Contemporary approaches to the design and implementation of consultation programmes have come a long way from the days of ‘decide-announce-defend’. However success in expanding involvement and combining different participation methods, especially within a complex multi-phase programme, still poses major challenges. This paper discusses one of them: processing the much increased volume and variety of contributions received and then combining them with other forms of input in a rigorous, balanced, auditable and transparent manner. It is no longer sufficient, if indeed it every really was, for someone simply to work their way through a stack of comments with a highlighter, altering a draft text where he or she judged that clarification was required. We illustrate the nature of the challenge and the response of the Environment Agency of England and Wales by considering some specific issues, including the following. • Applicability of systematic approaches to text and transcript analysis; • Use of qualitative data management systems; • Transparency vs confidentiality; • Inconsistencies between stakeholder/public concerns and regulatory boundaries; • Integration of different types of input; • Deciding what to take into account; judging validity and weight; • Implications for quality management, documentation and resources; • Approaches to programme evaluation.

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