ADVOCATE COLUMN 4th WEEK AUGUST 2015
I was going to make some observations in regards to how councils engage with their communities but I am not sure if this is the right question. Having recently attended a number of meetings relating to council activities, I was surprised by the limited level of knowledge many attendees had about the activities the meetings related to and at a wider level, council projects in general. This did not mean that there were not individuals present who were well-informed but rather there were many present who were less informed than they may have wanted to be. After all the mere fact that they were present – given the low engagement of the community in council meetings – suggested the topic of the meetings was something they were interested in.
They were interested because the topic directly impacted on them and that impact was also immediate. Interestingly many of the issues that resulted in this impact had been in the wider public forum for some time and often for several years. Council consultation and planning process generally flag projects well in advance. Using Whangarei District Council as an example, they have a wide range of tools at their disposal from the traditional public meetings to the more innovative Kamo Place Racers initiative. Their communication and feedback channels include social media, print media, website and face to face. A recent visit to their website showed that at present they were consulting, informing, and seeking feedback on at least 8 projects in August alone.
Perhaps this is the real issue that needs to be resolved. How does local government be all things to all members of the community, do they decide what we need to know or do they simply tell us everything and hope that at the time the information is supplied that issue is going to be of immediate concern to us and something we may want to engage. There is insufficient space here to expand on this matter but it may well be that we are either over- consulted or consulted with a manner –which may be in required by LGNZ –that is not fit for purpose in our modern information rich world. Any solution is always going to be a compromise and may not satisfy everybody. However in an ideal world it should be one that satisfies those on who are most likely to have a direct interest matter at hand and on who it has the most impact.