Public Conversation

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Engagement range


Difficulty level

Medium to Hard


Low (up to $1000) to Medium ($1000 to $10,000)

When you might use

  • To build alliances, consensus

  • To discover community issues

  • To develop community capacity

Number of people to organise

One to three

Audience numbers

Medium (11-30) to Large (over 30)


Medium (six weeks to six months)  


Facilitator; Staff; Volunteers; Unobtrusive recording equipment

Innovation level

Low to Medium



Public conversation and/or individual discussion are informal consultations that allow you to talk to participants in a direct and personal manner. Informal consultation techniques such as these support more formal consultation techniques by identifying key issues, attitudes, skills and knowledge. The personal level of discussion of these tools is generally not possible under more formal consultation approaches and a greater appreciation of project issues can emerge as a consequence. Such informal discussions allow a free ranging discussion around the issues which may reveal issues or attitudes that would not come to light through more structured surveys which may begin with a pre-conceived notion of who and what is relevant to the issue.

As well, public conversations can be facilitated with a view to reducing polarisation on contentious issues. Through engaging the opposing factions in a series of ongoing informal discussions with professional facilitation some understanding of one another’s viewpoints can be established, and this can assist a more formal process of consultation by focusing attention on the issues rather than the actions or assumed misdemeanours of the ‘other side’. Public conversations may involve lay and professional speakers.



To identify issues that are of relevance to community groups or members who are affected by or interested in an issue. This may include revealing the reasoning behind groups or individuals taking very polarised positions, with a view to finding ways for those who are polarised in this way to hear one another’s viewpoints and be able to work together.


Desired outcome

  • Can reveal unknown issues and aspects of community views on a plan or project that will allow the plan to be improved or modified to take these into account.
  • Can reveal the thinking behind polarised viewpoints which provides the possibility for people to work together in a consultative process who might otherwise be disruptive or distract the focus from the desired outcome.


  • Can help identify individuals and groups who should be consulted as well as how they should be notified or invited.
  • Can help gather information and understand people’s viewpoints prior to formalising programs.
  • Maintains and establishes good community relations.
  • Directly involves individuals.
  • Offers insight into issues prior to the development of a consultation program, or may suggest alternative approaches.

Special considerations/weaknesses

  • Can be costly.
  • Can be time consuming.
  • Time and cost constraints can limit the number of participants.
  • Discussions may be difficult to incorporate into participation findings.
  • Opinions may not be representative.

Step by step guide

Individual discussions

  1. Approach people that are potential stakeholders in the following ways:
    • On the telephone
    • On the street
    • At places of work
    • In public places.
  2. Identify yourself and ask if the person is interested in discussing the issue.
  3. Arrange venue, times.
  4. Allow the participant flexibility in steering the discussion to areas of their interest.
  5. Take notes (or tape/type notes).
  6. Use findings to modify a participation program and/or target specific stakeholder groups.

Group public conversations

  1. Identify the issue or issues to be discussed.
  2. Advertise public meeting time and issue.
  3. Hire a facilitator who can bring a non-adversarial approach to the discussion.
  4. Record discussion points.
  5. Write up and distribute a report of the discussions, acknowledging the differing viewpoints and highlighting areas of overlap and difference.
  6. If such a discussion is part of a decision-making process, describe the final recommendations and reasons that come from the public discussion.

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