Following considerable local opposition to the proposed redevelopment of the Scarborough Beach precinct in Perth, a deliberative survey was conducted to understand if the community's views would be more united following deliberation.
Problems and Purpose
Development of the Scarborough Beach precinct area in Perth, Western Australia had been a contentious issue for several years. The City of Stirling (the local council responsible for the area) had proposed a redevelopment of the area including a high rise residential block. There was considerable local opposition to this proposal and others from local lobbying groups. Previous consultation conducted by the council suggested that the community was split on the proposal. Following another deliberative process in Perth, Dialogue with the City, additional suggestions for a metropolitan-style beach development had also emerged.
The Minister for planning and infrastructure, Alannah McTiernan, wanting to understand the community's views before taking the final decision on any proposals. A deliberative survey was carried out in order to do this and more specifically, to understand if views changed following deliberation on the topic.
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 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.
In 2003, Dialogue with the City took place in Perth. This was a large scale deliberative process to engage citizens with a long term planning strategy for the city. The key theme that emerged from this was the idea of a 'network city' with facilities close to home, local centres and integrated transport. These more general suggestions had relevance for the debate around Scarborough Beach, but were not available when previous consultations had been carried out.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The deliberative survey was initiated by the department of planning and infrastructure, and organised by 21st Century Dialogue. The survey was developed by an independent consultancy, Colmar Brunton, with input from stakeholder groups.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
A deliberative survey essentially has 3 stages. The first is a pre-forum survey. Participants were randomly selected through a telephone survey where they were asked if they were willing to participate. To reduce bias people were initally not told that the area in question was Scarborough Beach. The sample was taken from three catchment areas: 60% from the area immediately near the Beach, 30% from a larger surrounding area, and 10% from metropolitian Perth. Participants were able to choose to either just do the survey or the survey and forum. The survey was then mailed to all people who agreed providing that they fitted with gender, age and area requirements. There was no payment available to incentivise participants. A total of 453 people (61% response rate) filled in the first survey.
Initially, around 200 people agreed to attend the forum as well. However, on the day only around 100 people were able to attend. This meant that the number who filled in the post-forum survey was much less than the first survey. However, the independent survey consultant noted that the forum sample had similar demographics to the pre-forum survey sample so it was like a representative sample. This meant comparison of the two surveys was still possible.
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
A steering group was established to oversee the process. It was comprised of relevant council staff and representatives from Dialogue with the City. The steering group has input into designing the survey and deciding who should speak at the forum.
The survey was developed by an independent company and had input from the steering group and key stakeholders. The survey was reworked until all parties were happy with the questions and the wording. The first survey also asked participants if there was any information missing, and who might be able to provide that information. This was then used to help plan the forum. Deciding who would present at the forum was decided by the steering group, stakeholders and the Minister, with information from the pre-forum survey used to decide whether extra information/witnesses were needed.
A deliberative forum was held over a single day on 4th September 2004. The aims of the forum were to:
- Provide comprehensive, balanced information
- Respond to participant questions from different viewpoints
- Provide the opportunity to share views
- Following information and deliberation, enable participants to complete the survey for a second time (21st Century Dialogue 2011)
As the forum did not require a collective decision or consensus, the focus of the day was on learning rather than decision-making. The forum did not follow a specific format like a Citizens' Jury, but some elements of the 21st Century Town Meeting were used:
"...each person and team submitting ideas on written sheets to an independent theme team who analysed the data, sought common themes for questions, and projected them back into the room on a large screen, virtually in 'real time'. In this instance, table computers were not used" (21st Century Dialogue 2011)
Participants were sitting in groups of ten at each table, with a facilitator. The day began with small group discussions on why participants were interested in the issue. Expert witnesses presented in panel format, with four speakers each. The first panel provided background information. Following each speaker, participants submitted questions in writing to the 'theme team', who then grouped questions together and synthesised where necessary. Speakers were given a few minutes to read their designated questions before responding. Participants then deliberated in their small groups to decide if they required additional responses from the panel.
