Consultation fatigue


An email alerted me that a discussion document was available for perusal and gave me instructions on how to download it.


The instructions didn’t work. Perhaps it was due to the incompatibility with our computer, possibly it was the inability of our rural telephone lines to cope with the task or more probably it was my incompetence. Whatever the reason I gave up on technology and requested a copy by post which arrived, as promised, a couple of days later.


I read it from the foreword at the front to the appendices at the back but finished little wiser. There were lots of  general statements with which reasonable people would be hard pressed to disagree. There were a couple of points with which I had a philosophical problem but they were non-negotiable.  


There was also a whole lot of  good intention couched in bureaucrat-speak. And there amongst the linguistic equivalent of candyfloss was a list of meeting dates.


One of these happened to be in Dunedin on a day I had to be there anyway so I turned up at the appointed time to listen and as I listened I had a very strong feeling of déjà vu.


This wasn’t surprising because I had done this before. It was at different places and different times over different issues but it was the same sort of process: they write, we read; they call a meeting, we attend; they talk we listen; we ask questions, they answer; we offer opinions they talk some more. Then we all go away and in the fullness of time they make decisions which appear to take little or no notice of our contribution.


The first time I was involved in such a consultative process was when I was a Plunket mother with a baby who is now in her 20s. That was over social welfare. It was followed by a variety of meetings and musings over mutations in the health system and there were also discussions on education.


Sometimes I was consulted as a member of the public, sometimes as a representative of a group,  sometimes it was as a rural woman.  Sometimes nothing happened as a result of the consultation, sometimes it did but I don’t think it ever bore any relation to anything I’d submitted.


Sometimes that was my fault because my views were ill founded or impractical. Sometimes it was because regardless of the merit of the suggestions, there wasn’t the money to implement them. And sometimes I got the feeling it was because the process of consultation was a naked emperor.


It sounded good, created a lot of  excitement, cost a lot, promised much but delivered little and when it was all over there was nothing to show for it. In the light of this I’ve developed a submission which is simple and has universal application: I want stability, accountability and flexibility.


Stability because I’m sick of the waste of time, energy and money which comes with changes rather than improvements; accountability so we know who’s responsible; and flexibility because different people and different communities have different needs.


If this could be accomplished as efficiently as possible at the least possible cost, that would be a bonus. And if it gives us something that lets the people who actually do things get on with doing them without the need for further consultation that would be even better.

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