Marrickville Citizens' Jury on Infrastructure
- Specific Topics
- Government Spending
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- End Date
- Total Number of Participants
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Decision Methods
- If Voting
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- Public Report
- Public Hearings/Meetings
In 2014, Marrickville Council convened a citizens' jury of 30 local residents and business owners to deliberate on the trade-off between a need for investment in infrastructure and the desire to keep rates low, aiming to solve the problem with greater democratic legitimacy.
Problems and Purpose
The Marrickville citizens' jury was solely focussed on the problem of prioritisation - what infrastructure improvement, development and investment is the priority for the local community? newDemocracy Foundation, who organised the jury process, defined the objective of the jury as providing 'council with clarity of intent as to the community’s priorities'.  Accordingly, the jury were tasked with responding to the following two questions:
- What level of infrastructure quality do we want to pay for in Marrickville?
- What are our local priorities for investment?
One of the main motivations behind the jury was to go beyond the vox pop style, non-deliberative feedback given by surveys and more minimal forms of community engagement. Typically this tends to show that the public want better infrastructure and lower rates. The jury process was designed to facilitate a deliberated, well-formed set of recommendations, ensuring that jurors had the relevant information and understanding to make these decisions.
Background History and Context
New South Wales local governments are facing a number of grave financial challenges. Amongst these is the point that 'council is not able to fund all current infrastructure life cycle costs at current levels of service and available revenue'.  Marrickville Council is no different, and has to try and balance community expectations and aging and decrepit infrastructure with an increasing shortfall in funds. As newDemocracy point out:
"Marrickville Council has over $945m in physical assets comprising public buildings, local roads, footpaths, parks, stormwater trains, libraries, car parks and cycleways...To reach the level which meets accepted standards would require an additional $5.06m p.a. When planned new infrastructure and desired servicing is included this figure increases to a shortfall of $11.99m p.a. (the latter figure includes upgrades, new work Council wants to undertake such as cycleways, and operational costs providing for better servicing such as refreshing gardens, repainting and increasing cleaning schedules.)
Council’s residential rates are 18% below the median and up to 40% lower than one neighbouring council (Leichhardt) for example. This sees Council with annual rates revenues of $43.5m: the shortfall figures above thus represent between 11.7% and 27.6% increases over today’s revenue. Traditional forms of community engagement Council could use would not be able to explore the tradeoffs required...Marrickville Council do not hold a position on whether the assets should all be improved to the State Government’s standard: this is the question to be tested. Conversely, should the community want a higher standard and can agree how they wish to fund this then this is an equally valid result." 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The jury was convened and funded by Marrickville Council. The process was designed and managed by newDemocracy Foundation, an independent, non-partisan research organisation.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants for the jury were drawn from a random sample of 3,000 Marrickville residents and business owners. Following that, a stratified sample was drawn to create a jury representative of the local community. The final sample was not stratified to ensure business owners were selected but they were included in the initial random sample.
Methods and Tools Used
This initiative used a citizens' jury, broadly defined as a small group of randomly-selected individuals who come together to deliberate on an issue after hearing from experts in order to provide recommendations on future action for decision-makers.  The deliberative democratic process is intended to result in consensus.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Prior to the jury convening, the council conducted two community surveys to get a sense of local priorities. These indicated that the community wanted good local infrastructure but were currently dissatisfied with existing conditions. In addition, the council sought to maintain wider community engagement throughout the jury process in order to engage as much of the local community as possible. Self-selected groups could also make submissions to the jury for consideration.
Throughout the process, jurors heard from local councillors, expert witnesses and researchers.Local councillors also took part in 'speed-dating' with the jury - where jurors, in small groups, have the opportunity to talk with different local councillors. The jury agreed themselves that any 80% majority decision would be considered a consensus.
