Online Community Engagement Toolkit for Rural, Remote and Indigenous Councils

MODULE 1: Welcome

1.1 Welcome to the community engagement toolkit

This toolkit has been developed by the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) to assist rural, remote and Indigenous local governments in Australia to improve their engagement with the communities that they serve. Community engagement is essential to democratic government. There are plenty of guides, handbooks and toolkits on community engagement, but the difference with this toolkit is that it is specially designed for the needs and circumstances of rural, remote and Indigenous councils. ACELG recognises that small councils in regional and remote Australia do not necessarily have the staff and resources to undertake elaborate community engagement activities. This toolkit is designed to be a practical guide for councillors and staff of smaller councils to improve how they engage the community, by following simple tips and advice and using practical tools and methods that are suited to their circumstances.

This toolkit was authored by Michael Limerick, Melissa Sutton and Susan Sheppard for the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG). Images courtesy of Victoria Daly Shire and Roper Gulf Regional Council.

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1.2 How to use the toolkit

There is no single way to use this toolkit. It can be read like a book from start to finish, or you can simply go to the topics that interest you by using the navigation bar in the left-hand column.

The intent of the toolkit is to provide basic information for anyone new to community engagement, but there are plenty of links to other resources if you want to read more in-depth. ACELG has also published a comprehensive database of community engagement resources which is available on the website.

If you are just interested in the practical tools and templates that can be downloaded, click here for a list of the resources.

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1.3 Modules in this toolkit

The modules covered in this toolkit are:

1. Welcome - This module introduces the toolkit.

2. Introducing community engagement - This module provides an introduction to the concept of community engagement for local governments.

3. The role of councillors in community engagement - This module looks at the role that elected councillors can play in engaging the community.

4. Developing a community engagement policy - This module explains the value for councils of having a formal community engagement policy and provides guidance about how to develop and implement such a policy.

5. Developing a community engagement plan for a particular project - This module describes the basic steps in planning and implementing a community engagement process for a particular issue, decision or project about which a council wants to engage its community. 

6. Selected engagement tools for rural, remote and Indigenous councils - This module provides practical guidance and resources for community engagement tools that are commonly employed by rural, remote and Indigenous councils, specifically public meetings, surveys and social media. 

7. Analysing and using community input - This module looks at how data furnished from community engagement processes can be analysed and interpreted for use in council decision making.

8. Encouraging community involvement - This module looks at why people often don't get involved in council affairs and suggests strategies to educate residents about local government and encourage them to get involved.

9. List of practical tools and templates - This module lists all resources provided throughout the toolkit for easy access.

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MODULE 2: Introducing community engagement

2.1 Overview

This module provides an introduction to the concept of community engagement. It covers:

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2.2 What is community engagement?

Put simply, community engagement is the process of involving the public in the business of government. Although there are many terms used to describe this process, 'community engagement' is the most widely-accepted term by Australian governments. Other commonly used terms that refer to community engagement or aspects of community engagement include 'public participation', 'citizen engagement', 'public engagement', 'public consultation' and 'empowering communities'. Community engagement is:

What is engagement?

Because community engagement covers a wide range of activities it is useful to view community engagement as a continuum based on the level of involvement of the community. Most governments in Australia, including local governments, refer to the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Spectrum of Public Participation to describe the various levels of community engagement.

Source: International Association for Public Participation

For a local government, the possibility of using the fullest form of participation in the IAP2 spectrum, 'Empower', will be limited by the council's legislative responsibility for making decisions. Local governments are typically unable to fully delegate decision-making to the public.

Based on an OECD model, the Queensland Government uses a simpler categorisation of the levels of community engagement. In this model, 'active participation' encompasses the IAP2's categories of 'involve', 'collaborate' and 'empower':

Source: Queensland Government, 2011

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2.3 Why is community engagement important?

The community elects its council at periodic local government elections, but its involvement in local government should not stop there. It is fundamental to democracy that citizens have a right to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. Furthermore, if a council doesn't involve the community, it will be less able to make decisions that are responsive to changing community needs, informed by the facts, and understood and respected by the community. 

The benefits for the local government in improving its community engagement include:

There are also benefits for citizens who participate in community engagement processes, such as:

There are also legislative reasons for local governments to undertake community engagement. In many parts of Australia legislation requires local governments to engage with the community about certain issues, such as about making new local laws, developing a council plan or community plan, or getting community input into the delivery of particular services. The National Competition Policy introduced in the 1990s led to various legislative requirements to consult businesses in the community before imposing anti-competitive regulation.

The community itself has growing expectations of being informed about, and having a say in government decisions at all levels. These expectations are increasingly recognised in legislation, such as freedom of information (FOI) or right to information laws, or rights to seek administrative or judicial review of decisions, including rights to ensure decisions are based on reason and reasons for decisions are provided. These trends have significantly increased accountabilities in all tiers of government and, along with intensive media scrutiny and the free flow of information through modern technology, there is no way to conceal poor process.

Improving community engagement practices is especially important where local councils have been amalgamated into regional local governments. The more distant that local communities are from local government offices and administrative hubs, the more important it is for the council to have effective strategies for engaging them in the council's business. Communities that previously had access to a local council will quickly become agitated if they feel that decisions that affect them are being made in distant locations without reference to their hopes or concerns. This has been a particular challenge for the larger regional councils formed in the Northern Territory in 2008, where community disenchantment prompted the introduction of new "local authorities" as a means for local communities to have greater engagement with their regional council. It is also a challenge confronting large rural-remote shires in Western Australia that are taking up responsibility to deliver services to remote Indigenous communities that were previously delivered by local organisations or community councils.

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2.4 What types of issues should councils engage about?

Each council needs to consider the types of issues where it is most important to engage the community. There is obviously no need to engage the community in every aspect of a council's decision-making or service delivery. There are some issues where residents will just expect the council to get on with managing the service, without bothering residents for their opinion.

Questions to ask in considering whether community engagement is necessary?

