Stakeholder and Public Engagement


This Community Risk Programme guidance has been prepared in support of the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) being enabled to deliver more consistent consultation and engagement activities The guidance supports both decision-makers and those undertaking engagement and consultation in their efforts to involve employees, impacted groups, local communities, and key stakeholders, and offers practical ideas for those planning for a public consultation and stakeholder engagement.

The guidance builds upon the Fire and Rescue National Framework, which states that each plan should “reflect effective consultation throughout its development and at all review stages with the community, its workforce, and representative bodies and partners; and be easily accessible and publicly available”.

It is recognised that many FRSs already have designed and implemented engagement and consultation activities, and in some cases, these are required to operate within specific local governance structures. Therefore, this guidance has been developed with these differences in mind and offers modular support for both senior managers with responsibility for oversight and assurance activities, and practical guidance for teams responsible for delivery.

This is not designed to be regulatory guidance but, instead, is a suite of advisory options and tools for use when an FRS is developing plans for their engagement regarding their Community Risk Management Plan (CRMP) and for any associated minimal or significant service change proposals.

Created in collaboration with The Consultation Institute (tCI), the UK-based Institute that sets best practice standards in public engagement and consultation, this guidance aims to provide practical guidance on how to approach, plan, and deliver stakeholder engagement and public consultation programmes to a more consistent standard.

In using this guidance, it is important to reflect on the purpose and objective of consultation:

“Consultation is the dynamic process of dialogue between individuals or groups, based upon a genuine exchange of views, with the objective of influencing decisions, policies or programmes of action.” – The Consultation Institute

Consultation should therefore be viewed as an activity that adds value to and supports the CRMP. If undertaken to appropriate standards, consultation can help to create a better understanding of the needs of local communities and stakeholders that the FRS is seeking to support, and through a genuine exchange of views should help to create a CRMP that is more closely aligned to these needs.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: tCI does not provide legal advice. This guidance has been prepared for the NFCC as a summary of the issues to consider when planning for and implementing a consultation.

When conducting consultation, it is strongly recommended that independent legal advice should always be sought to ensure that any issues that have been appropriately identified and mitigated, and are dealt with in an appropriate manner.

Legislation and Statutory Duties

Regardless of governance structures, decision-makers for the provision of Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) must have regard to any legislative and statutory duties regarding carrying out their functions. Therefore, each FRS should consult widely in line with its governance and statutory legislation requirements, to ensure its Community Risk Management Plan (CRMP) draws upon the widest possible range of data and views and represents the best possible response to local needs and expectations.

Effective consultation can act as a catalyst for greater community participation. If members of the public believe they are being listened to, they are more likely to make suggestions for improving services or ask for information.

Engagement processes are a positive activity that enables open communication with the public and stakeholders to discuss and influence FRS activity; however, it is important to note that the process can become more challenging when the topic is deemed to be contentious. For example, proposals to reduce service provision, for example by closing a fire station, or by reducing the number of appliances or firefighters available can frequently raise issues of genuine concern among stakeholders, communities, and employees.

Some people might be prepared to accept a substantive case for reducing fire cover locally in order that resources might be redeployed elsewhere. Others may regard any reduction in cover, even if the current use of the resource is limited, as a challenge to local safety that must be resisted as a matter of principle. Proposals to alter or even increase fire cover, for example by constructing a fire station in a new area, can also attract opposition for other reasons such as perceived noise, increased traffic, or a perception that land should be used for other regeneration.

Where an FRS maintains an ongoing dialogue with communities, local opinion about options for change can be canvassed at an early stage. Consultees presented with a fait accompli are more likely to react negatively to proposals for change. If the process undertaken to meet this statutory duty were to be tested in court under a judicial review, the principles of Common Law or Case Law also apply.


Good governance is a key enabler to delivering an effective and high-quality consultation.

Consultation mandate

Defining the scope and purpose of a public consultation – The first aspect of governance for a stakeholder and public consultation is a project plan that contains a clear set of objectives and defines: who is consulting, for what purpose, and what will happen as a result. The Consultation Institute (tCI) uses a framework known as the Consultation Mandate to help organisations define these basic parameters as part of initial planning activities.

A consultation mandate contains seven different elements, which ensures all important aspects of a public consultation are defined as follows:

  • The body that is running the consultation.
  • The target audience(s) whose views are being sought as part of the consultation
  • The issue(s) on which to consult
  • The body that will be making decisions after the consultation is completed (also referred to as ‘the Actor’)
  • What actions (the decisions and changes) that may be made because of this process
  • The date by which decisions and changes will be announced.
  • The wider purpose of the consultation (answering the question of what will be accomplished because of the consultation).


Things to consider

  • Clarity in defining who is consulting (the Fire and Rescue Service) and who will ultimately make decisions following the consultation – which may be the governing body.
  • Evaluating the purpose of consulting carefully so that it is clear why a public consultation process is being held, and what influence this may have over the outcome and decisions taken.
  • Ensuring that proposals are at a formative stage (Gunning Principle 1), which means that no decisions have yet been taken on the proposals under consideration. If decisions have been taken, it is important to be clear what has been decided, and what is still open to influence, and why.
  • Identification of who is likely to be impacted by the proposals under consideration. This links to the findings from stakeholder mapping and Equality and People Impact Assessments (EqIA).


Questions to ask

  • Does the CRMP scope and operating context seem reasonable, is anything missing?
  • Have all hazards been identified?
  • Does the risk analysis seem reasonable?
  • Feedback and input to proposals for mitigating the risks identified.
  • Identification of additional ideas for addressing the risks identified.

There may also be other more specific objectives depending on the scope of the Community Risk Management Plan.

Questions to ask

Have consultees been provided with all the relevant information, so they can fully understand the CRMP?

Does the information provided show:

  • the intelligence which has been used to develop it
  • any proposals being considered because of the process?

Role definition

A key element of the consultation mandate is to define the roles of different actors, specifically who is consulting, and who will be making any decisions, and for what purpose.

Defining the role of the Consultor

For a public consultation on Community Risk Management Plan (CRMP), the Consultor is usually the Chief Fire Officer (CFO), Chief Executive (CEO). It is the ‘consultor’ who undertakes the consultation on behalf of the ‘decision-maker’, and who will, based on feedback from the consultation, make a recommendation to the decision-maker.

Defining the role of the Decision-Maker

There are several governance frameworks that influence the overall decision-making and responsibility for Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) functions, and these include Fire & Rescue Authorities, Police, Fire, and Crime commissioner, London Fire Commissioner, or Mayor as elected.

A Police, Fire, and Crime commissioner (PFCC) Responsibilities

A PFCC must additionally produce a fire and rescue plan. The plan should set out the strategic vision, priorities and objectives for their fire and rescue service over the period of the document in connection with the discharge of their functions. This plan can be revised as frequently as considered necessary, but the Government’s expectation is that a plan should be produced and issued shortly after the PFCC takes office.

In developing this plan, the PFCC must make arrangements for obtaining the view of the community, as they currently do in preparing their Police and Crime Plan. These views can cover both the Fire and Rescue Plan and the (Community Risk Management Plan) CRMP and so there is no need for separate consultations to be undertaken, although local areas can consult as often as they consider necessary. The Government’s expectation is that this plan should inform the CRMP, which should in turn outline how the PFCC’s priorities will be met.

From a project governance perspective, it is the decision-maker who should take the decision to proceed with public consultation and approve the consultation plan and documents to be used, including the questions that are to be asked. Once the consultation is closed and a report has been prepared and published, it will be the decision-maker who is responsible for agreeing to the actions to be taken.

During the final stage, the decision-maker should receive a copy of the consultation feedback report and any other important responses received (such as petitions or letters), as well as the recommendation from the Chief Fire Officer, Chief Executive.  Regarding the proposals contained in the CRMP. This should also include an updated EqIA, detailing the likely impact of recommended proposals on protected characteristics groups and should show any associated mitigation measures.  This is to ensure the decision-maker exercises the duty of ‘due regard’ for equalities implications. The decision-maker usually issues feedback confirming the outcome of this process.

Delivery management

The management and oversight of engagement or public consultation will be undertaken by a senior manager within the Fire and Rescue Service, supported by an internal team or external resource. The senior manager should have access to the Chief Fire Officer, Chief Executive. To review progress against milestones, and ultimately to the decision-maker in terms of approving key stages, such as the decision to proceed with the public consultation.

Internal or Independent Delivery

There are advantages and disadvantages of running a continuous engagement or consultation exercise whether using in-house resource, independent facilitators, or analysts. This is a decision for the Fire and Rescue Service, based on the skills and experience of the incumbent team who will have strong networks and relationships with the community, versus an independent specialist with no perceived conflict of interest.

Assessing Risk

As with any project, there is a need for appropriate risk management to be undertaken as part of good planning and implementation:  public consultation is no different. Undertaking an assessment of potential risks can be helpful in terms of understanding any potentially controversial aspects of the consultation and provide for strong project governance.

The scope of the risk assessment depends on the stage of planning and whether options development and appraisal have been undertaken.

It is recommended that a consulter should consider potential risk in five key areas:

  1. Public and Stakeholder risk: the potential for negative reaction from public and stakeholder audiences, and the extent to which a challenge to the consultation might originate. Key to assessing this risk is the need to consider who has historically engaged with the CRMP, the extent of the changes which are proposed, and the likely scale of impact on audiences.
    A key point is to ensure that the full impact and reach of any proposed changes are communicated effectively, so they are fully understood by consultees. For example, identifying what impact there could be on local business infrastructure such as manufacturing and distribution, especially where these sites provide significant employment opportunity for the local area. This will enable consultees to provide meaningful feedback and offer potential alternatives to any changes proposed.
  2. Political risk: the risk of challenge to the consultation from political groups as well as other public bodies, local Non-Government Organisations, and campaign groups. There is a need to consider the relationship with other relevant statutory bodies, as well as elected representatives and local key stakeholders to assess the degree to which there is support for the proposals or potential for a challenge to be faced.
  3. Expert Leadership: the risk of insufficient understanding and support for an effective consultation at a senior leadership level within the FRS. Is there an understanding of what is involved in undertaking an effective public consultation, as well as strong leadership and advocacy for the proposed change at a senior level.
  4. Management: the extent to which project planning, and sufficient resources, are in place to support an effective consultation. This includes the need to consider whether the impacts of potential proposals have been appropriately assessed and are supported by a clear narrative and communications plan.
  5. Legal: the risk of legal challenge from not meeting accepted standards for conducting a public consultation, as well as the extent to which the impact of proposals on communities has been appropriately prepared and scrutinised.

To ensure that the discussion explores each area appropriately, it is recommended that a risk assessment is conducted using a workshop format with a trained independent facilitator with knowledge of potential areas of consultation risk.

A key factor in delivering an effective risk assessment is the questions that are asked, and the ability to explore each area in detail.

The risk analysis should be co-produced with the Programme Management team (including key decision-makers) and conducted in a way that sets the parameters of the discussion at the beginning, for example if it is to be ‘in confidence’.

