Consulting people

Consulting people

When should I consult people?

Project lifecycle

Project planners often use lifecycle models to understand the key stages of work. This can provide a useful conceptual framework but where policy is formed on the basis of the selected model, it is important to compare the real and assumed project characteristics.


There is a growing awareness of the need to engage with key stakeholders and an acknowledgement that "inadequate consultation leads to the law of unintended consequences" (Jones and Gammell). However, making this process effective rather than simply paying lip service to the idea requires consideration from the project's outset.


Understanding all the key stakeholders is vital for long term success. Have you found the silent majority or vocal minority? What about disadvantaged / marginalised groups?

"..people came and consulted us but nothing has changed". (Tsunami survivor, Sri Lanka 2006)


Source: Aspire Research and Development, Arup


Jones & Gammell, Evaluating public & stakeholder consultation
Aspire Research and Development, Arup

Make consultation early, open and real

Ownership and context

Consultation suggests an inherent power imbalance; consider the potential for addressing this. Who is best placed to make the key technical and non-technical decisions? Can the major stakeholders become participants or owners of the project? Consultation should enable the formation of solutions which are relevant to the local context; beware of imposing external solutions.

Get started early

Consultation and participation can offer value at all phases of a project but the potential for change is greatest during the initial stages.

Be open

If there is little room for change, don't raise unrealistic expectations. Be honest about what is achievable; don't tell people they're being consulted if you don't intend to listen. Communicate and evaluate the decision making process. Are the key stakeholders satisfied and have you captured lessons for next time?


Stakeholder Engagement, International Finance Cooperation, Khwaja (2004) Is Increasing Community Participation Always A Good Thing?

Case Study: Solar power in Turkmenistan

Migration from Turkmenistan's Kara Kum desert jeopardised the future of the region's remote settlements. Villagers felt that electricity could encourage people to remain in the area but that a more cooperative community with a greater capacity to deliver change was needed.

With assistance from InsightShare, a British NGO, the community identified its own needs and developed a three year programme to address them. They produced a participatory video which was used to raise funds from donors to purchase solar panels. Families paid for their own panels with sheep which were pooled to create a community fund for future projects.

In addition to providing 450 people with electricity, the project demonstrated 'that communities have the power to improve their own situation, eroding mentalities of hopelessness and dependency'.