Key to this process was ensuring that the complexities of the topic were fully understood. The jury report acknowledged that they 'worked hard to understand the information it was given and has produced its report to assist Council’s asset management and planning strategies'.  The jury also summarised the process they undertook in their final report :
In addressing the two questions put to it the MIJ has:
- "Attempted to read and get familiar with all the Council published data
- Asked for more and more clarification on aspects of data collection and data presentation
- Asked for clarity on what legal implications exist for assets that are not maintained
- Asked for clarity on risk assessment and claims for damages
- Asked for clarity on sources of funding and grants available from State Government
- Not taken into consideration the discussion of amalgamations of Councils
- Engaged in lengthy debate and deliberation in the quest for understanding and clarity
- Asked Councillors for their feedback and desires for the community
- Not made its decisions with respect to religious beliefs
- Not made its decisions along party political lines
- Made its decision on a collective vision for a united, diverse, rich, prosperous community that is welcoming, and one that wants to work closer with the Council
- Established principles to inform its decision-making
- Recognised the need to balance between asset renewal (i.e. maintenance) and the creation of new assets
- Acknowledged the challenge of competing infrastructure priorities"
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The jury produced their final report on November 8th 2014, and their recommendations were formally presented to Marrickville Council on November 25th. In addition to making recommendations on the two questions they were tasked with, the jury produced an additional three recommendations, making a total of ten recommendations. The council decided to reconvene in February 2015 to respond to the recommendations. A further workshop of the jury was also held at this time to consider an additional proposal of a 'special rate variation' (SRV) to fund infrastructure renewal. The jury endorsed this proposal, with one member dissenting.
The council provided a detailed and technical response to the jury's recommendations, summarised below:
1. Council should improve its data management to better inform decision making and facilitate greater community participation - council set up new section on its website to better inform people of its infrastructure challenges. It also commited to being more transparent in its data management.
2. Council should not increase rates when alternate revenue raising measures are available - Council is aiming to find an additional $1M in efficiencies without reducing services. This will be applied to the renewal shortfall. It will also report on efficiencies.
3. That Council re-convenes an Infrastructure Jury no later than September 2016 - council recommended that a jurt be convenes after this date due to council elections in that month.
4. All condition 5 assets be repaired, replaced and or decommissioned (the condition of nfrastructure assets are rated 1 to 5, 1 being the highest) , adopted by council June 2014, prior to jury
5. Jury laid out a level of recommended service/quality for infrastructure - adopted June 2014
6. A cultural and organisational shift in the adopted method of assets condition assessment. It is unreasonable and inappropriate to base multimillion dollar expenditure and projects on data that is at times decades old, unclear and not transparent - covered by response to 1.
7. Jury's investment priorities which included stormwater renewal, town centre upgrades, property upgrade, investment in LED light to reduce energy usage and cost and investment in bicycle plans - adopted by council, with the recognition that the had not yet found funding for them.
8, 9 & 10 - all relate to parking in Marrickville and how to raise revenue through parking meters and fines - the council rejected the recommendation to increase parking patrols, agreed to install more parking meters in relevant areas and agreed to look into the potential impact of more resident parking permits.
As of May 2016, a number of initiatives can be found on the council's website that indicate recommendations are currently being implemented. This includes parking changes and upgrading local parks. The council also invites feedback from the community on its plans and holds community information sessions and public hearings.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The council clearly had confidence in the jury, demonstrated by the fact that they reconvened the group to ask them to consider proposed rate changes in February 2015. Significantly, the council waited to hear from the jury and the wider community before beginning the process of rate increase. This indicates that they genuinely value that community input, rather than simply ploughing ahead and then asking the public.
Videos of the process show that the jury also, through their deliberation and priorities, managed to make a substantial saving for the council. This resulted from the council's immediate endorsement of the jury's recommended level of service for infrastructure assets. This move reduced the council shortfall by almost $3 million (AUD). This was particularly impressive given that the jury did not set out with this in mind; it just worked out that way from their decisions on agreed quality levels.
 newDemocracy Foundation (2014) Proposal for Marrickville Council [online], available at: http://www.newdemocracy.com.au/docs/activeprojects/Marrickville%20Counci...
 Inner West Council (2016) Our Challenge [online], available at: http://www.marrickville.nsw.gov.au/en/community/transport-and-infrastruc...
 Marrickville Infrastructure Jury (2014) Marrickville Council Infrastructure Jury Report “How good is good enough” in respect to public infrastructure? [online], available at: http://www.newdemocracy.com.au/docs/activeprojects/FINAL%20MIJ%20Report.pdf
All documents relating to the Marrickville jury can be downloaded here, including agendas, reports, submissions and details from the February workshop: http://www.yoursayinnerwest.com.au/marrickville-infrastructure-jury/docu...
newDemocracy Foundation: http://www.newdemocracy.com.au/ndf-work/181-marrickville-infrastructure-...
Lead Image: Marrickville Infrastructure Jury/Your Say Inner West https://goo.gl/RhdJoc
Secondary Image: Marrickville Infrastructure Jury/Your Say Inner West https://goo.gl/uR5vSM