The output of the risk assessment usually includes a quantitative assessment of each risk area together with a summary rationale for each score, and potential mitigation to reduce the likelihood and impact of each issue.

Legal principles

The most important of the legal principles which govern stakeholder and public consultation are the Gunning Principles, which were presented by Stephen Sedley QC as part of a court case in 1985 relating to a school closure consultation (R v London Borough of Brent ex parte Gunning). Prior to this, little consideration had been given to the law governing public consultation, however because of this legal challenge, case law has defined that a consultation is only legitimate when the following four principles are met:

  1. Proposals are still at a formative stage. A final decision has not yet been made, or predetermined, by the decision-makers.
  2. There is sufficient information to give ‘intelligent consideration.’ The information provided must relate to the consultation and must be available, accessible, and easily interpretable for consultees to provide an informed response.
  3. There is adequate time for consideration and response. There must be sufficient opportunity for consultees to participate in the consultation. There is no set timeframe for consultation, despite the widely accepted 12-week consultation period, as the length of time given for consultees to respond can vary depending on the subject and extent of impact of the consultation.
  4. ‘Conscientious Consideration’ must be given to the consultation responses before a decision is made, and decision-makers should be able to provide evidence that they took consultation responses into account.

These principles were reinforced in 2001 in the ‘Coughlan Case (R v North and East Devon Health Authority ex parte Coughlan)’, which involved a health authority closure and confirmed that they applied to all consultations, and then in a Supreme Court case in 2014 (R ex parte Moseley v LB Haringey), which endorsed the legal standing of the four principles.

Since these cases, the Gunning Principles have formed a strong legal foundation from which the legitimacy of public consultations is assessed and are frequently referred to as a legal basis for judicial review decisions.

Other Legal Considerations

A legitimate expectation is where a public body states that it will, or will not do something, a person who has reasonably relied on that statement should be entitled to enforce it in court For example, a Chief Fire Officer (CFO), Chief Executive (CEO), or elected official, may be quoted in a local newspaper or Board paper as saying “we will undertake a full consultation on any proposals”. Failure to undertake such a consultation could then be challenged and deemed as unlawful.

Pre-election periods

Previously, the term ‘purdah’ was popularly used across central and local government to describe the period immediately before elections or referendums, when specific restrictions on communications activity are in place. The terms ‘pre-election period’ and ‘heightened sensitivity’ are now used instead.

This applies to all public bodies:

  • where a member of the Fire Authority or decision-making body is a locally elected council member, and
  • for Police Fire & Crime Commissioner (PFCC) elections.

It is important to note that pre-election rules restrict activity more widely than just in publicity. Use of public sector facilities and resources, developing new policies, and holding events (including some meetings) featuring elected officials should all be carefully considered during a period of heightened sensitivity.

Publicity is defined as ‘any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public’.

The first question to ask is ‘Could a reasonable person conclude that you are spending public money to influence the outcome of the election?’ In other words, it must pass the ‘Is it reasonable?’ test.

Consideration should also be given to continuing to run campaign material to support local initiatives. If the campaign is already running and is non-controversial (for example, on issues like recruitment, fire safety, or road safety) and would be a waste of public money to cancel or postpone them, then continue. However, in cases where a campaign could be deemed likely to influence the outcome of the election, such as in the case where a candidate might use it for campaign purposes, the campaign should stop or be deferred.

No new consultations should commence during the pre-election periods unless it is a statutory duty or considered normal business. Careful consideration should also be given to starting any new consultations, or publishing report findings from consultation exercises that could be politically sensitive.

Judicial Review

Judicial Review is the legal process by which the Courts can review the decisions of public bodies and determine if the law has been correctly followed.  It is important to note that Judicial Review is not a review of the merits of a decision, rather The Court confines itself to considering whether the decision being challenged was lawful and complies with the principles of public law. As such, Judicial Review is the primary process by which members of the public can challenge the lawfulness of a decision that is taken by the public body, such as the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) Governing Body, following a consultation on the Community Risk Management Plan.

Please note that the guidance on Judicial Review has been prepared as an outline of the process to provide an understanding of what to expect, and how the process operates. THIS GUIDANCE IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE, and it is recommended that an FRS should always seek independent legal advice should the matter of Judicial Review arise as part of a public consultation.

Judicial review cases can be brought by individuals or groups of people and are legal cases against public bodies or private bodies exercising a public function. There are three conditions which must be fulfilled for the High Court to give permission for an application for Judicial Review to be heard. These include:

  • Time limits: The application must be made “promptly, and in any event within three months from the date when the grievance arose”. Some legislation will apply a shorter time limit than the three-month limit, and a court may hold that even an application made in less than three months is not prompt enough.
  • Standing: An applicant must have “locus standi” or standing to make the application. Generally, this means that the applicant must have a sufficient interest in the matter to be considered.
  • Public law: The application must relate to a public law matter, not one based in private law or tort.

Judicial Review process

The description below outlines the process of Judicial Review and what happens at different stages of the process in England and Wales. It should be noted that there are procedural differences in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although the purpose of the process remains the same, but local legal advice should be sought for further information on this.

There is no default ‘right’ to judicial review, and permission must be granted by the High Court before a case can be brought. Although not common, equally, a court may insist upon some form of alternative dispute resolution being attempted before a case is brought to the court.

The pre-court requirements for judicial review requires the claimant to send a letter before a claim to the defendant and give them appropriate time to respond (usually 14 days). This is the first formal notification that a public body will receive that an individual or group of people wishes to bring a case for Judicial Review.

The defendant has the opportunity either to respond with a full response or may request more time, if appropriate. If the letter before a claim does not resolve the dispute, then an application is made to the High Court for permission to bring a claim.

The application will be considered on the papers submitted and will examine whether the claim was brought ‘promptly’ (as outlined above). Permission will be granted for Judicial Review if the court is satisfied that there is an arguable case for review. If permission is granted, the Review will then give directions for the case to be heard. If the court is unsure from the papers whether a case should be heard, it may adjourn into open court for a hearing, at which often both sides attend.

There is an appeal’s process either for the refusal of an application for judicial review, or the refusal of relief (outcome) by the High Court, which involves the Court of Appeal, and ultimately, the Supreme Court.

Grounds for judicial review

There are four potential grounds for a Judicial Review claim:

  1. Illegality: this ground can be successful when an authority has acted unlawfully in their decision-making.
  2. Irrationality: this ground occurs when the decision is considered unreasonable or irrational.
  3. Procedural impropriety: this ground applies when procedural impropriety occurs in the process which led to a decision.
  4. Legitimate expectation: this is the ground that is usually used by someone who believes they should have been consulted over a decision, and have not been.

Outcome (Relief) of Judicial Review

If the Court finds for the Claimant, there are several remedies (reliefs) available, including:

  • Quashing order: the decision of the public body is quashed.
  • Prohibiting order: a public body is prohibited from undertaking something.
  • Mandatory order: the public authority must perform a specific act.
  • Declaration: a declaration clarifying the rights and obligations of both parties, which can be escalated to further orders later if the public body ignores the declaration.
  • Injunction: an order to stop a public body acting unlawfully.
  • Damages: these are only awarded in specific cases.

There are several implications of Judicial review for a Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) to consider:

  • Costs: Judicial review will require significant organisational resource and external legal support, which can be costly.
  • Time delays: Although the judicial review process needs to be launched promptly, there is usually a delay in the case being heard and a final decision being published by the Court, which can delay any decisions pertinent to the action or activity under review.
  • Reputation: Having a judicial review case brought can have reputational implications for the Community Risk Management Plan as well as the FRS itself.

Examples of Judicial Review

It is important to remember that judicial review is concerned with the lawfulness of the decision(s) taken by a public body and not the merits of the decision itself. Three examples of recent Judicial review cases are provided here to illustrate the process and how cases are considered by the Courts.

The importance of publishing all relevant consultation documents

London Fire Brigade R (London Borough of Islington and others) v The Mayor of London and others [2013] EWHC 4142 

This case focused on the disclosure of relevant information and highlights the importance of making sure that all relevant information concerning the proposals is published as part of the consultation materials

London Fire Brigade needed to make substantial financial savings, and decisions were taken to reduce costs by closing ten fire stations, decommissioning 14 fire appliances, and reducing the number of firefighters by 552. These decisions were made in the Fifth London Safety Plan 2013-2016 and a draft of this plan was consulted upon between 4th March and 17th June, although one piece of information related to third appliance attendance times was not released until after the consultation had closed.

Numerous grounds were advanced by the claimant over the entire consultation process, however for the purposes here we shall consider only the consultation related aspects. The claimant asserted that the whole consultation process did not disclose the most controversial implications of the cuts, that information provided was misleading, and that the consulter had doctored and used statistical sleight of hand to misrepresent information. In light of this, the claimant submitted that there had not been the ‘effective consultation’ as required by the National Framework.  

Overall, the judge considered that the consultation process had not been sufficiently flawed to render it unlawful. Although there had been missteps and potential improvements had been identified with the benefit of hindsight, none of them individually or collectively rendered the consultation unlawful, and the case was concluded in favour of the decision-maker.

The need to conscientiously consider all findings from consultation

Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) R (ex parte Kohler) v MPOAC [2018] EWHC 1881

This case focuses on the importance of considering all material arguments when decisions are taken following a stakeholder and public consultation.  This is an important example of how, when making a post-consultation decision, there is a need to conscientiously consider the findings of, and all material points raised by the consultation (Gunning Principle 4).

The Mayor of London and Metropolitan Police consulted in 2017 on proposals to close several police counters, including Wimbledon Police Station. Professor Kohler, who had been subject to a serious assault in 2014 and lived in Wimbledon, responded on behalf of the Merton Liberal Democrats, arguing that the suggested cost savings were based on yet unproven technological solutions and that the decision for closure should be deferred until further evidence was available to prove the cost savings were possible.

The claimant argued that the Deputy Mayor as decision-maker had not given conscientious consideration to the argument advanced by a specific respondent (Prof Kohler), and that his response had been summarised inadequately by an in-house team and the Deputy Mayor could not confirm that she had personally read the response.

The claimant case was however upheld on the grounds of the decision-maker having failed to consider a material point raised during the consultation, namely the suggestion that closure of Wimbledon Police Station should be postponed pending evaluation of the new technology. On this basis, the Court ruled the decision to close Wimbledon police station was unlawful. Other grounds were also claimed in terms of sufficient information not being available to enable intelligent consideration of the proposals, however these were rejected by the Court.

Importance of considering equalities

KE v Bristol City Council [2018] EWHC (Admin) 21031 

This is a legal case which highlights the importance of undertaking a robust and thorough analysis of equalities’ impacts when making policy decisions. The case against Bristol Council was brought by local parents over a decision to reduce the high needs budget by over £5m per year. The claimants challenged the decision on the grounds that the decision was made in a way which was:

  • irrational
  • procedurally unfair
  • in breach of the Council’s statutory duties under s.149 Equality Act 2010 (“public sector equality duties”), and
  • in breach of other statutory requirements for services to children and young people.

