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Problems and Purpose
In 2008 the City of Melbourne council developed a plan called Future Melbourne. The aim of the plan was to outline Melbourne's values and goals for the long-term. In 2015 it was decided to refresh the Future Melbourne plan, taking into account the changes and development that have happened since 2008.
In order to refresh the plan, the council embarked on an extensive community engagement process in 2016. The process was conducted in three phases: sharing ideas, bringing ideas together and deliberation. A citizens' jury of 50 Victorians came together for the final deliberation phase to consider the question:
‘How should the Future Melbourne vision, goals and priorities be refreshed to prepare our city for the next decade?’
The original Future Melbourne plan was created in 2008. It was developed by a reference group of 'prominent Melburnians' in conjunction with stakeholder and public consultation. Five public forums were held in 2007 with different themes to help inform the plan, with over 500 people participating (Future Melbourne 2008). In 2015 the council decided it was time to refresh the 2008 plan. This time, a group of six ambassadors were selected to guide the development of the plan.
Victoria is no stranger to deliberative approaches to public consultation. A number of mini-publics have been conducted 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.
ZOOM was an interactive exhibition in Melbourne that also focussed on the future of the city. However, it was more focussed on design. Comparing the two cases demonstrates the breadth of designs employed in participatory processes.
Originating Entities and Funding
The engagement program was instigated by the City of Melbourne. Six ambassadors were responsible for guiding the development of the 2026 plan; they included senior academics and public servants, and business experts. In addition to the ambassadors, a number of organisations partnered with Future Melbourne 2026, including universities and research centres. The citizens' jury was designed and facilitated by MosiacLab, specialists in engagement and facilitation. The phase two report was prepared by Global Research, an independent market research firm.
As mentioned above, the development of the plan was overseen by a group of six 'Ambassadors' austensibly chosen for their experience in their respective fields. Among the six were three university professors (a senior faculty member, a former lawyer, and a director of an architect firm), a former lawyer), a digital start-up entrepreneur, the CEO of an international real-estate firm, and the Directory of Equality in the Department of Premier and Cabinet (state government).
As for the engagement process, a range of events and activities were undertaken, each with a different target audience. The first phase encouraged people to share their ideas through online discussions and a series of face-to-face meetings and workshops. The first phase comprised "an open invitation for individuals, groups and organisations to share their ideas for the future of Melbourne." During this time, 2,000 people engaged in online conversations, generating 970 ideas. A further 2,000 took part in a series of 30 sessions in person. Some of the workshops were aimed at stakeholder groups and some of these were invite-only. Others were targeted at the community are were open to all.
The 52 members of the citizens' jury were selected through a random selection process. 7,000 invitations were sent out to people who were identified as living, working or owning a business in the City of Melbourne area. From those who responded positively, a final random stratified sample was drawn to be broadly representative of the demographics.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
First Phase: Share Your Ideas
Throughout February and March 2016, the first phase of the engagement was launched with the aim of gathering ideas from the public, stakeholders and community interests through online consultations. Citizens were able to post their ideas on an online platform, where others could comment, like or dislike. The platform can display most popular and most recent ideas, amongst others. There is also a 'most contentious' category which shows ideas that have received a similar number of likes and dislikes. However, these functions were used to stimulate debate and not to determine which ideas would be adopted (Global Research 2026). Ideas were grouped into different themes including future economies, climate change and urban growth and density.
In addition to the online platform, over 30 events were held throughout Melbourne. These sessions varied in format and explored a range of topics including climate change, cultural diversity and youth issues. Many of these events were led by the partner organisations and ambassadors. Most events were tailored to different audiences including stakeholders and young people. Events included:
- Pop-ups: one-day, one-off events located within communities to highlight the online engagement platforms and to keep people informed of the community consultation and the 2026 plan.
- PechaKucha: a style of fast-paced presentation where presenters speak for around 6 minutes each. This style enables multiple speakers in one event. In Future Melbourne, the focus was urban perspectives on future growth and development.