The second panel was made up of the key stakeholders, advocating for or against proposals for Scarborough Beach, including the high rise residential development option. The same process for questioning was followed. There was also the opportunity for additional questions to be asked.
A final panel in the afternoon consisted of academic and industry experts on planning and related issues. The aim of this panel was to provide a more independent analysis of potential development options and different criteria against which they could be evaluated. The questioning process was repeated for this panel as well. Following the panel discussions, the participants then filled in the post-forum survey and feedback forms.
For comparison, the post-forum survey was pretty much identical to the first survey. The second survey also asked for feedback on the forum, and whether people felt like their views had changed as a result of attending.
The majority of participants were positive about the forum and felt it had been worthwhile. In particular, participants were positive about the final panel of 'indepedent' experts. People also appreciated the opportunity to gain a more in-depth understanding of the issue and an insight into the complexity involved.
"Most participants reported that they learnt a lot during the day, and felt positive about that. They gained new knowledge about Scarborough, its history and possible futures. They also learnt about the complex nature of planning and development processes. Comments on the community consultation experience varied from positive to cynical. While some were concerned about the potential 'tokenism' of such events, others felt they were essential to understand the complexity of issues, others' viewpoints and that there is usually not just one 'right' answer" (21st Century Dialogue 2011)
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Following the deliberative forum, the surveys showed that there was more support for high-density living options in the area. There was also increased recognition that substantial development was needed in the area to enhance it in order to attract people to live in the area. However, opposition to high-rises did not decrease. Therefore the Minister endorsed the development of residential blocks no higher than 8 stories (McTiernan 2004). The results were also used to feed into the Metropolitan Coastal Strategy.
There has since been a change of government in WA from Labor to Liberal. However, in 2013 a $30 million (AUD) investment was announced for the redevelopment of the Scarborough area. This is now the responsibility of a government agency called the Metropolitian Redevelopment Authority. The Scarborough Development Strategy appears to endorse similar principles that emerged out of the deliberative survey and Dialogue with the City such as increased transport networks, increased housing and environmental sustainability. However, the document does not seem to mention these processes; in fairness they did take place more than ten years prior to the strategy being written.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
According to 21st Century Dialogue, the deliberative survey was the right technique to use in this case - as opposed to a consensus conference. The choice of method was probably informed by their experience in prior processes - including the Leighton Rail Yards Consensus Forum, which was hijacked to some extent by powerful local lobby groups. Having lobby groups as expert witnesses, advocating an option, rather than participants in a deliberative process, can help mitigate grandstanding.
"This initiative revealed important insights into the prevalent attitudes and opinions in the community, as well as showing how these changed in response to more complete information and discussion. Both were important, and both needed to be considered in the decision making process. A far more thorough understanding of the community's attitudes was obtained than a traditional survey could have delivered" (21st Century Dialogue 2011)
The drop-off in participation for the forum and subsequently, the second survey was disappointing and reduced the ability to conduct rigorous comparison with first survey. Conversely, a one-day forum did not give the full opportunity to deliberate on the issue in depth with all the relevant information. Of course, issues like this essentially involve a trade-off: between getting participants through the door and having enough time to deliberate. A longer time commitment will likely result in lower levels of participation. Having some sort of monetary compensation for participants can mitigate this but was not available in this case.
It is encouraging that the current Liberal government in WA appears committed to the redevelopment of the Scarborough area. All too often it is the case that initiatives started by one government mysteriously disappear into the ether when government changes hands. Although there is no mention of the deliberative processes undertaken by the DPI under Labor, it is nonetheless positive that the current development strategy appears to endorse similar principles advocated by Dialogue with the City. This is not always the case; in the same area, the Scarborough High School redevelopment is testament to the inconsistencies that have occurred in WA across governments.
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/
McTiernan, A. (2004) Scarborough Beach Redevelopment [pdf], Extract from Hansard, 23rd September, available at: http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Hansard%5Chansard.nsf/0/db66fae8a477c56c...$FILE/A36%20S2%2020040923%20p6466c-6467a.pdf
The following entry was summarised from 21st Century Dialogue's website.