The parents argued that the council failed to consider the equalities impacts of the cuts, or to consult on the decision. The court agreed, finding that the Council had not discharged the “heavy burden” of the duties under the Equality Act 2010 by undertaking a thorough and rigorous analysis of the equalities impacts, nor had the Council complied with the mandate that children, young people, and their parents should be consulted when reviews are carried out under the Children & Families Act 2014.

The Court noted that: “the decision-making process appears to have been driven entirely from the standpoint of ensuring a balanced budget by 2020/2021”.

The judgement continued by explaining:

There is no evidence from the extensive paperwork evidencing the Defendant’s decision-making process, that members of the Council had any regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, still less “actively promote” children’s welfare when making the decision to proceed with the proposed savings.

The decision did not therefore meet the requirements of the common law principle of procedural fairness.

Further detailed information on the process and procedural requirements can be found here:

Senior Manager Guide

This section of guidance has been prepared specifically for senior managers responsible for reviewing consultation preparations and plans and deciding whether to proceed with launching a public consultation.

In making such a recommendation, the approving manager needs to be confident that numerous important preparatory elements are in place, and that a public consultation is based on a clear definition of what the consultation covers. This should also include having clear and accessible information, and appropriate feedback mechanisms to collect and analyse any responses received.

Agreeing to proceed to launch is an important stage in preparing for public consultation.  The approving senior manager needs to consider if preparations have been undertaken correctly and whether the plans for the consultation meet required standards of good practice and are in line with legal requirements. Without considering such aspects there could be a significant risk of legal challenge to the public consultation, a process that can be both costly, time-consuming to manage, and have a negative impact on the Fire and Rescue Service reputation.

Preparing for consultation

In deciding if the preparatory activities and planning for public consultation have been undertaken appropriately, there are several factors to consider.

Consultation Mandate

It is crucial that any consultation plan has a clear set of objectives that state who is consulting, for what purpose, and what will happen as a result. In considering these questions, it is important to remember that public consultation in relation to CRMP is seeking to provide the Fire and Rescue Service with views from the local community on the following:

  • Does the Community Risk Management Plan (CMRP)  scope and operating context seem reasonable, and is anything missing?
  • Have all hazards been identified?
  • Does the risk analysis seem reasonable?
  • Has feedback and input to proposals for mitigating the risks been identified?
  • Have additional ideas for addressing the risks identified been noted.
  • Does the CRMP include identification of any barriers to accessing services due to a person’s protected characteristics.

A useful tool for deciding if a public consultation has a clearly defined scope is the Consultation Mandate, which can be used to ensure that all aspects have been considered and defined. A key issue to consider during this process is whether any decision(s) has already been taken with regard to any of the proposals or any aspects of the proposals, as this could be considered pre-determination and unlawful.  In such instances, the scope of the consultation should be amended, and an appropriate explanation provided as to why a decision has been taken.

Key questions to consider:

Has a consultation mandate been prepared, and does it define all aspects of the consultation?

Does the consultation plan clearly state the purpose of the CRMP consultation, and what decisions will be taken once the consultation feedback has been considered?

Is it clear that no decision has been taken on any of the proposals that are included in the consultation?

Are the potential impacts of changes clearly identified?

A key aspect of preparing for public consultation is to fully understand the potential impact of any changes which are proposed, and to ensure that those who may be impacted by the changes are identified, and any potential impacts assessed (refer to – Substantial Change). Such a process should normally include the following:

  • Early engagement with key stakeholders
  • Proportionate early consultation
  • A specific pre-consultation exercise for proposed major changes
  • Equality and People Impact Assessments (EqIA) impacts are clearly identified
  • Consultation delivery plan
  • Presentation of information
  • Are the right questions being asked

Are the potential impacts of changes clearly identified?

Pre-consultation enables better understanding of views and impact.

This process enables the Community Risk Management Plan (CRMP) risk profile to be explored in more detail, for potential challenges to be identified, and to consider mitigation of the risks identified. This represents an early opportunity to discuss risks and identify possible ideas and solutions for the CRMP. It can also help to engage stakeholders ahead of any public consultation activity.

Proportionate early consultation

The extent of early (pre-consultation) engagement to be undertaken will depend on the scale of potential change, with the level of activity proportionate to the change anticipated. This process may also be substituted for other engagement mechanisms. For instance, some Fire and Rescue Services use continuous engagement as an approach for early engagement in Community Risk Management Plan preparation, while others may wish to undertake a specific programme of engagement purely as preparation for public consultation.

Either way, the degree of engagement needs to be proportionate to the level of change that is being proposed. Proportionality will be determined by several factors, such as:

  • The degree of impact of the proposals
  • The relative risk and impact of the service being considered for change
  • Incident data, and overall community risk.

A specific pre-consultation exercise for proposed major changes

If the proposed changes involve significant changes to resources, including fire station closure, it is considered good practice to conduct a pre-consultation exercise ahead of a structured options development and appraisal process to generate a set of ranked proposals for consideration.

Equality and People Impact Assessments (EqIA) impacts are clearly identified

EqIA impacts should be identified and included in the proposals, with appropriate mitigation strategies, as required.

In all cases, to help ensure that impacted groups can be targeted and engaged as part of the public consultation, it is important that there is a clear analysis of the stakeholder landscape, with potentially impacted groups identified.

Key Questions to consider:

Does the consultation plan and its associated documentation explain how early engagement has been used to identify and validate the risks faced, and to identify possible solutions to mitigate against the identified risks?

If the CRMP proposes significant change to resourcing and infrastructure, has an appropriate level of early engagement been conducted, including a transparent options development and appraisal process?

Does the consultation plan identify key impacted groups and contain plans to engage such communities to understand their views?

Have the impacts of the proposals on protected characteristics groups been identified in the development and assessment of options and proposals?

Does the consultation plan appear reasonable?

Consultation delivery plan

In addition to developing proposals for public consultation and identifying impacted audiences, there is a need to create an appropriate plan for delivery of the consultation. Such a plan should summarise the activities designed to engage target audiences and outline how resources will be deployed during the consultation to effectively ensure delivery of the consultation and feedback.

Things to consider

Does the plan provide:

  • A clear outline of the role and purpose of the consultation
  • Clearly description of what communications activities will raise awareness and how specifically impacted audiences are to be targeted and engaged during the consultation
  • Description of how digital channels will be used, for what audiences, and how the consultation team will engage with any online debate
  • The period during which consultation will take place. While there is flexibility in terms of timescale, there is still a requirement to ensure sufficient time for impacted groups to respond. When engaging with the voluntary and community sector, it is commonplace to use a standard 12-week period for public consultation (not including major public holidays or during summer months)
  • A description of how responses will be managed and handled, and if using an external analysis contractor, whether appropriate data protection measures have been put in place
  • Identification of potential issues and mitigations
  • A clear process for managing complaints and requests for further information, including reporting on such activity to senior management
  • Clear milestones of activity and responsibilities allocated
  • Details of activities leading up to decision-making
  • A budget and allocation of adequate resources.

Presentation of information

A key area in preparing for a stakeholder and public consultation is to consider the methods of presentation of information and to decide if there is sufficient information available to allow people to appropriately consider the proposals.

In practice, this means ensuring there is sufficient accessible information to enable the proposals to be scrutinised and understood before a respondent gives their response to each question asked.

Things to consider

  • Does the consultation document contain a clear description of who is consulting and for what purpose?
  • Does the consultation document provide an accessible summary of the analysis undertaken and proposals being considered (including the advantages and disadvantages in each case)?
  • Has additional, more detailed information (such as travel time modelling) been made available in a separate annex to enable scrutiny for those wishing to review?
  • If a separate options development and appraisal process was undertaken, has a summary of the process and its outcome been offered as supporting material?
  • How will you provide feedback to participants about what decisions have been taken due to their involvement?

Are the right questions being asked?

The final aspect of preparing for public consultation is to decide if the questions are appropriate and will elicit the information needed to support decision-makers when deciding how to proceed with each proposal in the Community Risk Management Plan, so the following should be considered.

Things to consider

  • Do the materials prepared for the consultation contain sufficient information to enable the proposals to be understood and scrutinised?
  • Is there any detailed analysis and presentation of options available for scrutiny?
  • Is it clear what decisions will be taken in response to review of the consultation feedback?
  • Are the questions relevant, and able to support the collection of information that will enable those decisions to be made based on the understanding of local views and views of impacted groups?
  • Is it possible to identify and equalities issues from the questions so that decision-makers can exercise their need for due regard of the public sector duty of equality when making a decision?

During a public consultation

During an active public consultation, it is important that the senior manager responsible for the project is provided with regular updates on progress of the plan and is alerted to any questions or issues which might arise from feedback, questions, or Freedom of Information (FOI) requests that are received. In addition to ongoing updates on progress, there are two specific review points that should be undertaken as good practice:

  • Mid-point review
  • Closing review

Mid-point review

The mid-point review should be conducted as closely as possible to the mid-point of the open consultation. This is an opportunity for a formal review of progress achieved and provides an opportunity for any required adjustments to be made to the consultation plan. The senior manager responsible for the consultation has an important role to play as critical friend and challenger during this process. This involves ensuring that as the consultation team reviews progress, there is an independent and objective view taken, and that any remedial action that is identified is implemented.

Key questions to ask:

  • How does the received response compare to expectations?
  • Are the targeted groups being engaged, and are they responding?
  • Have the activities in the consultation plan been delivered as proposed?
  • What activities have worked well, and why?
  • What activities have been less effective, and why?
  • Has the consultation engaged the targeted groups correctly, and if not, what should be done differently to ensure that targeted groups ARE targeted?
  • Does the feedback to date suggest that there is a need to publish further clarification on any aspects of the project?
  • Have any questions, complaints, or FOI requests been received?

Closing review

The closing review is the second formal review that should be undertaken as part of an active consultation. This is designed to determine if sufficient response has been obtained to close a public consultation as scheduled, or whether an extension or some specific additional activities need to be undertaken to ensure that sufficient views have been obtained from potentially impacted groups.

The closing review should be conducted within 10 – 14 days of the scheduled closure of the public consultation.

As with the mid-point review, the senior manager responsible for the consultation has a key role to play as critical friend and challenger during the review.

The objectives of the closing review are to:

  • Review activity undertaken and confirm whether it is adequate for delivery of the overall consultation plan
  • Determine the scale of response against the stakeholder analysis (of impacted groups)
  • Review how many complaints or criticisms of the consultation have been received and if these have been handled appropriately and included in the analysis
  • Confirm the plan for analysis of feedback, and next steps in terms of communication of the consultation report, and
  • Identify any additional activity required (including an extension to the consultation, if required) to enable underrepresented and important groups to respond.

It is also important to note that the decision to close the consultation should not be based solely on the number of responses submitted, but also on the quality, breadth, and representation of the feedback received. Therefore, it might be possible to close the consultation as scheduled and still conduct ongoing targeted activities designed to engage a specific group in the short-term. For instance, a targeted programme of market research could still be undertaken and included in the analysis as specific audiences are not represented, or community groups could engage a specific audience on behalf of the consultation if such views are missing. However, this activity needs to be targeted rather than general in nature and should be transparently reported as having been conducted after the formal closure of the consultation.

