These tips were submitted by a friend who works within the civil service, and has worked on analysing consultation responses before. If you are responding to a consultation and wish to make a positive impact on those reading your response, she recommends the following:
- You don't have to respond to every question if you don't want to.
- Succinct responses tend to have most impact...
- ...but don't let that make you refrain from saying things you think are important.
- Think: "If someone were summarising my response to the whole thing in a single sentence, what would that sentence be", and then put that sentence somewhere appropriate (either at the beginning, or if there's a suitably wide question at the end). If you're writing a particularly long answer to a question, you can do something similar at the question level too.
- Quantity of responses is more important than having beautifully worded and beautifully thought out ones. Put your efforts into persuading more people who agree with you to respond rather than in writing the most perfect consultation response ever.
- The Government pays more attention to responses from groups (which they call 'partners' and which the Labour Government called 'stakeholders') than to responses from individuals. So persuade any relevant groups you're part of to respond, and consider forming something like an online campaign group and responding collectively, so the response will be grouped with that of other 'partners'.
Editor's note: Police State UK are happy to act as a campaign group through which to respond collectively to consultations on civil liberties issues. If you would like to take this approach, please email us with the details of the consultation you would like to respond to, plus any thoughts you would like to see included in the response, and we will post a proposed response to the site to allow other readers to collaborate, comment, and add their names to the response. Once we have received people's feedback, we will put together and send a collective response as Police State UK.
- If you have the time and energy, do your research. And make sure you're doing the right research, which in this case means reading the documents which the ministers and civil servants who will read your response have written or read. For example, if you're responding to Iain Duncan Smith's 21st Century Welfare consultation on the future of the UK benefits system (which is open for responses until 1 October), then you will find Dynamic Benefits: from welfare to work useful - it was produced by Iain Duncan Smith's think tank in September 2009 (you need to scroll down to get to it).
- Be genuinely open to considering what the consultation is suggesting. Leave your preconceptions at the door. If there's anything in it you like, say so: don't make it look as though you would disagree with anything that a Tory Government could produce.
- Realistically, suggesting changes to the system proposed to make it better is likely to have more chance of succeeding than, say, telling IDS that the whole thing is rubbish. But if enough people do the latter, it will be hard for them to ignore entirely...
- If lots and lots of people write saying the same thing (and it's not the case that more people have written to say the opposite), the Government will pay attention and it will be reflected in policy. Maybe not as much as it should be, but at least to some extent. Consultation responses tend to be better heeded than letters, protests or petitions.