In practice, the key issues about which rural, remote and Indigenous local governments tend to engage their communities are the following:

Case Study: What should council engage about? Central Desert Shire Council's approach

The Council will engage the community whenever it believes that community consultation is warranted. The following are indicative of the occasions when community consultation would be undertaken:

  • Strategy planning: This refers to the development of strategic plans and projects that inform the Management Plan and Business Plans.
  • Policy development and/or implementation: This includes any policy development that has a direct impact on the community.
  • Community specific issues: This refers to any changes with a direct impact on the community.
  • Service planning: This includes the development and/or improvement of a service.
  • Areas of improvement: This refers to any improvement required to increase the quality of lifestyle for the community, e.g. shopping areas, open spaces, etc.
  • Where legislative requirements indicate: This refers to all prescribed plans and projects under the Local Government Act and other relevant Acts that indicate that community consultation is required. This may include, for example, electoral representation reviews, rating reviews etc.1

Central Desert Shire Council 2011, Community Engagement Strategy and Policy.

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2.5 What are the challenges and risks in community engagement?

Local governments need to be aware of the key challenges and risks involved in community engagement and how to address them. The following table highlights some challenges and what councils can do to address them.

Managing community expectations

Residents may have unrealistic expectations that council will implement all their suggestions or that council has broader authority than is really the case.

What councils can do:

Lack of follow through

If the council is not seen to follow through on the outcomes of a community engagement process, the community may lose faith in the process.

What councils can do:

Lack of representativeness and inclusiveness

More vocal and well-organised interest groups may be more active than marginalised groups in the community. Some people may lack the time, confidence, language skills or mobility to contribute equitably. Unrepresentative participation will undermine the quality of the outcomes and the credibility of the process.

What councils can do:


Unnecessary or unproductive engagement can lead to 'consultation fatigue', making people cynical and antagonistic about community engagement. Indigenous communities, in particular, often complain about excessive consultation with few outcomes.

What councils can do:

Negative input

People may be overly negative in their input due to broader frustrations with the council, such as from a lack of engagement in the past or from a view that their feedback was not adequately considered in previous engagement activities.

What councils can do:

Not enough time or resources to engage well

Half-hearted, poorly planned or poorly resourced community engagement will lead to poor outcomes.

What councils can do:

Constituents' lack of interest in participating

Many councils struggle to get sufficient participation by residents in engagement processes such as community meetings and workshops and are therefore reluctant to spend resources on engagement.

What councils can do:

Case Study: Addressing over-consultation or 'consultation fatigue'

Many councils are concerned that residents are subjected to too many consultations by a range of agencies across many levels of government. Community engagement policies should balance the council's desire for greater engagement with the community against the demands placed on the time of residents.

For example, the Blackall-Tambo Regional Council's engagement policy states that 'Community consultation fatigue will be a consideration of Council.'

The Burke Shire Council's policy also acknowledges the need to consider previous consultations:

Due to the nature and size of the Burke Shire community, Councillors and staff know many people within the community personally. This assists in keeping in touch with the views of the community. The Council does not wish to 'over consult' its residents when it already has considerable community feedback from residents on key issues, nor does Council want to ignore, nor appear to have ignored, the valuable information that came from earlier engagement processes.

The Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council's policy stipulates that the first step before a new engagement process is undertaken is to check whether multiple topics for engagement can be 'bundled':

1. Prior to planning the community engagement, the NPARC will contact each Community and Local Government primary stakeholder to investigate the benefit of including "other matters" of interest of the stakeholders to minimise the unnecessary recurrence of community consultation events.

1 Adapted from Jim Cavaye, 'Community Engagement: Skills Development Workshop', delivered to Australian General Practice Network, 2010; Queensland Government 2011, Engaging with rural and regional communities: community capacity building toolkit for rural and regional communities.

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MODULE 3: The role of councillors in community engagement

3.1 Overview

This module looks at the role that elected councillors can play in engaging the community. In particular, it covers:

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3.2 Why community engagement is important for councillors

Section 2.3 set out the reasons why community engagement is important for local governments. Councillors are key leaders of a local government and need to be actively involved in community engagement. The following extract from the Sunshine Coast Regional Council's Community Engagement Framework explains why community engagement is a key part of a councillor's role:

Engagement occurs at all levels of local government. Councillors play an important role in representing the interests of residents and ratepayers. This requires a solid understanding of community needs and the ability to set objectives to meet these needs. Providing community leadership, guidance and facilitating communication between the community and council is the core business of a councillor.
Often councillors are required to establish priorities between competing demands for limited resources. This means that councillors need to be able to access many and varied views that will enable them to make balanced decisions based on a whole-of-community view. Community engagement is therefore critical to the success of the relationship between the councillor, the community they represent and [the relevant] Council.

Councillors hold high office and are subject to intensive scrutiny. To be effective in the role, it is crucial to understand the following: 

  1. Good governance requires councillors to exercise their functions:
    1. diligently - that is, on the basis of the best available information and advice which will include the perspectives, ideas and information available from residents
    2. democratically - that is, keeping residents well informed and encouraging involvement in council business as appropriate.
  2. There are increasing levels of accountability exacted in relation to decision making, including:
    1. certain legislative requirements for consultation (in local government legislation and in other laws such as the Native Title Act 1993)
    2. legal rights to the review of administrative decisions (requiring defensible decision making and the provision of reasons for decisions)
    3. laws requiring council meetings to be open to the public and meeting minutes to be publicly available, which increases scrutiny of council’s decisions
    4. a willingness of some residents to complain to the ombudsman or a local MP if they are upset about a council decision
    5. for councillors in Indigenous communities, community or kinship obligations create very strong expectations that councillors will be accountable in a cultural way.
  3. Effective and meaningful engagement is the best way to discharge these responsibilities and there are major risks to councillors' performance and personal standing by not engaging effectively.

The key message for councillors is that by embracing community engagement they demonstrate their understanding and respect for the democratic process at the same time as improving their ability to do their job well. From a personal political point of view, they also ensure that they are not left struggling and exposed.

