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Public meetings are often a waste of time, although they are the second most commonly used consultation tool by loc...
Public meetings are often a waste of time, although they are the second most commonly used consultation tool by local authorities, says a new Local Government Management Board report.

More than 80 per cent of councils use them, says Involving the Public, topped in the popularity stakes only by surveys, which are used by 88 per cent. What is surprising however, is the number of authorities who spontaneously decried public meetings as a way of consulting when responding to the survey, yet continued to call them, although fewer plan to use them in the future.

Questionnaires, focus groups and user panels, can be far more fruitful ways to consult, says the report, which looks at the three ways of involving the public - market research, consultation, and participation.

The importance attached to consultation by managers is growing, it concludes, with 63 per cent thinking it was essential or very important to have done so in the past year, but 80 per cent envisaging it will be so in the coming year.

The main body of the report, deals not with the state of play in authorities, but with supplying suggestions, answers, contacts and examples from around the country. It outlines the cheapest, most effective ways to consult, and covers numerous approaches including community profiling, future visioning, surveys, area panels, user forums, citizens' panels, citizens' juries, and consensus techniques.

The report has a section on the role of members in consultation, which is of course central. It reminds officers that this should be the case, and gives useful suggestions for councillors, concentrating on allowing sufficient time and budget, finding innovative ways of working themselves, and feeding their own local knowledge into the process.

Aimed at practitioners, this loose leafed, organic document, also covers equality of access, and the importance of clear internal communications.

- Copies, priced at£35 for local authorities, are available from LGMB

publications by faxing an order on 0171 296 6523

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