If you want to run a consultation but are concerned that the outcome might not be to your liking, you need to word the questionnaire very carefully. Or rather, you need to ensure that there is as little opportunity as possible for respondents to voice their disagreement with the proposal in question.
This should be obvious from the fact that in at least two recent consultations undertaken by the government in England, a spokesperson has announced that the thing under discussion will be implemented once the consultation process is over. That sort of suggests that the thing is going to go ahead come what may.
There’s a consultation going on near where I live about a proposal to build a new school and a housing complex. There is one question that gives you the space to disagree — an open-ended “Any other comments?” one at the end. All the others are in the nature of “Which of the following benefits of this idea do you think is the most important?”. I mention this because it’s not just government consultations that have such shortcomings.
I always take part in consultations because I think that if you don’t then (a) you can’t really complain if things turn out the way you wish they hadn’t, and (b) it will only be a question of time before some bean counter in the Treasury concludes that given the low response rate to consultations, the costs outweigh the benefits.
But what I do is answer the questions that I think should have been asked, and let rip in the “Any other comments?” section.
For example, in answer to the “Which of these benefits is #1?” question I mentioned earlier, I added another option: None of the above. I don’t suppose it will be recorded, because there won’t be a slot for that kind of response in their database, but I thought it important to state anyway.
In any case, I state my full case in the Comments question, going on to a new sheet if necessary.
I also photograph my completed questionnaire if it’s on paper, or save, copy/paste or screenshot it if it’s online.
There is a third option sometimes, which is to follow up in an email. I think it’s important to do that too if possible.
Unfortunately, although the organisations that consult using leading questions may gain a short-term and private advantage, I believe the long-term and social cost is an increase of cynicism and distrust. It’s a very short-sighted strategy.