Public consultation, or simply consultation, is a regulatory process by which the public’s input on matters affecting them is sought. Its main goals are in improving the efficiency, transparency and public involvement in large-scale projects or laws and policies. It usually involves notification (to publicise the matter to be consulted on), consultation (a two-way flow of information and opinion exchange) as well as participation (involving interest groups in the drafting of policy or legislation). A frequently used tool for understanding different levels of community participation in consultation is known as Arnstein’s ladder.
The process is typical of Commonwealth countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada,New Zealand or Australia, though most democratic countries have similar systems. In the United States, for example, this process is called “public notice and comment” (see Rulemaking). Some organisations such as the OECD also use such processes. In Canada, the word “consultation” has a special meaning among some First Nations Groups: “it is the duty of the Crown and third parties to consult with First Nations who have asserted, but not proved, aboriginal rights or title.”
There is great variation of public consultations. In some countries there is a list of all consultations, or consultations are mentioned in normal news feed. Depending on the country there can be national or regional public consultations.
Ineffective consultations are considered to be cosmetic consultations that were done due to obligation or show and not true participatory decision making.