The use of road trains was a contentious issue in Western Australia. Four consensus forums were held in an attempt to draw together some recommendations from stakeholders and the public that the government could base regulations on.
Problems and Purpose
Four consensus forums were held in different locations around the state of Western Australia. The aim of the forums was to provide some points of state-wide consensus that could be integrated into the government's regulatory framework on road trains. This followed Labor government's commitment to curbing the use of road trains, which had been met with outrage from the industry. Thus by the time of the forums, the issue was a contentious one with emotions running high.
The four forums ran consecutively. Consensus points from each forum were fed into the next one, with the final result being a list of consensus points presented to the government.
Background History and Context
When Labor came to power in WA in 2001, one of their key pledges was to enhance community and participatory decision-making. In particular, 'the new Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Alannah MacTiernan, was determined to champion community engagement as a way of encouraging joint decision making and democratic renewal' (Gregory 2008). In order to achieve this, the Minister employed Janette Hartz-Karp, an deliberative democracy scholar and practitioner, to undertake the take the task. Between 2001 and 2005, Hartz-Karp - founder of 21st Century Dialogue - delivered nearly 40 deliberative processes in WA. At the time this was pretty much unique - where a politician had so whole-heartedly embraced deliberative and participatory decision-making.
Since then, Jay Weatherill (South Australian Premier) has done something similar, embracing deliberative democratic methods in South Australia through YourSAy. None the less, WA's range of initiatives remain for now, perhaps the most impressive.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Road Train Summit was organised and facilitated by 21st Century Dialogue, a boutique business specialising in deliberative democracy, stakeholder and community engagement.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Great care was taken to ensure that all stakeholder groups were represented at each forum. In particular, the following groups were represented:
- Community members responding to advertisements in state wide and local newspapers; and residents living on or near main truck routes, selected from a large, official random sample
- Industry representatives: truck drivers, owners and operators; key users of road trains and those working in associated industries; suppliers and customers; and members of transport and safety lobby groups
- Government representatives: regulators and other state and local government officers involved (21st Century Dialogue 2011).
Within each forum, care was also taken to ensure that each table for small group deliberation had a full range of stakeholders represented.
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Road Train Summit consisted of four consensus forums. Consensus forums are a deliberative democratic method for involving citizens in political decision-making. Crucially, the consensus forum involves both lay citizens and stakeholders/experts. The widest possible information and evidence is provided to participants. The aim need not be to achieve consensus across the board on all issues, but to achieve points of consensus.
Prior to the forums taking place, background papers were put together with relevant information gathered from government, community and industry groups. All participants were asked to read the background information and think of any questions that could be relevant.
There was one lead facilitator at the forum, but each table also had a table facilitator. The table facilitators were members of parliament from three major parties - Liberal, Labor and Green. Each received a guide and attended briefing sessions on facilitating. Each table also had a scribe from government departments.
A variety of techniques were deployed during each forum to facilitate deliberation. Along with the usual Q&A panel sessions,
"Dialogue at the tables began with a task of empathetic listening, where each stakeholder's point of view needed to be thoroughly understood by the other stakeholders at the table before proceeding. The key issues to be resolved were determined at a plenary session.
To determine a broad range of options to address each issue and discern the extent of consensus, a technique called 'Station Rounds' was used. Each issue was written on a flip-chart and placed around the circumference of the room. With one table team at each flip-chart, team members brainstormed options to address that issue. After a set period of time, the teams moved on to the next flip chart. Once there, members stated the extent of their consensus with the options written, and added new options.
Finally, each individual prioritised the most important options with coloured stickers representing short, medium and long term priorities. These were totalled to determine the priority short, medium and long term consensus options. The technique used was a simple 'Nominal Group Technique'"
Following each forum, the list of consensus options was fed into the next one. Ultimately, a large list of consensus options was referred to a Planning Implementation Committee.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
A Planning Implementation Committee was formed of key stakeholders and government representatives. Over a period of several months following the Road Train Summit, the committee worked to turn the consensus options into viable actions.Over the following two years, participants in the forums received quarterly updates and after two years, an action agenda was put in place. Notably, all the consensus options resulting from the forum were put into effect.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
There are several noteworthy points about the Road Train Summit. First is the use of 'volunteer' facilitators; in other words, facilitators who are not professionally trained. 21st Century Dialogue note that the facilitators here were key in the success of the forums. In particular, the use of politicians as facilitators is interesting. There is disagreement amongst deliberative democracy scholars as to the benefits of including politicians in deliberation (for a recent example, see CitizensAssembly.co.uk). However, using politicians as facilitators is particularly innovative - given the central role of the facilitator in deliberation: 'The Table Facilitators were critical to the success of the Forums, both because of their skills, and the symbolic value of having politicians and senior bureaucrats really listening to the community's views' (21st Century Dialogue 2011).
Another interesting point is the timeframe of the process - over two years in all. All too often, citizen engagement and empowerment can peak during a deliberative process, only to plummet if outcomes are no achieved, or the process is not well connected to decision makers. In this case, the quarterly contact with participants would have been key in ensuring that they remained engaged and well-informed. Furthermore, the longer time frame allows for goals to be achievable. Additional analysis is provided by 21st Century Dialogue:
"Feedback from the stakeholders after the Summit changed radically from negative, cynical, emotional and even abusive, to highly positive.
The consensus outcomes were far broader than any of the stakeholders had anticipated. To respond to them, it was necessary to reorganise the Main Roads department to deal with the new agenda. The acceptance of interstate transport ministers and senior bureaucrats had to be elicited to bring in compulsory accreditation of all road trains. This was achieved. New ways of dealing with the public on changes to freight road designations were trialled; and government policies and priorities were re-formulated.
The community, industry, state and local government remained engaged from the inception of the Consensus Forums through to implementation of the Forum outcomes and their evaluation. The whole process took over 2 years. All the prioritised actions from the Forums have been put into effect."
Gregory, J, Hartz-Karp J and Watson, R. (2008) Using deliberative techniques to engage the community in policy development, Australia and New Zealand Health Policy, 5(16), available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2500036/
The following information was summarised from 21st Century Dialogue's website.