- Digital City Hack: a workshop over two days focused on designing creative ideas and exploring future technologies. The workshop was similar to a hackathon, using design thinking and pitting small teams of participants against one another.
- Breakfast meetings, roundtables and specific youth workshops.
Second Phase: Bringing Your Ideas Together
Following the generation of 970 ideas during the first phase, it was necessary to consolidate, reflect on and synthesise the comments gathered in order to understand how they could be used to refresh the 2008 plan. A report prepared by an independent company sought to incorporate all the ideas from the first phase under different themes and priorities aligning to the 2008 plan. The synthesis was carried out using software to qualitatively analyse and identify key themes through content analysis. Global Research, who authored the report, outline the approach taken:
"In reading, analysing and synthesising participants’ ideas, comments on ideas and survey responses, every effort was taken to consistently group points made into the most logical topics. The goal has been to deliver a thorough and objective presentation of the range of ideas, points and opinions expressed: relevant to each goal, and priority, and survey question.
The number of statements made on each goal and priority is presented so as to indicate the relative amount of opinion provided. These numbers present a consistent indication of the weight of discussion in particular areas, making comparisons possible regarding the general amount of interest. The numbers alone though do not indicate that a particular goal or priority is more or less significant than others. There may be many reasons why there were large amounts of information provided on some goals and priorities and less on others. These include factors such as; agreement or disagreement with the current goal or priority, and also the amount of stimulus related to particular topics that were provided to participants during public engagement activities" (Global Resarch 2016, p9)
Third Phase: Deliberation
The citizens' jury met for three and a half day-long sessions. Prior to meeting in person, jurors had deliberated online for three weeks. The purpose of the jury was to utilise the outcomes from the first and second phase to review and actually rewrite the Future Melbourne Plan. The plan would then be presented to the ambassadors for review. The Conversation - an academic led news and opinion cite - provided their view of the jury process:
"The ambassadors provide thought-provoking commentary throughout the process.
On the first day, participants are tentative and there is “a degree of suspicion”. You can see people testing to see if this is “just another PR exercise” and “if it is safe” for them to speak openly. It is not a comfortable space. Challenging questions are asked and the discomfort these generate is visible to everyone.
By day three, the space is still uncomfortable, but there is an acceptance of this. Difficult issues are passionately but respectfully discussed. No one person is allowed to dominate; smaller group exercises ensure all voices are heard. When a discussion becomes too heated it is shelved to allow time for reflection and then re-addressed.
Some issues are generation-specific. Younger jury members appear to occupy a difficult space where technology makes them vulnerable leaders who educate as well as deliberate.
Throughout all of this, the facilitators deftly keep the focus on completing the task at hand and finding “avenues for resolution”. It is relentless and exhausting to watch" (Future Melbourne Team 2016).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The jury's report was presented to the ambassadors guiding the process in August 2016. Their report outlined nine goals and 53 priorities. The ambassadors endorsed all the principles and goals and made minor revisions to the plan including removing a few priorities they felt were covered elsewhere. The plan was then commended by the ambassadors to the council at a meeting in August 2016.
It is too early to draw solid conclusions on the influence and outcomes of the process, given that it has barely concluded and the future-oriented focus.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Overall, the Future Melbourne 2026 engagement program appears to have had a positive response. There have been a number of high-profile citizens' juries in Victoria and Australia over the past year or so, and media reporting of Future Melbourne links to these cases; highlighting the benefits of citizens' juries and explaining the process.
Future Melbourne (2008) About Future Melbourne 2020 [online], available at: http://www.futuremelbourne.com.au/wiki/view/FMPlan/S1aAboutFutureMelbour...
Future Melbourne Team (2016) City calls on jury of its citizens to deliberate on Melbourne’s future [online], published through The Conversation & The City of Melbourne, 20 July, available at: http://participate.melbourne.vic.gov.au/future/city-calls-jury-its-citiz...
Global Research (2016) Bringing your ideas together [online], available to download at http://participate.melbourne.vic.gov.au/future/creating-future-melbourne...