Councillors representing Indigenous communities face particular challenges in community engagement. For example, in Aboriginal culture there may be very strong kinship obligations requiring the councillor to act in the best interests of his or her family and consult important individuals (e.g. elders) about particular issues. On the other hand, the councillor’s duty as a member of council is to consider the best interests of the entire community and not act in a manner that could be considered partisan or give rise to a conflict of interest. This will be a difficult balancing act which is best managed by the councillor engaging as broadly as possible with all groups and families in the community, and making a special effort to manage the expectations of his or her own family by explaining the duties of councillors to act in the best interests of the entire community. The councillor can commit to bringing his or her kin group’s particular perspectives to the council table, but will need to emphasise that councillors are part of a team that ultimately have to make collective decisions that balance the interests of all parts of the community.

Case study: The fallout from lack of community engagement

The following example demonstrates the potential for significant community backlash and embarrassment for a council when there is lack of early engagement about a decision of significance to the community: Hanging Rock development no picnic for council.

There are several issues about good community engagement practice that are highlighted by this case study:

  • The need to engage with residents very early about an important decision – failure to do so heightens the sense of outrage of constituents and the perception that the council has been secretive or underhand
  • The fact that engagement is particularly important in relation to places within the community that have iconic status
  • The importance of transparency and clear and consistent messaging about the facts on which the council is basing its decision (in this case, whether the site is currently making a profit or loss)
  • The fact that certain residents may have skills and expertise (e.g. financial acumen) that could assist council with its decision-making if they are given an opportunity to contribute during the process.

Tip: Consider the potential headlines

While it is always more productive to consider community engagement in terms of the benefits that the council and community will gain from the process, from a pragmatic perspective it is also worth keeping in mind the potential headlines if the council fails to engage the community or does so poorly. 

Source: Coast Reporter; ABC News.

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3.3 What councillors can do

Key actions councillors can take to advance the objectives of community engagement are to:

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3.4 What staff can do to encourage councillors in community engagement

Research has revealed that many councillors in rural areas are resistant to undertaking community engagement because they see it as:

These views can make it challenging for councillors to embrace the idea of community engagement, especially when rural, remote and Indigenous councils have scarce resources at their disposal. By providing relevant information and highlighting potential benefits, staff have a role in assisting councillors to embrace community engagement.

Tips: How staff can assist councillors to embrace community engagement

Staff may wish to use the following PowerPoint presentation to introduce to councillors the concept of community engagement. This can be an important first step towards convincing councillors to develop a Community Engagement Policy for the council, as described in Module 4.

Resource: Presentation for staff to introduce to councillors the concept of community engagement

Download presentation: PDF; PPTX

1 Pini, B & McKenzie, FH 2006, 'Challenging Local Government Notions of Community Engagement as Unnecessary, Unwanted and Unproductive: Case Studies from Rural Australia', Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 27-44.

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MODULE 4: Developing a community engagement policy

4.1 Overview

This module:

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4.2 Does your council need a community engagement policy?

Although not always essential, developing and adopting a community engagement policy can be useful for the purposes of:

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4.3 What is covered by a community engagement policy?

Although the format and scope of policies vary widely amongst councils, a community engagement policy usually covers the following things:

Some councils' policies also go further and spell out:

Resource: Sample text for use in community engagement policies

This collection of sample text is extracted from various community engagement policies and guides, and may be useful in providing ideas for formulating your council's community engagement policy.

View Resource


Resource: Links to community engagement policies for rural-remote and Indigenous councils

For some examples of community engagement policies of rural-remote and Indigenous councils, see the links on the following webpage.

View Resource

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4.4 The process of making a community engagement policy

Every council has its own processes for developing and adopting a new policy. There is sometimes a tendency for councils to treat adopting a policy as a compliance matter, so that staff draft up a policy (usually based on a precedent from elsewhere) and the council 'rubber-stamps' it. It is essential, however, that councillors understand and support the council's commitment to community engagement, so staff should seek to actively involve councillors in the process of developing the policy. The following process is suggested:

1. Council presentation

– introduce the idea of community engagement to the councillors by delivering a general presentation on what community engagement is and why it is important

– you may choose to use the template PowerPoint presentation provided in Section 3.4.

2. Councillor workshop on draft policy

– either at the presentation or at a subsequent meeting hold a short workshop discussion with councillors (and staff where appropriate) to start the process of drafting the community engagement policy

– at the workshop, council should

(a) start by reflecting on the council's past and current practices for engaging the community, by discussing questions such as:

– apart from elections, when do residents tend to get involved in council issues?

– what has council done well in engaging the community in the past?

– what are council's weaknesses in community engagement?

– what does council want to do better in community engagement?

– what will be the benefits to council if community engagement is improved?

(b) develop a statement of council's commitment to community engagement 

(c) agree on a set of principles that will guide the council's approach to community engagement

(d) discuss the types of issues and decisions where councillors believe it is a priority to engage the community more

(e) discuss the potential costs of doing more community engagement (in terms of staff time and budget needs).

(For (b) and (c), the sample text in the Sample text for use in community engagement policies document may help to generate discussion and ideas.)

3. Staff to prepare a draft policy

– based on the workshop outcomes, staff can prepare a draft policy for council's consideration.

4. Council resolution to adopt policy

– at a further meeting, council adopts the policy as per its usual policy-making process.

5. Make an allowance for community engagement in council's annual budget

– at the council's next annual budget planning session, potential costs of community engagement exercises should be considered and specifically included where appropriate.

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4.5 Embedding community engagement in council business

The challenge for a council is to make sure that a stated commitment to community engagement in a new Community Engagement Policy does not become merely vague rhetoric or an occasional 'add-on' activity for contentious projects. Rather, community engagement needs to be embedded as a regular feature of the way council does its business.

Tips: How to ensure an ongoing focus on community engagement

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MODULE 5: Developing a community engagement plan for a particular project

5.1 Overview

This module covers the situation where the council wishes to engage the community about a particular issue, decision or project. It describes the basic steps for planning and implementing a community engagement process.  

The process is recommended for a project of any size, large or small. Examples of projects that a rural, remote or Indigenous council might want to engage the community about include:

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5.2 Seven steps for a successful community engagement process

In this module, the following process is described step by step.

