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Problems and Purpose
In 2013, Hepburn Shire council in the state of Victoria embarked on a community engagement process to help create the council's four year strategic plan. Entitled 'what's the big idea?', the process centred around OurSay, an online community engagement platform. This was complemented by a series of community workshops. Community members were encouraged to put forward their ideas for the plan on the platform, and others vote for their favourite ideas online. The top ten ideas were then discussed in a face-to-face workshop.
The council's aim was to change the planning process, increase community engagement and participation and 'to create a planning process that would resonate with the community, as well as with councillors and staff' (Vittori, n.d.).
Hepburn Shire is a predominantly rural region of Victoria, Australia. Its population is around 14,000. New council CEO Aaron van Egmond implemented the community engagement process as part of one of the council's strategic aims to work closely with the community and engage with Shire residents on planning (Hepburn Shire Council 2013).
Originating Entities and Funding
The project was instigated by Hepburn Shire Council, and its main partner for design and implementation was OurSay, an online community engagement platform. The 'conference of big ideas' was facilitated by Kimbra White of MosaicLab.
In total, the engagement process generated 264 ideas (the top 10 of which were presented and discussed at the conference of big ideas); 3,399 votes online and 688 comments posted (MosaicLab 2016). Notably, the online forum engaged over 10% of households in the Shire - 687 participants (OurSay 2013).
No information could be found about the selection and recruitment of participants.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
The Hepburn Shire project involved three distinct stages:
- series of community workshops: 6 workshops attended by 90 residents took place, during which ideas were developed to be put forward online. Input from the workshops was then 'seeded' into the online forum (Hepburn Shire Council 2013, p2).
- online forum for pitching ideas: "OurSay used a simple online voting mechanism, integrated with popular social media channels to crowd-source the ten big ideas for the council plan. Council committed that the top ten ideas developed through OurSay would inform the council plan" (Gordon, n.d.). Each online participant was given 7 votes to use on the ideas they liked the most. The purpose of the online forum was to engage with residents who were unable to attend the community workshops in person and 'to encourage a broader level of community discussion' (Hepburn Shire Council 2013, p2).
- conference of big ideas workshop: this was a large-scale workshop of community members, councillors and local community leaders and businesses, to elaborate discussion on the top ten ideas as voted for by residents in the online forum. At the beginning of the process, council committed to discussing the top ten ideas regardless of what they were.
In addition to the above, the council also employed 'community listening posts' at various public places including festivals and shopping areas. The aim of the listening posts was to keep people informed of the community engagement, to maintain awareness and encourage further participation (Hepburn Shire Council 2013, p2).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Unfortunately, not much information could be found about this process. However, the Council Plan 2013-2017 appears to be very focussed on community-centred activities and states that 'all inputs' from the engagement were considered in the council plan (Hepburn Shire Council 2013, p2).
Analysis and Lessons Learned Secondary Sources
Gordon, M. (n.d.) Matthew Gordon OurSay, available at: https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/ap-southeast-2.accounts.ivvy.com...
Hepburn Shire Council (2013) 2013:2017 Council Plan [pdf], available at: http://www.hepburn.vic.gov.au/hepburn/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Hepburn...
MosaicLab (2016) Integrating online deliberation [online], available at: http://www.mosaiclab.com.au/our-projects/#IntegratingOnlineDeliberation
OurSay (2013) Hepburn Council Plan [online], available at: http://oursay.org/hepburn-council-plan/
Vittori, S. (n.d.) Big ideas bring big results for Hepburn Shire [online], available at: https://www.iap2.org.au/enewsletters?command=article&id=4656&contact_id=...