Infrastructure Victoria is a statutory authority set up by the state government to address Victoria's infrastructure needs. It convened two citizens' juries to consider how to meet the state's changing infrastructure needs.
Problems and Purpose
Infrastructure Victoria is a statutory authority set up by the state government in 2015 to address Victoria's infrastructure needs with a long term view. At the end of 2015 it released an initial report outlining key issues regarding the state's infrastructure in the coming 30 years. The initial report was used as a foundation for public consultation to build on. The final 30-year plan will be released at the end of 2016, with the year in between dedicated to community consultation on Victoria's infrastructure needs.
Infrastructure Victoria (IV) convened two citizens' juries in metropolitan Melbourne and rural Shepparton to consider the question:
What should we do to meet Victoria’s infrastructure needs?
Ultimately, the jurors' task was to "to consider and prioritise options for meeting Victoria's infrastructure's needs. This includes considering funding and financing of infrastructure." The juries' recommendations followed the nine categories outlined in the initial IV report.
Background History and Context
Victoria is no stranger to deliberative approaches to public consultation. A number of min-publics have been conducted in the state on local levels on a range of issues, from child care to waste management. For the most part these processes - which have included citizens' juries, participatory budgeting and 21st century town meetings - have taken place at the local level rather than state.
However, a similar engagement process has also taken place at the state level. Victoria's citizens' jury on obesity was also convened by a statutory authority, VicHealth. However, the obesity jury integrated online and face-to-face deliberation, which enabled the participation of a higher number of jurors than this case.
Central to this case is the point made by newDemocracy Foundation that "you can’t do everything, and the decision to invest in A rather than B needs to reflect a community view of what is important" (nDF 2016, p1). Ultimately, infrastructure planning will involve making trade-offs and the aim of the juries was to ensure that the community had input into the prioritising of various infrastructure needs.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The engagement process was instigated by Infrastructure Victoria, an independent body authorised by the state government. The process was designed by newDemocracy Foundation, an independent nonprofit organisation. Additional consultation reports were prepared by Nation Partners, an independent for-profit consultancy. Online consultation was facilitated by the state's engagement website YourSAy.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Two citizens' juries were held simultaneously in Melbourne and Shepparton. The two locations were chosen to ensure that both metropolitan and regional perspectives were given voices in the consultation. Each jury had 43 jurors on the panel, who were chosen through a random selection process. newDemocracy conducted the recruitment process, independently from IV.
Around 19,000 invitations were sent out by post to addresses in both target areas, with addresses provided through the Australia Post database. Based on those who responded positively, a second random sample was drawn for each area to select the final jury. The samples were stratified to ensure a broadly representative mix of age, gender, job and background (Infrastructure Victoria 2016, p2).
In addition to the two juries, Infrastructure Victoria also host an online platform where the wider public can discuss and share ideas. Further public feedback was garnered through formal submissions. The majority of people who responded online were living in metropolitan Victoria and aged between 25 and 44 (Nation Partners 2016, p5)
Methods and Tools Used
This event used the Citizens' Jury method which involves various tools of engagement including surveys, information and question and answer periods, small group deliberation (such as thematic dialogue tables or future workshops) and plenary discussion. Infrastructure Victoria also organized a publicly-accessible online platform which allowed for feedback, comments, and discussion.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Both juries met for six full-day sessions over the course of three months. All sessions were held on Saturdays. Over this time, the jurors heard from expert witnesses and took part in small group deliberations as well as plenaries and Q&As. Emphasis was placed on encouraging jurors to think beyond their immediate suburbs to consider the needs of the whole state. Video feedback on the process shows that jurors really valued the opportunity to contribute to long-term planning in Victoria, rather than short-term fixes or "an election cycle promise circle". Jurors and Infrastructure Victoria also emphasised the bipartisan, non-politicised nature of the jury process - taking a problem-solving approach without party politician biases.
Issues of concern varied in the two target areas. In the Shepparton jury, jurors were keen to ensure that rural Victoria had a significant input into IV's 30-year strategy, including concern over more rural concerns like internet access. Both juries spent time reading submissions from the public and stakeholders and were able to request additional information and speakers.
Infrastructure Victoria hosted a YourSay site - an online platform where people can discuss relevant issues. The forum poses a question for discussion - What is most important when planning infrastructure for the next 30 years? - and visitors are invited to share their thoughts on the question. Others can then 'like' / support each others' views. The platform shows the most recent posts, the most popular, and the posts increasing popularity. Infrastructure Victoria also have a Facebook page and Twitter feed where they post updates and members of the public can comment.
