Councils throughout Victoria are obligated under the revised Local Government Act, 2020 to introduce a Community Engagement policy by June. The Act also stipulates various principles that must be adhered to by each council. Yet there is still plenty of ‘wriggle room’ within the legislation for councils to introduce what they want. In our view, Glen Eira Council has taken full advantage of this ‘wriggle room’ and basically produced a document which says very little that is a departure from the current state of affairs. What we have is another document short on detail and big on vague ‘promises’.

To illustrate the drawbacks with the proposed policy, we’ve taken a quick look at the work that other councils have done with their policies – what they actually reveal to their residents and how consultation will be implemented, monitored, and most importantly, evaluated. The differences are quite revealing.

For starters, below is the table which represents the level of consultation that council will commit to for various projects. The categories listed (ie ‘inform’, ‘consult’, involve’ etc.) are based on the International Association of Public Participation standards. All councils have included these standards. The difference between Glen Eira and other councils is the level of consultation each council assigns to its various projects.

Here is the Glen Eira version:

Compare the above with what Moreland proposes:

AND Kingston:

Moreland and Kingston see no problem in going to the higher level of engagement (ie involve to collaborate) when it will be introducing structure plans, major infrastructure works, etc. In contrast, all Glen Eira promises is the lowest level of participation – ‘inform’ and ‘consult’ and maybe, just maybe, we might get to the ‘involve’ stage! Moreland and Kingston both start from ‘involve’ and also incorporate ‘collaborate’. Why this distinction is important is made clear by the following screen dump from the Bayside policy which enunciates clearly the level of decision making that these two categories (‘inform’ and ‘consult’) represent – basically nothing more than ‘give us your opinion’. Resident views have practically no influence on the final decision making!

On another issue, there is nothing in the Glen Eira ‘promises’ that comes close to the important components of ‘evaluation’ and constant improvement. Council is quite happy with statements that are nothing more than generalities – again in contrast to how other councils have viewed the topics.

Bayside for example tells its residents:

We will provide timely access to factual and transparent information on the project or matter, including:

  • A summary of known impacts, risks and benefits including social, natural and built environment,and financial
  • Relevant background information, technical and research reports,related policies, budget estimate and funding source

All Glen Eira can muster in its promises is to repeat the standards: We will ensure that participants in community engagement have access to objective, relevant and timely information to inform their participation in engagement activities.

Furthermore, there is barely a single word in the Glen Eira document that mentions evaluation per se. Without analysing how well a consultation process has been done, how can council ever hope to improve? Equally important is how any consultation will be assessed – what areas will be investigated? What questions will be asked? And what processes will be introduced to ensure that progress is made and that residents come away feeling that they have partaken in a program where their input at whatever level has had some impact on decision making or process?

Other councils are not so silent on this important aspect of consultation.

Manningham Council – We measure our engagement performance in order to test that we are delivering public value to our community. We measure the level of engagement or number of interactions, submissions made, surveys completed, participants in a workshop, letters distributed, calls taken and more. We also measure participation outcomes. How were the decisions that we made influenced by community inputs? When we listened and consulted, did we act on what we heard and understood?

Warnambool – Evaluation is important to the ongoing development of Community Engagement. Evaluation should focus on the impact and process of engagement and should include views of participants.

Cardinia: undertaking informal and formal consultation to receive feedback from the community about the communication and engagement approaches undertaken by council to assist in implementing continual improvement.

These are just a few of the commitments that other councils have made regarding monitoring and evaluation. We have not had the time to go through every councils drafts.

What is apparent however, is that the draft Glen Eira policy is nothing more than a continuation of its current processes. Simply not good enough!