NEWS17 October 2008

Interview: Opinion Leader’s Viki Cooke

Agency chief talks regulation (or lack of it) for deliberative methods

UK— Opinion Leader’s Viki Cooke yesterday responded to a formal reprimand from the MRS over last year’s nuclear power consultation exercise by saying the body is “not competent to assess” deliberative engagement methods.

Meanwhile the government is standing by its energy policy and saying the issue comes down to a “lack of clarity within the marketing industry”.

Research spoke to Cooke today about the growth of deliberative methods and what steps are being taken to regulate them.

How much of your work does deliberative engagement account for?

I’m not going to give precise numbers but it’s just one of many things we’re known for. We pioneered the whole way of working.

How have you been involved in developing guidelines for deliberative engagement?

There have been discussions around the industry for quite a long time. We were invited probably about a year ago to take part in an initiative that was hosted by the then National Consumer Council [now part of Consumer Focus], working with Involve [a non-profit organisation promoting public participation] and more recently the Sustainable Development Commission, who have been the drivers of it. There was a wide range of people. It’s ongoing and there are draft guidelines published now that involve probably anybody who’s significantly involved in these methods. We totally support it.

Why didn’t you raise the question of the competency of the MRS earlier?

Well, I think at the outset [of the MRS investigation] we were waiting to see how the process would be managed and considered, and we didn’t want to say very much. We’ve made our statement now and I don’t want to elaborate.

Why did Opinion Leader end its association with the MRS as a company partner this year?

We didn’t renew because our view was that the MRS Code of Conduct isn’t appropriate for the breadth of work we as an agency do. We’ve held that view quite a long time.

Is there anybody who is able to assess deliberative engagement methods at the moment?

There are independent evaluators who provide services, but because of the relatively new way of working most of them evaluate in a learning sense, to help develop best practice. The reason this group of people have got together to develop guidelines is to move towards having a code of conduct.

Do you intend to take any further steps over this matter?

It’s only happened in the last 24 hours. We’re considering our position.

Author: Robert Bain

Related links:

Opinion Leader found in breach of MRS Code of Conduct

Scientists criticise OLR’s nuclear role

Greenpeace issues legal threat over UK nuclear consultation

Greenpeace blasts Opinion Leader over nuclear polls