Public consultation fallacy

One can easily find a paradox within the concept of public consultation. If public consultation is formally declared and prescribed within democratic procedures, it immediately loses benefits that it was introduced for. Consultation that is forced by law, loses it’s power as a tool to bring wider society closer to law enactments and power. Consultation is consultation only and when it is performed in an unforced way for all stakeholders, including government and parliament. We should thus not be surprised that publics react to law proposals as not being part of public consultation regardless the fact, that they have been formally publicly consulted. For formal consultation in many instances ends with┬áproposal being published on web site. That a proposal is available and open to discussion has not much to do with public consultation.

Why?

Posting proposal on a web is in fact communicating two symptoms of those responsible for public consultation:

a) I do not want to interact with you. I do have to share something with you, but I do reduce this to your feedbacks. Perhaps I will take in account your feedbacks, but I will not feedback you my reactions. What you will get is a new law proposal, that might include your feedback to certain degree. I do not want to communicate with you, but I might take your position or a part of your position.

b) I do not think that I can learn anything from the process. I might take some feedbacks, but I do not want to learn.

Does this mean that serious public consultation should take place? And what should such seriously taken public consultation look like?

Let us look at clear consultation case, when professional consultant gets hired. In such cases it is quite clear that consultant’s views might not be accepted or might be accepted partially. If his proposals are not accepted, consultant’s ego suffers, but he has anyway done his job and he has no right to complain. Client on another hand also has no right to complain as long as consultant did his best. Client might not hire consultant which proposals are rejected often, but that is all he can do.

Politicians that introduce public consultation on the contrary have no option not to hire consultant, since consultants are are all members of particular constituency. Similarly consultants (members of constituency) can show their complain if their proposals are not accepted simply by not electing such politician any more. It looks like the power lies in politician’s hands like in the case of normal client-consultant situation, but in fact in public consultations there are consultants that can fire their client and not client them.

For that reason only we should conclude that public consultation as a concept fails in principle. It cannot work.

But then we all agree that politicians should listen to their constituencies not only for reelection reasons but also if they by chance want to benefit society. What should they do if public consultation does not make sense?

Nothing else than what lies in the nutshell of being politician: to know what are interests of various constituencies and to imply his wisdom to devise measures that would best serve those interests. He has to understand his constituencies anyway and he should take care to understand changes that happen all the time. Shortly: he has to be open to constant lobbying.

Quite straightforward conclusion could be that public consultation was introduced because politicians got afraid by negative reputation of lobbying. They changed existing natural water, full of healthy ingredients and some dirt with distilled water that kills if we drink it.

Andrej Drapal