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How a Public Consultation Helps In Crisis Management


In the complex environment of today, the public relation firms need to understand and respond to our ever-changing demands, rising expectations, and values for increasingly intrusive news media and public consultation. The focus on internal objectives is not enough, requiring outside thinking, which is a mandatory prerequisite for accomplishing the tacit acceptance of society to remain operational during a situation of crisis management.

In the disaffected political environment of today, leaders in businesses and governments are now being called to embrace the genuine public input. There is little doubt over the fact that public consultation has become a vital component of outside-in thinking. It is all about building dialogue into the process of communication to mitigate conflict, accomplishing as much consensus as required in balancing the scales of developmental-ism and protectionism.

Recently, people perceived that holding a few town hall meetings, placing some ads, distributing some literature, and being aware of upcoming issues would produce the consequence the organization wants. However, this belief is now outdated. Now, the public is concerned about what constitutes sustainable development. Unfortunately, this concern is increasing. As we get accustomed to the real environmental pressures, it is argued that most of us will feel a need to put a brake on the remorseless industrialization progress. The outcome is that a very reasonable and well-researched proposal concerning planning permission for a novel development on the green belt area’s edge may not sound so justified, especially to those people who feel that environmental degradation is threatening them.

Such a case can be traced back to 1996. In this case, a company was awaiting the confirmation of planning permission to run a low-level radioactive waste facility. Surprisingly, the campaign used for this was highly vocal, articular, and well-organized. Despite emphasizing that the type of waste stored at the facility posed absolutely no risk, the government officials, children, parents, local teachers, and human health, already working with nuclear materials and living in a catchment area of research establishments advocated that the breaking point has finally reached.

Anxiety over the perceived additional risk to the environment and their health, along with the failure on the part of the involved organization to come up with a more proactive process of public consultation during the application for planning permission, created a militant response and mistrust. The children and parents marched on the premises of the organization, under the watchful eye of newspaper reporters, radio, and local television. Although zero risks were never expected, they always wanted to get as close as possible. This rightly demonstrates the importance of public consultation during crisis management.

The organizations are finding it difficult to go down a more assertive public consultation route. To overcome this, they can try not getting their own way on almost every single issue. If the consultation becomes unsuccessful, public opinion may become divided and polarized. However, this can be addressed through active communication regarding issues, adopting a more inclusive approach in the consultation and influencing process. In fact, this should be a mandatory prerequisite if the existing fault-line between sustainable and financial success needs to be eliminated. Outside-in thinking is dependent on the ability of an organization to move away from an information flow that has a uni-directional, to a more active dialogue that takes into consideration a more extensive range of stakeholder groups. The organizations and institutions, upon which we depend to protect and provide, must run faster to accomplish consensus and resolve probable conflict about their relationship and role in society. Those failing to address the need for this kind of change may simply have their operational licenses revoked.

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Working with the Province of Ontario – Open Government

The Province of Ontario joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2016 as part of the first cohort of subnational governments. Don was closely involved in Ontario’s program from the start:

Engagement and deliberation can transform how decision-makers carry out critical tasks, shedding new light on issues and leading to new solutions. Middle Ground uses Informed Participation to transform:

Much of this work focuses on stakeholders and/or citizens outside an organization. However, the concerns of staff members within a government department or hospital often resemble those of citizens and stakeholders. For example, they may feel they have no voice in organizational changes that affect them; or in defining a vision for the future. Informed Participation can be an effective tool for solving issuesinsidethe walls of an organization, as well as outside of them, from policy making to culture change.

Hands-on learning is the best way to build skills and capacity in public deliberation. Middle Ground often uses actual engagement projects as a tool for knowledge-transfer to the client’s organization. Typically, Don will serve as the principal advisor, working closely with a team from the client’s firm, and advising them on how to design and implement the process. In addition, he may act as a facilitator and/or writer and analyst. These roles can be specially designed to create mentorship opportunities for the team and to build capacity within the client’s organization.

Middle Ground offers workshops and training courses on Informed Participation. These can extend from a half- to two days and will equip participants with the concepts, skills, and tools they need to design and implement deliberative processes. As an accomplished trainer, Don’s sessions are highly interactive and use lots of practical examples to illustrate the approach, along with group exercises to deepen the grasp of key concepts. Workshops can be custom designed to meet the specific needs of the client.


Every situation is different, and every engagement process should be designed to match the task at hand. This is about more than choosing between big and small processes, or online vs. face-to-face meetings. Informed Participation distinguishes between three differentstylesof public deliberation, each of which engages the participants in a different way:

These deliberative “styles” are natural patterns that discussion follows in daily life. For example, sometimes people use lots of narrative or storytelling, while at others they are far more focused on facts and analysis. If the goal is to solve a difficult technical problem, facts and analysis will matter. If the goal is to solve a deep values conflict, narrative may be the better option. We build features like these into a process to shape it in ways that ensure the process always matches the task.


Public deliberation should be led by an experienced, impartial facilitator. Informed Participation relies on approach that combines three different roles:



Over the years, Don has developed a distinctive style of report-writing that is widely recognized for clarity, accessibility, and its simple narrative style, especially when dealing with complex and often technical issues. Middle Ground uses a variety of document types to support our processes. These include short discussion papers, analyses of issues, comprehensive syntheses of ideas and options, summary reports, and case studies.

Don also regularly takes on writing and analysis tasks independently of his work on engagement processes

Middle Ground is more than a consulting firm. We provide thought leadership in public engagement. Our practice over the years has been to build learning opportunities into our consulting projects. These often include the production of “ideas” papers based on the learning from challenging projects that raise difficult issues and require innovative solutions. Some of these papers can be found on the Ideas page of our Access Publications page.