Technology classification

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Each consultation is different. There are many patterns of consultation. An annual survey of the needs of people in a local authority area is different from a consultation on how to dispose of nuclear waste. However, it is possible to identify tasks that are carried out in many consultations, tasks that combined together can form any given consultation process.

We classified e-consultation technologies according to the type of communication process they support. We used that classification in our technology demonstrations in Letterkenny and Belfast in 2005. Here follows an expanded classification. Click on the titles to find out more about each. They are organised according to typical stages of a problem-solving process[1] (as found in some types of consultation).

In other types of consultation, these communication activities may be ordered differently. You can design a consultation process that is task specific, to meet the specific needs of the consultation topic, the consulting organisation and the participants.[2]

Defining the problem

Exactly what is the problem or issue to be discussed in a consultation? Can all the participants and the organisers come to a mutual agreement on what is involved? If not, they will be talking at cross-purposes, and no one will be satisfied with the outcome.

  1. Telling the public
  2. Identifying issues, collecting stories

Exploring the problem

Given an agreed problem definition, participants can then start to explore the problem. They need the ability to see to heart of problem based on deep understanding of situation. As a group they can explore new ideas, develop new solutions, understand issues, disentangle ideas and so on.

  1. Getting reactions, feelings, new ideas
  2. Deliberation, dialogue and conversations
  3. Mapping ideas

Choosing and developing solutions

Once participants have explored the problem, potential solutions, and their intended and unintended consequences, they need to choose, develop and write up the best solutions.

  1. Creating solutions, writing documents
  2. Measuring needs and preferences

Managing the consultation process

This is not a communication activity, but every consultation has to be managed, and some IT can help.

  1. Managing contacts
  2. Analysing responses
  3. Writing reports


  1. As in Garrison's Theory of Critical Thinking. Newman used these stages to (a) evaluate critical thinking and (b) produce a mediation model of consultation.
  2. Both for a particular consultation and the management of ongoing relationships between consulting organisations and those consulted