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5.3 STEP 1 – Decide whether community engagement is required

It is important to be clear about whether community engagement is needed for a project, because unnecessary community engagement will waste council resources and create disappointment or frustrated expectations in the community. Section 2.3 of this toolkit sets out a series of questions to ask in considering whether community engagement is necessary.

Tool: Deciding whether engagement is necessary

You may wish to use the following matrix to help assess the need for community engagement for the project:

To what extent does legislation require the council to engage with the community about the issue?   
To what extent will the quality of the outcome depend on the level of input from residents in the planning or design stage (e.g. the end-users of a service or facility being planned)?   
To what extent will the quality of the outcome depend on residents being motivated or committed to the council's decision or direction?   
To what extent will the quality of the outcome depend on the cooperation and collaboration of individuals or organisations in the community?   
To what extent does the council have any discretion or power to act on the community’s expressed wishes about the issue (is it an issue outside council’s jurisdiction or is it a council program/service about which a higher level of government has already dictated the parameters such as funding, priorities and delivery model)?   
How complex is the issue, decision or project, and therefore how important is it to hear from a range of stakeholders and get input from a range of experts?   
How significant will the impact of the project be on the community in terms of social, environmental and economic impacts.   
How significant is the financial impact on the council from the issue, decision or project?   
How politically sensitive is the issue? (If council does not engage the community, what level of adverse media coverage or complaints are likely to emerge?)   

It should become clear in completing the table above whether community engagement will be of value for the project under consideration.

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5.4 STEP 2 – Define the objectives and scope of the engagement

It is important to be clear about the council's objectives from the community engagement process and to define what is and what is not within the scope of the issue being engaged about.

To clarify the objectives and scope of the engagement, the council first needs to ask two questions:

This requires the council to be clear about the issue at stake as well as what is negotiable or non-negotiable as far as involvement of the community is concerned. For example:

At this point, it is worthwhile spelling out the focus questions that the council is seeking to have answered during the community engagement. For example, in consulting about a new community hall, the council’s focus questions might be about the seating of the hall, the activities it can accommodate, and the facilities that community groups will require. The importance of clarifying focus questions up front is that they will:

A major constraint for many councils is that so much of their funding and their program and service delivery methods are set by higher levels of government, leaving them very little discretion over how they do things locally. Before conducting community engagement about a program or service that the State/Territory or Commonwealth has funded it is important to work out how much scope there is to change the program or service in response to community views. It is advisable for councils to discuss the proposed community engagement with the funding body to clarify the appropriate scope of engagement.

Tip: Don't promise the world! 

For any community engagement, it is very important to be clear about the constraints, such as who makes the final decision, what can realistically be changed and what resources are available. It is better to promise something small that can be delivered from the community engagement exercise than something large that can't be delivered.

Having identified the issue at stake and what is in and out of scope for the engagement, the council needs to decide what level of engagement is required. As explained in Section 2.1 of this toolkit, the level of community engagement by a local government can be anywhere along the following spectrum: 

Deciding the level of community engagement for a particular issue or project will depend on the council's assessment of the factors discussed in Step 1, related to the level of impact, complexity and sensitivity of the issue:

Tool: Matrix for deciding the required level of engagement

This matrix can be used by local governments to decide what form of community engagement is appropriate. It is adapted from a matrix developed by the South Australian Government and the Local Government Association of South Australia.

Scoring guide for the matrix:

Degree of complexity

Degree of political sensitivity/potential community impact or outrage

Source: adapted from Community Engagement Handbook - A Model Framework for leading practice in Local Government in South Australia, Local Government Association of South Australia, 2008.

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5.5 STEP 3 – Identify who will be engaged

This step involves identifying the people both within and outside the council who will be engaged during the community engagement process. This requires working out which people have a stake in the issue – in other words, the various 'stakeholders'. 

The table below lists some common stakeholders in a local government community engagement process.

Stakeholders within the council:
  • Councillors
  • Committees
  • CEO and managers
  • Council staff.
Stakeholders outside the council:
  • General community
  • Seniors
  • Youth
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (including Traditional Owners)
  • Culturally and linguistically diverse groups
  • State and Federal government agencies
  • Members of Parliament
  • Private enterprise
  • Industry groups / chambers
  • Peak bodies
  • Community organisations
  • Unincorporated associations / clubs
  • Schools.

For each stakeholder it is important to identify:

The following sample stakeholder analysis tool could be used.

Tool: Stakeholder analysis

Stakeholder groupInterest or stake in the issueValue that stakeholder can bring to the issueInformation that stakeholder will needBest methods to engage the stakeholder

E.g. Youth.

Regular users of the public spaces that are the topic of the community engagement process (council is consulting on priorities for spending its landscaping and beautification budget).

Suggestions about making the spaces appealing to youth.

Strategies to protect spaces from vandalism.

Maps of public spaces and options for council landscaping works under consideration (2 page leaflet)

Advice on how to provide feedback or suggestions.

Facebook discussion page

Youth worker to conduct face to face survey at the skate bowl and basketball court.

Example of a completed stakeholder analysis

For an example of a completed stakeholder analysis, see Table 1 in the attached consultation report by the Scenic Rim Regional Council - Download

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5.6 STEP 4 – Choose the right tools to engage

There is a very wide range of different tools that a council can use to engage with the community. The council's choice of tool will depend on the level of engagement it is seeking. The IAP2 gives the following example tools for the different levels of engagement:

Source: International Association for Public Participation

The tools that the council chooses will depend on factors such as:

For some projects, it will be necessary to use several tools for engagement, especially if there are diverse stakeholder groups that the council wishes to engage.

Useful link: Queensland Government's 'Engaging Queenslanders' website

This website provides information about 50 engagement methods and techniques under three levels of engagement: information-sharing, consultation and active participation (this broadly follows the IAP2 spectrum, except that 'involve', 'collaborate' and 'empower' are collapsed into 'active participation'). The tools are summarised in the following table but a description and case studies of the use of each tool are contained on the 'Engaging Queenslanders' website and in the associated downloadable guide.

