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Community Consultation… and getting to “That’s just what we needed!”
September 22, 2014
I recently received an email from a resident in a country town congratulating my consultant team on the design of a project in their main street, and declaring “It’s just what this place needed!”
While pleased with the positive feedback on a successful project, I wasn’t surprised that we had identified the right project to focus on – that decision was made as a result of carefully designed community consultation events some time ago.
The Golden Streets project was to identify and prioritise about $2.1M worth of investment into the streetscapes of a number of rural townships, administered by the Golden Plains Shire and awarded to the consultant team led by myself, with social planner Carmel Boyce and place-making expert David Engwicht.
David is a pretty down-to-earth guy, and people really respond well to his laid-back presentation of some pretty exciting ideas; if you have been to one of his presentations then you will recognise that he has a way of engendering confidence and self-belief in the community’s place-making power.
We designed a highly successful consultation program that included a range of consultation methods, including website, online surveys, community meetings, site walks, emails and newsletters.
One particularly successful technique was the ‘speed dating’ activity – get your participants snuggled up nice and close with knees touching and have them share their ideas with each other, then do it again with someone else. Before you know if there are a dozen dreams that have been shaped and sanity-tested and are ready to go public as great ideas!
Some of the key things that contributed to this great outcome included:
Use a variety of appropriate communication tools – not everyone can use a computer, comes to a community meeting or reads the local paper, so ask what has worked well previously and try a few different ways
Have fun! We designed a clown road-safety sign to use during the ‘walk shops’ that got the ‘Community at Work’ message to passing drivers in a quirky kind of way
When designing your communications strategy, think about what kind of consultation you are actually aiming for - are you trying to involve. collaborate or even empower, or are you aiming to simply consult or inform your audience? Refer to the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum if you are not sure;
Consider using an online survey tool (we use Survey Monkey) to test ideas and investigate opinions – it has the bonus of generating a database of contacts for later follow-up consultation, if respondents would like to be informed of progress;
Do maintain a dialogue with the community, using a blog, facebook, newsletter or emails (or all of them as Carmel did on this project!) – nothing is more annoying than not getting feedback!
If you use online tools, use analysis tools such as Google Analytics to monitor their effectiveness.
Follow some of these ideas and you too will be hearing ‘That’s just what we needed!”
Do you have any tips on how to manage community consultation effectively of your own?