Problems and Purpose
The Western Australia planning strategy in 1996 identified, amongst other areas, an extension of Perth's north-east corridor as an area of urban growth in the near future. The north-east corridor forms the main highway between Western Australia and Darwin in the Northern Territory. One of the proposals was for a general industrial site/area that would be strategically placed to make the most of the Perth-Darwin Highway. The department of planning and infrastructure had proposed a location, but there were community concerns about the site. Concerns balanced between the jobs and growth that could be generated in the area, against the environmental concerns of an industrial site. The minister for planning and infrastructure decided that the community should be consulted before moving forward with the proposed site.
Background History and Context
When Labor came to power in Western Australia 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.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The consultation process was initiated by the Western Australia state department of planning and infrastructure, and organised by 21st Century Dialogue.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants for the consultation were drawn through three methods. Advertisements were placed in two local papers, which recruited more than 30 participants. A further group of almost 30 were chosen through a random sample of the local community, and a group of 20 stakeholder representatives also attended.
Methods and Tools Used
The consultation combined a consensus forum with multi-criteria decision analysis and gave the local community and stakeholders the chance to weigh up the site proposed by the state with alternative location options.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Prior to meeting in person, participants received briefing papers that had been developed in conjunction with stakeholder groups. Seven possible locations for the industrial site were presented at the forum. One was the original site proposed by the state government, along with six alternatives drawn from public submissions. Two additional options were added during the forum itself. The nine options were presented in their original form to the forum for consideration.
The process comprised two day-long consensus forums . On the first day, participants sat in groups of 10 at a table with a facilitators. The multi-criteria analysis process was explained first. A group of technical experts provided a table detailing the benefits and constraints of each location option. These were discussed in small groups and participants were asked to rank the opportunities and constraints in terms of importance. The most important were then discussed in plenary. De Bono's six thinking hats technique was deployed to encourage a rigorous and measured thought process and discussion. Participants then defined the criteria that the location options should be held up against.These were derived from the triple bottom-line criteria of economic, social and environmental impacts. From the criteria, options and rankings, a prioritisation matrix was developed for participants to fill in later on.
Following the first forum, there was a gap of 9 days before the next meeting. During this time, participants were encouraged to talk about the options with friends and family. Their task was then to rank each option against the criteria developed during the forum. In multi-criteria decision analysis , this decision is made individually by participants. As participants simply have to rank options against criteria, they do not need to make an actual final decision of which option they prefer. Instead, participants' rankings are fed into a computer which analyses the results and produces a 'best fit' option.
The second day of the forum commenced with the opportunity for participants to change their preferences before they were fed into the computer to produce the result. Whilst there was a clearly preferred outcome, the top site location still did not score highly against all the criteria; "the site with the highest overall score, the Sounness to Tiwest site, was the most preferred site economically, and the second most preferred site socially, but not so highly ranked environmentally" (21st Century Dialogue 2011). Following this outcome, a small group of technical experts convened after the forum to analyse the community's top four options and ultimately try to determine the final site option.
The technical group was made up of seven representatives from relevant government agencies. A further scoring process took place with each group member individually scoring the four options against criteria drawn from the state planning strategy. Following this anlaysis, there were two clear site preferences - but no clear preference between the two. One of these sites was for a particularly large area, meaning that extra analysis was required to identify what the preferences within that site were. Again, this was carried out by the technical expert group and included a site visit to help determine which area of land would be more suitable for industrial development. Finally, the group unanimously decided on a single site suitable for the industrial area. Importantly, this was the same option that scored highest in the community's analysis as well.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The department of planning and infrastructure and the community were satisfied with the final choice for the industrial site. The site was part of the broader strategy for the north-east extension corridor. The strategy was published in July 2003 and the consultation was fed into it.
The site appears to be under development as the Muchea Employment Node. A 2011 report into the development does not cite the 2002 consultation directly, but does note that the site was first identified as a future industrial area in the 2003 north-east extension strategy. It also mentions that community consultation had taken place in 2007, though not in a deliberative form.
In the years since the consultation, there has been a dramatic increase in the development of this area. This, coupled with a change in state government and the time lapsed, makes it difficult to discern the lasting impacts resulting from this particular engagement process.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
21st Century Dialogue note that multi-criteria decision analysis was particularly useful in this case as some people in the community felt they didn't have enough information to make fully informed choices about ranking the options. The computer-aided analysis "deals with this by asking community members only to devise the options, define the criteria and rank the importance of the criteria. The 'expert' group analyses the options against each criterion, using quantitative data where possible, and qualitative decisions where no other data is available" (21st Century Dialogue 2011).
They also note the level of community interest in the issue, and the retention of all participants from the 1st to the 2nd forum. This shows a very high level of commitment and engagement in the consultation process and is pretty unusual. That the outcome was not contested by the community is also of interest, given that the final option did not score highest against all the criteria.
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 entry was summarised from 21st Century Dialogue's website.
Lead image: "An artist’s impression of the intersection of Reid Highway and the Swan Valley bypass road" Credit: Main Roads WA, https://goo.gl/mD5mU9