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Engaging the community in decision making is a core element of good governance. Councils that use community engagement processes improve the quality of their decision making, help communities to feel more engaged and connected, and demonstrate transparency and accountability in the way decisions are made. Community engagement also assists in building a cooperative partnership between councils and their communities, and is an important method for allowing communities to provide their feedback, ideas and opinions.
There are a number of ways in which your council can engage with the community on issues that may affect them. Some examples of community engagement activities are:
The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) has developed a Public Participation Spectrum to demonstrate the different levels of community engagement.Each level results in an increase of public impact.
The level of participation your council chooses as appropriate for any given decision making situation will depend upon the outcomes, timeframes, resources, and the levels of concern or interest in the decision to be made.
The council plan has identified a town hall for closure, because usage has fallen significantly in recent years. During the same period, pressure on a second town hall within the municipal area has increased. The local Friends of the Town Hall group has been running an active media campaign, and has made noisy demonstrations at council meetings. In the face of this, the council has decided, yet again, to defer a decision.
Council regularly placates the most active and the noisiest elements of the community when making decisions. Because of this, the interests of every section of the community are not being taken into account.
To resolve the situation:
- councillors should acknowledge that this is happening and consider which feedback from constituents, community groups and the media is relevant;
- councillors need to have another look at the council plan outside of the normal review process;
- the mayor should play a leadership role as the leader of all councillors;
- councillors must pay attention to the consultation processes – everyone affected by important decisions should be listened to, not just those who shout the loudest;
- the council should be aware of stakeholder views before making the decision;
- the council should review the decision making processes for openness and transparency;
- the administration needs to ensure the advice reflects all the issues, consequences and options; and
- councillors need to be reminded that placating the ‘loudest voices’ not only creates precedents which can be difficult to break, but also impacts badly on the public perception of local governments.
18 This content has been reproduced with permission from the Good Governance Guide © MAV, VLGA, LGV & LGPro 2012.