Enhancing community engagement through IT and social media

Chris_Lewis's picture

Enhancing community engagement through IT and social media

Several councils utilised new forms of communication to encourage community involvement in planning. Warringah Council (NSW) used video and social media to help launch the community consultation phase of its Community Strategic Plan. After a locally produced video included ‘vox-pops’ with a variety of residents from the local area as a way of provoking community discussion via Twitter and Facebook, people who had watched could then click through to an online survey and make comments on YouTube.

Moree Plains Shire (northern outback of NSW) appointed a digital spokesperson (“Moreen Plains”) that utilised the council’s Facebook link in terms of overcoming the problem of communicating with a small population spread over a large geographic area. During the previous flooding, Moreen’s Facebook link received nearly 5,000 hits by her friends in a single day and helped reach a historically difficult audience for councils to reach; the X and Y generations’.

The Canada Bay City Council in NSW, in consultation with The newDemocracy Foundation, promoted community engagement in local government decisions and service provision. Involving the appointment of a citizens’ panel, the Council and newDemocracy invited a random selection of 1,500 residents of Canada Bay to express interest to become part of a 36 member panel that will make recommendations to Council about the range and levels of service provided (current budget $300 million over four years). The panel will be selected on the basis of achieving a true demographic representation of the City of Canada Bay. The panel, with assistance from newDemocracy members and relevant experts, will meet agree upon and set the guidelines for participation and decision making, ensuring that even when there is a bias, constructive and critical thinking is applied to the issue. Over the period it is intended that the panel meet on five occasions, making recommendations as to Council services and preferred sources of funding. Other community consultation processes will be used to supplement and enrich the work of the panel, with findings presented to Council in October this year.

During the previous two years, Maitland Council had worked with the community to develop “Maitland 2021”. While in line with the requirements of integrated planning and reporting reforms introduced by the state government, the importance was noted of sharing information through communications and engagement programs to provide residents with opportunities to ‘have their say on policies and plans, through face-to-face sessions and via new technology at maitlandyoursay.com.au’. Collaboration with local businesses and community representatives was part of the revival of the CBD with the city’s success recognised by the federal government’s Building Better Regional Cities program.

Greater Hume Shire Council (NSW), employing the services of IRIS Research, ran a survey as a way of gauging residents’ satisfaction with the services provided by local government in a bid to help prioritise services and the allocation of resources in the future.

Burwood Council (NSW) announced that its Community Network program with resident members invited and able to voice their opinion on matters that affect them and provide feedback all from the comfort of their own homes. With the Community Network designed so that participants could complete on line surveys, answer questions and make comments through online and digital methods, so lessening the time commitment pressures that have plagued similar projects in other local governments, Burwood Council aimed for 300 people, or 1 per cent of the local government area’s population, to join the program.

The Woollahra Municipal Council (Sydney) launched its ‘Community Creators’ website to provide groups and individuals with a platform to share ideas and promote community events with the free website allowing community members to post or view events from their personal computer or mobile device. Residents or groups could put out a call for assistance, volunteer to help out with a local project, or promote themselves to a broader audience, thus increasing the access to skills and resources across the community with access to the site through social media. 

The City of Tea Tree Gully (Adelaide), thanks to its Innovate 2 Excel (I2E) continuous improvement program, is quickly discarding inefficient and out-dated work practices to improve efficiency and speed of service delivery, encouraged grassroots participation through volunteer recruitment and induction. In the past, volunteers were asked to fill out applications on paper, there was a lack of standardisation in volunteer management, and the specialised software was not fully utilised during the recruitment process. Now volunteers apply online and staff are utilising the existing software system to manage volunteers more efficiently. These small changes were estimated to save an additional 40 employee hours annually and would be aided by the Council being a second release site for the National Broadband Network roll out trial.

Chris Lewis is Visiting Fellow at ANZSOG Institute for Governance.

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Comments (2)

Chris_ACELG's picture

ACELG has produced a couple of reports on councils and social media. Check out the innovation and best practice program. The Guardian has also published an article on why councils should use Facebook.

robert1122's picture

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