Hepburn Shire Council heard loud and clearly through the Hepburn Together project to develop the Council Plan and Community Vision that the community wants to be more engaged and informed in and about the decisions of Council.
Council’s approach to community engagement is based on the best practice IAP2’s Spectrum of Public Participation. Councils’ website and Participate Hepburn site provide links to engagement opportunities and how to complete service requests.
Mayor, Cr Tim Drylie, said Council has a range of avenues for the community to provide input on Council projects.
“Participate Hepburn allows the community to engage with us at any time – day or night. We understand the value and importance of engagement, and this has been a really successful way for the community to provide input into current topics,” said Cr Drylie.
The development of Council’s Sustainable Hepburn Strategy, which encompasses waste, biodiversity, environment and climate change, is an example of how Council used deliberative engagement elements to maximise community involvement.
“We established community reference groups to guide the development of Sustainable Hepburn. These groups worked to ensure the strategy reflected the priorities and sentiment of the community, but also allowed us to capitalise on the creativity and expertise of local people to develop local solutions. This was a very broad strategy and had input from hundreds of people across the Shire,” said Cr Drylie.
Council isn’t only focusing on online avenues, but also incorporates face-to-face engagement.
Staff have created and distributed thousands of conversation cards, fliers, postcards, posters, signs, printable surveys, discussion papers, conversation guides, advertisements and other collateral, with hundreds of emails and phone calls being made to stakeholders, community groups and residents. WCouncil has started monthly Meet the Mayor and Listening Post sessions in key townships where community members can come along, meet with Councillors and staff, learn about projects and raise issues.
Council has seen considerable community input since adopting a Community Engagement Policy 18 months ago. Council’s online engagement platform, Participate Hepburn, has had almost 65,000 page views across 66 projects, including more than 24,500 unique visitors since it went live in early 2021.
Impressive as these figures seem, community satisfaction with Council’s engagement with the community is poor, particularly in Birch Ward. In the recently published Community Satisfaction Survey results, Council scored poorly on measures of community consultation and engagement. Overall Shire satisfaction satisfaction on this measure was 44 out of a possible 100 compared to a state-wide average or 54.
In Birch Ward, community satisfaction with Council engagement fell significantly in the past year from a score of 41 in 2001 to 31 in 2022.
It appears that genuine community engagement requires more than simply providing opportunities to provide input to Council.