The consultation and engagement good practice standard

ACEP corporate members may choose to adopt it.  If they do, they can display our unique “seal of approval”

1.Orchestration (ethos)

We will:-

  • Embark on a fresh consultation if a previous one has not been considered properly or there are new circumstances which could make a difference to the way people might consider the merits of proposals; 
  • Only engage with people when there is a honest, genuine opportunity such that their views will make a difference;
  • Engage early enough to safeguard the rights and interests of those impacted; 
  • Ensure that the process is based on a two-way conversation – which permits feedback;
  • Be free of external manipulation, interference, coercion, or intimidation;
  • Put in place proportionate controls, oversight and resources to do it justice and avoid duplication whenever possible;
  • Remain open minded before, during and after the process as to the outcome;
  • Operate a mechanism for dealing with grievances against the process;
  • Have due regard for our own policies, procedures, compacts, charters and promises;
  • Have due regard for people with protected characteristics and the impact on them (such as in the public sector, the equalities duty).  This might also include participants socio-economic status;
  • Put things right in a timely and transparent manner should things go wrong.

2.Planning (design)

We will:-

  • Take a co-production[1] approach, whenever possible;
  • Take steps to understand who will be directly and indirectly impacted and who might want to be involved before any consultation or engagement commences (for example, by examining existing data);
  • Give stakeholders a reasonable amount of time to provide their views. The duration of any exercise will take into account the urgency of the decision, time of year and the scale of impact of any proposals;.
  • Create enough flex in the dialogue phase to accommodate remedies to unforeseen problems, such as extending the period of the exercise;
  • Design engagement methods to meet the needs of identified stakeholders, using an appropriate mix of channels and not exclusively digital;
  • Deploy methods for  a more in-depth exchange of views and information when there are salient issues or high stakes;
  • Aim to understand people’s priorities and preferences in the early development of solutions and any to test assumptions in a case for change;
  • Be clear over impacts, in particular any differences that exist for existing or future service users’ – if applicable.

    [1] This might include a range of measures such as involving others in the review of documents and designs, conducting fieldwork, producing findings or plans and strategies

    3. Awareness (comms and marketing)

    We will:-

    • Remind people that consultation is not a vote but their views are valuable;
    • Tell people that manipulations (such as duplicate responses) will be detected and that, in the spirit of the exercise, they should be free from external bias and think for themselves;
    • Tell people if AI is being used to assist with the synthesis of views (and if responses presented by citizens but created by AI will be accepted);
    • Take steps to prevent the spread of significant mis/disinformation that we become aware-of during the process;
    • Make efforts to raise awareness of the opportunity to participate, particularly among the audiences identified as being impacted and the hard-to-reach;
    • Provide a way for people to track the progress of the exercise or get alerted as to the outcome or output;
    • Communicate progress at each phase or stage of the process;
    • Make it clear when changes, updates or additions have been made to supporting information or consultation and engagement plans.

    4.Basic information provision (informing)

    We will provide:-

    • A description of the exercise (e.g. issues paper, consultation, engagement exercise, call for evidence);
    • A contact name and email or telephone number for the administrator of the consultation/engagement exercise;
    • Details of who is running the exercise and who is ultimately responsible for it;
    • Details of any geographical limits on the exercise (e.g. Scotland only);
    • A description of any conditions that might invalidate a response (e.g. if the responder is from an overseas territory);
    • Details of any third party involvement – such as sub-processors and agencies who are analysing the feedback, if applicable;
    • Details of any (known) similar exercises that the participant should be aware-of, such as parallel consultations or those in neighbouring areas on the same issue;
    • Signposting to historic, relevant engagement or consultation exercises and a brief synopsis of their results;
    • A list of the ways in which feedback can be provided (e.g. in writing, online, phone etc);
    • A timetable for the exercise and decision-making process including the date range in which feedback must be received and dates of any stages, including an estimate of when a change might be enacted;
    • A description of the current situation (the context) and who might be impacted;
    • A description of what has and has not been decided;
    • A clear definition of what can and cannot be influenced;
    • A list of relevant decisions which have already been taken;
    • A description of who will consume the feedback or take a decision (and when) as necessary;
    • A privacy information notice (in accordance with GDPR regulations).