Queensland Government's 'Engaging Queenslanders' suite of engagement tools

Information-sharingConsultationActive participation
for less than 20 peoplefor 20-100 peoplefor more than 100 people


Online information processes


Education and awareness programs

Fact sheets


Media stories

News conferences

Telephone hotline


Newspaper inserts

Community fairs or events

Community meetings

Shop fronts

Informal club forums

Discussion groups and workshops

One-on-one interviews

Open days


Road shows

Survey research

Web-based consultation: interactive websites, internet surveys, discussion boards and listserves, email feedback, internet-based forums, online chat events

Action research

Advisory committees


Citizens' juries

Community reference groups

Deliberative retreats

Drama workshops

Learning circles

Design workshops

Focus groups

Participatory editing

Precinct committees

Partnerships for active participation

Future search conferences


Negotiation tables

Nominal group workshops


Policy action teams


Planning For Real

Open Space Technology

Citizens' panels

Deliberative polling


Collective learning technique (also known as World café)

Community visioning

Community cultural development

Adapted from Engaging Queenslanders, Queensland Government.

For rural, remote and Indigenous local governments, many of these tools will be too complex, expensive or ill-suited for small, dispersed populations in remote areas. However, the table illustrates that there is a very wide range of ways to engage residents and it is vital to select a tool that fits the council's needs for a particular engagement exercise.

Part 6.2 of this toolkit looks specifically at the types of community engagement tools that rural, remote and Indigenous councils tend to focus on. Detailed advice is provided on three commonly used tools: community meetings, surveys and social media.

Useful links: Descriptions of engagement tools and techniques

In addition to the 'Engaging Queenslanders' website, the following resources provide very good explanations of different engagement methods and techniques specifically for local governments:

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5.7 STEP 5 – Engage

This step involves implementing the tools and methods of engagement that have been chosen for the project. Implementation of engagement should be carefully planned using standard action planning methods that would be used for any project delivered by council. For example, the practical issues to be planned before carrying out any community engagement exercise include: 

The template Community Engagement Plan in Section 5.10 includes a simple table to enter these planning details. 

It is important to keep good records about the community engagement (e.g. dates of meetings/activities, how many attended etc.) because this will need to be included in the report to the council.

Tips: How to do community engagement

There are many tips and handy hints in the various guides about how to do community engagement. Here are some sage ones:

Kill apathy as a concept: Despite a widespread belief that people aren't interested, the reality is that they do care about the issues that affect them. Start where people are at, not where you want them to be.

Communication x10: Show what has been achieved – it's not just about doing, it's also about letting people know what is being done. Make sure you let people know what is going on – information is always the first stage! Two-way dialogue is critical to any change process.

Make it meaningful: Remember that any plans you make should lead to action. Everyone gets bored of participating when nothing actually happens. As people see things happening, confidence in the process will follow and soon there'll be no holding them back!

Be prepared to be unprepared: If you think you know exactly what's going to happen, it's probably not engagement. Don't try to stifle or control the process too much. Be flexible and prepared to respond to what's happening around you.

Have fun!: Anything new can be scary but remember to have fun! Fun is not the F-word and if you want people to get involved it's got to have appeal. After all, having fun makes us happy and well-being is important to us all.

Take it seriously: Producing lots of brochures is not enough to strengthen government-citizen relations.

Start from the citizen's perspective: Consider the citizen's perspective first and treat them with respect.

Deliver what you promise: Pretending and manipulating backfire. Keeping your word and building trust is essential.

Take the time: Stronger government-citizen relations needs time to be built and to show effects.

Be creative: There is often no ready-made solution to your challenges.

Balance different interests: Master the political challenge of balancing divergent inputs.

Be prepared for criticism: Criticism and debate are part of democracy.

Involve your staff: Be open and engaging internally as well as externally.

Develop a coherent policy: Remember: strengthening government-citizen relations is itself a policy.

Act now: Prevention is better than cure.

List adapted from OECD, Citizens as Partners: OECD Handbook on Information, Consultation and Public Participation in Policy-making, 2001; Urban Forum and NAVCA, Developing Your Comprehensive Community Engagement Strategy, 2009.

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5.8 STEP 6 – Report back to council

There is no point doing community engagement for the sake of it – to be meaningful the engagement has to have an impact on the council's decision-making. Therefore, this step is about analysing, collating and summarising all the feedback and outcomes from the community engagement process and ensuring it is taken into account by the decision-makers in council, whether that be senior staff or the elected council. This step also paves the way for Step 7, which is 'closing the loop' by reporting back to the community participants about the engagement.

Module 7 contains some suggestions regarding the analysis of data collected from community engagement exercises so that it can be used effectively to improve council’s decision making. Section 7.4 discusses what to include in a community engagement summary report and includes links to example reports by local government. Where council has used a survey, Section 6.4 provides some suggestions about how to present survey results, including links to some example reports prepared by local governments.

Section 7.5 includes tips about what to include in the meeting agenda report back to council summarising the engagement results and providing recommendations for action. A template for this report to the council is also included.

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5.9 STEP 7 – Close the loop (report back to the stakeholders)

Part of good community engagement is letting the participants know how their contribution was taken into account when council made the final decision, as well as advising what final decision was taken. This part of the process is often overlooked, but is crucial to 'keeping the faith' of the community and ensuring that people feel valued, which will in turn make people more likely to participate in future community engagement.

Reporting back to the participants is often called 'closing the loop' because, as the following diagram illustrates, it is part of an ongoing engagement loop by a council with its stakeholders.

As discussed in Step 3, the stakeholders in an engagement process include people within the council as well as the community, so internal stakeholders should be included in the reporting.

Methods for reporting back to the stakeholders on an engagement activity could include:

Don't forget, people who participate in a council's community engagement activities do so voluntarily in their own time, so it is always important to say thanks!

Resource: Template Community Engagement Plan for a project

This downloadable template report format can be used by council staff to prepare a Community Engagement Plan for a particular project.


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MODULE 6: Selected engagement tools for rural, remote and Indigenous councils

6.1 Overview

The purpose of this module is to provide practical guidance and resources for rural, remote and Indigenous councils in using selected community engagement tools. These tools have been identified as ones that are commonly used by rural, remote and Indigenous councils.

