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Community engagement by local councils

  • 8 Jan 2023 2:07 PM
    Reply # 13048753 on 13042252

    I helped a community organisation design, administer, and analyse a survey on the redevelopment of a public space. Not sure if this is helpful for you or not, but here's a brief reflection on how it went:

    - The community had little trust in the council due to the council promising to redevelop the area, doing consultation, then nothing happening. Then needing to do another consultation, rinse and repeat. Doing this survey and highlighting the fact that we were not the council and were doing this to provide evidence to the council about what the community needed garnered some interesting qualitative feedback

    - The community org already had a newsletter set up, which meant the infrastructure to deliver a survey (or rather, a link in the newsletter to an online survey) to all residential premises in the LGA already existed. Providing everyone in the population of interest with the opportunity to respond was good from a sampling perspective, however we did only get a response rate of ~7% (of people, arguably % of households was greater), using census estimates for the LGA population. I thought the response rate was OK, given the circumstances, however young people (defined as under 30) were under-represented compared against LGA demographics, especially under 18s, and 30-44's were heavily over-represented in responses.

    - The community org wanted to use their relationship and reach with the community to provide the council with useful feedback on what residents wanted, but were skeptical about whether council would actually use it. Seems like the council still went on to hire a consultant to answer the same questions we had already provided them with an answer to (note not *the* answer, just an answer). People on the org and in community were already pissed off that the council was wasting time and resources and not listening to them, so I'm not sure if us doing a survey which was then followed by the consultant asking people to answer effectively the same questions may have caused more frustration to the community than the utility of the information we gathered and provided to the council.

    - The survey results were given to the council back in July 2021. I'm still waiting to see what the result of the consultant's work is. Apparently they finished the consultation process in June 2022 with a 'masterplan' completed in September 2022, but I can't find it anywhere.

    - The org was going to go ahead and do the survey anyway so it seemed like a good opportunity to try and execute the best survey they could, given the minimal resources available. I was able to help shape the survey into something useful that captured important demographics (like age and household structure) in a way which was useful in breaking down responses to the survey, as well as designing questions to provide usable information and trialling the survey before administering it fully.

    It sounds like leaving this up to a consultant and providing critique after the fact isn't very helpful in coming up with useful information (note that critiquing poor/misleading results being used in decision making is still important)

  • 8 Jan 2023 10:13 AM
    Reply # 13048586 on 13042252

    Thanks Nick and Duncan, for your replies. Very helpful. I have contacted you both individually to follow up.

  • 4 Jan 2023 3:30 PM
    Reply # 13043870 on 13042252
    Nicholas Fisher (Administrator)

    Caro-Anne, I have done a number of community engagement studies, including a long-running community engagement survey for a CRC. If you're interested, please send me your email address and I'll provide details of the articles (also available via ResearchGate).

    Regards ... Nick.

  • 4 Jan 2023 7:17 AM
    Reply # 13043395 on 13042252

    Hi Caro-Anne

    I have a fair bit of experience as community member, community association rep, and for many years fairly engaged resident with all manner of things local  - including "consultation" methods and their many shortcomings. Even involved in running some processes myself :) Some of those processes may well be proprietary though so prefer not to discuss too much detail

    I may even have some references somewhere since our current councillor has tried various methods himself as a councillor - independent from council contracted consultation - or fake consensus construction exercises. (very questionable dimension reduction) I will send links if I can track them down - I couldn't even give you any keywords at the moment EDIT some of what our Councillor was working on was slightly different (to me much the same) and was along the lines of participatory democracy. Same problems and limitations and maybe even worse depending on the level of decisions 

    Happy to share my views but the big organised and contracted ones are frustrating (and designed to be so I believe) at the very least. You either need a highly controlled sample or if the sample appears too broad a very controlled process :)

    Sorry for editing as I go but things come to mind and there is edit functionality.  Some of the theory I can see about the basis for our Green's Councillor (Sriranganathan) and the Greens approaches to particpatory democracy are sometimes intentionally aimed at groups who may generally get less of a say. As I said, I have my concerns about most processes, especially those aimed at making people feel better at being involved in something. Sorry for being such a cynic. All part of the so-called dialectic apparently. I'm finding loads of refs and publications on participatory democracy. Maybe not exactly what you were looking at for the contracted council consultations you mention. City of Joondalup Community Engagement Policy and Sample Selection document is available in Google :) We need one of them, a couple of them, don't forget them. Remember what happened last time etc. My few efforts at trying to get a good sample involved laborious attempts at inviting a whole population to workshops

    regards Duncan

    Last modified: 4 Jan 2023 8:16 AM | Duncan Lowes
  • 3 Jan 2023 1:54 PM
    Message # 13042252

    Has anyone done any work with local councils on community engagement activities? 

    I have recently reviewed (on a voluntary basis) a report prepared by a consultant on the community engagement activity undertaken by them on behalf of the council around planned "improvements" to the foreshore area that is obviously heavily used by various members of the community. The community engagement project appeared poorly designed to me with little effort put into who or what would constitute a representative sample in the first place and what demographic measures would be useful for understanding which groups may have had differing opinions and hence, how to address those differences.  The ad hoc way of collecting people's comments did not allow for allocation to any particular group. The community, as is probably common, has no trust in the council, thinks the process lacks transparency etc.

    When I did a bit of a literature search on engagement activities the publications seemed to be around groups of individuals with certain medical conditions, so quite specific, rather than around highly variable communities all with different needs and desires.

    I am concerned that the council (and probably lots of councils) have spent a lot of money on these types of activities including data collection that ends up not meeting their needs and adding to the lack of trust by the community. But with little extra effort could provide the council with very rich data.

    Any pointers to suitable references or other thoughts would be much appreciated.

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