Our Work BIHR's Project on Government Consultations and Human Rights To jump to event registration, scroll to the bottom of the page. Welcome to the home of our exciting government consultation project. Please read on for more information on what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how you can be involved. We are looking to hear from people and organisations that have lots of experience engaging with consultation processes, and from those that have wanted to respond but haven’t felt able to. What is policy? Policies are rules or sets of principles which exist to guide decision making and shape practice. Governments and bodies set policies about what to do in particular situations, as do lots of other organisations and services that we interact with in our day to day lives, such as local authorities and NHS services. Policy is important as it sets rules by which people, organisations and those with government power should act, if this doesn't happen, we can challenge this, by calling for the policy be adhered to, and when dealing with national or local government power, policies may be challenged in court. Importantly, the way those with governmental power create and make policy - from the words on the page and how they are used in practice - should be compatible with our human rights. It is important to remember that all public authorities have a legal duty comply with our rights in the Human Rights Act, whether that is about making a decision about an individual person or setting a policy. Find out more about the Human Rights Act here. What is Consultation? Consultation is one of the most important policy activities governments undertake. Consultations act as a cornerstone to our democracy, providing a way for people and non-governmental organisations to have their voices heard as part of the process that shapes governmental policy. Good consultation processes benefit us all. Effective consultation provides a platform for government to engage with a range of stakeholders with expertise and experience, including the people who are affected by policy, and to reflect those views back when creating new policy (or amending existing policy). Consultations take many forms, including calls for evidence (usually written papers), surveys/web forms, focus groups, roundtables and more. Good consultations are tailored towards the stakeholder group(s) that are impacted by the policy and changes being explored. This project is looking at the broad range of methods of consultation used by both the UK government and governments within the UK. What is a human rights approach to policy? To ensure that our human rights are protected, respected, and fulfilled by public authorities, we believe that policy making itself, must be underpinned by human rights principles, specifically, the five key human rights principles, known as PANEL: Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination and equality, Empowerment, and Legality. The Scottish Human Rights Commission have an excellent short video about these principles which you can watch here. In adopting PANEL principles, consultative processes and the resulting policy changes are more likely to be human rights respecting, creating greater opportunities and justice for all. Why are we concerned? We are a human rights organisation focused on both practice and policy across the UK. We frequently respond to government consultations (amplifying the voices of those we work with), and we frequently support others to do so, including working with groups, individuals and workers in the public sector (who will often be the ones having to eventually enact government policies). Our experience is that often government consultations overlap in time and content, and are not accessible, resulting in frustration with the way that policy in the UK is shaped. We speak with people every day who feel that their voice is not heard by government. And it is not just about the process - the outcome is important too, and questions are often asked about what happens with the information gathered through consultation. This should be used to shape decision making, yet what we've been seeing is government responses that do not reflect what consultation has told them, as well as repeat consultations year after year either without change to policy or legislation that consultation is indicating, or continuing to question issues that repeat consultations show do not need change. Engaging with consultations takes valuable time and resources from all involved; we need to know that it leads to positive change and is a worthwhile exercise. At BIHR, we believe that technical expertise is vital in shaping policy, but so too is lived experience. It is essential for third sector organisations, communities, experts, and most importantly, people with lived experience to feed into government consultations to ensure that many voices are reflected in policy and resulting practice which impacts our experience of our rights, in our lives, every day. However, for some time now the people and organisations we work with have been telling us they feel unheard, and ‘consultation fatigue’ is setting in, with dis-engagement from vital work to shape policy that impacts our lives. We therefore have real concerns about the human rights implications of the current approach to consultations taken by the UK government. But we're also optimistic that by coming together we will be able to not only evidence why current approaches to policy consultations are problematic, but make the case for how a human rights approach offers us the real opportunity to make the case for doing things differently, in a more right-respecting way that supports us all. Initial research: We have undertaken initial research, looking at how reflective UK government consultations (and a snapshot of devolved government consultations, to offer comparison) are of the PANEL principles. Looking at a sample group of UK government consultations on policies that are key to our human rights, showed that often consultations do not adopt PANEL principles. Many consultations did not meet the guidelines that government itself has set about how they should be run, compromising transparency and accountability. Our research has also shown an increase in the number of consultations impacting human rights over the past 10 years. Whilst this should mean that we have a greater opportunity to shape policy, we know that it leaves organisations and individuals taking a reactive approach – responding to what time and resources allow. For a snippet of our initial research, see our Twitter thread here. What are we going to do? Qualitative research: Through a series of surveys, workshops, roundtables, and meetings with people interacting with public services and bodies, staff working in services and bodies, and non-governmental organisations from across the UK. This project needs to reflect the experiences of people impacted by policy, the groups with expertise, and the staff who implement policy - both positive and negative experiences provide important learning for taking a human rights approach to policy consultations. Quantitative research: We are conducting further desk-based, quantitative research into government consultations across all 4 UK nations. We are analysing records available through government websites and filling gaps in data through freedom of information requests. Using a two-pronged approach, we hope to build a dataset that is truly reflective of government consultation process and the demands that this creates on civil society. Analysis: What we learn through engaging with other stakeholders will be used to run a human rights analysis using PANEL principles of government consultations past and present, across the 4 UK nations. Output 1, Matrix: We hope that we can use our human rights expertise and the lived experience of those involved in the project, to create a human rights matrix which can be used to check whether a government consultation of any kind is human rights compliant. We envisage this matrix providing a powerful advocacy and campaigning tool for those outside of government, and of course it could offer an operating framework by policy makers themselves. Output 2, Reporting: Using our research, analysis, and importantly your experiences, we will draft a report on government consultation processes and human rights. We hope that this report, in evidencing the facts and lived experience, will provide a snapshot of the current situation in the UK and frameworks for improving this moving forward. How can you be involved? Have you/your organisation/team/group engaged with a government consultation process in the last few years? This could be a UK government consultation or a devolved government consultation, or perhaps it’s both and you are able to offer a comparative experience. If so, we want to hear from you and invite you to come along to one of our 5 workshops this September. We would also like to hear from people that have wanted to respond but haven’t felt able to. We need to hear about what stopped you from engaging, and what could be done to encourage people with lived experience to help shape policy that affects them. Book onto a workshop Our workshops will provide a platform for you to engage with other stakeholders to discuss key frustrations around consultations, as well as sharing successes. Stories and data that we capture in our workshops will shape our research, matrix and final report. It is vital that we hear from you. Take our Easy Read survey If you can't come to a workshop, you prefer giving your views in written format, or you simply want to tell us more, you can complete our Easy Read survey. This open to anyone who has taken part in a government consultation, as well as anyone who has wanted to take part in a government consultation but hasn't been able to. Roundtable Event After the process of research and engagement, we will be bringing key contributors from the four groups: people, communities, staff, and policy together on Wednesday 27th October – 3 - 4.30pm to share our UK wide findings, where we’re at with our human rights policy matrix, and opportunities for next steps and joint work. This event will provide a forum for stakeholders to interact with one another and learn from each other’s experience of government consultations whilst shaping BIHR’s next steps, and identifying any potential joint actions. We can only host a small number of people on this day, and to join you must have attended one of the September events (so do book your place now!).