No question SPIRAL is idealistic... and in reality there may well be occurrences of malpractice. Not in the sense of technicalities - e.g. missing out stage 2.3, doing something for x minutes longer than instructed, including too large a number of participants in one group. The methodology is merely a step-by-step guide to follow if you are not sure how to proceed. What is essential to SPIRAL however is a series of fundamental principles which if disregarded would make the process non-SPIRAL.
1. SPIRAL aims to protect against vested interests: sadly many consultative processes are used as a tool to legitimise and justify unpopular actions. On the contrary, SPIRAL should legitimise actions on the basis that the actions are the collective will of a community. In this respect, while policy-makers sponsorship and representation are probably very important to the SPIRAL process, the collective presence of multiple stakeholders works well if it prevents local policy-makers from hijacking the process to implement their agenda. Local authority action is already an established practice in the community, and SPIRAL best serves that community by complementing public services, not endorsing those services, or replacing them for that matter. Equally, individual will is illegitimate within the methodology, and one person's action as beneficial to the community as it may be should be complementary to SPIRAL processes rather than a part of them.
2. SPIRAL seeks to provide a collective vision of living better. If only a small minority of the voices in an area are expressed, SPIRAL methodology is not working particularly well. Just as, if the collective vision is set in stone and not updated as conditions in an area change, it loses its validity. (Better than nothing I would say, but not as valuable data as it could be.) To work well therefore, the number of voices heard in expressing a better life needs to permanently get bigger and bigger, until ideally everyone has spoken, and contributed to the collective vision. Malpractice would be to collect a token vision and build all actions on that, while best practice exponentially grows the number of groups used to build the collective vision. In Portugal, for example, inspired participants of the first focus groups, recreate the cycle of gathering the elements of better living to add into the pool of existing elements, multiplying the number of groups, and the number of participants in the process.
The more these two principles are followed the closer to an ideal process SPIRAL becomes.