Whittlesea hosts community consultation expert

More than 100 people, including Local Government representatives from around Victoria, recently attended community planning workshops at the City of Whittlesea in Melbourne’s outer north.

The drawcard was international expert in participatory democracy, Jim Diers, from Seattle, Washington.

Representatives from Boroondara, Port Phillip, Manningham, Brimbank, Hobsons Bay, Mitchell, Darebin, Casey and Bass Coast Councils, as well as other Whittlesea agencies and local residents and ratepayers, attended the sessions.

Like many Local Governments, the City of Whittlesea consults ratepayers and residents in creating its community plan. But taking the next step, involving the community in implementing that plan, presents new challenges.

Whittlesea Mayor Councillor Mary Lalios said that the workshops formed an important part of Council’s commitment to best practice community consultation.

“We have extensively consulted local community members to create a
15 year plan for our municipality,” she said. “Jim Diers’ workshops have helped Whittlesea staff and community members to take the next step: working together to implement that plan.”

Councillor Lalios says staff from across the organisation attended.

“It’s crucial, for this consultative approach to succeed, that everyone knows how to participate,” she said. “Staff from officer level to the Corporate Management Team and members of the local community need to understand how to work together to effect change. It’s a very different and more rewarding way to work together.”

Jim Diers discussed helping local citizens make the shift from ratepayers entitled to local government services, to becoming equal partners with councils to create the community they want. This approach gives communities and councils access to millions of dollars of resources, time and labour that would otherwise lay dormant.

Councillor Lalios says it was inspiring and innovative.

“Working this closely with local communities may take longer, but the outcomes are likely to be better and more enduring. At Whittlesea, we see it as the way for the future.