What should I do with my council's Community Engagement Strategy?

Answer: Bin it.

I’m writing from the lovely city of Perth where I am speaking today to the WALGA Conference on the topic of ‘Co-designing Communities: Putting the local back into local governments”.

Co-design means working together on defining problems, solutions and methods. The photo below is of a presentation I did to Raglan Community, New Zealand a fortnight ago on this topic. They are hungry for more co-design in their community with their council.

A community meeting in Raglan (July 2016): residents are hungry for more involvement in local decisions.

A community meeting in Raglan (July 2016): residents are hungry for more involvement in local decisions.

I often used to get asked how to improve staff engagement in the workplace.

The answer is co-design.

The more that staff are brought into a relationship of genuine partnership with management in defining the problems, solutions and methods – the more they will have a partnership stake in the organisation they build and give well beyond the 8-5 employment commitment. That’s what builds staff engagement.

So too in communities.

The more the council brings communities into co-design they will see real engagement as a result of people building their own communities - and rebuild volunteerism. A fancy word for this resulting engagement is co-production. And the result from my case study work flows on to rates-reduction and increased innovation in solutions and service delivery locally.

This approach brings the best of old-school local government which was close to its communities back to the modern era.

So, back to my heading: What should you do with the majority of Community Engagement Strategies in local governments?

Answer: bin them. Most are superficial rubbish.

An Engagement Strategy needs to understand and identify:

  • what each community is seeking from council in co-design of services, decision-making, planning

  • the council’s willingness to share ‘power’ with communities

  • what outcomes can come from co-design and co-production

  • where the council’s operating model is currently and how to move up the scale to become a ‘partner’ organisation, consistently, across all divisions of that local government

  • what actions to implement to achieve the above by timeframe.

Then you will get a lot closer to a really great Community Engagement Strategy which enables local people to be part of their local government.