Achieving public dialogue
Achieving public dialogue

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Achieving public dialogue

3.2 Public consultation vs public engagement

‘Public consultation’ is not a new concept in policy making. For society to function effectively, laws and policies must have public support. It is desirable, therefore, to have some idea of what the public thinks about an issue before regulation is finalised. Consultation is based on establishing the nature of a socially collective view that we call ‘public opinion’. The main means of establishing public opinion with at least some degree of confidence is the opinion poll, the methodology for which has become increasingly sophisticated. Polls deliver useful quantitative data, but they cannot tell us much about the nuances of the views of individuals or why people hold certain opinions. For more qualitative (descriptive) data, the government or a local authority might declare a consultation period, for the duration of which the public is invited to send in representations to be considered during the decision-making process.

Although public consultation is in keeping with the spirit of democracy, the consultation model is still essentially deficit in its approach. In general, the respondents play no part in framing the questions or in subsequent discussions about policy. The concept of public engagement, on the other hand, describes a mechanism that attempts to be much more inclusive. Engagement aspires to incorporate lay views – and specifically lay values – in the decision-making process, thus giving citizens more of an active, participatory role.

A concern expressed by many experts is that public opinion, in its broadest sense, is not sufficiently ‘informed’ to be accorded a meaningful role in decision making. Common sense dictates that some familiarity with the processes, prospects, risks and benefits of new technology is a prerequisite for participating in decision making about policy. It is thought that lay people also feel more comfortable in making recommendations if they have an understanding of the issue under consideration (Klüver, 1995). Consensus conferences are mechanisms of public participation that seek to address some of these concerns surrounding input of lay voices in policy making.

S802_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has over 40 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus