Extract from 2016 Community Engagement Summit, Sydney, presentation by William Adames, Ku-ring-gai Council.

Community consultation and engagement is commonly accepted as standard practice nowadays when undertaking works with the potential to affect members of a community.   It’s vital to ensure this community engagement is not tokenistic and decisions are driven by the community.

But gathering and using information are two different things, and when it comes to decision time organisations can often default to their original plans. They are already prepared and understood by those implementing them, after all, and adjusting a project to meet community preferences takes time and resources.

This is the easy option, but doing so ignores the whole point of community engagement along with the opportunity to ensure projects are tailored to the needs of the community. When undertaking community consultation, it is important to ensure it serves as a means to test and refine the proposed course of action by getting the opinions of those directly affected by it, rather than merely a process to give a project social legitimacy.

Taking all this into consideration, we are left with two main questions to ask when planning community engagement:

  1. When planning engagement ask yourself – ‘What can I do to ensure our decision makers properly consider the outputs of this engagement process?”
  2. Also ask – “Is my organisation really committed to community engagement? What steps can be taken to improve this?”