The Mayor’s satirical column on Sat 17 Oct about ‘counciltation’ (http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/opinion/73077140/counciltation-caravan-revolution-and-the-great-kiwi-coup ) certainly grabbed some attention. I received numerous comments about it. On one hand for me it’s no joking matter – community engagement is the whole reason I stood for council. On the other hand the Mayor’s comments have got people thinking about it – taking notice and I agree it’s hard work to engage people about matters to do with local government.
There are a bunch of reasons for this – one is because some council stuff is plain boring and of no interest to most people – and that’s fair enough. We can’t expect people to care about everything.
In saying that one other significant and underlying reason that people don’t engage with council is because the process used since the LGA 2002 was put in place – largely the submission process – is not that good of a process. It actively encourages a negative response, it’s intimidating for people and it requires all the effort to be made by the people and not the council.
As a result of this process the gap between council and community has grown wider – people don’t feel listened to, people think ‘why bother.’
And that’s the other big reason why it’s now hard to engage with the community. Because the community thinks ‘why bother.’ I hear it time and time again. And I can understand why.
Local government now has a couple of tools to help undo all this. The main one is the Significant and Engagement Policy which allows us to use other methods to engage with our communities – ways other than the submission process. This was utilised by us when undertaking the Representation Review. The caravan, online surveys, facebook, ICC Tv, workshops and talks to various groups for example.
And the other element as part of the Rep Review process was that we did the connecting with people about the issues before we put together the recommendation. Yes we actually used people’s feedback to develop the recommendation!
This differs a bit from ‘normal’ council practice where someone identifies what they think is the problem, then figures out what they think is the solution. And then asks the people if they are happy with that through the submission process. I hope you see the difference here? (This ‘normal’ process is how all councils do it, not just ICC.)
Interestingly when our report on the Rep Review went out for submissions we only received 2. Some would say that’s a bad thing. I disagree especially when the 2 submissions we received were in favour of our report and the process we used to develop it.
Now I am not naive enough to think that this will be the result every time. But I do believe that if you connect with your community, provide them with a variety of opportunities and ways to have their say you will start to build a level of trust between the community and council once again. And that will help reverse the years of believing ‘why bother’.