How can online consultations be improved?

The Democratic Society and Snook are really excited to have been commissioned by the Government Digital Service to carry out a short piece of work exploring how the experience of online consultations, as run by Whitehall, can be improved.

We will be writing a number of blog posts over the course of the project to share our thinking and invite comment, as we’re really keen to hear the views from a wide range of individuals who have been involved in designing, writing, or responding to, consultations.

What are we doing?

Over the next six to eight weeks we will be undertaking desk research to explore a range of questions related to consultation processes. Starting from trying to build a greater understanding of ‘what is a typical consultation process inside central government?’, we will work to identify the specific types of individuals and organisations involved in the consultation process – from civil servants and Ministers, through to the wide range of individuals and organisations who may respond (or not!) to consultations.

Alongside this we will be carrying out user research to understand the motivations and behaviours attached to the process, while working to identify what would make a good consultation experience for these groups. While offline consultation practices are not specifically explored as part of this work, we are aware that any online and offline consultation practices will need to support each other.

What do we mean by ‘online consultations’?

The term ‘consultation’ doesn’t have a fixed definition in the UK, and with a wide range of interactions between central government, and citizens and organisations, it can be difficult to pin down exactly what this word means. However, for this project, we will be considering those instances when central government is asking questions of ‘the public’ to inform either their decision making process and/or as part of a statutory requirement.

This definition of consultation doesn’t include process for gathering feedback from users or complaints services. It also doesn’t include responses to challenges initiated by Government such as the Red Tape Challenge, or spontaneous interactions when a citizen or organisation may directly contact a department or Minister. However, we won’t be limiting our work just to the more traditional idea of consultations – such as when a department may release a short questionnaire and invite responses – and we will be also looking at some of the more innovative methods that departments may use, including the use of deliberative online forums.

How you can help?

We’re keen to speak to a very wide range of people and organisations who are (or potentially could be) involved in consultations. This includes:

  • Government officials in local or national governments who’ve been involved in setting up digital platforms to hear citizens’ views or engage with citizens
  • Government officials who design consultations or use consultation responses in developing policy – either in the UK or elsewhere
  • Organisations or individuals who respond to consultations – be that trade unions, academics, lobby groups, campaign groups, or interested citizens
  • Organisations or individuals who don’t respond to government consultations (as you may hold a whole host of ideas about how things can improve!)

You can contact me (Michelle) on If you let me know roughly which group mentioned above that you fall into and where you are based, we will then get in touch to see if we can carry out an interview with you for our research. Don’t worry, all your details can be anonymised in our findings.

We’re also very keen to hear from anyone who may have access to studies, or insight, that could help this research, so if this applies to you, please do get in touch also!