How rural-remote and Indigenous local governments engage with their communities

How rural-remote and Indigenous local governments engage with their communities
10 October 2012

ACELG has released a new study that considers whether rural-remote and Indigenous local governments (RRI) in Australia have developed robust community engagement processes.

The paper, Community Engagement in Rural-remote and Indigenous Local Government, undertaken by Dr Robyn Morris of Edith Cowan University looked at RRI internal community engagement systems and practices and the levels at which they undertake community engagement.

The research explored:

  • What community engagement RRI local government in Australia undertakes.
  • Barriers and unique challenges RRI local governments face when engaging with their communities.
  • Community engagement strategies and methodologies RRI local governments find effective and ineffective.
  • Gaps in the community engagement knowledge and resources of RRI local government, and
  • The most useful options for improving community engagement by RRI local government.

Findings confirm the varying capacity of RRI local governments in engaging with their communities, and key observations include:

  • RRI local government generally recognises the central role of community engagement in supporting local government to effectively perform its role but overall these practices are still largely in their developmental phase
  • Top challenges to RRI local government community engagement related to internal capacity constraints, community capacity constraints and external factors.
  • The most practical options for supporting RRI local government community engagement related to council and community education, internal community engagement skill development and engaging culturally diverse groups.

ACELG’s Assistant Director, Melissa Gibbs, said of the work: “This theme is a priority area of ACELG’s Capacity Building Strategy for Rural-remote and Indigenous Local Government.  Community engagement is a key challenge for rural-remote and Indigenous local governments. They play such a vital role in local communities, and often fill service gaps usually provided by other spheres of government.  Yet the councils face tremendous challenges in recruiting and retaining skilled staff – including staff with skills in community engagement.”

The report author, Dr Robyn Morris noted:  “This research shows that many rural-remote and Indigenous local governments are clearly trying to engage their communities at various levels, however the challenges are vast and often interrelated. Communities have different characteristics and dynamics so need different approaches.

“While there is no magic formula, a multi-faceted approach that equips staff and elected members with appropriate systems, knowledge and skills can give communities a better understanding of their role in this process and encourages a more coordinated approach across tiers of government. Such an approach would help councils build capacity in this important area.”

ACELG has two new projects underway to respond to the research findings. The first is a comprehensive review of available community engagement training, development and education programs to identify gaps where practical education and training programs can be developed. The second is the development of integrated planning tools specifically targeted at the needs of RRI councils across the country.

Download the report | Download Summary | More information from this ACELG Program

For further information contact Melissa Gibbs: 02 9514 4890 or [email protected].

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