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6.2 Tools typically used by rural, remote and Indigenous councils

ACELG's review of the published community engagement policies of rural, remote and Indigenous councils and interviews with various staff of these councils reveal that the tools that these councils tend to rely on are as follows:

Engagement tools typically used by rural, remote and Indigenous local governments

Information-sharingConsultationActive participation
for less than 20 peoplefor 20-100 peoplefor more than 100 people

News on the council website

Newspaper advertising

Council newsletters

Media releases


Mail outs / circulars

Fact sheets


Briefings with community representatives

Shopfront displays

Social media

Public comment / submission process

Focus groups

One-on-one interviews

Visitations to remote parts of the shire

Public meetings

Surveys (online or paper)

Stalls / staffed displays (e.g. at community events)

Web-based feedback forms or discussion forums


Community meetings

Reference groups

Advisory committees

Community entities undertaking defined tasks on behalf of council

Delegated decisions

Further information about how to use these tools can be found in numerous guides and toolkits on community engagement. Useful links include:

The rest of this module provides detailed information and resources about three specific tools commonly used by rural, remote and Indigenous councils: public meetings, surveys and social media.

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6.3 Public Meetings


For smaller councils in rural and remote areas, public meetings are a common way of engaging the community. This is particularly so for Indigenous councils, where there is often a history of whole of community meetings being the principal form of engaging residents dating back to the days when Indigenous communities were run as church missions or government reserves. 

A public meeting typically involves:

On the spectrum of community engagement, therefore, public meetings extend only so far as the 'Information-sharing' or 'Consultation' stages. They do not normally permit active participation of community members in the decision-making process. 


Aboriginal community meetings

In some Aboriginal communities, there is a tradition of the council making important decisions on the basis of a consensus position that emerges at (or following) a public meeting attended by most of the community members (effectively a 'community meeting'). In these cases, a public/community meeting does extend into the realm of 'Active Participation' on the spectrum of community engagement as the council is directly involving the community in the actual decision-making. The typical format for a community meeting can often be problematic for this purpose, however. For example, the meeting may be dominated by larger or more powerful families within the community, or become a forum for longstanding enmities between families to play out in an unproductive manner. Aboriginal councils should consider the use of methods other than community meetings for engaging the community directly in decision-making processes – for example, various workshop formats discussed below could offer better processes for managing rivalries, facilitating participation and reaching consensus positions.

When to use a public meeting

In deciding whether a public meeting is the best way to engage the community, the council should consider the following factors:

When a public meeting is appropriate:

When a public meeting is not appropriate:

Benefits of a public meeting:

Limitations of a public meeting:

Where the council is seeking more in-depth discussion, more detailed feedback and a greater level of participation, then a workshop will usually be a better option. 

A guide to holding a public meeting

The following process can assist the council to plan and run an effective public meeting:

Stage 1 – Planning a public meeting

A. Define the issues

It is important to clearly define the issues about which the council wants to inform the community and seek feedback at the public meeting. The negotiables and non-negotiables need to be clearly defined up front so that community expectations can be managed.

B. Identify the target audience

Is the council seeking to engage with the whole community or specific groups in the community? This should be clearly defined as it will affect choices such as where and when the meeting will be held.

Decide whether the media will be invited to the meeting.

C. Decide the purpose of the meeting

What exactly does the council expect from the meeting? Is the purpose of the meeting one or more of the following:

As noted earlier, in some Aboriginal communities the purpose of a public meeting attended by the whole community (a community meeting) might extend to reaching a consensus position about a decision to be made by the council. 

D. Select the date, time and venue

In this step, it is important to consider the following:

E. Notify the public

Provide notice about the meeting using appropriate channels, such as one or more of the following:

Clearly indicate the topic to be discussed, the purpose of the meeting, and how and why the community's participation will be important.

The public should be given sufficient notice of the meeting, usually at least two weeks. It is also a good idea to provide reminders closer to the meeting date itself.

The invitation might include a date and address for RSVPs if council wishes to know how many people will attend and who will attend. This might be required for the purposes of catering or organising the venue, or the council may be happy to leave this open-ended.

F. Organise human resources

Decide who will facilitate the meeting, e.g. a skilled facilitator, a councillor or a council staff member.

Decide what role councillors should play at the meeting. Considerations include:

Decide what role council staff should play:

To prepare the councillors or staff who will run the meeting, it can be helpful to role-play questions that are likely to be asked by the public. 

G. Prepare the agenda and information required for the meeting

Prepare the agenda with speakers and indicate times and activities.

Decide on the need for a welcome to country by traditional owners or other local protocols such as opening with a prayer.

Work out what information the public will need at the meeting (e.g. posters, displays, handouts, leaflets, feedback forms) and prepare this before the meeting:

Prepare the presentation to be delivered at the meeting (e.g. a speech or PowerPoint presentation).

If the media is invited to the meeting, prepare a media kit with relevant information.

H. Organise meeting logistics

Organise the various logistics, such as:

Stage 2 – Running the meeting

A. Arrange venue layout

Set up a sign-in table and make sure that the contact details for participants are captured so that follow-up information can be provided.

Lay out seating to engender a collaborative atmosphere (e.g. in a semicircle) and avoid a sense of 'us and them'.

Ensure good signage and directions.

B. Follow good meeting process

Consider the following aspects of meeting process, as appropriate:

C. Manage conflict and criticism effectively

In public meetings there is a high risk of conflict between participants and strident criticism by community members towards the council. The following tips can assist in managing conflict and criticism:

D. Record feedback

Ensure that all feedback by community members at the meeting is written down in a record of the meeting, which will be used for the meeting follow up in Stage 3. During the discussion, it may be worth having someone recording dot points of participants' feedback on a flipchart or whiteboard so people can see that their views are being listened to.

Stage 3 – Following up the meeting

A. De-briefing

The day following a public meeting, hold a staff debriefing session to discuss the outcomes, what was done well, and what can be improved upon at future meetings. This self-evaluation can be included in the report back to the council – see the template report format provided in Module 7.

