We're working to improve the way we inform and engage with our community and have developed a policy and draft strategy to guide our journey.
We acknowledge that often local government fails to do this well, but we are committed to creating an environment where our community feels informed and connected with Council's decision-making and operations.
Our draft Community Engagement Strategy is the key to achieving this, outlining our committment to engagement, our objectives and measures.
We have received feedback from our community, which we are now considering with a final draft of our strategy.
The development of the Community Engagement Strategy provides a consistent approach to engagement across all aspects of Council. By implementing the strategy, Council aims to better involve the community in matters that affect them and ensure their views are considered as part of Council’s decision-making process. This strategy provides a framework to steer Council’s engagement activities, which will result in the more effective coordination of communications and engagement across the organisation.
The Community Engagement Strategy addresses the following:
- Why is Community Engagement important?
- When will we engage the community?
- Who will we engage?
- How will we engage?
- Our Community Engagement Priorities
Effective community engagement with meaningful public participation is an essential foundation of a strong community and promotes active citizenry and a healthy democracy. Community engagement enables a closer relationship between Council and the community through an active exchange of information and ideas; promoting shared understanding, innovation and decisions that better represent the interests of the community.
Council recognises the value the community brings to understanding problems and risks to develop solutions that are more likely to be effective. In addition to the real life experience that community stakeholders can contribute to decision-making, the credibility of a decision is enhanced when it is the product of an open and deliberative process. Conversely, inadequate community engagement can alienate sections of the community, undermine trust and is more likely to result in poorly informed decisions.
Council sees that engagement with the community is important as it results in the following:
• Increased opportunities for Council to collaborate with its stakeholders;
• Increased capacity and participation by all sections of the community in engagement activities;
• Improved knowledge about the role of Council and the democratic decision-making process;
• Improved decision making by Council that reflects the best interest of all sections of our community;
• Improved community confidence in Council and the decisions that it makes; and
• Increased awareness about Council services and functions through an increase in the provision of consistent, timely and reliable information to the community and key stakeholders
Strathbogie Shire Council recognises there is enormous value in engaging with its community in a timely and mutually constructive manner. Effective engagement allows Council to identify and understand the motivations, passions, pressure points, needs and aspirations of its communities.
Some of the key activities for which public consultation is required are strategic and financial management plans, changing the basis of rating, policy and strategy development, major projects, and facility development, changes in Council services, and community land classification and management.
As the level of government closest to the community, it is the role of elected representatives and appointed staff to strike a balance between community sentiment, which is captured through the utilisation of communication and engagement functions, with detailed evidence compiled and put forward by staff as part of its business operations and strategic decision-making.
Council will identify the most appropriate engagement methods in order to uphold our values and improve outcomes:
• On projects or issues of community interest
• When an outcome has the potential to have a considerable impact on the community or a stakeholder group
• When there is an opportunity to involve the community in decisions relating to the nature, scope, design or delivery of a project or initiative
• When an outcome involves a change in services or infrastructure provided by Council
• When Council has a statutory, legislative or regulatory requirement to do so
To achieve effective engagement, it is important to ensure identifiable avenues are in place to connect with and engage a broad cross section of the community. Consideration will be given to providing equal opportunity for engagement with those who are hard to reach, such as marginalised groups including minority groups, the disadvantaged and geographically isolated pockets of the community.
In some cases, targeted engagement is required to reach a particular segment of the community that may be directly impacted by a project, initiative or decision of Council. Targeted engagement can also be an effective way to garner particular skills, experience and expertise that exist out in the community.
Targeted engagement can include activities such as focus groups and workshops. Undertaking a stakeholder analysis using the Engagement Plan will help staff identify and classify stakeholders that are important to a project.
It is essential that Council seek to hear from and reach key stakeholders in the initiation phase of a project to achieve effective engagement. As a project or issue progresses, Council will remain active in engaging the community.
Our Engagement practices include:
• Planning our engagements to be timely, open and easily understood
• Making sure communications and engagement activities are inclusive, accessible and seek a diverse range of perspectives
• Being upfront about how much opportunity there is to influence a decision
• Defining the community’s role in any community engagement process using the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum
• Providing information to support meaningful community participation
• Using a variety of communications and engagement techniques that meet the needs and interests of the community
• Letting the community know how their input has influenced our decision
• Learning from each experience to review and improve our practice
Community Engagement: A Staff Guide has been developed to assist staff to plan and implement Community Engagement actions.
IAP2’s Public Participation Spectrum describes different levels of public participation that may be appropriate in a community engagement program. Differing levels of participation are legitimate depending on the goals, timeframes, resources and levels of community interest in the decision to be made.
Strathbogie Shire Council makes a commitment to working within the spectrum of public participation defined by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), which identifies the five levels of engagement below.
