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Introduction to tools for bringing public views and values into policy making

This section provides background to tools for bringing public views and values into policy making.

Introduction to the toolkit
Open policy making toolkit
Use of tools in policy development
Defining the issue(s)
How to get a good sample of public participants

 Introduction to the toolkit

This toolkit considers some tools and techniques to address the question:

“As part of my policy development I would like to take account of the views and values of the public – what should I do?”

Many tools are available and this toolkit does not aim to be comprehensive and present all tools that could be used to find out about or understand the views and values of the public. A set of tools is introduced, as well as means of guiding tool selection. Links are provided to where more information can be found on individual tools and on related tools.

Many of the tools included could be used as part of a consultation process.

A way of viewing a consultation process is to think of it as an catch-all terms for many different approaches to public engagement. All of the tools and techniques described here could be included as part of a consultation process. It is increasingly common for consultations to include more than one tool, particularly if the issue(s) to be consulted on are likely to be sensitive.   

As well as describing some of the tools and techniques available, this toolkit also sets out what some of the benefits of well designed and delivered public engagement can bring to policy making. Two of the most important ones are:

•    Providing new evidence for policy makers to help them develop better policies and for decision makers to make better decisions; and
•    Helping policy move forward when decision makers are uncertain how a policy will be reacted to by the public. In essence and give them the confidence to move forward.

 Open policy making toolkit

The structure of this toolkit has been informed by that of the Open policy making (OPM) toolkit developed by the Cabinet Office. The current public views toolkit is intended to complement the OPM toolkit. The OPM toolkit is in the form of a manual that includes information about Open Policy Making as well as the tools and techniques policy makers can use to create more open and user led policy. Some tools for public views and values are also in the open policy making toolkit:

•    Crowd sourcing
•    Deliberative dialogue
•    Social media engagement
•    Social media monitoring

In these cases, a short description of the tool is given here, together with link through to the description in the Open policy making toolkit.

 Use of tools in policy development

The Open policy making toolkit identifies tools that can be used at one or more stages of policy development:

•    Understanding policy problems and user needs
•    Design policy and ideas
•    Testing and improving policy ideas

In a review with policy makers, it was concluded that although deliberative dialogue, one of the tools in both the current and the OPM toolkits, may be particularly helpful at the initial stage of articulating and framing the issue, it can play a  role at all stages of a policy cycle from: fully understanding the issue: developing policy options; appraising options; implementation; and monitoring and review. Indeed, many of the tools included in the Public VIP toolkit can be used effectively at all stages of the policy cycle.

When considering which tool to use and when, policy makers should first ask the the question ‘What am I trying to achieve by bringing public views into this specific policy making process?’. The answer to this question is dependent on many factors, including:

•    Who they wish to engage: the general public; those that have an interest in the policy area already; those representing key interests?
•    What they wish to achieve: find out about the views of the public; understand why they hold those views; work with them to co-create solutions?
•    What kind of evidence is sought: richly qualitative: largely quantitative?
The available timescale and resource will also influence choice of tools.

Considering the purpose acts as a first step in drawing up a shortlist of suitable tools, which can then be compared on their individual characteristics in the context of the policy issue.

When seeking to take account of the views and values of the public, policy makers have often found it can be valuable to use a mix of tools to provide a range of forms of evidence. As an example, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in considering mitochondria replacement used five methods to obtain public views and values; deliberative dialogue, opinion poll, open meetings, focus groups and written consultation. The advice provided to government drew on evidence from the five methods.

Reports of all strands of evidence on mitochondria replacement together with a summary of the evidence and advice for Government are at

 Defining the issue(s)

Defining the issue(s), frequently called framing, is often the first step of any public engagement project.  What exactly is the issue that you think would benefit from having a public engagement element to policy making? What do you think public engagement would bring to the policy? Does it add additional and different evidence? Or is it about giving you the confidence to move forward with a policy? Most importantly is the issue you would like the public to discuss ‘live’? There needs to be a clear policy hook and the engagement process needs to be able to influence that policy. If the policy has already been decided and the engagement process is not able to influence it, then don’t undertake any public engagement, it is an unnecessary expense and could cause difficulties e.g. the public saying it was a sham exercise.

When defining the issue internally, senior level buy-in should also be built. There needs to be commitment to the process and to using the outcomes. The key people involved in the policy should clearly understand the objectives of the proposed public engagement. They also need to accept that there are no guarantees about what will come out of the public engagement.

For deliberative projects a further framing stage often happens if an Oversight Group has been established. One of their roles is usually to discuss the objectives and further refine these if necessary. A final framing stage happens when public engagement contractors have been appointed. They will think about how the issues to be discussed are best framed to be accessible for a public audience.


If you think you will need to commission a supplier to deliver an intended public engagement activity look into your organisation’s procurement processes as an early priority. Your project timetable will need to take into account the length of time it takes to procure a supplier. This should include:

•    Drafting and agreeing tender documents;
•    Allowing sufficient time for suppliers to respond to the tender;
•    Time for evaluating proposals from suppliers; and
•    The possibility that supplier interviews will be required.

A key part of the procurement process is getting the invitation to tender (ITT) right. The objectives in it need to be as clear as possible so there is no ambiguity about what you are requesting. The key people involved in the policy internally need to be satisfied that the objectives specified are the correct ones. Similarly the required outcomes specified in the ITT need to be clear to potential suppliers and to key colleagues internally.

You should think about how prescriptive you want to be about the methodology in the ITT. It can be advantageous not to prescribe a methodology, this allows potential suppliers to think about how they would best deliver the required objectives and outcomes. A halfway house is to set out a possible methodology in the ITT, but be clear that this is just to guide potential suppliers and you would welcome their own ideas.

As well as procuring a supplier to deliver your public engagement project, you might also want to consider commissioning an evaluator. The two procurement processes should run in parallel.

 How to get a good sample of public participants

There are two main ways of recruiting the public participants for a public engagement process: (1) self-selecting; and (2) recruiting. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
A self-selected sample is one which allows whoever is interested and wants to attend to take part. For example, it might be the case that you hold a public workshop and advertise the event in the media, or on a website, or through local groups or service user groups. The advantage of this approach is that it is low cost and those attending are likely to be interested and potentially knowledgeable about the issue(s) to be discussed.

The disadvantages are that you have very limited control over the characteristics of those who attend. A self-selected sample is very unlikely to be representative of any target population.

In contrast a recruitment approach gives much tighter control over the characteristics of  those attending. This enables a group to be recruited which may be able to give strong indications of how the public at large feels about certain issues and/or reach particular target sections of the population – allowing organisers to recruit the most appropriate participants to achieve the purpose of the event.

A typical approach would be draw up a recruitment specification with a ‘quota sample’ and then commission a market research fieldwork agency to carry out the recruitment. A quota sample may  include setting quotas for any number of demographic criteria, for example, age, gender, ethnicity, economic situation etc., It can also include setting attitudinal or behavioural criteria. The recruitment is usually carried out ‘on street’ or by phone, may use electoral rolls or other approaches.

A main disadvantage of this approach is that it is costlier than a self-selected sample as a recruitment agency has been commissioned to do this and an incentive (usually in form of money or vouchers) is usually offered to encourage attendance by those who do not have an immediate interest in the topic.

More information about qualitative sampling considerations can be found here: Designing sampling strategies for qualitative social research: with particular reference to the Office for National Statistics' qualitative respondent register (2005) Amanda Wilmot. Paper on qualitative sampling strategies presented to QUEST 2005. Available at

More information about quantitative sampling can be found here: