Port Hedland Enquiry-by-Design

Port Hedland Enquiry-by-Design


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Problems and Purpose

In 2004, Port Hedland in WA had reached a 'critical stage' (21st Century Dialogue 2011) due to an expansion in the resource industry. The situation entailed demands on the town's housing and infrastructure and required planning for the near future. Fortunately, this also provided an opportunity to think about how to balance the town's growing population with improving living standards and quality of life in Port Hedland.  To this end, an extensive community engagement was undertaken.

The process combined three approaches - community surveys, enquiry-by-design and the 21st century town meeting. Each method had slightly different aims and using all three enabled a holistic approach. The overall aim of the engagement was "to determine how and where the townsite should grow and develop, exploring the possibilities for the renewal and expansion of the town, to make it more liveable" (21st Century Dialogue 2011). The survey enabled a capture of the community's views and concerns about future growth in the town, whilst the enquiry-by-design process was combined with elements of the 21st century town meeting to ensure that the local community had a meaningful input into the planning. 


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. 

This was not the first enquiry-by-design implemented in WA. The department of planning and infrastructure instigated eight workshops between 1999 and 2001, all based around designs for town centres and other urban development issues around Perth and in other parts of the state (WA Planning Commission 2002, pxi). One such case was the Bassendean Train Station Enquiry-by-Design which incorporated a consensus conference into its deliberative methodology.

Originating Entities and Funding

This process was instigated by the WA department of planning and infrastructure, and organised by 21st Century Dialogue. The survey was carried out by an independent research company.

Participant Selection

A telephone survey was carried out with 350 citizens, with just over 50% being from the town of Port Hedland, and the rest from the surrounding area. 

Participants for the face-to-face deliberations were recruited in three ways, comprising a random sample, people who responded to local newspaper adverts, and a group of stakeholder representatives who were invited to attend. 21st Century Dialogue note that due to the process coinciding with a large bush meeting and Ramadan, there were fewer Aboriginal peoples and muslims able to attend. Around 140 people attended overall. 

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

The community survey was conducted prior to the enquiry-by-design process. The aim of the survey was to get an idea of the community's priorities, concerns and values relating to the future growth of Port Hedland and surrounds. The results of the survey were then used by a steering group to feed into briefing papers for attendees of the three day enquiry-by-design forum.

The steering group consisted of representatives from local council and the regional development commission. The group was responsible for overseeing and planning parts of the engagement process. The survey results, along with other recent research, was used to decide on the key issues that should be addressed in the forum. 

Enquiry-by-design is an interactive process that brings together community members with technical experts. It involves experts incorporating community views into the planning and design process. In this instance, elements of the 21st century town meeting were incorporated into the enquiry-by-design process; primarily, using small group deliberation and networked computers to facilitate emergent themes and display them back to the room.

The process took place in three stages, with forums for the community and experts, and specific days for the technical experts to work on designing planning options. The first forum was dedicated to discussing and prioritising key issues for the future. The next day the technical experts met and using the community's priorities as a starting point, began to develop possible planning options. 

At the second forum, the community participants examined the planning options and were able to suggest changes where needed. 120 people attended this second forum  - drop off of around 20. Following this, the technical team came together again to further develop the plans and where possible respond to community suggestions.

The final forum enabled the community participants to review the plans. Following each forum, all participants received copies of the outcomes. Following the final forum, a set of broad principles were supported by the participants. 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Usually with enquiry-by-design processes, the results are non-binding. In this case however the state and local governments agreed to seriously consider all the recommendations and action them where feasible. A draft report was produced and made available to the public for four weeks, for public comment. Additional submissions were made by the community and the report was adjusted accordingly before the final version was produced. The final report was then sent to the state, regional and local governments.

Just two months later in January 2005, it was announced by the state government that an in-principle agreement had been made with the traditional landowners, the Kariyarra people, of Pretty Pool - one of the areas highlighted by the forum for residential development. The Minister for planning and infrastructure, Alannah McTiernan, cited the enquiry-by-design process in the announcement (McTiernan 2005).

LandCorp, the developers responsible for the Pretty Pool residential development, also mention the engagement process on their website. They also state that they continued engagement with local residents, stakeholders and the Kariyarri people as the development process continued. 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

21st Century note that prior to the forums, the technical experts were concerned that community participants would not be able to agree and find common ground. However, due to the integration of 21st century town meeting techniques, it was "possible to rapidly seek common ground among a large group of people...the extent of agreement was high...Although many of the issues were contentious, participants showed remarkable goodwill towards the process and consideration of others' positions throughout the three days" (21st Century Dialogue 2011).

There was some drop-off in participation, with 140 attending the first forum, 120 the second and 80 the third and final day. However, the final drop-off was likely down to the final forum being held on a Monday evening, when many people were in work. 

The process was not without some drama; one participant left on the second day particularly unhappy over a contentious issue, and spoke to the media. This resulted in negative media coverage about the process. Despite this however, feedback from the local council and community participants was for the most part, positive about the process. Feedback from the forums showed that the majority of participants enjoyed and valued the experience. Some were concerned about whether the government would actually implement their suggestions, and some were particularly concerned with the reputation and what sort of role the major mining company (BHP) should play. It's not clear if this concern was resolved, but the government announcement of the Pretty Pool agreement mentions BHP as a partner. 

Secondary Sources

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. (2005) In-principle agreement helps clear way for Port Hedland housing development, Government of Western Australia, available at: https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/Gallop/2005/01/In-principle-...

Western Australian Planning Commission (2002) Bassendean Enquiry-by-design Workshop [pdf], available at: http://www.bassendean.wa.gov.au/7_info_feedback/pdfs/Enquiry-by-Design.pdf

External Links

The WA Planning Commission has produced a manual detailing the enquiry-by-design workshopping process:






Case Data


6721 Port Hedland , WA
Western Australia AU


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Start Date: 
Friday, October 29, 2004
End Date: 
Sunday, October 31, 2004
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Who paid for the project or initiative?: 
Western Australian Department of Planning and Infrastructure
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