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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra): ‘Taking it on’ consultation on UK sustainable development strategy

In 1999 the UK Government published ‘A better quality of life’, its sustainability strategy, just as Welsh and Scottish devolution began to come into force. The Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Northern Ireland Administration then developed their own approaches, as did every English region and many local authorities.

This consultation aimed at laying the foundations for a national strategic framework for sustainable development to 2020 that would provide the background to take forward action by each administration, and for action by others.

The consultation document “Taking it on - developing UK sustainable development strategy together” was launched on 21 April 2004 by the Secretary of State for the Environment at an event for key stakeholders, representing a diverse and influential set of national and international institutions.

To gather views on what should be in a sustainable development strategy for the UK, and what government and others need to do make it happen.

Online consultation around ‘Taking it on - developing UK sustainable development strategy together’ began on 28 April 2004 and continued until 31 July.

The online consultation took two forms. A ‘General Access’ consultation process allowed members of the public and any interested organisations to respond online to the questions in the consultation document. This process was open for 12 weeks, at the end of which the results were collated and the responses made available for scrutiny on the website.

In parallel to this public process, a ‘Virtual Panel’, representing a cross section of organisations and individuals with an interest in sustainable development, was set up to provide its views in two stages. During the first stage the panel was asked to respond to the questions in the document by 28 May. Following collation of the interim results panel members were asked to respond, by 31 July, to further questions based on their earlier responses.

The General Access process generated 8,149 responses from 444 participants; the Virtual Penal produced 2,904 responses from 151 participants. Both processes attracted submissions from businesses, professional associations, government bodies, devolved administrations, local authorities, research and educational institutions, non-government organisations, community groups and individuals.

Defra's own evaluation of the process concluded: "The online consultation was innovative and successful for those participating in it, despite some frustrations about the process which may have put off some respondents from replying online (e.g. word limits, saving copies of submissions)…. The key benefits were that it encouraged a paperless consultation (only 10% of responses were received by post), participants were able to view each other's inputs and it could reach a wider audience. In addition, the online consultation enabled speedy and cost-effective analysis of responses for consideration by policy-makers."

The Defra report also evaluated the online consultation's cost-effectiveness: " The online consultation costs are lower than for e-mail/postal replies when the cost of analysing the responses is taken into account, and there are other benefits of using online consultation. Therefore, it is recommended that future consultations should encourage an online element to help to keep costs down, encourage sharing of information and ease of analysis".

(An Evaluation of the 2004 “Taking it on” Consultation on the UK’s Sustainable Development
Strategy Defra 2004)

The final summary of the consultation can be downloaded here


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