There are a number of important roles during consultation processes:
- facilitator of the process
- recorder of the views expressed during consultation
- participant in consultation as an involved party
- technical expert
- political representative.
A person may hold a combination of the above roles at different stages of the consultation process. For example, with the exception of political representation, RMA practitioners may fill any of these roles in any consultation process. Because of this, RMA practitioners should carefully consider and clearly define their role in consultation with regard to how the consultation will transfer into the development of the plan.
Councillors have an important role in consultation processes as the council is the primary decision-maker on any plan.
It is therefore important that councillors:
- have early awareness or buy-in to consultation processes
- if possible, complete consultation within one electoral cycle to avoid political change (provided this does not curtail sufficient time for effective and meaningful consultation)
- play a positive role in consultation; there is often value in having a champion (councillor or mayor) who secures resources and speaks with the community - so they get to know the parties and issues early on
- are kept up to date with the results of consultation.
The use of external RMA professionals experienced in plan development and consultation may also be useful to assist with consultation exercises. Although this option may be costly, it can promote community understanding and prove to be cost-effective in the long term.
Trained professionals, such as facilitators, can often have a useful and important role in consultation exercises. Consider using independent facilitators when:
- a neutral position is preferable
- council staff wish to listen and not appear to be leading the process
- council staff are otherwise busy or unable to attend consultation meetings
- council staff are required as technical experts during consultation
- there are difficulties in the relationship with those being consulted and/or other problems.
You might also consider seeking expert advice from communications specialists. They can assist with managing media, and possibly prepare information packs for the public and special interest groups.
Technical experts can also be useful in consultation exercises by:
- educating the community on technical matters and options
- offering potential solutions to problems (in many cases the solutions may sit outside the RMA)
- providing independent or alternative views
- identifying constraints to various approaches.