Dialogue, public debate, citizen dialogue

Consultation with the public has become a vital step in the execution of projects. Sennse has been a forerunner in the field and accompanied the first experiments on urban projects in the 1990s. Today, it has a proven know-how.

Our expertise

We work in all types of consultation from the initial situation analysis to the public inquiry. This can cover voluntary consultation, concertation with stakeholders or public meetings.

Thanks to our in-depth knowledge of the procedures and the actors, our consultants rapidly understand the complex and multiple issues of the projects to better accompany our clients or the specific bodies created.
Our goal: to encourage the execution of projects shared by all the stakeholders.

Our services

Consulting and strategic support
Situation analysis
Coaching and media training
Database of key terms and propositions
Organization and facilitation of public meetings and workshops
Participatory diagnosis
Participatory platforms
Consultation reports and assessments
Meeting reports
Help with decision-making

Our actions

Public debates
Regulatory consultations
Voluntary consultations
Public inquiries


The five keys to a successful consultation process

Successful consultation

For many years, Sennse’s consultants have been asked how to achieve a successful consultation process. We try to answer it by recalling three basic points: a successful consultation process is one that allows everyone to express their opinion ; it is a dialogue that makes it possible to exchange the various points of view and to find the solutions most relevant to a given question; finally, it is a dialogue that encourages the emergence of a new way of conducting public decision-making.

There is no “magic recipe”. Each project has its own technical, socio-economic and urban characteristics. Sennse has, for nearly 20 years, been successfully supporting a method based on five principles: identification of needs, availability of resources, understanding of the environment, designing a strategy and a system, and evaluating the approach.

  • Identify needs

    Before embarking on a process of consultation, you must ask what is its possible contribution and use. In summary, why work together and cooperate? The instigator of the project must also question their motives and their capacity to take on this consultation or adapt its scope according to their needs. For this reason, Sennse has developed an original method of identifying needs via the Arstein scale (1).

     (1) American consultant Sherry R. Arnstein distinguished in 1969 eight levels of citizen participation in projects concerning them. This “participation scale” is always used to analyse how public authorities inform and even involve citizens in decision-making.

  • Provide the resources

    A consultation process can be quite burdensome for the instigator of the project, so it is essential to ensure the availability of a project team or, where appropriate, to find external support. At the very least, the project leader must ensure that they have the technical competence and sufficient means to initiate this process.

  • Understanding the environment

    Understanding the environment of a project means being fully involved in it, taking the pulse without becoming a partisan or an adversary. The right advice will come from the right analysis of the forces present, the positions of each, their motives, possible evolutions, the unspoken, and so on. This is a phase to be carried out with finesse and subtlety, during which all the experience of the agency and its consultants is paramount.

  • Building a strategy, designing a mechanism

    Building the best consultation strategy means creating the conditions for constructive dialogue, leading to a project whose social acceptance is shared.

    There are several ways in which this dialogue can be encouraged: in some cases, it is useful to put it into the hands of on an independent third party, who can facilitate contact and dialogue if the relationship between the project initiator and the public is complex.

    In other cases, setting up a concertation committee, made up of the key players with an interest in the development of the approach, can be additional proof of the goodwill and transparency of the system.

    Finally, defining clear and shared rules of the game is fundamental. These rules must be the object of concerted action (what is the subject of the consultation?), the social contract (transparency, respect for people, listening to each other, etc.), its scope (thematic and geographical), the methods put in place and, finally, the proper use of its result (to what extent can concertation influence the decision?).

    Once these strategic elements have been defined, an operational mechanism should be put in place to meet the public’s need for information and its desire to have its voice heard.

    Consultation process answers three questions :

    • When? What is the duration and the rythmn of the process?
    • Who? Who are the stakeholders of the consultation process?
    • How? What are the tools of the process?


    Consultation process is open, its calendar too. It is accessible to all and states about all sorts of meetings, topics on boards, information, expression and report (“deliverable”) times.


    The audiences of the consultation are defined exhaustively. The public must receive a global information on the project then each type of public, segmented according to its activities, its geographical location, its expectations receives detailed and accurate information.


    The question of the tools of the consultation is traditionally at the heart of the concerns of the owner. Here again, the operational response must be coherent with the subject of the consultation and the means made available : an unspecified website or questions on a forum without response within 24 hours, for example constituting significant obstacles to the credibility of the approach.

  • Take stock of the consultation, evaluate the approach

    The outcome of the public consultation must obviously be explained by the project leaders: what happens to those opinions expressed, the ideas proposed and the desires formulated? How will the final decision get the most from all these contributions? The results of the consultation give a quantitative and qualitative assessment, but also make it possible to see how the process may be able to continue in the future.

    For the project initiator, it is also a matter of questioning the approach taken: has it been successful? Did they get the information that had so far been lacking? Do they believe that the public is better informed after the consultation process? Do they feel that the project is better understood and shared?

  • In conclusion : some tips

    For the project leader, entering a process of consultation requires a flexible and open attitude. The right attitude and the quality of relationships are also essential. All the human resources (elected officials, services, associated experts) must be fully prepared and coached. Active listening and instruction for audiences new to the topics concerned are required ways of working.

    For the public, participation in concertation will often determine the overall perception of the project through the perceived relationships that have been established. This aspect of managing human relationships is therefore by no means an afterthought.