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Code of Practice on Consultation

The current Code of Practice was developed following a review of government consultation practices in 2007. The Government published a paper seeking people’s views on how the government currently consults and what improvements should be made. Over 100 responses were received to this paper.

In addition, 20 meetings were held around the UK, an online discussion forum was put in place and market research into the views of citizens on government consultations was commissioned. The evidence gathered from this exercise is summarised in the following document, which forms the basis of the Code of Practice:

Effective consultation: asking the right questions, asking the right people, listening to the answers. Government response (PDF, 165KB)

The Code consists of seven headline criteria which should be reproduced in formal consultation documents, and key points supporting each of these criteria. The seven criteria and a brief description are reproduced below. For the full Code, see:

Code of practice on consultation (PDF, 223KB)

The commentary below highlights some of the key aspects of the Code. You will need to read the full Code to be fully aware of the government’s policy on formal consultation.

Deviation from the criteria of the Code of Practice may, at times, be unavoidable. Policy leads responsible for consultations which deviate from the Code are expected to seek clearance from the relevant Minister in their Department on the deviation and the deviation(s) should be explained in the consultation document. Organisations without a Minister should get clearance from an equivalent senior person such as the organisation's Chief Executive.

Criterion 1: When to consult

Formal consultation should take place at a stage when there is scope to influence the policy outcome.

This criterion is about balancing the need to consult early so that government can benefit from the input of stakeholders and stakeholders’ desire to be consulted in the formative stages of policy development, with the ability to put enough information in the public domain to facilitate an informed debate.

This criterion also addresses the need sometimes to use methods other than formal consultation for seeking input, and issues around consulting during election periods.

Criterion 2: Duration of consultation exercises

Consultations should normally last for at least 12 weeks with consideration given to longer timescales where feasible and sensible.

This criterion is similar to criteria of previous versions of the Code of Practice on Consultation but with the requirement to consider longer periods for example if a consultation goes over the summer holiday period. It also sets out how to handle an unavoidably shorter consultation exercise.

Criterion 3: Clarity of scope and impact

Consultation documents should be clear about the consultation process, what is being proposed, the scope to influence and the expected costs and benefits of the proposals.

This criterion stresses the importance of being absolutely clear about the reason for the consultation exercise and how it will be run. It also stresses the importance of being clear regarding what the consultation is about and requires that any Impact Assessment work is integral to the consultation document so that the consultation is truly about getting good evidence on which to base policy decisions. Consideration should be given to using consultation exercises to seek views on the coverage of new policies and to seek views on approaches to different groups to ensure proportionate implementation.

Criterion 4: Accessibility of consultation exercises

Consultation exercises should be designed to be accessible to, and clearly targeted at, those people the exercise is intended to reach.

This criterion is about the importance of stakeholder-mapping and designing processes around the audiences each consultation needs to reach. It also talks about the importance of making it easy to work out quickly whether a consultation is of interest/relevance to the reader through the adoption of a standard table of basic information.

Criterion 5: The burden of consultation

Keeping the burden of consultation to a minimum is essential if consultations are to be effective and if consultees’ buy-in is to be obtained.

This criterion is about acknowledging that consultation fatigue is real. Making best possible use of existing data and asking consultees to add to it or validate it is generally less burdensome than asking again for the same information. The criterion also talks about joining up consultation exercises and keeping to a minimum any administration associated with consultation. Intelligent use of new technology can also, in some circumstances and for some stakeholders, help reduce the burden of consultation.

Criterion 6: Responsiveness of consultation exercises

Consultation responses should be analysed carefully and clear feedback should be provided to participants following the consultation.

This criterion deals with the analysis of all input received during consultation exercises and keeping people informed following consultation exercises, primarily through the production of a summary of the responses and explaining how the consultation exercise has influenced policy development. This should normally be published before or alongside any further action such as the laying of a bill before Parliament. The criterion also addresses the requirement to provide consultees with the possibility to submit comments to the Department's Consultation Co-ordinator regarding the process of the consultation exercises.

Criterion 7: Capacity to consult

Officials running consultations should seek guidance in how to run an effective consultation exercise and share what they have learned from the experience.

This criterion covers the need for organisations adopting the Code to appoint a Consultation Co-ordinator and briefly sets out the Co-ordinator's role. The criterion also talks about monitoring effectiveness of consultations and sharing learning.

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