Following the recommendation of deregulating the taxi industry in Western Australia, a consensus forum was held with a range of industry and consumer representatives to collect views on the regulation of the taxi industry and to find points of consensus that could be used by the government going forward.
Problems and Purpose
In the early 2000s the taxi industry in Western Australia (WA) was recommended to deregulate due to a lack of competition. The state government were responsible for overseeing this process. Deregulation had the potential to be fraught with problems. One particular concern was the role of 'buyback'. This is when the government 'buys back' taxi plates at a price. The Minister for Planning and Infrastructure thought that buyback could be a way to mitigate the negative impacts of deregulation on the industry, but the issue needed further deliberation.
A one-day consensus forum was held in February 2003 with a range of industry and consumer representatives to collect views on the regulation of the taxi industry and to find points of consensus that could be used by the government going forward.
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 Taxi Industry Forum was convened and funded by the WA state government Department of Plannning and Infrastructure. It was organised and delivered by 21st Century Dialogue.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Stakeholders from the taxi industry, consumer groups and regulators were asked to nominate representatives to attend the forum. A random sample drawn from government databases of taxi drivers and plate owners were also invited to attend. Just over 100 people attended the consensus forum.
A steering group was established to oversee the process and ensure that representation at the forum was balanced. The steering group was made up of representatives from 'customers, taxi dispatch services, owners/investors, owner/drivers, drivers - unrestricted, peak period, wheelchair and non-metropolitan, and the Transport Workers Union' (21st Century Dialogue 2011).
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The one day forum began with introductions from the Minister, Alannah McTiernan, followed by introductions at each table. In each table group a balance of stakeholders was present. Empathetic listening was employed as a technique to ensure that all voices were heard and understood before proceeding with deliberations.
Four presentations covered the key issues, followed by a Q&A. An activity called station rounds was then used to develop potential solutions and establish points of consensus. 14 stations were set up around the room, each with a dedicated scribe. Participants moved from station to station and brainstormed their ideas for each issue. After visiting five stations, groups then chose which stations they wanted to visit. Finally, participants could visit one station of their choosing as an individual and make suggestions. At the end of the session, scribes read out what issues/suggestions had the most consensus.
At the start of the day, emotions were running high due to 'rumours of potential 'gate-crashers' and disturbance of proceedings' (21st Century Dialogue 2011). Due to this possibility, police were stationed by the doors to ensure only invited participants came in. Luckily, their assistance was not required.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
As a result of the station rounds activity, 14 key issues/questions were identified. Drawing on these, a reference group was established. The group was made up of industry and consumer representatives and its task was to produce a final report for the Minister in the coming months. Additional forums were also held in regional parts of WA, organised by the department of planning and infrastructure.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
There are two particularly impressive hallmarks of success for the Taxi Industry Forum. The first is that despite the drama of police presence, and the emotiveness of the issue, participants and organisers were able to focus on the task at hand and make the most of the deliberations.
Secondly, the department was able to implement several other forums following the same format in country areas of WA. Assistance from the lead facilitator was needed only for the first regional forum. This is a promising example of deliberative processes being seeded into political institutions and decision-making processes.
21st Century Dialogue (2011) Taxi Industry Forum [online], available at: http://21stcenturydeliberation.com/index.php?package=Initiatives&action=Link&file=taxi_forum.html
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/
This entry was summarised from 21st Century Dialogue's website.