Following the 2015 Scottish Government Moratorium on fracking, any further public consultation on the issue was recognised as likely to be contentious – particularly given there were already established campaign and interest groups on all sides of the debate. One challenge they faced, even before the consultation began, was to ensure key players within the debate recognised the process as a fair and genuine attempt to hear the views of the wider Scottish public.
The Scottish Government’s overall approach to consulting on the future of fracking in Scotland was to take a cautious, evidence led approach. Following the moratorium, they commissioned a series of expert research reports to examine particular issues in more depth: including economic impacts, climate change impacts, health impacts, transport implications and risks of seismic activity.
They were keen to consider the views of the public as a further form of evidence, before making a decision, and thus planned to go out to public consultation without stating a government position. This unusual approach meant that key stakeholders and existing campaign groups had to be brought on-board with the process before the consultation was launched.
What we did
In order to involve these stakeholders in constructive discussions about how the public consultation should be framed Involve was asked to host a series of roundtables with groups from industry, the environmental sector and the network of community-based anti-fracking campaigns.
The purpose of these roundtables was to provide an opportunity for these stakeholder groups to present their ideas and opinions about how the Scottish Government should conduct the consultation in order to ensure that it best:
- presents the public with impartial, trusted information on UOG in ways that will generate informed dialogue and debate around the issues;
- gives the general public, local communities and stakeholder groups the opportunity to express their opinions on the issues that matter to them – stimulating a nationwide conversation;
- provides Ministers with a fair representation of public and stakeholder views; and
- supports the Scottish Government’s evidence led approach to UOG.
Who was involved:
Participants: Scottish Government, Environment Link (the network of Scottish Environment Groups), UKOOG (the representative body for the UK onshore oil and gas industry) and the Broad Alliance (a network of community based campaign groups)
What was achieved:
The report we produced as a result of these workshops synthesised the ideas, concerns and arguments made by stakeholders into a tool that provided clear, implementable recommendations for government. It included a number of ‘participation commitments’ designed to enhance the openness of the process, including commitments to:
- entering into the consultation with an open-mind i.e. that this is an honest process of exploring the issues with the public before policy positions are decided.
- evidence-based policy making, and that the evidence of public opinion will be part of the pool of evidence used by Ministers to inform their future decisions.
- providing the public with the best evidence the government has about the issues to enable the public to develop informed opinions about the issues.
- supporting a fair and balanced debate about the issues which will create space for different perspectives and argument to be presented and considered.
- conducting the consultation in a way which promotes open discussion and the exchange of opinions (i.e. dialogue) between the public, industry, campaign groups and the government throughout.
- transparency throughout the consultation process – including independent, qualitative analysis of the consultation results and their publication.
- actively seek participation from a broad cross-section of the Scottish population, as individuals and communities, by using a range of methods and approaches designed to make both the information and the opportunity to respond, easy and accessible to everyone.
- recognise the public’s time and energy in participating in the consultation and give all contributions fair and due consideration.
This report and the commitments outlined above were directly used by the Unconventional Oil and Gas team within the Scottish Government to inform the design of the ‘Talking Fracking’ consultation process.