Why REAL and proactive consultation is important

If you aim to represent people at any level, wherever you are, it should be apparent to you that consultation is key. But what does that actually mean? It means you actually need to make sure that you do anything and everything in your power to ensure that the people you are representing are properly consulted about any decision, feedback, or whatever you are going to do on their behalf. Sounds pretty straightforward right? It may be ‘in principle’ but in actual practice it is something, particularly safe seats for particular parties, that is quite often overlooked.

At Brighton University, I am the course rep for my Level 4 Ba (Hons) Politics course. I need to make sure I am the most effective gap between the faculty and the students. This means that I need to make sure that at every meeting I go to, where I am meant to feedback on the opinions that students have, that the staff know exactly what they are thinking and then what staff have to feedback to students on a general basis. If students want one to one feedback with their lecturers and staff, then I advise them to go and organise a meeting with them.

The first “Course Board Meeting” is Wednesday I am unable to go as I have to go back to Warsash to attend the Warsash Residents’ Association’s AGM where I have to go and see who is going to take my place since I left the position back in September. How could I possibly go to this meeting when I had commitments back home? Well… I decided to do a proper consultation. If I want to be a representative at some point in my life, I figured I’d better hit the ground running and do what I’d eventually need to do.

First thing was first, I had to email the Chair of the meeting to let them know that I wasn’t able to make it. However, I went a bit further. I told them that I had started a consultation via SurveyMonkey that I had sent off to all students on the Politics course and that it was open for five days, after which I would produce a report that I would send to the people included in the original email notifying them of the meeting and then also all the students on the course. So from the 10th of November to the 15th I had this Survey up and we had 7 responses from about 38 students. After this I completed my report with my findings and at the back of it I also included some of the comments I had received (that were relevant) prior to the consultation. The students felt well represented and were happy about the fact that I had done this.

Now where did I get this inspiration to do this from? Well, weirdly enough, it was from how Fareham Borough Council (FBC) does consultations. Before you jump and go “Hang on Miles, you’ve always criticised FBC’s conduct in consultation” and you would be right. The real inspiration was the fact that I thought, and I knew, I could do it in a much pro-active way than they currently do. In my honest opinion, particularly from what I’ve seen (including the consultations on Welborne), Tory councillors are quite lackluster when it comes to proper consultation.

What do I mean by this? When I canvassed last year and the year prior, I found it was a very tiny minority of people who had seen (and an even tinier minority who had responded to) FBC consultations. Many people didn’t even know there was an election on and nearly nobody knew who their councillor was. The fact is that it’s easier to stick a bit of laminated orange paper on a lamp post than it is to actually go door to door and at least notify people that there is a consultation underway. If you want to represent people in this day and age you need to use a hybrid of getting off your backside and getting on social media. Things like Voice 4 Locks Heath and other community groups and hugely important for people to spread the word, and if you’re an elected representative why don’t you too? Facebook is free… unless you count the bill for the electricity you’re using.

Though I guess if you’re in a safe seat, it’s far easier to speak to the very few people “in the know” and get a “representative sample” than it is to consult a broader demographic. I guess I’ll do it differently then.

See you on the electoral frontline!

Thanks for reading,

Miles

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