Community engagement is core to democracy
Community engagement is how council interacts with residents and ratepayers. Good community engagement is an antidote to apathy, as described in this video:
Yarra has adopted a Community Engagement Policy, highlighting the spectrum of options developed by the International Association for Public Participation (Australasia).
Streets Alive Yarra recommends focussing on the following elements:
- Visits to schools
- Smartphone apps
- Citizens’ juries (or deliberative panels) for contentious issues
Strong Towns includes ‘humbly observe‘ as the first step in the process of public investment. Applied to the City of Yarra, council can observe where footpaths are congested or where people are attempting to cycle (despite the threat of dooring) and then invest in improved infrastructure in those locations.
The book Copenhagenize describes an example of developing sensible solutions based on simple, affordable observation:
People were taking a little shortcut to escape the rush hour, yes, but also to circumnavigate the city centre and head over to Orestad. For a century this had never happened before at this location, but a new mobility pattern had emerged. The City observed and respected this behaviour and made a temporary bike lane across the sidewalk to see if it would work. It did. Less than a year later, permanent infrastructure was put in. By legitimising the behaviour of a handful of citizens, the City carved out a new route that has proven to be incredibly popular. No time-consuming survey or long meetings, just human observation leading to improved facilities.Copenhagenize by Mikael Colville-Andersen
Good community engagement provides information that is quantified and can be directly used to guide Council decisions. One way to do this is to invest in pedestrian & cyclist counters, installed where street space is contested, such as on shopping streets and highly trafficked intersections. This would provide data to guide transport policy and the allocation of street space to various modes. For further information refer to ‘Measuring Walking’ presented by Bill Gehling at the 2019 Australian Walking and Cycling Conference, and the sensors offered by Vivacity Labs.
Visits to schools
Yarra is home to 22 primary schools and 9 secondary schools, which offers Council an opportunity for obtaining feedback. When conducting community engagement on a topic that affects children, such as Local Area Place Making (LAPM) studies, Council could speak to the school assembly at each affected school, and set up a desk at school drop- off and pick-up times, making it easy for students and their parents to offer feedback.
Most residents and ratepayers own and use smartphones, which can operate commercial apps such as Snap Send Solve. The beauty of these apps is their ease and speed of use. Residents and ratepayers don’t have to wait on the phone or type an email. They can simply snap a photo, select a few attributes, then tap to send. The main deficiency with Snap Send Solve is the lack of feedback (in the app) from Council. Council could support these apps by sending data back to them, such as the Council ticket (or case) number and the outcome. Users would be informed by a notification, directly on the screen of their smartphone.
Another option would be a Your Say Yarra app, with verified accounts for anyone on the electoral roll, enabling residents to receive alerts for any issue near them, and easily complete surveys to support community engagement.
Trials change the paradigm for community engagement. Instead of asking residents to support plans that only engineers can understand, they can try out the idea for themselves before being asked for feedback. The whole process can be faster, lower cost and less stressful, benefiting both Council and ratepayers. Learn more on our page on trials.
Citizens’ juries, deliberative panels and deliberative budgeting are the best way to solve systemic, contentious issues such as the allocation of street space and the pricing of parking. It’s great that these are included in Yarra’s Community Engagement Policy, and we hope they are used more often.
Overall, to deliver infrastructure, start with community input and then gradually ramp up engineering input:
As an organisation that focuses on on Citizen Science it’s fantastic for Snap Send Solve to know that Streets Alive Yarra has an active group of locals all driven to provide a harmonious community right here in our backyard. Snap Send Solve was born and raised in Cremorne and we look forward to having our data enrich the positive conversations that Streets Alive Yarra promote.Jarrod Pepper