B. Report back to the council

Use the summary of the public comments at the meeting and the records about the number and groups of people who attended to report back to the council so that the feedback can be taken into account by the council in making the decision. Module 7 contains some suggestions about how to analyse the feedback from community consultations in order to include it in a report for council. This information should be contained in a report back to the council – see the template report format provided in Module 7.

C. Report back to the community

There are three types of information that will need to be reported back to the community following the meeting:

This reporting back could occur in stages or all at once depending on the availability of the information. The important thing is to demonstrate to the community that the council listened and that it took the community's views into account. This is known as 'closing the loop' – see Step 7 in Module 5 for a discussion of methods of reporting back to the community.

Resource: Checklist for holding a public meeting

This downloadable checklist can be used by council staff to plan and convene a public meeting.


1 Adapted from ACT Government, Engaging Canberrans: A guide to community engagement, 2011, pp. 48-55.

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6.4 Surveys


Surveys are one of the most useful tools for consultation with residents. They can assist in providing information about council business, but their most important role is to obtain information from the community, such as demographic information, information about service needs, feedback about proposals, or overall community opinion on particular issues.

In the past, surveys have been expensive to administer, collate and analyse, but online surveys and computer software now make this a relatively inexpensive option for smaller councils. Many local governments are now using online surveys to consult residents about a range of issues.

When to use a survey

In deciding whether a survey is the best way to engage the community, the council should consider the following factors:

When a survey is appropriate:

When a survey is not appropriate:

Benefits of a survey:

Limitations of a survey:

A survey is often used in conjunction with other engagement tools such as community meetings or workshops. This enables statistical data about community opinion to complement other detailed qualitative information from the narrower range of interests typically participating in other engagement forums.

Typical topics for local government surveys

Councils use surveys to obtain information for a wide variety of purposes, including those set out in the table below. Follow the links to view examples of surveys in use by local governments:

Community plansObtain residents' views about the highest priorities for council's strategic and community planning.
Service levelsFind out about community satisfaction with the range of services council delivers, or to consult residents about particular services such as parks, recreational facilities or road maintenance.
New facilities or infrastructureSurvey residents about the location or design of a new facility or new infrastructure.
Strategies for youth, elderly, women, people with a disability, Indigenous people, CALD groups etc.Survey groups within the community about their needs and priorities in order to develop relevant council strategies regarding advocacy and service provision for these groups (e.g. youth strategy, elderly strategy etc.).
Topical issuesTo assist a council's decision-making it might survey residents about issues such as whether they support an amalgamation with a neighbouring shire or a change of the council's name.
Community engagementSurvey residents about how they want to be engaged by the council.

How much does it cost to do surveys?

Cost will depend on whether the work is done in-house by council staff or outsourced to a consultant. The costs involved in a survey may include printing and mail out (for paper-based surveys), time in setting up an online survey, advertising and promotion, time in administering surveys (where done by telephone or interviews), and time in collating and reporting on results. As discussed below, online survey tools reduce the cost considerably and enable councils to do the work in-house: responses are automatically captured into an electronic database, no staff time is required to administer the survey, and collating and reporting the results is automated.

By way of example, the Victoria-Daly Regional Council allocates a budget of $50,000 to conduct community surveys in the several townships across the shire.

Source: Victoria-Daly Shire Council, Shire Plan: June 2012-13, 2012.

Survey design

Before designing a survey, it is important to be clear about the survey's objectives:

Tips: Designing surveys

Top tip: Don't reinvent the wheel

There is no need to 'reinvent the wheel' in designing a survey. There are plenty of examples available on the internet. Try a Google search for the type of survey that you are developing (e.g. 'shire plan') and limit your search to the SurveyMonkey (a popular online survey software) website by including '' in the search request and you will find many publicly available examples.

Contact the council that administered the survey to find out about their experience in using it. Also have a look at the example surveys in the table earlier in this module.


There are several methods of distributing a survey:

A combination of methods is likely to maximise the response rate and obtain a better coverage of people in the community. Not everyone has computer access or feels comfortable using computers and there may be cross-cultural and literacy and language barriers to consider. The significant advantage of an online survey tool is that the results are automatically collated by the software and can be printed out in standard report formats, which saves the substantial time and cost involved in collating results and can be done by the council in-house as it does not require specific expertise. This approach is recommended in the following section.

Where the council is seeking a representative sample of the population, the objective will be to achieve:

As far as sample size is concerned, the appropriate size will depend on what level of confidence council is seeking in the results. For example, for a shire population of 500 a sample of 80 will give a margin for error of ±10%, while a sample of 220 will reduce this margin to ±5%, and a sample of 345 will reduce it to ±3%. Ideally councils should aim for a margin of error of ±5% or better. The SurveyMonkey website summarises this in the following table:

Respondents Needed at Margin of Error of ±3%, ±5%, ±10%

Population Size±3%±5%±10%

Source: 'How many respondents do I need?', SurveyMonkey

As a rule of thumb, therefore, a small rural-remote or Indigenous council should be aiming for a sample of about 200 to 300 responses to achieve a reliable survey result (plus or minus 5% margin of error), but even a sample of more than 80 responses will provide useful data about community views.

Example: Multiple methods of distributing a survey

Shire of Ashburton community members were given the opportunity to participate in a community satisfaction survey during September 2012. The survey was distributed to community members in three forms: telephone, online and paper:

  1. The paper version of the survey was distributed to approximately 6,000 community members via the Council newsletter
  2. The online survey was made accessible via the Council website
  3. A sample of 200 participants was selected at random to participate in the telephone version of the survey.

From this sample 295 responses were received: 200 telephone, 83 online and 12 paper versions.

Source: Insync Surveys, Shire of Ashburton Community Satisfaction Survey Summary Report, October 2012, p.2.

Online survey tools

Online survey tools have made the job of administering, collating and reporting survey data considerably easier. This brings survey methods within the reach of rural, remote and Indigenous councils without the high costs and drain on staff time that was previously the case. The case study of Walgett Shire Council's recent community engagement process illustrates the benefits of using online surveys, supplemented by a strong awareness campaign.

