Are we living in a mature consultative culture where the debate in the country matters more than in Parliament? Or is it all a big charade with those in authority making up their minds first and then going through the motions of a consultation, and only pretending to act upon what the public is saying?

The Art of Consultation looks at the industry that has taken market research and allied techniques to create a never-ending stream of dialogues that, in theory empowers thousands of representative bodies and millions of citizens to contribute to decision-making. It is openly honest about what goes wrong, but also finds much that is good about modern public consultation. Thousands of public servants and also many others in the private and voluntary sectors work hard to understand the conflicting messages heard from different elements of society and this book may help them figure out if it is all worthwhile.

As for local Councillors ... and Members of Parliament? They might do well to read it closely; it has many lessons that need to be learnt if democratic institutions are to regain the public’s trust.