    5.Detailed information provision (informing)

    We will publish:-

    • Any relevant supporting information, including impact assessments if they are made, from the outset OR reasons for non-disclosure of any relevant information;
    • A schedule of any planned engagement activities (such as public meetings) ;
    • A statement about any constraints (such as leases to buildings which might prevent a particular outcome);
    • A comprehensive and balanced description of the issue, planned changes or options – including the benefits and disbenefits of each;
    • A brief description of any options previously discarded and reasons for their discontinuation;
    • A statement on options development and appraisal, if applicable;
    • A statement on the environmental considerations/impact (such as Net Zero), even if it is not applicable;
    • A declaration of any preferred option or scenario, if applicable;
    • Details about any capital and revenue costs/savings or finance relevant to proposals, if applicable;
    • Details about any employee displacement, if relevant;
    • The source of any facts, if they are provided;
    • A realistic travel time analysis if a service or facility is being relocated.


    6.Accessibility (enabling)

    We will always:-

    • Avoid any unnecessary barriers to participation or deploy ways to assist people in their participation if they lack the skills, confidence or competence;
    • Try to confirm to the WCAG 2.1 accessibility guidelines if online engagement is being deployed;
    • Engage in a culturally appropriate manner;
    • Answer any individual queries relating to the process in a timely and informative manner;
    • Be consistent and specific (such as naming facilities under consideration);
    • Avoid the use of acronyms or provide a glossary explaining any difficult terms;
    • Use Plain English;
    • Provide alternative formats on request, such as easy-read or alternative language documents;
    • Try to use a range venues for public meetings which are highly accessible and highly convenient for participants;
    • Be open about any dependencies and assumptions;
    • Use logical numbering for questionnaires;
    • If applicable, publish a separate list of all the questions outside of the questionnaire for easy reference and review;
    • Avoid the use of low-accessibility digital formats to display or publish information, in favour of more accessible formats (such as flat web pages);


    7.Gathering views (engaging)

    We will:-

    • Treat all participants with respect and as having valid viewpoints;
    • Use a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods to help understand why people think the way they do;
    • Only ask questions that are relevant to the issues at hand (avoid clouding issues);
    • Avoid loaded questions and use appropriate, standardised response scales (e.g. Likert);
    • Ensure that the “loudest voices” do not dominate listening exercises;
    • Create a positive user experience such as using branching / skip logic to streamline online questionnaires whenever possible;
    • Always ask a key question relating to the issue, such as the strength of agreement or disagreement ;
    • Always ask in what capacity a person is responding (e.g. as in individual or representative);
    • Always ask for consent in terms of sharing details of any submission more publicly (known as a disclosure of responses statement);
    • Always ask people for permission before recording them;
    • Ask people of protected characteristics if they are adversely affected and, if so, how.
    • Try to solicit new ideas to help solve the issues/problem, even if there are clearly defined options;
    • Collect equalities monitoring data (relating to the protected characteristics) whenever possible;
    • For formal consultations, provide a submission reference number and/or an email receipt upon safe receipt of a submission.

    8. The synthesis of results (reporting)

    We will:-

    • Act quickly to synthesise feedback at the end, publishing a report no later than 12 weeks of the closing date or explain why this has not been possible;
    • Consider any feasible, alternative proposals received as and when they are received;
    • Update any impact assessments at the end of the process based on the intelligence received;
    • Provide decision makers with adequate time and comprehensive information if a decision is to be taken, prior to it being taken;
    • Put measures in place to avoid any biases and inaccuracy in the analysis and reporting;
    • Not disregard or weight any responses unless there is a clear case for doing so;
    • Check the validity of responses, against those agreed at the outset but also for duplicates and campaign responses;
    • Provide at least a summary of responses, the evaluation methodology and the numbers of discarded responses;
    • Provide a statement relating to the use of AI in assisting with the analysis, if applicable;
    • Provide a breakdown of responses by channel and demographic;
    • Report both percentages and actual numbers in the synthesis of feedback;
    • Be transparent about any complaints and criticisms received;
    • Provide reasons for any decisions, particularly if these went against the majority/consensus.