Engaging the public in policy-making is an important step. If it is not done well, it can damage the reputation not only of the specific policy initiative but of the organisations developing the policy.

There are occasions when public engagement should not be undertaken. For example:

  • if a decision has already effectively been made, and there is no room for change
  • as a tick-box exercise, because it is required, and there is no intention of taking any notice of what comes out of the engagement process
  • as a delaying tactic, because it is too difficult to make a decision immediately, but the engagement is not considered an important part of the decision-making process that will eventually take place

As long as there is room for change in the policy and the results of the engagement will make a difference, it is worth considering public engagement.

This might be at any stage of the policy process (see diagram below)

The stage of the policy process is one indication of the sorts of engagement methods that could be used (as shown in the diagram), as it is part of the context for the engagement. But the main factor is the purpose of the engagement, which means thinking about specific objectives.