News and Comment

A look under the surface of a public consultation: Part 1/5 – Introduction

Friday 15 February 2013

As an independent, socially-focused organisation, the OPM Group is often asked to carry out impartial engagement into controversial issues. It is both exciting and challenging to be involved in consulting and reporting on contentious topics.

On the one hand, it is invigorating to be working on subjects which generate strong feelings and opinions, because these tend to be the subjects which are important and urgent; the issues of our time.

Yet on the other, consulting and reporting on sensitive, divisive subjects also raises a number of challenges for specialist consultation practitioners:

  • How do we ensure impartiality in the consultation process?
  • What’s the best way to ask provocative questions which stimulate responses but are not in any way misleading?
  • How do we engage with a wide range of people holding different views, to make sure that the consultation is fair and representative of all parties?
  • What measures must be in place to ensure that the final report is even-handed and accurate? And how do we present a dispassionate and honest representation of all these views?

These are all questions which the OPM Group are actively engaged with, continuing to stimulate productive debates that in turn refine and enhance the research process.

Over the last year Dialogue by Design has been involved in a number of such consultations – a particularly good example being the large-scale public consultation commissioned by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The consultation sought to gather public opinion on new IVF-based techniques to prevent mitochondrial disease, a genetic disorder that affects 1 in 200 children. The treatment involves replacing the mitochondrial DNA in an egg or embryo to prevent the transmission of serious mitochondrial diseases.

It is a complex subject which elicits strong responses on many sides of the debate. In this series of blogs we will explain the approaches that were used by Dialogue by Design to ensure the consultation was rigorous, fair and accurate. We will also be considering the challenges faced during this fascinating and high-profile public consultation process, and the often innovative and creative solutions developed in response.


This is the first blog in a five-part series in which analyses how Dialogue by Design, (part of the OPM Group), consults and reports on contentious subjects, paying special attention to a recent consultation conducted on behalf of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). 

In the next installment  in the series we will find out more about how a process suitable for this consultation was designed and planned. 

‘A look under the surface of a public consultation’ blog series:

Part 2/5 – Planning and design

Part 3/5 – Analysis and coding

Part 4/5 – Reporting

Part 5/5 – Publication