In the early years of this century, professional facilitators guided public meetings on North Stradbroke Island – and probably in other parts of the Redlands too. Island township communities reached some positive local outcomes.
People took an active role in shaping decisions that affected them. Different views were aired and shared. Democracy was enacted in the form of inclusive dialogue.
Local government at that time was evolving from the antediluvian, top-down, patronising model where the Council simply informed us about what the ‘experts’ had decided, to a more productive, two-way process of community involvement.
In recent years, community consultation in the Redlands has regressed as far as it could without invoking the feudal system. Our present Council treats residents like rate-paying cattle. People’s tiresome views have to be managed at best or just ignored. The spin cycle dominates every stage of interaction between citizen and government. You probably all know those letters: ‘Thank you for your feedback. Your views are important to me’. If only.
(Posting open letters to the Council at least saves me from receiving any more of those anodyne, cynical, disingenuous rote responses.)
Ethics in government?
What many of us learned during community consultations led by expert facilitators like Dr Wendy Sarkissian was that an ethical charter of engagement can be developed between people and Council; and it would be quite unethical, for instance, if a mayor were to act as though, having been elected, s/he somehow had a ‘mandate’ to decide what is ‘good’ for the community, irrespective of public consent.
Wendy Sarkissian’s guiding principles for active community participation include core values that Redland City Council has decided to ditch, leaving our local democracy in shreds. See what you think.
Wendy: Distinguish between community engagement and communication.
Make a clear distinction between the work of public relations, communication and marketing personnel and those undertaking community engagement processes, and do not allow a PR approach to dominate.
In the Redlands there is an impenetrable, glowing wall of feel-good propaganda purporting to communicate to residents. However, actual facts and figures are flagrantly twisted. Views are misrepresented. Communication is spin.
Wendy: Governance and influence: ensure that community engagement outcomes are actually fed into planning and design processes and participants can track voice and influence.
Establish feedback loops and governance structures so that community members can see how their views are being taken into account and track their influence and voice.
Redland City Council mocks democracy by implementing a slick tick-and-flick, box-checking, push-polling ‘consultation’ methodology, all the while piously asserting its support for genuine community-based principles and outcomes. But I am still waiting for a response to detailed submissions on Toondah Harbour. It is no surprise either that Council planning staff have not even bothered to enquire about, let alone review, the five professional, creative urban propositions for Cleveland outlined during the Toondah Harbour master urban design workshop in March.
This Council clearly is afraid of ideas.
Outsourcing community engagement
Have you noticed the Council’s corporatised ‘information’ sessions being held in lieu of actual consultation and two-way engagement with residents? And Council is outsourcing its community ‘consultation’ processes now to what are essentially PR agencies whose business is not to engage with the community but to manage and massage people’s perceptions and to spin the predetermined outcomes Council has already decided.
But we know things don’t have to be like this. There are enlightened models of community engagement in the 21st century. What are our options?
Post by Jackie Cooper