Regulators “must do more” to engage consumers in their work

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By Legal Futures

23 August 2010

Hayter: effective regulation requires consumer involvement

The profession’s regulators have been urged to put consumer engagement at their heart of their strategies after talks last month found their efforts to date have been limited.

A workshop organised by the Legal Services Consumer Panel found “genuine commitment” among the regulators to do more to engage consumers, which the panel says is “an essential part of being a credible regulator”.

In a recently published report of the workshop, panel chairwoman Dr Dianne Hayter said: “Consumers are ultimately the intended beneficiaries of regulation in legal services and we think it is impossible to deliver effective regulation in their absence.” She said this should include both expert input from consumer representatives and direct dialogue with the public.

The workshop found that, to date, in addition to having a website and consulting with consumer bodies, the regulators’ engagement strategies have been limited to surveys and focus groups. “Such traditional survey tools, which useful to measure ‘top of the head’ views, sometimes only can scratch the surface,” the report said. “In other sectors, regulators are experimenting with deliberative research techniques, which allow participants to consider relevant information, discuss the issues and options, and develop their thinking before coming to a view. This can lead to surprising results: attitudes change over the course of the research and the public can end up displaying a more tolerant attitude than regulators do.”

Examples of more innovative approaches from healthcare include the General Medical Council visiting hospices and care homes to talk directly with older people as part of its consultation on developing end-of-life guidance, and the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence creating a ‘public stakeholder network’. This consists of 170 members who select activities with which they want to be involved on a no-obligation basis. They receive early prompts to participate in consultations, discussions or events, plus a bi-monthly electronic newsletter and e-mail updates.

The workshop also sought to dispel various myths that have acted as blocks to consumer engagement, such as the ideas that “most people don’t want to be involved and all you end up with is the usual suspects”, “people will be too demanding and engagement will give them unreasonable expectations” and “issues are too complicated for non-experts to understand”.

Dr Hayter has previously said she would like to see each of the regulators have their own consumer panel. Only the Bar Standards Board has one, which Dr Hayter chaired before taking on the role at the panel.

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