Key questions to ask:

  • Is there evidence of sufficient overall response to close the consultation as planned?
  • Is there a need for an extension to the consultation period to allow wider response, or for targeted activities to be undertaken?
  • Has the consultation plan been delivered as agreed?
  • Who has responded to date and is this representative of the local population and groups impacted by the proposals?
  • What responses have been received from protected characteristics groups, and is this sufficient to enable decision-makers to pay due regard to the impact of the proposals on such groups?
  • Are there any gaps in terms of groups who have not responded?
  • What questions, complaints, or criticisms have been received? Have these been handled appropriately?
  • Is there any political, press, or social media activity that needs to be managed?
  • Is there an analysis plan appropriate for the volume and types of response received.

Post-public consultation

There are several important activities that need to be undertaken in completing a public consultation and moving towards making any decisions:

  • Publication of the report
  • Moving towards decision making

Publication of the report

Having analysed the feedback received from a public consultation, it is important that there is a report of the findings prepared that accurately and transparently summarises the feedback and key findings. Publishing a report of the findings is an important stage in the consultation process and is crucial in demonstrating that the FRS has heard the feedback from people who have responded to the consultation. It is important to note that it is recommended that a consultation report should be published in advance of any decision-making, to ensure transparent consideration of the findings before any decisions are made.

Separating the report publication and decision-making process can be helpful in demonstrating an important requirement of lawful public consultation – the conscientious consideration of the findings by decision-makers.

Key questions to consider:

  • Does the consultation report provide an accurate summary of the feedback received?
  • Is the report well-structured so that the reader can understand the background to the consultation, how data has been analysed, and the main findings?
  • Does the report address the information required by decision-makers to support their decision-making?
  • Does the report provide an analysis of equalities issues?
  • Does the report explain who is responsible for decision-making, and how the report will support people involved in the decision-making process?
  • Is there a clear communications strategy for publication and communication of the contents of the feedback report?

Moving towards decision making

The final stage of a public consultation process is to consider how decisions will be made, and most importantly, how the findings will be considered by decision-makers as part of this process. The requirements for this final stage of the consultation process are established in the Gunning Principle 4.

As any decisions are likely to be based on a recommendation from the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS), it will be important that any recommendations to the decision-making body (the Fire Authority, Mayor, or Police, Fire, and Crime commissioner, as relevant) are both clearly explained in terms of how each risk has been identified and what options were identified to mitigate them, and what, if any, influence the consultation findings have had on the final recommended decision(s).

In practice, this means that for every recommended decision in the Community Risk Management Plan (CRMP) there should be the following:

  • Explanation of why this issue has been identified as relevant to the CRMP due to its impact on risk groups within the community
  • Summary of the options and proposals identified to mitigate the risk in question
  • A summary of the feedback from the consultation on each mitigation proposal and how this has influenced thinking, and
  • An explanation of the final recommended decision to be taken, and why this is considered appropriate.

It is also important to consider how the FRS will demonstrate conscientious consideration of the findings from a public consultation. The timing of publication for the consultation report and any decision recommendations can form an important part of this process. For this reason, it is recommended that the consultation report should be published before any decision recommendations have been made, as it will allow decision-makers time to review and consider the consultation findings.

Key questions to consider:

Does the document of recommendations to the decision contain details on:

  • the background of each risk, showing origins of its identification
  • what options and mitigations have been considered to mitigate each risk
  • how any consultation feedback has been considered in making this recommendation
  • what, if any, Equality and People Impact Assessments impacts have been considered, and
  • what is the rationale for proceeding with the recommended decision.

Public consultation: Practitioner’s guide

This section of guidance has been prepared to support those responsible for delivering the consultation to assist with ensuring that due process has been followed, and to provide some useful delivery tools. The topics covered are not mandatory guidance, but will assist with ensuring that best practice methodology is applied.

Project Planning

It is imperative to begin with a clear consultation plan to identify the key stages and outline activities. Planning to best practice timescales (allowing for some contingency) is a key element of the process itself. Gunning Principle 3 means that consultees should be afforded sufficient time to make a response. In addition, there may be an agreement in place with the local community and the faith and voluntary sectors that defines the timescales for participants to provide feedback on the Community Risk Management Plan or proposals for change.

The table below provides an indicative best practice example of timescales to assist when forward planning ahead.

Weeks 0-10

Weeks 11-23

Weeks 24-36

Consultation planning

Active public consultation


  • Agree scope or mandate
  • Stakeholder identification and mapping
  • Consultation planning
  • Equalities analysis (initial)
  • Materials preparation
  • Communications plan
  • Risk Assessment
  • Media Launch
  • Publish Material and website
  • Consultation events
  • Media monitoring and response
  • FAQs and enquiry handling


  • Adjusted consultation process
  • Revised events and activities

Independent analysis of findings



Specific additional engagement (if required)



Who should be consulted, and about what?

The guiding principle in deciding how extensively to consult, is that any person or organisation that might have a legitimate interest in the proposals under consideration, or who may be affected by those proposals, should have the opportunity to express their views.

The scope of the consultation should be proportionate to the nature and extent of any changes proposed.

Stakeholders will generally be most interested in those aspects that impinge directly on the service provided to them, and their perception of its impact upon their safety. This will include those instances when proposed changes will improve the service provided, as well as when the perceived reverse occurs, for example, when resources are redeployed from one location to another to meet identified needs.

Information provision

To meet the requirements of Gunning Principle 2, openness and transparency in the provision of information is vital. A suite of documents should be published, be widely accessible, and contain sufficient information for participants to develop an informed opinion.

Best practice principles would suggest a public consultation document based on the full Community Risk Management Plan or change proposals should be made readily available, and that this is also available in accessible (or Easy Read) formats This should contain the principal narrative, which explains the current situation, risks, and issues to be addressed. Supporting information could be provided in appendices for things like Equality and People Impact Assessments, pre-consultation, continuous engagement feedback findings, and response time modelling data.

Internal engagement

This element of the guidance has been written to assist Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) to develop their plans when considering how best to involve internal stakeholders in the development of the Community Risk Management Plan or proposals for service change. It is essential FRSs engage with their employees to ensure they are informed about proposals for changes to services, or of wholesale transformational change.

Good consulters consider wider internal stakeholders in their activity and develop mechanisms for the employee to understand the risk being considered and detail of any proposals for service change and be able to input to the formulation of solutions and have their voices heard. It is vital to start any dialogue from the inside to the outside of the FRS because employees have several personas, such as:

  • Heightened interest in the organisation in which they operate and to which they have a sense of ownership and belonging
  • Implementors and providers of the proposed changes, who would know better whether these could be practically implemented safely and effectively and become part of the way things get done
  • Professionals with technical or professional skills, knowledge, experience and credibility amongst their peers
  • Service users with lived experience of current service delivery, and
  • Influential members of the community and individual consultees.

Participants and respondents, therefore, can face significant internal conflict when responding, as these roles may contradict each other.

Stakeholder Mapping

It is important to understand internal stakeholders as much as external in terms of who is being talked to, about what, and most importantly, in what persona they are responding. Mapping groups of employees and individuals to understand their motivation and levels of influence is a key building block to starting the conversation from the inside out.

Early recognition of who supports or opposes the proposals is crucial to effective targeting of communication materials and developing involvement activities. Many academic articles have been written about behavioural response to change and the personal traits that accompany feelings of job insecurity, questioning of self-worth and contribution, acceptance of change, and on harnessing and galvanising those who thrive on and champion change. Understanding where influential groups or individuals are on that cycle is well worth the investment of time so that planned actions accelerate adaptation.

Internal communication should involve all employees. Most public contact is with key individuals who can pass the time of day in conversation. Stakeholder mapping should consider how ambassadors at all levels and positions within the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) are briefed to tell the story of the proposed changes and the benefits it will bring. Take time to revisit employee survey results by occupational group for the organisation, paying particular attention to not only those who responded, but how they responded to questions regarding the FRS and feedback. Local temperature-check polls can also be useful in developing programmes to target disengaged employees and help to spot the advocate groups.

Internal conflict for participants and respondents at best can result in abstinence from involvement, or at worst, taking the most extreme line of thought as the strongest influence. Think and plan to communicate with groups from their different and potentially opposing perspectives, including those who:

  • Deliver frontline services
  • Work in the team that supports frontline delivery
  • Are members of employee networks such as black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer LGBTQ
  • Support service users after the service has been delivered (those in the community and voluntary sectors)
  • Represent employees in a formal capacity such as Representative Bodies, or
  • Have recently joined the organisation.

As with an external communication strategy, an internal plan should include a handful of key and clear messages. The same set of messages used both internally and externally may not be sufficient to ease worries and concerns. Employees typically start by wanting to satisfy their basic needs and concerns, such as:

  • Will my job be safe?
  • Will I have to change work location?
  • Could my shift pattern change?
  • Will my salary be affected?

Options for consideration

Clear “inside out” communication will aid to prevent employees from feeling vulnerable, confused, angry, or resentful purely because they receive the news second-hand, for example, from a friend or a family member who saw it on the news or social media before the internal official briefing went out.

Give employees the skills to recognise for themselves the persona in which they are responding to the process. Separate deliberative events or feedback tools for employees are useful in helping to tease out their thinking as employees, or as a member of the public, and the differences between them. Participant responses may be captured explicitly from different perspectives by asking open questions, or offering an array of responses on a scale such as:

  • Thinking about when you see the risks from an employee perspective, what effect would xxx risk and proposed solution have on the way you work and the outcome for the public?
  • Now, thinking from the point of view of a member of the public, to what extent do you agree or disagree that xxx risk and proposed solution would make a difference to them?

Recognise that some who oppose the proposals cannot be convinced of the benefits of change. There may be other underlying motivations for opposing change that are beyond the control of the programme: these can include things such as politics, viewpoints born out of an experience, or personal difficulties at work. However, one to one conversation, or group briefings with other influencers in the room to moderate the discussion or put forward counterarguments may assist in supporting those who have concerns.

Monitoring social media is also very important. Many online groups are in circulation for like-minded stakeholders such as politicians, locally elected members, or campaign groups. By monitoring the dialogue, new lines of counterargument and myth can be quickly dispelled and corrected. FRS Communication teams may not be permitted access to closed groups but knowing who is vocal and influential can help to target and reassure them.

Employees postings on public and open social media platforms should be monitored; an internal social media policy is essential for setting organisational standards and expectations. Any opinions expressed on public platforms should be included in feedback about the proposals and given due consideration. Effective change communications work best when information and updates are regularly communicated; even if there is nothing to say, that message itself can be reassuring. For example, if a major change proposal reaches an introspective period, such as writing the pre-consultation business case, employees may feel nothing is happening because conversations with them have gone quiet. Keeping people frequently informed about what is happening helps to provide reassurance. This can be helpful in avoiding employees filling the void with speculation and concern.

Conscientious consideration and good governance

The risk that employees may not feel informed or participate in the process may be included on the change programme risk register. Risk Managers may also consider an entry on the corporate risk register, as this will help prompt future assessment and management. Whether in the formative thinking, options development, or formal consultation stage, employee opinions must be given due consideration.