The public participation spectrum stretches from providing information, through to empowering the public to make the final decision.
Figure 1: IAP2’s Public Participation Spectrum in the draft strategy
Depending on the circumstances, Council may consider the following methods to communicate and engage:
Priority 1: We will establish a whole of organisation alignment with communications and engagement practices
Objective: To create the internal capacity to ensure communications and engagement is culturally embedded as an inherent part of everyone’s role
• Build the capacity of council staff to ensure engagement is culturally and structurally embedded in day-to-day operations
• Leverage internal communications to support and drive a culture committed to effective communications and engagement
• Establish a cross-departmental Communications and Engagement Working Group that oversees the implementation of the Community Engagement Strategy
• Develop clearly defined Communications and Engagement tools and practices that are embedded in our organisational culture and applied consistently across departments and projects
• Train staff to use communications and engagement tools and techniques.
• Evaluate the effectiveness and use of tools to manage public input and collect insights
• CEO and Executive champion the principles of engagement and demonstrate the expected behaviours and attitudes
Key success measures:
• Staff are trained in community engagement techniques and embrace it as part of their role
• Integration of community engagement into progress and performance of staff
• Each project implements an Engagement Plan informed by guidelines and templates
Priority 2: We will provide meaningful engagement opportunities for our community
Objective: To deliver planned and consistent engagement with our community in an open, transparent and inclusive way
• To interact with the community and stakeholders using a broad range of communications and engagement tools and techniques, which maximise reach and diversity of those engaged
• To provide participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way
• Plan, review and evaluate projects using an Engagement Plan Framework
• Reference the use of IAP2 spectrum in all engagement practices and application of all five levels of IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum
• Evaluate performance of engagement methods in attracting relevant breadth and depth of community and stakeholder participation
• Monitor and review quantitative and qualitative inputs such as number of attendees, social media statistics and online activity
• Review communications and engagement methods annually to ensure they are delivering meaningful outcomes for council, community and stakeholders
Key success measures:
• Increased opportunities for Council to collaborate with its stakeholders
• Increased capacity and participation by all sections of the community in engagement activities
• Increased level of support and endorsement for community engagement
• Improved results in the consultation and engagement, informing the community and community decisions sections of the annual Community Satisfaction Survey
Priority 3: We will ensure our community feel connected and engaged with Council decision making
Objective: To ensure that the contributions of the community are considered in the decision making process
• To provide those who are affected by a decision with the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process
• To report on the outcomes of engagement and communicate to community how their input affected the decision making process
• Deliver ongoing analysis and reporting on the effectiveness of the communication and engagement methods
• Develop an approach to measurement and reporting participant engagement
• Develop an approach to best report back outcomes of engagement to community and stakeholders and “close the loop”
• Collect and collate satisfaction rating and comment after public engagement sessions
• Review satisfaction results each quarter to identify improvements
Key success measures:
• Improved knowledge about the role of Council and the democratic decision-making process
• Improved decision making by Council that reflects the best interest of all sections of our community
• Improved community confidence in Council and the decisions that it makes
Effective evaluation of communications and engagement plans and practices across the organisation is critical to Council’s successful application of the objectives set out in this strategy.
Establishing key success measures and evaluating communications and engagement efforts will be crucial to ensuring accountability of staff and the cultural adoption of the whole of organisation alignment.
Whole of organisation responsibility
Communications and Engagement are a whole-of-organisation responsibility and should be a key consideration at the initiation phase of every project, program and initiative.
Communications and engagement efforts across projects and departments will be reviewed and the performance of engagement plans and evaluations will be monitored and improved with recommendations for future efforts.
Key success measures
Key success measures have been identified under each priority.
Other indicators will be monitored and reviewed including quantitative and qualitative inputs such as number of attendees at workshops, meetings and events, social media statistics, and online activity associated with Council’s website and the OurSay online engagement platform. Council will also monitor general media activity, direct customer contact with council staff, and annual community satisfaction survey outcomes.
Communications and Engagement Working Group
Quarterly Working Group Meetings will be scheduled to monitor and evaluate level of progress towards the objectives.
The working group will be responsible for the management, implementation and evaluation of the Community Engagement Strategy. This Working Group will comprise of a cross-departmental group of staff, including, but not limited to:
1. Director of Innovation and Performance, who is responsible for overseeing the Communications and Engagement Policy and review of communications and engagement evaluations
2. Communications Coordinator, who is responsible for overseeing the overall delivery of the strategy
3. Group Manager Community Assets is responsible for advising the group about major projects which require communications and engagement.
The findings and outcomes of the quarterly meetings will inform future practice and will be communicated across the organisation.
An annual review of the Community Engagement Strategy and progress of the associated objectives will be undertaken by the Communications Department and necessary alterations and revisions will be made for endorsement.