Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Ann Richardson


I have only recently been apprised of the existence of your Committee, which is of great interest to me. I have been working in the area of public consultation and participation since the early 1970s, primarily as an academic commentator. (The principal publication which might be of interest is Participation (Routledge Kegan Paul, 1983, although I have also written in the areas of participation in housing, health and social security.)

  But about six years ago, I developed a pioneering system for public consultation in the health arena, namely Health Panels. You may well know about these, but if not, the enclosed article from the British Medical Journal gives some background information. I feel that these have a relevance far beyond the field of health and would hope that the Committee would give them due attention.

  In brief, Health Panels were set up for much the same reason as citizens juries (which came later), ie to provide an arrangement whereby ordinary members of the public could deliberate on complex issues before coming to a view. They consist of a discussion forum for eight to 12 people, meeting for up to two hours, where issues of concern to a health authority are put to them. A small amount of information is provided to get the discussion going and members are invited to vote following their deliberation, so that one knows their final views "when push comes to shove", unlike ordinary focus groups where it can be very unclear.

  Health Panels were first set up in Somerset in 1993 and I have since set them up in three other authorities (and, I believe, some authorities may be undertaking them themselves). They provide a useful means whereby public values can be elicited, ie they are not so useful for technical questions but are an excellent means of finding views toward self-inflicted illness, ageism in treatment, attitudes to issues which are on the margins of traditional health care (such as IVF or vasectomy reversals) and the like. They are also often used as a means of eliciting public priorities between different spending options.

  Health Panels meet two or three times a year, depending on the Authority. In order to bring in new people, there is a rolling turnover in the membership, with some members "retiring" at each meeting and some new members joining. They are facilitated by a professional moderator, taped and transcribed and reports prepared both for the Authority and for the members themselves (a summary). Because they are ongoing, Health Panels can have a notable impact on managers who begin to wonder how members of the public will respond to issues concerning them.

  Health Panels are relatively inexpensive to run, roughly £2,000-£,2500 per Panel. Thus, if there are six Panels meeting twice a year, the cost is no more than £30,000.

  I hope this information is helpful to you. If you would like to know more about this system for public consultation, do please feel free to contact me.

Dr Ann Richardson
Independent Consultant

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 30 April 2001