Importantly, the decision-making body or responsible authority must transparently and openly demonstrate that it has involved employees and taken their views into consideration, which also supports Gunning Principle 4.

Closing the loop

Participants in a consultation exercise have a proper expectation that within a timely fashion they will see both the output and the outcome of the process. Early communications should include a timetable of when participants can expect to see, or directly receive the output and decisions being made. A ‘You Said, We Did’ or ‘You Said, We Didn’t – but here’s why’ approach, depicted in a table or infographic form can be very useful and simple to understand.

Equalities and People Impact Assessment

Most public sector organisations are under a statutory duty, commonly known as the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). This duty is not to discriminate, as both service providers and exercisers of public function for purposes of the Equality Act 2010. This means there is a responsibility to ensure that engagement and consultation is inclusive and accessible. A mechanism for applying ‘due regard’ is Equality Impact Analysis, in the form of an EqIA.

The benefits of undertaking an Equality and People Impact Assessments (EqIA) to support stakeholder consultation and engagement processes are to:

  • Ensure a wide range of stakeholders are involved, and their voices are considered within the Community Risk Management Plan and the associated stakeholder analysis
  • Record and describe the positive and reasonable adjustment that will be made to reach groups of people with protected characteristics through ensuring equality of access activity. This helps to understand the barriers and opportunities that may be encountered when trying to involve them, and
  • Inform the Community Impact Assessment when assessing any change proposals.

Applying ‘due regard’ involves taking steps to:

  • Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and any other conduct that is prohibited by, or under, the Act.
  • Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it. This means removing or minimising disadvantage, taking steps to meet the needs of, and encouraging participation in public life, or in any other activity in which participation is disproportionately low for persons who share a relevant protected characteristic.
  • Foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it and, in this way, tackle prejudice and promote understanding.

In practice, every ‘reasonable’ attempt must be taken to document evidence that people with protected characteristics have been considered and involved in the decision-making process.

In making every reasonable attempt to reach community groups with protected characteristics, the depth and breadth of qualitative feedback is more insightful than the number of responses received through quantitative survey tools. It may be beneficial to work in collaboration with the Community, Voluntary and Faith sectors who have existing networks and support groups in place who may be willing to host focus groups, and to facilitate discussions on behalf of the Fire and Rescue Service consultation.

Analysis of consultation feedback should be shown by protected characteristic group to determine any unintended consequences of the change proposals on people from protected groups.

Court judgements on consultation

These principles have been tried and tested in court. The most important cases are that of:

  • R(ex parte Judy Brown) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions (2008): As part of a nationwide programme of post office closures, it was challenged that the Secretary of State had failed to undertake a Disability Equality Impact Assessment (which pre-dates Equality Act 2010). This resulted in the formulation of six general principles.
  • R(ex parte Bracking & others) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions. (2013): At the High Court, Blake J considered a claim that consultees had inadequate information and therefore could not make an effective response, to paraphrase, it was concluded that “in the absence of evidence of a structured attempt to focus upon the details of equality issues a decision-maker is likely to be in difficulties if his or her subsequent decision is challenged.”

To demonstrate a good quality of Equality and People Impact Assessments (EqIA) and avoid litigation, it is important to adhere to the Bracking principles (which superseded but incorporated the Brown principals) in both decision-making papers and in the EqIA. In summary, these are:

  • The equality duty is an integral and important part of the mechanisms for ensuring the fulfilment of the aims of anti-discrimination legislation.
  • An important evidential element in the discharge of the duty is the recording of the steps taken by the decision-maker in seeking to meet the statutory requirements.
  • The duty is upon the decision-maker personally. What matters is what he or she considered and what he or she knew.
  • A decision-maker must assess the risk and extent of any adverse impact and the ways in which such a risk may be eliminated before the adoption of a proposed policy or decision. It is not a rear-guard action following a concluded decision.
  • The duty to have due regard must be fulfilled before and at the time when a decision is being considered, and it is a continuing one. The duty must be exercised in substance, with rigour and with an open mind.
  • Public bodies should place considerations of equality, where they arise, at the centre of formulation of policy, side by side with all other pressing circumstances of whatever magnitude. They must be properly informed before taking the decision. If the relevant material is not available, there is a duty to acquire it – even if this means more consultation.
  • A public body must have available enough evidence to demonstrate that it has discharged the duty.

Further guidance on conducting EqIA can be found via the NFCC People Programme website.

The Implications of the General Data Protection Regulation on stakeholder engagement and consultation

The UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), tailored by the Data Protection Act 2018, sets out the requirements for data processing for individuals and organisations. This guidance is intended to remind consulters to consider GDPR when consulting individuals. In terms of stakeholder engagement and consultation, there are several issues to consider during planning and implementation of the consultation:

  • Privacy policy: There is a need to ensure that consultation materials and questionnaires refer to your privacy policy, and how requests to remain anonymous will be handled.
  • Data handling and journey: Protecting the security of personal data remains central to the GDPR and there is a need to consider information security assurance as part of consultation planning.  To help to strengthen the assurance process, it is helpful to use a data journey map that outlines various sources of feedback and how they will be handled and protected at each stage.
  • Collecting re-contact permission: Appropriate re-contact permissions should be collected when people respond to the consultation questionnaire. This ensures that further communication activity such as publishing the consultation report or decision can be made in line with GDPR requirements.
  • Data analysis and use of external third parties: If using an external third party to hold the consultation feedback and undertake analysis on behalf of the FRS, there is a need to ensure that specific information assurance processes have been undertaken as part of the award and in the management of the analysis contract. To ensure that appropriate procedures are being followed, the FRS Data Protection lead should be involved throughout the entire process.

Tools and Techniques for Inclusive Consultation & Engagement

Using what FRSs learn through stakeholder mapping makes sure that it is understood who is interested in participating, whether they are affected by any proposals for change, and how any potential unintended consequences should be mitigated.

It is good practice to develop an integrated impact assessment to understand the differences between different groups of people who access services. It can be useful to consider such things as levels of income, housing, education, health conditions, protected characteristics, equality of access needs such considerations.

Care should also be taken when planning involvement activities, to make sure that they are accessible, easy to understand, and meet the needs of individuals who need extra support to participate. Examples include accessible venues, British Sign Language (BSL) support for those with hearing impairment, and easy to understand documents for those with learning disabilities or low levels of educational attainment.

By working closely with the community and voluntary sector, the process can involve organisations that already work with people who need extra support.

Using Information to be data and intelligence led:  By using the information and data already collected through continuous engagement such as home fire safety assessments, safe and well checks, road safety engagement events, and other such public engagement activities, a landscape of continuous learning and engagement will inform the formal consultation on the CRMP and any substantial service change.

By their consent in line with GDPR requirements, engagement tools can also be used to capture the data of current service users, potential service users (the wider public), equality characteristics, people facing health inequalities, statutory partners (key contacts), and community assets. This will help to continually develop a database of contacts and reduce the need for speculative approaches to people in the future.

Effective communication can be designed to form a base of listening to all stakeholders about what online and offline mediums best suit them to receive information, how often they would like to receive information, what subjects they are interested in, and how they prefer to engage with discussion and debate.

Communication: Use communication (telling) techniques to make sure that people are invited to have an opportunity to get involved should they wish to do so, and to shown how they can participate.

Information should be provided so that everyone has an understanding about what the consultation is asking about, the problems needing to be solved, how to get involved, and what will happen with the feedback that people give.

Another key factor is specifying the timescales over which the FRS is seeking for feedback. This needs to be proportional based on the level of any change being proposed, the amount of information that is needed to understand the change, and the time it will take for participants to be able to respond effectively. Methods to consider include:

  • Stakeholder email briefings
  • Social and online media
  • Newsletters
  • Digital briefings
  • Stakeholder Reference Groups
  • Contact with partners agencies to communicate and engage with communities
  • Political Briefings
  • Proactive media relations
  • Surveys with stakeholders and the public, and
  • Live-streaming of Board meetings to improve transparency in decision-making.

Continuous engagement: Where change is not substantial (termed ‘Organic change’), seek to make service changes based upon public involvement to:

  • Understand where change is needed
  • Explore what is needed for solutions
  • Design solutions
  • Appraise solutions, and
  • Agree what should be implemented.

Maintaining the conversation to embed continuous learning about the current situation to understand what:

  • Is working well
  • Is not working well (and whether this is for everyone or profiles of people)
  • Needs improvement
  • Needs change, or
  • Should be introduced.

This information can be used when considering how to make the best possible improvements and to inform deliberations about how best to solve any issues.

Continuous learning: Adopt different tools, online and offline, to ensure the consultation is inclusive in the way that you listen to people about the issues that they experience when using services. Discuss what the solutions might be, while making sure that people understand what is possible, and what they can legitimately influence.

Co-production: Identify opportunities for co-production and involve representative profiles of service users, equality characteristics, those facing disparities in service outcomes or inequalities, and stakeholders.

The role of the consultation forum: Different types of consultation gatherings could be created to help bridge the gap between a large and diverse population and the CRMP consultation process. These should be as representative as possible, appropriate to their function as stakeholder representative, engagement, consultation advisory, or oversight groups, and be governed by a Terms of Reference. Service users, employees, and other stakeholders could be invited to propose and establish whatever suitable forum would serve specific purposes and remits.  This enables engagement with those they represent so that their views, ideas, and the rationales and evidence for views and ideas are better informed and more ‘representative’.

A consultation forum can be a source from which to bolster representation for collaborative and co-productive opportunities. Where there is the opportunity to do so, these may be offered online, but with consideration for those not able to so participate. In some cases, they might operate both online and offline simultaneously, and in some cases the nature of the forum or group might only function offline.

The role of community assets: Community assets include (but are not limited to) bodies from the private, public, charitable, and community sectors and religious bodies. These bodies reach a wide range of the public, whether as employers, through membership, as customers, beneficiaries, or stakeholders, and have the potential of being partners in engaging people and increasing inclusivity. It is therefore important to establish with these community assets what their interest is, how they can be of help, to what degree they are willing to be of help, what is their reach, and the potential numbers and profiles of those they can reach. It is also critical to ascertain whether they are prepared to be information disseminators, information collectors, dialogue facilitators, or in some other way assist, and to identify what support they need from the FRS to achieve their potential as contributors.

The FRS benefit from these assets if they:

  • become part of forum
  • disseminate information
  • encourage public participation
  • collect and pass on information, and
  • facilitate or host dialogue opportunities.

Online engagement: Online engagement includes a range of mediums that fall under the categories of quantitative (surveys, questionnaires, and polls) and qualitative – opportunities for discussion and debate, such as online chat rooms or digital meetings.  There are a broad range of online products and tools available. Developing forms of online engagement should be in line with what service users, potential service users, equality characteristics, statutory partners (key contacts), and community assets specify as their preferred medium for online engagement.

It is important to identify what people prefer and will use, for example, online surveys, questionnaires and polls through social media channels, or bespoke tools such as:

  • themed forums (online discussion)
  • themed groups (online discussion), and
  • story boards (where people can share their story about services and experiences).

