telephone 020 7238 6575) and will supply, on request, copies of responses to personal callers or telephone enquirers. For those wishing to obtain copies of comments, an administrative charge to cover copying and postage will be made. To enable requests to be dealt with efficiently and to avoid delay for those calling at the Library in person, it would be appreciated if personal callers could give the Library at least 24 hours’ notice of their requirements.

Page last modified: April 1, 2011