Conceptualised in 2020, the aim of this platform is to bring together public consultation data in a standardised way in order to:
- Improve the transparency and thus raise standards in public consultation;
- For as long as prospective consultees have to go to a specific organisation’s website to find a relevant consultation, there will be a limit to the visibility of the exercise. There is massive inconsistency in the way that consultations are documented and classified so at a basic level we seek to improve openness. If we succeed on making this a widely known source of information about what consultations are currently out there – and what happened to those that are completed, there will be far greater transparency.
- Help consultors benchmark their consultations and optimise their consultation designs;
- We are working a set of analytical tools that will make the benchmarking easier. These will be ready towards the end of the year. If you had, for example, 50 previous consultations on MIDAS – you would find it possible to find comparable precedents and more easily study their structure and outputs.
- Help consultees find consultations, consultation outputs and decisions made;
- At present potential consultees must find individual websites to look for a consultation. As MIDAS matures, those who aren’t sure if a project in their own Borough is being consulted on by a Council, cy a Developer, a public utility or whoever, will be able to search MIDAS to see if the relevant consultation they are looking for is or has been consulted on – without knowing the consultor. Very often the query is – was such-and-such ever subject to consultation? Some organisations will use MIDAS for live consultations – but in many ways its primary use is as a repository for historic consultations – finding them on most organisations’ websites can be slow and tortuous. That said, we have invested heavily in search engine optimisation – so MIDAS records respond well to organic search.
- Capture legal data and de-fragment public opinions on a range of topics (great for policymaker insights);
- Right now, there is no facility anywhere to find out which consultations have been subject to legal challenge – and which have not. Over time, MIDAS will have this as we will adopt a policy of including any consultations that end up in Court. Policymakers etc will be particularly keen to discern why some consultations are more likely to be challenged than others. Similarly, because you can capture the consultation output in a standard format (e.g. arguments in favour/against proposals), you can quickly learn how public opinion faired across consultations with the same issue.
- Unlock ‘big data’ secrets for the purposes of furthering public engagement research.
- Our analytics package will focus on analysing dialogue methods deployed, response levels, equalities characteristics of consultees and outputs published, though we expect that some users will be interested in the propensity to consult on various subjects etc. Subscribers are able to report a series of consultation related statistics on a user-defined batch of consultations. The idea is to compare key performance indicators over time. This will help consultors measure any improvements or deviations from “norm”.
We are grateful to InnovateUK for their financial contribution to make this happen.
Our motivation was to meet an increased need for maintaining high-quality public engagement as a time of rapid change. For example, according to research by the Science Foundation (March 2020), the ferocity of consultation on green issues is following a quadratic curve and “gaps in current research are a lack of common understanding of public participation for climate adaptation across disciplines plus incomplete articulation of processes involving public participation and citizen engagement”.
The project is in relation to a number of challenges, specifically:
1. The need to safeguard consultation quality (and hence legality) at a time when systems are under stress. For example, ensuring that processes remain inclusive, legal and meaningful even when “red-tape” has been cut;
2. A lack of industry data, which is resulting in an inability to measure or benchmark effectiveness. Consequently, there is diminished trust in the process and no way for consultors to help predict salience in terms of the issues they face;
3. A lack of common wisdom on certain issues due to the rise in “distributed dialogues” (multiple conversations or consultations happening at different places and different times but about the same issues). This fragmentation of findings means that government cannot benefit from collective insight.
The “data available” dial is an indicator for how complete each record is, based on our data architecture (the total amount of possible data a record could contain at any moment in time). For illustration, if the output and outcome of the consultation is not yet available as the consultation is still open then the dial may show “100%” whereas if the consultation is closed then this may reduce to reflect a missing component.
Data authors have the ability to mark certain individual data points as “not applicable”. For example, “options” in the case of a consultation which does not have them. In this instance, a lack of data will not contribute to the reading on the data dial.
Sometimes there are gaps in the data, either because the consultor has not collected it, not published it or it is untraceable.