Offline engagement: Face to face engagement and co-production gives an opportunity for broader and deeper discussion and deliberation. Face to face engagement, could include:

  • Workshops
  • focus and discussion groups, or
  • public meetings.

Substantial change

Substantial change is often defined as a ‘proposed reduction or relocation of service’. There is no set definition of ‘substantial’ and its definition may only be determined by the Judge when a legal challenge is brought by a claimant seeking to bring a case to judicial review. Where a ‘substantial’ change to services is required, the decision-making process requires a pre-consultation and consultation process. The combined process can be regarded as a five-stage approach that includes:

  • Engaging service users, potential service users (public), equality characteristics, partner agencies (key contacts), and community assets (our interested parties) about the status quo, to gain or provide a full picture of what needs resolving. This establishes baseline information to which to move forwards.
  • Engaging interested parties to discuss how the issues that need resolving should be tackled, and what ideas and suggestions they have.
  • Involving a representative profile of interested parties in working with experts to advise on, or help develop, solutions.
  • Involving a broader representative profile of people in appraising the different solutions that have been developed.
  • Consulting the wider stakeholders and public about the preferred solutions that might be implemented.

Continuous engagement is where FRSs are continually listening to actual (or potential issues) from stakeholders and service user feedback. Examples could include capturing feedback from satisfaction surveys, complaints, community events, home fire safety checks, and road safety awareness activities.

It is likely that the need for substantial change will have been identified while developing the CRMP, and specifically that a particular service provision needs to change. Proposals to change FRSs cover, for example the closing of a fire station or reduction in the number of firefighting appliances or firefighters that are available, can frequently raise issues of genuine concern among communities and employees. Some people might be prepared to accept a substantive case for reducing fire cover locally in order that resources might be redeployed elsewhere. Others may regard any reduction in cover, even if the current use of the resource is limited, as a challenge to local safety that must be resisted as a matter of principle. Proposals to alter or even increase fire cover, for example by constructing a fire station in a new area, can also attract opposition for political reasons.

Examples of proposals for change include

  • Changes to standards for attendance to specific types of emergency incident
  • Permanent relocation of appliances
  • Permanent relocation of a special appliance providing cover across part or all of an FRS area from one fire station to another
  • Closure (or opening) of a fire station, or
  • Significant changes in resource allocation that would affect response standards.

A gap analysis should be undertaken to ascertain whether further engagement needs to take place. If it is decided that more is needed, then established networks of interested parties should be invited to inform the further stages.

A staged, and structured approach is recommended to developing proposals for change and options development for formal consultation as described below:

Stages in a structured approach to developing proposals

Having completed stages 1 and 2, technical experts and interested parties should be invited to form representative groups and take part in stages 3 and 4. The learning from these should be used to inform the process of applying criteria to the list of potential solutions to create a short list of viable options for formal consultation.

Developing a Communications and Involvement Plan

Clearly set out in a SMART communication and involvement plan should be how people will be made aware of the opportunity to contribute. There are many methods to adapt to raise awareness of engagement and consultation processes. Whichever methods are selected, it will be important to ensure that sufficient information is made available to consultees to allow them to make informed decisions. This could include:

  • Details of the proposed changes in standards and/or resource allocation
  • Why these proposals are being made, including alternative options considered and discounted
  • What the local impact will be on consultees
  • Any additional actions planned to be taken to ensure the proposed changes will deliver the improvements expected, and
  • The timescales in which it is expected that the changes will be implemented, and the benefits realised.

The plan should be monitored throughout the duration of the consultation and adapted to close any identified gaps in demographics, protected characteristics, or potential respondents identified in the stakeholder mapping exercise.

A typical Communication & Involvement Plan should include:

  • Aim and Objectives
  • Key Messages to support any proposals being made
  • Strategies to manage any factually incorrect responses or publicity regarding the proposals
  • Target Audiences and methodology to effectively target consultees
  • Timescales, resourcing requirements and budget, and
  • Evaluation Methodology

When planning the methodology, use insight-based research to understand to which online and offline methods respondents typically respond, for example what social media platforms are used by which age group, what existing community groups channels exists to amplify opportunities to get involved. Examples include:

  • Social media (including paid for geo/demographic targeting)
  • Media relations (using both digital and print media)
  • Proactive media briefing
  • Videos, blogs etc to deliver your message in a succinct and personal way
  • Partner publications and websites
  • Leaflets delivered to households
  • Letters to other agencies
  • Business representatives through the Local Enterprise Partnership, Chambers of Commerce, or Federation of Small Businesses websites
  • Public meetings, including specific community and focus groups, and citizens’ juries
  • A microsite or online engagement portal that can be useful to host key documents, surveys, discussion material and gatherings, or opportunities for user-generated content and storytelling.

As a matter of course, materials should be short and simple. Respondents should not be expected to understand FRS operational technicalities, terminology, or practice. While some more complex and detailed materials may be necessary to support feedback from technical audiences, these must only support information that is accessible to an everyday audience. Where possible use infographics, plans, maps, or tables that show performance data such as calls received, response times, incidents attended, prevention and protection activity, resources utilisation, and time periods.

Materials must provide respondents with enough information to ensure that they understand the issues and the potential impact on them from the proposals, and can give informed responses.  Failure here will lead to an ineffective consultation, which will be of little use to the decision-maker.

Materials should also be offered in alternative formats based on need. Google Translate or Read Speaker on a website can assist digitally enabled consultees using tools that they may already be familiar with. Offering summary documents, paper questionnaires, and reply-paid envelopes will support the digitally excluded.

There are a range of engagement tools, all with their own merits, such as:

Type Purpose Benefits
Questionnaires & surveys Collect formal responses May have built-in analysis or “database” or scanning features
Ideation Collect ideas Understand priorities & preferences or new solutions. Warm up the debate
Option appraisal Democratise and document the process of solution development Compliance, discovery (such as cost benefits)
Social Listening Identify online influencers, spaces, and “buzz” Monitor the debate
Stakeholder Relationship Management Manage stakeholders & their preferences, records consent Single source of data (such as email), built in analysis tools
Qualitative data analysis tools Analyse unstructured data Multiple coders, multimedia
Debate mapping Break down arguments Predict probable winning argument

Question Development and Active Listening

The consultation questions will be the primary mechanism for gathering feedback on the CRMP and proposals for change, whether used in a structured survey or discussion guide for a conversation. The consultor needs to be clear about what information is needed to support the decision-making process. Once clearly defined, decisions can be made on the type and nature of the questions to be asked.

Consider the following when planning the consultation questionnaire:

  • What is the scope of the proposals, and what is open to influence (as drawn from the Consultation Mandate)
  • What does the decision-maker need to understand to be able to make an informed decision? Things such as:
    • What aspects of the Plan are supported, and why?
    • What aspects of the Plan are not supported, and why?
    • How might the positive impacts of the proposals be maximised?
    • How might the negative impacts of the proposals be minimised?
    • Have equalities impacts be appropriately mitigated?
    • Are there other options or ideas that should be considered?
    • Are there any impacts that have not been adequately covered?

By considering these questions in conjunction with the information gathered from earlier engagement, it is possible then to identify the information that needs to be collected and provide a focus to the questions asked. Consultors should be careful not to limit the scope of questions asked, so that people feel they cannot raise issues that they believe are important to them.

The proposals should be at a formative stage, so the consultation provides an opportunity to collect further information, both directly and indirectly, regarding the people who will be affected by the proposals and the likely impacts.

Setting the Questions: The questions asked will play an instrumental role in gathering the views of consultees and in delivering a meaningful outcome from the consultation. Remember that stakeholder and public consultation is meant to be a ‘dynamic process of dialogue with the objective of influencing decisions, policies and programme of action’ and it is as important to understand why people believe (and which people believe) something to be an issue and therefore whether they agree or disagree with the proposals.

The consultation questionnaire must be presented in such a way that it enables a process of dialogue and explanation. For example:

  • It is unfair to seek views on matters that people cannot legitimately influence, for example, if an option for change is unaffordable or unsafe, it would be inappropriate to seek feedback on the proposal. By following a structured options appraisal process, only viable options should make it to the final version of a consultation document.
  • Try not to ask leading questions or those to which the answer is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’, for example, ‘Do you agree that fire safety is important?’ would be difficult to answer in the negative. Scale the option to questions, for example, ranking answers in order of importance, or asking how much one agrees and why – a more meaningful question to ask.
  • Ask whether there is anything else that should have been considered to capture the themes that the consultor may not already be aware of.

A good questionnaire should be easy to navigate. Questions should be set out logically, so the respondent can clearly follow the narrative (for example, reflecting the number of proposals being presented). It is helpful to place questions in logically organised sections, together with summaries of each of the proposals.

So as not to create a barrier to people responding, be clear about what information is being requested, and keep to an appropriate number of questions. Although your questionnaire may contain ‘closed’ questions (that require respondents to tick pre-formulated answers), there should always be the capacity for respondents to express their own views in their own way. An overly detailed, lengthy, or confusing questionnaire can lead to frustration and complaints, and may cause significant problems for the consultation process.

Recognising that consultation questionnaires need to be tailored to the specific circumstances of each FRS and locality, this guidance is not proposing specific advice on the drafting of individual questions.  However, some guiding principles have been created that could help in developing an effective online questionnaire.

  • The most important principle when constructing a questionnaire is to ensure that it is rooted in the world of the respondent – that it is easy for them to understand, and that it follows the way they think about issues. This goes beyond mere language (and the care taken not to include jargon or technical terms) but extends into the way respondents express themselves over the issues, and how they see things.
  • Many of the reasons for questionnaires failing to capture data properly is that respondents do not understand the questions in the way that the person writing them does. This can lead to respondents giving up on the questionnaire, not responding to questions, or there is a disconnect between the mindsets of the consultor and the consultee.
  • Through continuous engagement undertaken with representative stakeholders, and before even considering a questionnaire, a consultor should have undertaken some preparatory work to understand the consultees: what their concerns are, how these are expressed, and the subject areas where different types of respondents have different views (indicating that a more quantitative exploration via questionnaire is required).

Along with its many other benefits, re-consultation engagement provides this opportunity. The consultors need to use this period to consider these issues and to feed them into the process of questionnaire development. This will create a questionnaire that is more user-friendly, targets issues of concern, and helps the questionnaire writer to provide tick-box options to closed questions so that they accurately reflect views, as well as understanding the direction and structure of more open-ended answers for subsequent coding and analysis.

There are three main types of questions, and their use depends on the information being sought.

Closed questions: these are designed to ensure a respondent must choose from a pre-set series of answers.  This can be useful in terms of analysis and gauging the level of support for a proposal, as they insist on a choice being made – although it is important to keep in mind that the consultee is being asked for their views, and should not get the impression that they are being forced into a vote.

It is considered good practice that closed questions provide a further option of ‘Don’t know.’ Closed questions will often be followed with an open question, asking for the person to explain their reasoning for the decision given, or to expand on, or give context for their answer.

