Boroondara’s community conversationsPositive, effective and ongoing community engagement can assist local governments make better informed, and more accepted and sustainable decisions.
But, as most councils are aware, engaging a truly representative cross section of any local community in a positive way poses many challenges. Community members are more likely to share their opinions when outraged by an issue, as opposed to offering constructive advice.
Through a series of forums, the City of Boroondara, in Melbourne’s inner east, is trying to subvert the status quo through engaging its community in an ongoing discussion around controversial issues. A recent ‘Boroondara Conversation’ attracted 60 local residents, who joined Council staff to discuss the topic of ‘Democracy: issues, influence and outrage’.
“It’s not difficult to attract interest from community members to discuss controversial issues,” said Boroondara’s Executive Manager Communications and Engagement, Deb Ganderton. “But those engagements, while helpful in resolving particular issues, don’t accurately reflect diverse community views.
“The aim of ‘Boroondara Conversations’ is to encourage positive Council/community engagement by asking residents about the future they want for our city.”
The recent democracy forum featured a brief panel discussion, and question and answer session by planners and Boroondara’s community engagement staff.
A world café style discussion of democracy followed where participants, with facilitators’ assisting, discussed a range of general questions about democracy and what they wanted from Council.
Some of the ideas that surfaced included: increased collaboration between Council and community to ensure that all residents’ voices are heard; open communication between Council and community from the outset of the decision-making process; information from Council to be tailored, consistent, simple and relevant; Council to foster community groups; and Council to build stronger relationships with other governments to ensure good outcomes for Boroondara.
Forum participants were also encouraged to join the new online ‘Boroondara Community Voice Panel’, which aims to involve around 2000 residents over a year.
“Online community engagement is simple, convenient and accessible. It breaks down some of the barriers to consultation many people face due to disability, an inability to access transport, or work and family commitments,” said Ms Ganderton.
In joining the ‘Boroondara Community Voice Panel’, participants will be asked to respond regularly to a survey or poll on local issues, giving Council access to a broad sample of community opinions.
A monthly blog will also focus on relevant issues as they arise, giving community members a chance to engage with Council or one another through comments and discussion.
“At Boroondara, we believe this ongoing online engagement will strengthen our relationship with and understanding
of the community,” said Ms Ganderton.
“We expect Council staff will find it a very valuable consultation tool. It will help us better understand community attitudes to a range of local issues.”