Problems and Purpose
The Campaspe: our future project undertook a consultation-led approach to developing their strategic plan for the next 20 years. The purpose of the plan was to harness a vision for the future shared by council, stakeholders and the community. The draft plan, alongside the community consultation, was developed by an independent community engagement organisation, Straight Talk. This is of interest since usually, a council will develop its own plan based on the consultation. In Campaspe, community engagement experts developed the draft plan. The final plan then went to council for approval in January 2015.
The strategic plan needed to do the following:
- Reaffirm (or define) a vision to reflect what is important and set the direction for Council over the long term and identify priority issues that are so significant to the overall well-being of the Shire that they require coordinated long term action from Council
- Define expected objectives that clearly state what Council must achieve to address the priority issues
- Determine who is accountable and how objectives will be met – strategies, projects, plans and budgets to provide a clear framework for how Council will allocate time, staff and money to address priority issues and achieve its defined objectives (Straight Talk 2015).
To achieve these objectives, a range of engagement activities were undertaken to engage with the community and stakeholders.
Campaspe is a relatively new local government area, having formed within the last twenty years. Concomitantly, the community has high expectations of the council based on the belief that smaller local councils are able to provide better services. Because of this potential gap between expectations and council capacity, Campaspe council seek to work more closely with the community to enhance public understanding of how council operates. They also hope to build community resilience to cope with future challenges by creating space to have conversations about these challenges (Campaspe Shire Council 2015, p21).
Campaspe is a popular tourist destination, sitting on the Murray and Goulburn rivers. However, it has also traditionally relied on agriculture and manufacturing for employment, which are in decline. The region has relatively low lovels of education and income in comparison to the rest of the state. It was very important that the strategic plan reflected the values and identities of the community, whilst being able to meet the challenges it will face in the future.
One of the main challenges faced by the council is delivering services across the 4,519 square km area that it covers (Straight Talk 2015). Campaspe has a relatively large Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander population, and 'the people who make up the Shire of Campaspe reflect its history and development' (Campaspe Shire Council 2015, p11).
Originating Entities and Funding
Campaspe: our future was instigated by the Shire of Campaspe council and designed and developed by Straight Talk, and independent community engagement organisation.
Participation was open to the public, with particular effort made to engage children and young people in the Shire. Survey respondents were entered into a competition to win $500 (AUD) supermarket voucher, and two school competitions gave students the chance to win a mini ipad. Primary school students could participate by designing a poster that expressed their dreams for the future (Campaspe Shire Council 2014).
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Straight Talk designed a range of activities across Campaspe to feed into the development of the plan. Over 500 members of the community participated in various activities. Particular effort was made to engage with children and young people in the Shire and throughout the final report, young people's concerns are especially highlighted (Campaspe Shire Council 2015, p23).
- online survey: throughout June 2014 the survey was available on the council's website and aimed to collect feedback on 'what the community values about the municipality and where they live, their aspirations and the things that are of most concern to them about the future' (Straight Talk 2015). 75 secondary school students also completed the online survey (Campaspe Shire Council 2015, p23).
- community workshops: three workshops were held in different locations around the Shire to gather input on priorities for the future. Each workshop lasted 1.5 hours (early evening) and was open to the public.
- outreach/pop-up activities: five short, fun pop-up activities were held around Campaspe. Activities were held at different times during the day, in public places such as outside local shops over the period of about a week in June 2014. Again, these were designed to capture feedback from the public.
- schools competitions: two school competitions for primary and secondary school students were designed to encourage participation from children and young people in the area.
- conversation day: Campaspe Conversation Day is an annual event that began in 2013. It is 'promoted as a day for residents across the shire to talk about anything council related' (Campaspe News 2013) and held in five locations across the Shire. The March 2014 conversation provided an additional opportunity to capture views from the community (Campaspe Shire Council 2015, p4)
- stakeholder workshops
- executive workshops
- department manager workshops
- indigenous consultation (Campaspe Shire Council 2015, p5)
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The draft strategic plan was made available for public feedback in November 2014 (Campaspe Shire Council 2014b) and the final plan was published in January 2015. The plan is presented in a very engaging and accessible manner and takes into account the priorities identified through the consultation process. It also outlines 'how we will know we are on track' and highlights a number of indicators that will be used to track progress, conducted independently by the University of Melbourne (Campaspe Shire Council 2015, p33). This is particular important given that one of the key principles developed in the plan is accountability. The council's 2014/15 annual report indicates an increase in community satisfaction in council's community consultation, customer service and overall direction (Campaspe Shire Council 2015b, p63)
A testimonial from a Campaspe councillor to Straight Talk's work on the draft plan can be found on their website:
“Can I commend you on an excellent report. Its visually dynamic and ‘fun’ feel belies a depth of research into our environment overlaid by an awareness of local issues that is ‘out of the box’ as to any report I have had presented through council in my time as a councillor. Context, national trends, regional relationships and a terrific capture of the pulse of the community – followed by the vision for the future and strategies/principles by which council, community and businesses can achieve it is great.You have also captured those areas where council has the opportunity to improve directly and respectfully. Well done.......In all, I think this is a terrific piece of work (I don’t usually get excited when a draft report is presented!) and I genuinely hope we will see more of your work in future.” (Straight Talk 2015)
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Of particular note is the emphasis in the final strategic plan on the importance of working together. The final page of the document highlights the point that the plan - although a council document - articulates a vision for the whole community. Emphasis is placed the community's responsibility as a whole to achieve this vision, including the public, stakeholders, business and the council:
"The plan articulates the strategies and principles Council, the community, delivery partners and stakeholder groups need to implement in order to create the future the community wants. It recognises that all members of the community within the Shire of Campaspe have a responsibility to work together to bring about the community-wide changes needed so that the community’s vision for its future is realised" (Campaspe Shire Council 2015, p34).
Another point of interest is the effort made to ensure that the views of children and young people were heard in the strategic plan. These views were highlighted throughout the strategic plan. It is encouraging that Campaspe recognises the value of young peoples' feedback on the future of the Shire.
Campaspe News (2013) 'Campaspe Conversation' a chance to talk to council [online], 13 March, available at: http://www.mmg.com.au/local-news/rochester/campaspe-conversation-a-chanc...
Campaspe Shire Council (2014), Campaspe: our future - have your say on the 20 year plan [pdf], 12 June, available at: https://www.campaspe.vic.gov.au/assets/media-news/632/attachments/campas...
Campaspe Shire Council (2014b), 20 year community vision out for comment [pdf], 7 November, availableat: https://www.campaspe.vic.gov.au/assets/media-news/552/attachments/campas...
Campaspe Shire Council (2015) Campaspe: our future [pdf], available at: https://www.campaspe.vic.gov.au/assets/Strategies/Campaspe-our-future-20...
Campaspe Shire Council (2015b) Annual Report 2014-2015 [pdf], available at: https://www.campaspe.vic.gov.au/assets/page-files/council/Annual-Report-...
Straight Talk (2015) Campaspe: our future [online], available at: http://www.straight-talk.com.au/2015/05/12/campaspe/