Scale questions: questions involving ratings or scales can be used to provide insight into the level of support for a proposal. When using ratings or scales, it is often useful to have a neutral option as well as the positive and negative, and again an option for ‘Don’t know.’ There are no specific requirements in terms of how many rating positions should be provided, however a typical example uses the following options:

  • Very poor / Strongly disagree.
  • Poor / Disagree.
  • Neither a poor or good / neither Agree nor Disagree.
  • Good / Agree.
  • Very good / Strongly agree.
  • Don’t know – No opinion / not applicable.

Open questions: these allow respondents to provide a full, informed response in an open space. Although they can be harder to analyse, they enable people to provide more information and the reasoning for their decision. However, be careful in making the question too open by something like ‘Please provide your views on the proposal.’ This presents the risk that consultees will leave a longer and less focused response that covers many topics, and this unlimited scope for reply can make analysis complex and difficult.

Try to provide a focus for each question by wording such as: If this proposal will impact you either positively or negatively, please could you tell us how, and why you think this?

It is much better to have several focused open questions (either following closed questions, or at the end of each section) than to rely on one large open question at the end of the questionnaire. This keeps the response focused on one issue at a time.

Using a combination of different types of question can gather additional information that can help to pinpoint specific issues that need to be considered during the decision-making process.

It is important that people can express everything they want to about the proposals, so it is good practice to include a final catch-all question that covers this – but as discussed above, do not use this as the only open question.

By including any questions such as:

  • Is there any other feedback you would like to provide?’ or
  • Are there any other issues you wish to raise?’

you provide the respondent with an opportunity to leave their comments outside of the boundary of the set questions. This means that the questionnaire gives each respondent the opportunity to express personal opinions on the issues that are most important to them, and ensures that the questionnaire is robustly prepared.

Language & tone: It is key that the language of the questionnaire should be consistent with that of the consultation materials, so use clear, straight-forward phrases, and avoid acronyms and technical jargon.

The following suggestions could be adopted to help create a more accessible questionnaire that avoids confusion and ensures that respondents are able to understand what they are being asked:

  • Use neutral language so that the options are all presented in an open and consistent way and avoid leading questions, so that there can be no accusation of bias.
  • Avoid using prompts within the question, as this could potentially prejudice the response. If you want to know what someone thinks about a specific issue, tailor a specific question about it and ensure that the language used is neutral, for example: ‘Is there a particular issue that concerns you about………?’ compared with ’Is there any feedback you would like to provide about the proposals for fire safety?’
  • Simple terms and questions make the questions asked much harder to misread. Using phrases that could be open to interpretation will make it more difficult to fully gauge respondent views when analysing the feedback.

Ensuring that the questionnaire is created using plain language will also mean that those groups identified as part of the ‘difficult to reach or seldom heard’ strategy should find it more accessible and approachable.

Other considerations:

  • Gathering personal and demographic information about the respondent can help track against your consultation plan, to enable mapping areas of high and low response.
  • Asking for postcodes and organisation details can help identify if there are any geographic areas or groups that will require top-up engagement before the end of the consultation. Such information will also help to segment the responses and provide information such as whether there are any differences in response by postcode or by age.
  • The questionnaire should be as clear and focused as possible. Avoid the use of ambiguous terms that could be interpreted differently by different groups. Remember that people responding to these questions are doing so without the opportunity to clarify the scope and purpose of the question.
  • Although the information will be presented as clearly as possible in the consultation materials, it is considered helpful to provide a clear introduction to each question that summarises the proposals and explains what is being sought from the respondent.
  • Create sections that reflect the layout of the consultation materials and act as clear signposts for respondents. In this section we are seeking views on ‘XX’, Further information can be found ‘YY’.
  • Alternative formats should also be offered to make the consultation as accessible as possible; things such as Easy Read or BSL interpreted sessions.
  • Before launch it is often useful to test a questionnaire with independent audiences and different user scenarios to ensure that as many perspectives are covered as possible.

Consultation reporting

The consultation report (or feedback report) is the culmination of a consultation. It represents a record of the views received on proposals, but more importantly also acts as the main record for the consultation that has been conducted. Importantly, it is also the key data source for decision-makers when they decide on the recommendations for future of services and priorities. Planning for the consultation report should be considered as an important investment because, if done well, the report – and therefore the consultation itself – will be perceived to have value and integrity.

The consultation report is a key asset that will be relied upon by decision-makers and can also provide a reputational boost if undertaken well, generating a greater sense of trust and transparency in the consultation process.

Key issues to consider when planning for a consultation report are:

  • What will the report be used for?
  • Who should be responsible for drafting it?
  • What is the ideal structure?
  • When should the report be published?

The main purpose of the consultation report is to provide a fair and accurate summary of the feedback received and to support decision-makers, by allowing them to give ‘conscientious consideration’ to the outputs of the consultation.

There are several issues to consider in terms of planning for the consultation report:

Data sources: What questions will be asked in the consultation and how will responses to the consultation be gathered. When developing consultation questions, it is important to work with whoever will analyse the data to ensure that they are confident they can interpret the responses and provide a summary of information that decision-makers can use. Consider what activities and probable data flows will need to be included in the reporting process, and whether there will be quantitative and as well as qualitative data to be analysed. Data sources to consider include:

  • Online or paper questionnaires
  • Written submissions
  • Responses by email or telephone
  • Public meetings and stakeholder events
  • Market research activities (things such as surveys, focus groups, deliberative events).

It is good practice to map how data will be collected, analysed, and stored as part of the ‘data journey’ for each channel of response, as this will demonstrate both good data governance and highlight any potential data security or transfer issues that need to be considered.

In-house or external resource for reporting: A key issue for consultation reporting is whether to use internal resource or external specialists to analyse and report on the consultation. There is no specific guidance on which approach is more effective, however, depending on how contentious the proposals are, and the possible scale of response, there are benefits from using external resource for consultation reporting.

In-house resource

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Data analysts integrated within team
  • Understanding background and requirements for decision-making
  • Potentially cost-effective, depending on scale of response
  • Potential resource constraints
  • Capacity to handle large-scale response
  • Potential limited access to specialist software tools
  • Possibility of perceived lack of independence

External resource

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Specialist report writers
  • Data analysis experience and appropriate software tools
  • Capacity and ability to handle large-scale response
  • Perception of having greater independence
  • Potentially higher cost
  • Management time
  • Possible lack of in-depth knowledge of FRS activities, structure, and resources utilisation

Report structure: When creating the structure of a consultation report, decisions should be based around the need for transparency and the information needs of decision-makers.

It is important that the report is an accurate reflection of the feedback received and able to provide sufficient information to support decision-makers in exercising their duty to contentiously consider the feedback received when making any decisions.

Other aspects of the report structure to consider include:

  • Executive summary: should act as a useful summary of the report contents.
  • Introduction and background: to provide an accurate record of the consultation plan and key activities.
  • Preparatory work (for significant change only): How options were developed.
  • Methodology: How data received has been handled and analysed.
  • Findings: Transparent reporting of the findings by data source and question.
  • Conclusions: Thematic summary of the findings.
  • Chapters for specifics: for example, including the EqIA.
  • Use of appendices: for things such as detailed data, or redacted letters.

Social media: It is important to agree a policy around social media feedback and how this will be handled and reported. Many consultations now utilise social media to raise awareness and encourage feedback. However, it can also lead to debate and discussion online, and there is a need to have a clear policy on how such feedback will be monitored and included in any feedback report.

Analysis of different data sets: It is important when handling data from different types of respondents (organisations vs individuals) to ensure that these are reported separately and not combined. Data integrity needs to be maintained, and analysts should be aware of the need to report specific data sets separately to ensure that it is clear which type of respondent is raising issues.

Use of reporting templates: To ensure that feedback is received in a consistent format, when undertaking events and discussion groups, reporting templates can be a useful tool to provide to third party organisations contributing to that process.

Publication: It is considered good practice to publish a consultation report separately from any decisions, and usually within 12 weeks of a consultation closing. Publishing the report separately from any decision helps to demonstrate that the findings have been conscientiously considered by the decision-maker. It is also considered good practice to alert people to the report having been published, and this requires the consulter to obtain appropriate data permissions from respondents when submitting their feedback.

Towards Decision making

The final stage of a consultation process is to consider how decisions will be made, and most importantly, how the findings will be considered by decision-makers as part of this process.

The requirements for this final stage of the consultation process are established in the Gunning Principle 4.

As with the reporting of consultation feedback, the need for transparency and providing evidence of that feedback from the consultation and showing how this has been conscientiously considered by decision-makers is central to meeting the required legal and best practice standards. This ensures that stakeholders and the public are clear how, and on what basis, a decision has been taken, while also generating trust in the consultation process so that people can see that views raised during the consultation have been considered by decision-makers when deciding how to proceed.

Who is making the decision: CRMP-linked decision-making is likely to be taken by a person or organisation outside of the FRS that was responsible for undertaking the consultation (such as a local Fire Authority), and that the decision is likely to be based on a recommendation from the FRS. Therefore, it will be important that any recommendations to the decision-making body (such as the Fire Authority, Mayor’s Office, or Police Fire and Crime Commissioner) are clearly explained in terms of how each risk has been identified, what options were identified to mitigate them and what, if any, influence the consultation findings have had on the final recommended decision(s).

In practice, this means that for every recommended decision in the CRMP strategy, there should be the following:

  • Explanation of why this issue has been identified as relevant to the CRMP
  • Summary of the options or proposals identified to mitigate the risk in question
  • A summary of the feedback from the consultation on each mitigation proposal and how this has influenced thinking, and
  • An explanation of the final recommended decision to be taken and why this is considered appropriate.

Demonstrating conscientious consideration: It is important to consider how the FRS will demonstrate conscientious consideration of the findings from a consultation.  The timing of publication for the consultation report and any decision recommendations can form an important part of this process.  For this reason, it is recommended the report should be published before any decision recommendations have been made, as it will allow decision-makers time to review and consider the consultation findings.

It is therefore strongly recommended that the consultation report and decision recommendations should NOT be published at the same time.  Rather, any decision-making papers should be submitted once the consultation report has already been published and decision-makers have had sufficient time to consider the findings.

Case Study: Suffolk Fire and Rescue IRMP Consultation.

In 2016, and with the ongoing budget constraints facing local authorities, Suffolk County Council (as the Fire Authority responsible for Suffolk FRS) was faced with the prospect of needing to reconfigure front-line FRS across the County.

All options were considered, including the closure of fire stations with low callout demand, reducing the number of appliances at locations, and the use of new multipurpose appliances. The degree of change also meant that employee numbers were to be reviewed, with employee engagement being considered a vitally important part of the consultation process. Given the scale of changes proposed, pre-consultation was used to help shape ideas and thinking at an early stage. Engaging the public and other interested parties before consultation proposals had been formulated allowed the Council to understand areas of concern and gain insight into potential solutions.

There was also a high level of transparency, including the publication of all modelling and ranking data to enable public scrutiny and comment, as well as building confidence and trust in the consultation process. The consultation itself used a range of engagement techniques to encourage participation, including public meetings, employee events, digital media, and the use of targeted focus groups to ensure equalities aspects were covered.  This all helped to create a significant response, with more than 20,000 people responding in one form or another, including 11,439 who signed petitions.

