The Freight Network Review aimed to enable participation in the road transport planning process from all parts of Western Australia's community, government and industry. It involved several phases including surveys and two consensus forums
Problems and Purpose
The transport of freight is a major issue in Western Australia. Road transport is not only key to the state's economy but also raises social and environmental issues. In order to properly take account of all the related issues, the Labor government initiated an extensive review of the regulatory framework on road transport. The broad aim of the Freight Network Review was to enable and encourage participation in the road transport planning process from all parts of Western Australia's community, government and industry. Key issues were:
- Considering all the alternative options - road, rail, sea and air
- Taking into account the economic, social and environmental impacts of the different freight alternatives (21st Century Dialogue 2011).
The review process involved several different phases, each with varying aims. Each phase is discussed in detail under decisions, deliberation and public interaction.
- Prior to consensus forum
- Consensus forum
- Policy Development
- Consensus forum
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, a deliberative democracy scholar and practitioner, to undertake 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, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has done something similar, embracing deliberative democratic methods in his state through YourSAy. None the less, WA's range of initiatives remain for now, perhaps the most impressive.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Freight Network Review was undertaken by the Western Australian department of planning and infrastrucure. It was designed and delivered by 21st Century Dialogue.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants for the three phases of the process were recruited in different ways.
1. Pre-consensus forum
- a random population sample of 1,000 people participated in a telephone survey to determine key issues and suggestions for freight transport
- a community reference group was established to oversee the process. Four community members were chosen by the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure to represent different sections of the community.
- working parties were established from experts from government, industry and the community,
2. Consensus forums
- members of the public were recruited through a) random sampling of people living on or near major road route, and those not living on routes and b) people responding to local advertising of the events, including key lobbying groups
- industry representatives and those associated with freight attended through a) invitation and b) responding to advertisement
- government representatives including public servants attended through invitation.
3. Policy Development
- an implementation team of 'agency planning and infrastructure CEOs, representatives of community, including lobby groups, local government, transport industry and other government agencies' (21st Century Dialogue 2011)
- six working parties were also put together and included community, industry and government representatives who had attended the first consensus forum.
- two multi criteria decision analysis workshops were held and all participants from the consensus forum were invited to attend.
4. Second Consensus forum
- all 130 participants from the first consensus forum were invited to attend the second; 120 attended.
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The first phase of the process was mainly dedicated to identifying key issues and planning for the face-to-face deliberations. Working parties developed papers on specific areas of interest which were then provided to participants during the forums. In addition to this, community groups also developed information on topics of interest to them. A telephone survey of 1,000 people also identified key issues, trade-offs and suggested solutions. During this phase the community reference group acted as a sounding board and provided independent advice.
Approximately 130 people attended a two day community congress. The aim of the congress was to gain a community understanding of issues around the freight network, and establish a broad policy direction. A number of techniques were used over the two days:
- Presentations and Q&A of experts
- Each table created mind maps to visualise their ideal freight network
- Affinity diagrams were used to help identify key themes for the whole room
- Trialling a multi criteria analysis approach to identify any missing or inappropriate links in the existing freight network. Specifically, two routes were addressed. Social, environmental and economic impacts were the key criteria used to considered in the discussion: 'Assessments were made according to potential impacts according to each criterion, as well as the value the community placed on each criterion' (21st Century Dialogue 2011).
Following the two-day congress, outcomes were collated and sent to all participants within two weeks. Teams formed of participants then came together to put suggestions from the congress into effect.
A number of working parties, overseen by an implementation team, were formed out of community, industry and government representatives. Together they were tasked with analysing the data and coming up with recommendations within six months, after which a second face-to-face congress was scheduled. The working parties also pursued additional forms of consultation during this time which entailed further community engagement. This included:
- Deliberative survey: usually a deliberative survey is conducted twice; before and after respondents participate in some sort of deliberative event. In this case however, respondents were surveyed once, after having been directed to read information on the topic and discuss with family and friends. Community focus groups were used to help develop the survey. The focus was on a specific part of the freight network which was controversial in the community. The survey was administered and delivered by an independent consultancy.
- Multi criteria analysis conference: 'A Multi Criteria Analysis is a decision-aiding technique to analyse alternatives to complex problems using weighted triple bottom line criteria that are developed by all stakeholders. The end result is the 'best fit' option' (21st Century Dialogue 2011). In this case, the criteria were social, environmental and economic impacts. Two workshops were held by one working party, and all attendees from the congress were invited. 80 participated. Again, the issue was a specific part of the freight network. The first workshop focussed on the MCA process and the options, along with expert panels. The workshop also elaborated on the three criteria. The second MCA workshop focussed on participants prioritising the options against the criteria. A more detailed account of the MCA conference is available here.
Second Consensus Forum
A second one-day congress was held six months after the first, with the aim of reviewing the work done so far by the working parties, and to determine any gaps/changes, and to prioritise actions. The day consisted primarily of small group discussions on priorities, levels of support for recommendations, and going forward. This second forum provided a sense of closure for participants and highlighted the amount of work that had been achieved in a short time.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Following the engagement program, the implementation delivered a 'six point plan' which was accepted by the government. This was a broad plan, with the overall emphasis on shifting freight from road transport to more sustainable options, over an extended period of time. Regular updates were also sent to participants.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The Freight Network Review was an extensive process that involved bringing disparate groups of stakeholders and the community together. 21st Century Dialogue (2011) point out that the process highlighted just how hard it is to engage such a broad public on a complex issue like this - especially when groups do not have a direct stake in the issue. However, they also note that many participants subsequently became champions of the consultation process and helped raise public awareness of it. Despite this, it appears that
"Some aspects of this strategy have become mired in party political debate, have inspired heated public discussions, endless letters to the newspapers and public demonstrations, pro and con. Unfortunately, information from the Congress, made widely available on Web, has sometimes been taken out of context and misinterpreted. This has not helped public understanding"
This draws attention to the challenges of translating deliberative processes and outcomes to a broader public. It is thought that people are more likely to accept a decision if they perceive the decision-making process as fair - even if they disagree with the decision. We don't know if this was the case for the Freight Network Review, but it certainly highlights the point that even if a deliberative process is successful and impactful, it is not guaranteed an easy ride by the wider public. There is much to be done on communicating deliberative democracy in this way.
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/