Glen Eira City Council is reviewing the community engagement policy.

Draft Community Engagement Policy (Consultation will conclude on 3 February 2021.)

Here are our thoughts on the draft:

The Local Government Act 2020, requires councils to adopt and maintain a community engagement policy. Councils must, at a minimum, apply their community engagement policy in the development of the following: planning and financial management, community vision, council plan, financial plan, revenue and rating planning, asset plan. (Engage Victoria Local Government Act 2020  Co-design – Community Engagement)

The Glen Eira’s Community Engagement Policy references the International Association of Public Participation, in particular the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation . There are 3 documents crucial to the IAP2: Core Values, Code of Ethics and the Spectrum of Public Participation. One cannot view the spectrum without understanding the core values that underpin it. The code of Ethics is essential if one is to implement proper public participation. Key points that resonate with me in these documents are:

  • Openness: We will encourage the disclosure of all information relevant to the public’s understanding and evaluation of a decision (IAP2 Code of Ethics)
  • Public Participation includes the promise that the public’s contribution will influence the decision (IAP2 Core Values)
  • Increasing level of public impact (from low to high) inform, consult, involve, collaborate, empower (IAP2 Spectrum pf Public Participation)

Some points that need clarification in GECC Draft Community Engagement Policy:

  • 6.1.1 Inclusive and Accessible. ‘to ensure we hear from different groups in our community such as children and young people”. Including the children and young people in data collection whilst it may well sound inclusive, it does raise some questions. In the update of GECC 2040 Community Vision Engagement (Sept-Dec 2019), of the 3000+ people in their data collection 49.4% were under the age of 18; in the age group 0-4, there were 8.4%. Does this data collection pass the reliability and validity tests? Does a child of 3 have an opinion on the vision of the city of Glen Eira?
  • 6.2 How we engage. ‘we will tailor the level of participation to the project and the stakeholders, recognizing that one level is not inherently better than the other’. If one decides to use the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum which ranks the five categories of engagement from provision of information (Inform) to the most influential (Empower), one cannot then decide to equate each of these levels of participation. If the hierarchy is dismissed, it would indicate a total lack of understanding of the IAP2 spectrum document. As a result, the GECC will have designed a new document which may well not be acceptable under the Local Government Act 2020.  It is important that the community understands at which level the Council is allowing the residents/ratepayers to participate, especially if it is only the lowest level, inform.
  • 6.4 Statutory requirements. The higher level of community engagement deliberative engagement in Table 2 is a result of a statutory requirement, not as a result of a Council decision. All other headings in the table are labelled participatory, that is, when Council informs the community of their decision (see 6.3.2). We are all familiar with that process.
  • 6.5 Informing decision-making and reporting back. The intent of Public Participation in Council decisions is seen in the IAP2 document, Core Values: 1. ‘Public participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by the decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process’. In the spirit of transparency and open governance, why is there secrecy regarding members of the community who are involved in deliberative engagement. It is important that the community is given a list of the residents/ratepayers/traders who are invited to participate in deliberative engagement. This would indicate open and transparent selection of members of the community.  Surely the members involved will also be able to discuss matters with other residents. Will minutes be kept of all deliberative engagement meetings and distributed to the community? 

Council has attached a survey to the Draft Community Engagement Policy 

I find the questions in the survey to be somewhat troublesome.

Q.1. Surely, we don’t rate promises! We await to see if those promises are fulfilled!

Q.3. Are we being asked to judge the past Council over the last 4 years? We certainly can’t judge the current Council until we view their performance.

Q.6. We can’t actually rate the draft policy’s encouragement of high quality engagement until we see more detail of the implementation structure

We now need to give our opinions on how we wish this Council to communicate with us, the residents/ratepayers over the next four years. We need to put aside our concepts that our views will be disregarded, we need to overcome our disillusionment with past councils. We need to have faith that in the next four years we will not merely be informed of decisions, we will not merely be asked what we like about the decisions, but we will be able to be given accurate information to be able to have an informed view on a particular matter prior to Council making a decision.