Graeme Gibson, from www.realoptions.com.au has emailed PWF about a grassroots forum in Nowra, NSW. With little support from elected Councillors, and public discouragement from some of them, Graeme reports that 110 people participated with a view to starting a community wide conversation about democracy, citizen participation and local possibilities.

Democracy Not Politics

In Nowra, on 28 September 2011, 110 people came to hear a panel of speakers present their ideas on community engagement, alternative democratic models and planning at local government level – leaving politics to one side.

Deliberative democracy specialist Max Hardy told of a Victorian local government dispute with disability access groups over 100 year old trees whose roots were breaking up the pavement in a major street.

The Council’s response was to cut down the trees but this brought a commotion too, until they asked the community what might be done so everyone might use and enjoy the street.

A Community-Based Solution In Victoria

This community’s solution was to make the street one-way, creating a new area for wheelchairs and prams, while retaining the trees, all at about one tenth the cost of the Council’s original plans. Max Hardy said:

“We underestimate the abilities of people to get their heads around really complex issues and come up with creative solutions.”

He also observed that:

  • What usually happens with community consultation is that Councils make decisions and then take it to community meetings for ‘consultation’ attended by those opposing the decision
  • Because people are hard-wired for competition this method just doesn’t work
  • We need sophisticated discussions that can actually inform the debate

Randomly Select People

Iain Walker from the New Democracy said a good approach was to select people at random to ensure they were a representative of the population.

“Where you get value is by giving people an open question and time to consider all the information, all the possibilities,” he said.

A DVD Of The Event At Nowra

After the panel had spoken on community engagement, participation and planning at the local level, participants were invited to consider the ideas they had heard – what they liked, or didn’t, any changes they would like to see – in a world café process. In the spirit of grassroots democracy, people were able to intelligently question concepts that they were unfamiliar with, or sceptical about, such as random selection.

A 17 minute DVD has been produced as a record of the forum and to stimulate on-going discussion about the issues and ideas raised that night.

The Desire For Transparency & Community Governance

Graeme is very interested in the community desire for greater and more meaningful participation that was evident in expressed comments and feedback in the forum.

But, he says, change won’t just happen. A concerted and educated effort will be needed.

Graeme is particularly interested in the notion of individual citizens and community organisations taking the initiative and initiating change and will be aiming to explore this in the coming months. He’d be very pleased to hear from anyone with any thoughts about this – or any other aspect of local democracy.

For More Information

You can visit Graeme’s blog or contact him:

E: graeme.3.gibson@gmail.com
P: 0408 676 550

Keep in touch Graeme?

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