Engaging independent consultants to undertake the analysis of the response created confidence in transparency in terms of the findings that were published; and there was a clear willingness on behalf of the FRS to reassess the decisions to be taken once the feedback was received.

Having reviewed and refined the proposals for change, a recommendation was presented to Cabinet, making it clear in published papers what had changed and the basis for the recommended decisions.  Such transparency in decision-making was clear, and the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee made note that this was one of the best public consultation exercises that had been run by the County Council.

Appendix 1 - Identification and mapping of stakeholders

“A stakeholder is an individual or group that makes a difference or that can affect or be affected by the achievement of the organisation’s objectives”

Brinkerhoff, D. and B. Crosby.

Understanding which audiences (stakeholders) are most likely to be impacted by the CRMP and any resulting proposals for service change is a key aspect of preparing for an effective public consultation.

Overall objective: The main purpose and objective of stakeholder mapping is to ensure that the consultation plan can effectively identify and engage those audiences who will be impacted by the proposals.  In practice, this is achieved by ensuring that the consultation plan:

  • Identifies all groups impacted by the proposals (at an organisation and individual level)
  • Directs resources and activities appropriately towards each audience
  • Assesses and prioritises audiences and approaches to deliver a cost-effective approach; recognising that some audiences will require different levels of communication and engagement and so will require different levels of resource to ensure they engage with the consultation.

Key considerations: Developing an effective audience plan requires the consulter to consider several critical factors, including:

  • Which stakeholders are likely to be impacted by the proposals
  • Which stakeholders are likely to have an interest in the consultation
  • What (if any) impacts are likely to affect people within protected characteristics groups
  • How different stakeholder groups should be handled in terms of approach (and resource allocation)
  • What communications channels and engagement mechanisms are most appropriate for different stakeholder groups.

Audience identification: Identifying which people to involve in the development of or feedback on the CRMP probably is an initial task for the internal FRS communications team, but the process should also involve senior managers who have existing political, partner, and community-based relationships. This should aim to identify all potential stakeholders who may wish to participate in the consultation, and inform them of the plan to reach them. This should not be a one-off exercise but reviewed mid-point to identify any gaps in feedback received to date and be used to adapt the plan, if needed. The following questions might be helpful in terms of ensuring all potential stakeholders are identified, who:

  • Are directly or indirectly, or potentially may be impacted by this decision
  • Might provide access to specific audiences
  • Could help to implement the decision
  • Know about the subject
  • Will have an interest in the subject

In determining who might be directly or potentially impacted by the proposals, it is vital to refer to the EqIA and any contacts databases held. To confirm the geographies that need to be included, it is also useful to consider complainants, service user satisfaction data and the community profiling used when defining the scope of the CRMP and identifying the hazards that can impact risk groups

Other resources to consider include discussions with statutory and community-based partners including Police, Local Authority, Voluntary and Community Sector representatives, and local campaign groups. Working with external groups can ensure all potential stakeholder groups are identified and build stronger relationships to support consultation activity.

The principal groups of consultees are:

  • Council taxpayers, households & business ratepayers
  • Community organisations, including community groups representing those with protected characteristics
  • Public representatives, such as Members of Parliament
  • Business organisations
  • Local authorities
  • Public agencies, and other emergency services
  • Employees (uniformed and non-uniformed) and their representatives, and
  • Any other interested parties, such as the local population or retired FRS employees.

Stakeholder Mapping

Having identified all impacted stakeholders, it is accepted good practice to analyse and group them so that consultation activities can be more effectively managed and directed to different segments of the stakeholder landscape. This is known as stakeholder mapping, and it enables more specific communication and engagement approaches to be used with targeted stakeholder groups so that they are aware of the consultation and have the appropriate opportunities to engage and respond. It also supports the more cost-effective use of resources in managing the consultation process. Consulters may also wish to consider separate internal and external stakeholder mapping exercises to assist with targeting different engagement activities and methodologies.

An approach to stakeholder mapping that considers the level of ‘interest’ and the degree of ‘influence’ stakeholder groups may have over the outcome (decision) of the consultation is useful. Other approaches to stakeholder mapping are available, and FRS may feel these are more appropriate to specific circumstances.  However, for the purposes of this guidance, stakeholder mapping using the interest and influence approach is what will be explored further.

Influence: This is the degree to which a stakeholder can exert influence on the outcome or decision to be made, and the extent to which that influence might be used to support or campaign for, or against, the proposals being made. Issues to consider include:

  • The status of the stakeholder
  • The stakeholder’s leadership as perceived in terms of credibility and status
  • Whether they have a track record of successfully influencing decision-making: this should include the degree to which the stakeholder profile forms a risk if not suitably involved.

Interest: This can arise in many forms, however for the purposes of consultation it is important to consider the level of, and the nature of interest which is expressed. It is important to consider how interested a stakeholder might be in the proposals, and how a stakeholder might be impacted by them. These factors can assist with determining how much time the stakeholder is willing to dedicate to responding and/or campaigning after initially learning about the proposals.

This approach takes into consideration the importance of engaging each category of stakeholder in consultation and adjusting the engagement approach to ensure that all are aware of an opportunity to engage.

Analysing the level of interest and influence a stakeholder holds will enable a stakeholder map to be created (see below), which can be useful in terms of prioritising resources and the approaches that are best suited to enable cost-effective engagement. Using the two axes of interest and influence creates four main quadrants, shown diagrammatically below.

Stakeholder Mapping Interest / Influence Axis​​​​​​

The management of stakeholder relationships in each quadrant will differ as follows:

Top priority (high interest and high influence): Stakeholders in this quadrant should form a key focus for the consultation. These audiences are strongly interested in the proposals and are also potentially highly influential in terms of any decisions making. They should be managed using advanced communication approaches to ensure awareness of the proposals and kept up to date with any developments. Should they wish to do so, these stakeholders should have the opportunity to engage with the consultation directly through appropriately positioned and informed personnel.
Manage with care (low interest and high influence): Stakeholders in this quadrant are influential, but currently appear to have less interest in the proposals. The degree of influence means they should be managed carefully, as levels of interest can vary during the consultation, and they could move into the Top Priority quadrant if they decide to become more interested in the proposals. Creating strong relationships is important to ensure that you are aware of any changes in attitude and perception of the consultation as it progresses.
Need help (high interest and low influence): In terms of public consultation, stakeholders in this quadrant are disadvantaged and need support to ensure that their voice is acknowledged and heard. These are audiences who have a high level of interest in the proposal, but may not be considered influential in terms of the views expressed. They have nonetheless a right to be heard, and their views considered, and this requires the consulter to evaluate how best to target such groups and ensure they are identified, informed of the proposals, and have the opportunity to express their views.
Low priority (low interest and low influence): Stakeholders in this quadrant have limited interest in the proposals and low levels of influence over the decision to be made. However, they may wish to respond, and as such using a range of approaches should be made aware of the consultation, and how to participate. There is no need to undertake any further specific activity for audiences in this quadrant.

Assessing stakeholder interest: A good method for evaluating how interested a stakeholder will be to the proposals is to determine how high up it would feature on a typical meeting agenda for that group or organisation. Would the proposals and the impact they have feature as the first item and have a place at every meeting, or would it feature once and then be classed as ‘Any other business’.

Score Definition
1-2 The stakeholder has little, or no identifiable interest in the issues(s) in question
3-4 Although the stakeholder has an interest in aspects of the issues, its stake overall is limited
5-6 The stakeholder may be impacted by decisions to be taken and has significant interest in the overall outcome
7-8 The stakeholder will be significantly impacted by decisions to be taken, and perceived its interest to be considerably affected by the outcome
9-10 The stakeholder is particularly impacted by decisions to be taken and perceives its interest in the issue to be of paramount value

Assessing stakeholder influence

A good method for evaluating the level of influence a stakeholder may have over your proposals and decisions to be taken is to consider the status or reputation of the organisation or individual. For instance, does the organisation’s status confer any legitimacy to comment on the issues, or are they recognised as thought leaders in a particular topic. Equally, evaluate whether the senior leadership regarded as personally influential, or whether the organisation has a wide following, or track record of influencing policy decision-makers. This should not diminish the input of others deemed less influential.

When planning stakeholder engagement, consider yourself as the ultimate decision-maker and try to qualify the impact and legitimacy of what stakeholders have to say.

Score Definition
1-2 The organisation has little, or no standing with key decision-makers or decision-making bodies
3-4 The organisation is acknowledged and does have a limited ability to be heard on issues, but infrequently
5-6 The organisation has a reasonably high profile, and its viewpoint is listened to on a regular basis, although its true influence is minimal
7-8 The organisation is well-known and carries sufficient credibility to exert significant influence on key decision-makers and decision-making bodies
9-10 The organisation is universally recognised, is highly credible, and has a consistent record of influencing decision-making bodies

Having scored both interest and influence and the key reasons for allocated a particular score, it will be necessary to plot where stakeholders sit in terms of the four quadrants. Having created a stakeholder map it is often useful to share this with colleagues as a sense check, to ensure that there has been no misinterpretation of the scorings. The map is then ready to support the allocation of resources and engagement approach for each audience group.

Appendix 2 - Further information

Government principles:

Tools for community engagement:

Appendix 3 - Glossary of Stakeholder and Public Engagement Terms

The following glossary summarises the terms and abbreviations used in the stakeholder and public engagement module of guidance for the development of a Community Risk Management Plan.

This glossary is a living document and could change over time.

Term Definition Source or

Further Reading

Consultation Consultation is the dynamic process of dialogue between individuals or groups, based upon a genuine exchange of views, with the objective of influencing decisions, policies, or programmes of action. The Consultation Institute
Gunning Principles A consultation is only legitimate when the following four principles are met:

  1. Proposals are at a formative stage
  2. There is sufficient information given to give ‘intelligent consideration’
  3. There is adequate time for consultation
  4. ‘Conscientious consideration’ must be given to the consultation responses before a decision is made.
Stephen Sedley QC
Stakeholder A stakeholder is an individual or group that makes a difference or that can affect or be affected by the achievement of the organisation’s objectives Brinkerhoff, D. and B. Crosby,

Appendix 4 - Examples of Stakeholder and Public Engagement processes

The following are a sample of FRS that have previously been awarded ‘Best’ or ‘Good’ practice in reports produced for them by the tCI quality assurance process. These FRSs have agreed to being contacted to provide more information on their processes.

London Fire Brigade:  London Safety Plan 2013 – Awarded ‘Good’ practice in 2013.

Dorset and Wiltshire: Strengthening our Fire and Rescue Service Public Consultation 2014 – Awarded ‘Good’ practice in 2014.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight: 2015 – Safer Hampshire Risk Review consultation – Awarded ‘Best’ practice in 2016.

Suffolk: 2015-2018 IRMP – Awarded ‘Good’ practice in 2016.

Derbyshire: 2013 – Transforming Service Delivery for 2022 and beyond – Fit to Respond – Awarded ‘Good’ practice in 2014 ServiceImprovementTeam@Derbys-Fire.Gov.UK