The Queensland Government recently introduced a requirement that local Councils prepare a Community Plan
to guide the growth and development of their communities over the next ten years and beyond. For many
Local Councils, particularly those experiencing significant social, economic and environmental change,
preparing a Community Plan might present a rather daunting challenge. But with a well planned,
responsive approach to community engagement, the process of developing and implementing a Community
Plan is likely to succeed.
The Local Government Act 2009 (The Act) intends that a Community Plan will provide each Council in
Queensland with an overarching long-term strategic ‘roadmap' to help guide the development of all other
Council planning policies and operations. The Community Plan will address all areas of community interest
including social issues, safety, development, economy, infrastructure, environment and transport.
The Act indicates that Council decisions should be based on meaningful community engagement, consistent
with five principles of local government:
• Transparent and effective processes and decision making in the public interest;
• Sustainable development and management of assets and infrastructure, and delivery of effective services;
• Democratic representation, social inclusion and meaningful community engagement;
• Good governance of and by local government; and
• Ethical and legal behaviour of Councillors and local government employees.
Community Plans should be developed with and for the communities they serve - so inclusive and
responsive community engagement is needed. Effective engagement will establish a sense of stakeholder
ownership during the planning process and will help to turn planning ideas into tangible outcomes.
The Act reinforces the importance of community engagement by stipulating that a Community Plan must be
developed in accordance with the Council's Community Engagement Policy. Council's role in community
planning is to facilitate the process, to provide information and to design a framework to coordinate strategies
and actions that will support the community vision and the implementation of priorities. Put simply, the role
of the Council is to put in place a process to ensure that the Community Plan can happen.
But, given the scale of engagement required, particularly for larger and diverse communities, this process can
be an almost overwhelming prospect for Council officers and Councillors, who act as the ‘face' of the community
planning process. The key to success is to make community engagement purposeful, inclusive, meaningful and
outcomes driven. After all, communities want their views to be recognised and acknowledged, but most of all,
they want their concerns and aspirations to be acted on.
Community engagement can have a range of possible objectives, depending on the context, including; informing,
consulting, involving, collaborating with and empowering the community. Various consultation and community
engagement techniques can be used to capture the community's views and ideas - from small focus groups and
themed workshops through to open community ‘Q&A' style forums. Depending on the size, structure and
dynamics of the community concerned, certain consultation techniques will be more effective than others. In
most instances, a ‘trial and error' process of developing a community consultation strategy ensures that the
community is fully engaged in developing the Community Plan.
Beyond the life of the community planning process, effective engagement can provide the Council with a platform
for information sharing and for breaking down barriers (real or perceived) between Councillors and their constituents.
And with a long-term strategic vision in mind, Community Plans provide Councils with an opportunity to develop
effective community engagement strategies that can be used in various other strategic planning contexts in
Community planning, while required under the Local Government Act, offers a tool for Councils to work in collaboration
with their constituents to establish a vision that truly reflects the aspirations of both the Council and the community
it serves. It also offers an opportunity for Councils to test their approach to community engagement for application in
other planning forums.
But perhaps most importantly, it provides Councils with the opportunity to reconnect with their communities, and
to demonstrate a genuine commitment to the long-term which extends well beyond the life of the current planning
and engagement process.
International Association of Public Participation Australasia ‘IAP2', 2007, IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation,
available online at www.iap2.org