Effective consultation processes for beneficial ownership transparency reform
Prior to any formal commitment by a government to introduce beneficial ownership transparency reforms, it is likely that civil society, business and perhaps the government itself will have undertaken some type of formal or informal stakeholder engagement on what reform should look like. For civil society, this may be part of advocacy efforts aimed at making the case for reform.
Regardless of where consultation or stakeholder engagement is driven from, it is the ‘Consider’ stage of implementation that provides an opportunity to discuss the broadest questions about what beneficial ownership transparency should look like in a given country context. This is an opportunity to engage the widest possible range of views from all the people and groups likely to be most impacted, as well as those that will be indirectly affected.
Key areas for discussion at this stage may include:
- Which types of entities should be required to disclose beneficial ownership information?
- Who should have access to beneficial ownership data that is disclosed, and how should they be able to access it?
- What should be the breadth of disclosure? E.g., should it include relatives of beneficial owners?
- What should be the timeline for achieving disclosure?
For governments undertaking consultation at this phase, this is an opportunity to gather insight into the different groups affected, spot consequences that have not been considered before and help identify expertise that can support later delivery. On all sides, it is an opportunity to be exposed to the views of the different constituencies impacted in order to better understand their expectations for reform.
It is also critical at this point to clearly define what is, and what is not, in scope for consultation at the current stage, along with clear timelines and processes for participation. This will support everyone who may wish to get involved and provide a clear understanding on how to participate. Whilst the process should be as broad, inclusive and transparent as possible, successful consultation should be grounded in a clear remit and be time-bound. This will help ensure responses are useful in guiding decision-making and that the consultation facilitates subsequent progress.
To achieve the broadest engagement possible, a diverse set of consultation processes should be considered for this stage, which will allow people and groups at all levels of awareness and expertise to participate. Starting with a long list of all the different types of people or groups impacted by the reform, different approaches should be selected that raise awareness of the proposed changes and support participation from a diverse set of audiences. Effective consultation requires appropriate financial and human resources, however when done well, this will be a valuable investment that increases buy-in from key stakeholders and ultimately supports effective implementation.
Inviting respondents to give their view on a range of specific questions about the reform. Can be delivered offline or online.
Who does it reach?
Groups already aware of issues around beneficial ownership such as:
- specialist civil society
- businesses, business associations and professional service providers most impacted by reform
- academics interested in company law
Make sure background documents and questions use accessible language. Ask key stakeholders to ‘pilot test’ the consultation documents first.
Give respondents the choice to reply only to the questions relevant to them.
Publish all the responses (with consent of respondents) along with your analysis of findings.
Broadcast or online content/campaign
Using video, social media, written or interactive voice response surveys, blogs or mainstream media outreach to raise awareness of potential reforms, and to support input and engagement from a broad range of audiences.
Who does it reach?
This is an opportunity to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage new groups to come forward to take part in the consultation. You might engage:
- wider business community
- other civil groups not directly engaged in the anti-corruption and good governance agenda
- individual citizens
Use example stories to explain the need for beneficial ownership transparency, and what it would mean.
Provide a mix between light-touch engagement (e.g. tweets, phone-ins), and signposting people to the full consultation.
Be prepared for some negative inputs: recognising that it helps to know about policy opposition early rather than late.
In-person meetings and workshops
Much like written consultation, this approach is likely to engage those people or groups with the greatest existing interest in the area. Ensuring geographic representation is important, these should be planned to take place in as many areas as possible, and/or travel support for participants identified.
Who does it reach?
This approach is likely to engage those groups already aware of the issues around beneficial ownership.
However, if sequenced after a public awareness-raising campaign, it can be possible to engage newly interested people in this phase of consultation.
Prepare short briefing materials outlining the goals of the proposed reforms and key areas for consultation, for participants to read in advance.
Workshops and roundtable events can provide an opportunity for different stakeholder groups to better understand each other, as well as for you to gather their insights, ideas and concerns.
Workshops could be hosted by government actors or a third party, and a professional facilitator may help get the most out of the event.
Choose a workshop design that maximises the input you get from participants. Small group work with individual table rapporteurs taking notes may help you hear from more voices than an event all run in plenary.
Key outcomes of the ‘consider’ stage
- There is greater awareness, across a more diverse set of groups and citizens of what beneficial ownership reforms are.
- There is a group of key stakeholders who are well-informed about the proposed reforms and can be called upon and engaged further as the reform moves forward.
- For government, policy goals should be clearly de!ned, and expectations should be effectively managed at this stage. If there are specific elements of beneficial ownership reform that are not for consideration or in scope, this should be made clear to everyone participating.
- A draft of an official document such as a resolution on beneficial ownership reform may be a useful outcome from this initial phase that informs development of a commitment.