Required Skills & Knowledge - will 2023 be different?

Posted on 8th January, 2023




Or can it turbo-charge your career?




Wishing an experienced local government officer, a Happy New Year last week, I found myself predicting that 2023 could turn out to be an outstanding career development year for those in public engagement.


But will this year be any different …really?

Whereas dialogue methods have changed and moved significantly online, the fundamentals of consultation have not changed. Ever more imaginative ways to engage with stakeholders (but short of the rigours of consultation) have also emerged and participants seem pleased with them. And there is sometimes earlier involvement in problem definition and options development. The law continues to develop but has remained based upon the Gunning Principles etc for years.


In short, the basic skills and knowledge that Communications teams, policy-makers and accountable bodies need to know remain largely the same. For years, in The Consultation Institute, we met the demand for this training, and thousands of practitioners benefitted.


YET – 2023 will demand more – and reward those who demonstrate they’ve got it


This is the year when technical proficiency may need to be matched by political ‘nous’. Or, if you prefer, political savvy 

Here are four reasons why:

  1. This is the age of ‘wicked issues’Problems which defy easy, quick, or maybe any solutions at all. Whether it is climate change, NHS staffing, inflation-busting pay settlements or non-traditional immigration routes, beware of politicians or officials seeking to consult as a means just of appearing to ‘do something’. Resist time-consuming diversionary exercises that just kick cans marked ‘difficult’ down the road.
  2. It will be the penultimate year before a General election and no doubt political parties and politicians (local as well as national) will be anxious to do a certain amount of kite flying. Testing the public‘s reactions – and engaging with stakeholders is a legitimate element in policy development, and we can expect a large number of formal or informal consultations. Be conscious, however that some of these are speculative only and require more subtle treatment and some ‘get out’ clauses !
  3. Inflation and public expenditure curbs will mean horrendous conflicts of priorities for public bodies of all kinds. It is simply not possible to square the financial circle on fulfilling previous promises and maintaining within budget limits. When this happens, it is inevitable that painful decisions have to be taken, services withdrawn or redesigned. This can easily set stakeholder against stakeholder; service user against service user. Tough ...yes, but with tremendous scope for creative co-production and digital innovation
  4. There is a growing disconnect between the rhetoric of public involvement and the reality. Public confidence in politicians has suffered in recent years, and it cannot be assumed that what is published in official documents (or consultations!) will be believed. Attempts to reform planning laws became difficult because Conservative MPs in rural seats felt that their constituents would not trust officialdom to give them a fair hearing. Much needed infrastructure and net zero policies that arouse opposition will need careful handling. Trust is in short supply, but it is, in part, for consultors to rebuild it.

It is over four years since Elizabeth Gammell and I wrote The Politics of Consultation, but some of its key messages are becoming more relevant by the hour.

Ask yourself,

  • Who wants this change/project/initiative/policy/programme  ... and why?
  • Who does not want it?  ... and why?
  • Are the consequences/impacts fully appreciated?
  • How are the decision-makers accountable for their decision?

Remember that, in The Politics of Consultation, there is a golden rule.  If someone with political power or influence disagrees with a decision, they will search high and low for any procedural failure that can cast doubt upon it. And if there have been process mistakes, even a consultor with a popular case can struggle.


In 2023, those who offer wise advice in tricky scenarios will gain in credibility and respect.


Future-minded bosses will conclude that the world will not suddenly become simpler next year and beyond.

So the rising stars of 2023 will certainly have scope to make their mark this year.


May it be you!


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