Interim Reports and Consultation
Throughout the engagement process, Infrastructure Victoria has been releasing reports periodically, updating each based on feedback from consultation so far. The first report, Laying the Foundations, was released at the end of 2015 and outlined the issue areas to be addressed. This provided a stimulus for the first round of consultation and "outlines draft objectives for the strategy and we want to know if we’ve got these objectives right, how we could improve them and if we’ve missed anything" (Infrastructure 2016a). In February 2016, this report was opened for public feedback and submissions. Each report was also followed up by a report detailing the feedback provided.
The second report, All Things Considered, was released at the end of July 2016. This report laid out possible options for meeting Victoria's infrastructure needs, and was also open to public and stakeholder consultation. The aim of this stage of consultation was to "understand areas of support and differing views, which options should be reassessed or rescoped, and to identify suggested new options" (Nation Partners 2016, p4). Participation in this round of consultation comprised the following (Nation Partners 2016, p5):
- 264 formal submissions were lodged. Individual community members (103 submissions) and stakeholders from local government and transport sectors (56 and 27 submissions respectively) were the most active contributors to the consultation process. There were no submissions from the information communications technology and justice and emergency services sectors.
- 461 online surveys were completed
- 12 meetings were held with local government networks across regional and metropolitan Victoria
- four private sector roundtables were held on energy, waste, health, and funding and financing, as well as one cross‐sector innovation roundtable.
- Six one‐on‐one interviews with five organisations were conducted with leaders in the social housing, environment and aged‐care sectors.
- Seven meetings/briefings were held with multicultural, youth and commercial community leaders in regional Victoria.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The final reports from both citizens' juries were published by Infrastructure Victoria in August 2016.
In Victoria's 30-Year Infrastructure Strategy (p. 30), it was stated that community input influenced (but was not the only factor that contributed to) the formation of the strategy by informing the laying of foundations, assessment of options and developing recommendations. Some community input also caused policy makers to change their mind on issues and consider new ideas.
The strategy also acknowledged that community and stakeholder input "has been invaluable in testing the strategic framework, our methodology, and some of the more contentious ideas" (p. 31). There were some issues where community input and infrastructure planning or capabilities were not aligned. In these circumstances, Infrastructure Victoria decided the recommendation.
The success of this approach to community engagement influenced the processes for the same during the strategy review and update, which is conducted every three to five years. The latest update notes that 90% of the 137 recommendations in the 2016 strategy have either begun or been implemented.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
As the engagement process was ongoing as of this entry's writing, it is too early to draw any conclusions. However, like the current Nuclear engagement process in South Australia, there is a marked difference in the tone of some of the online discussions. On the Facebook page for IV, comments are dominated by issues related to Gippsland (an area in Victoria). There appears to be some specific concerns on infrastructure in Gippsland - relating to the proposal for a regional train line running through the region. The citizens' jury recommendation relating to Gippsland has been met by considerable local opposition.
This was accompanied by concerns that the region was not represented by participants in the regional citizens' jury, given that participants were recruited from a 100km radius around Shepparton. Interestingly, one of the jurors has defended and explained the citizens' jury on the Facebook page in response to negative comments about the process.
These exchanges again highlight two challenges - the need to communicate to a broader audience how deliberative processes work and perhaps more importantly, the need to reach broader publics through participatory approaches beyond mini-publics.
Growing Victoria's Potential - discussion paper from 2019 to inform the 2020 strategy update
Victoria's Draft 30-Year Infrastructure Strategy (2020) - for community feedback and to be presented to the Victorian Parliament mid-2021
Infrastructure Victoria (2016) Citizens' Juries factsheet [pdf], available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20180329064115/https://yoursay.infrastructurevictoria.com.au/30-year-strategy/application/files/5514/6371/1504/IV_factsheet_-_Citizen_juries.pdf
Infrastructure Victoria (2016a) Laying the foundations for Victoria's infrastructure needs, available at:https://web.archive.org/web/20190303133611/http://www.infrastructurevictoria.com.au/node/61
Nation Partners (2016) All things considered: consultation report [pdf], published by Infrastructure Victoria [online], available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20180329061320/https://yoursay.infrastructurevictoria.com.au/30-year-strategy/application/files/5514/7008/7588/All_thing_considered_consultation_report_-_July_2016.pdf
newDemocracy Foundation (2016) Process design for Infrastructure: tradeoffs not wishlists [pdf], available at: https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/2016/02/01/infrastructure-victoria-meeting-victoria-s-infrastructure-needs/
Up-to-date information and all reports pertaining to this case can be found on the Infrastructure Victoria website.