Case Study: Online survey for Walgett Shire's Community Strategic Plan

Walgett Shire is a rural local government in New South Wales with a population of about 6,500. In 2008 Walgett Shire undertook a community survey to assist in developing its Community Strategic Plan (CSP). This was the first time the Council had used a survey for this purpose. The council distributed 3,335 surveys and received only 169 responses (5%).

Between December 2012 and February 2013 the Council launched a new 'Speak Up' community survey campaign for its CSP review. Instead of a mail out survey, the Council used an online survey tool. A link to the survey was created on the Council's website and emails were sent to over 300 local residents, organisations, agencies and business owners. A media campaign using local newspapers and radio publicised the survey. The General Manager was interviewed several times on radio. Flyers and posters publicising the survey were displayed in high use areas such as shops, post offices and community billboards. Display boards were created by children and youth during library and youth centre workshops to incorporate pictures of the five themes of the CSP review. 1,800 hard copy versions of the survey were distributed along with 'Speak Up' pens. Display boards, information and survey collection boxes were left in frequently used locations. Staff facilitated 11 in-place consultation and information events.

Specific efforts were made to engage with youth through 'Yarn Up' sessions and engaging them in the making of the display boards. Older people were engaged through targeted workshops, such as at an aged care facility. Council staff visited the shire's three Indigenous communities to hold information sessions and survey workshops. Staff set up tents and held a BBQ while residents participated in the survey. Similar events where held in locations with large Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) populations (especially Serbian, Croatian and Hungarian), and interpreters were enlisted to help translate the survey form and responses (leading to 47 completed surveys). The online survey link was distributed to Government and NGO agencies via email.

Of the 1,800 hard copy surveys distributed, 344 (19%) were completed, and a further 135 surveys were completed online for a total of 479 responses. This represents a significantly improved response from the 2008 survey mail out.

Council officers were able to input the hard copy surveys into the online survey tool and produce ready-made graphs indicating the survey feedback.

Source: Draft Walgett Shire Community Strategic Plan 2012-2022.

For rural, remote and Indigenous councils, the best approach to administering a survey is likely to be:

  1. develop the survey using an online tool 
  2. solicit as many online responses as possible (noting that many residents will not have internet access)
  3. print out hard copies for distribution through various agencies to those without internet access
  4. collect the hard copies so that staff can manually enter the responses into the online survey tool 
  5. use the online survey tool to automatically collate and analyse all the survey responses (the ones filled out via internet plus the hard copy responses entered by staff)
  6. print off the standard reports produced by the online survey tool.

This approach will be within the capacity of most small councils and should not require the use of consultants.

The steps that will take the most staff time will be steps 4 and 5. However, there are ways to make the survey response process even more efficient and at the same time maximise the number of responses received. In rural and remote areas the main constraint on obtaining an adequate number of online survey responses is likely to be the residents' lack of internet access to fill out the survey online. To obtain an adequate number of responses, councils should consider sending council staff out to community events or to intercept people in the street or public places to solicit on-the-spot responses from citizens. These could be hard copy responses, but to avoid the extra effort of later entering them into the online survey tool, council should consider equipping staff with laptop computers or tablets (e.g. iPads) to assist residents to complete the online survey on-the-spot. This may require the council staff member to be online using a portable internet modem, which is becoming more feasible with the broadening coverage of wireless broadband in rural areas. Alternatively, some online survey tools (e.g. SurveyGizmo, FluidSurveys and Polldaddy) enable the survey to be downloaded to a laptop or tablet to be completed offline, with the responses being uploaded to the online survey tool the next time the laptop or tablet is online (e.g. when the council staff member returns to the office). There are also survey tools that take the form of apps for iPads or Android tablets (e.g. QuickTapSurvey or iSurvey), which enable the responses to be collected on the tablet offline. See the table below for more information.

Therefore, the most efficient approach for administering a survey will be the following:

  1. develop the survey using an online tool 
  2. solicit as many online responses as possible (noting that many residents will not have internet access)
  3. council staff go out into the community and solicit responses from residents to be directly inputted into a laptop or tablet computer (using either a laptop/tablet with wireless broadband connection or a survey tool downloaded to the laptop/tablet)
  4. use the online survey tool to automatically collate and analyse all the survey responses
  5. print off the standard reports produced by the online survey tool.

The table below provides some summary information about the various online survey tools.

Online survey toolNotes
  • BASIC (free) plan allows 10 questions per survey and a maximum of 100 responses.
  • Paid plans allow unlimited questions and unlimited responses and have different feature sets depending on pricing.
  • Link to the online survey can be emailed as a weblink or included on the council's website.
  • Electronic survey cannot be completed offline. If no internet access available, respondent would need to complete a hard copy (printed PDF copy of survey) and council staff would input the response into online survey tool later when online.
  • FREE plan has unlimited questions and 350 responses per month with basic reporting options.
  • Paid plans have extra features and better reporting options.
  • Offers other professional services such as survey design, project management and customised reporting.
  • Survey can be completed on a laptop, iPad, iPhone or Android device offline so that responses can be uploaded to the survey website later when device is online.
Fluid Surveys
  • FREE plan has unlimited surveys, 20 questions and 150 responses with basic features.
  • Paid plans allow unlimited questions and responses and have different feature sets depending on pricing.
  • Survey can be completed on a laptop, iPad, iPhone or Android device offline so that responses can be uploaded to the survey website later when device is online.
Polldaddy for iPhone and iPad
  • FREE plan has unlimited questions and responses, but is less customisable (includes Polldaddy branding, no customisable URL etc.).
  • Paid plans have extra features.
  • Survey can be completed on an iPad or iPhone offline so that responses can be uploaded (synced) to the survey website later when iPad/iPhone is online.
  • FREE plan has 15 surveys, 75 questions and 200 responses with basic features.
  • Paid plans allow unlimited questions and unlimited responses and have different feature sets depending on pricing.
  • Electronic survey cannot be completed offline. If no internet access is available, the respondent would need to complete a hard copy (printed PDF copy of survey) and council staff would input the response into online survey tool later when online.
  • An app for iPads and Android tablets.
  • FREE plan has 1 survey, 50 questions and 50 responses with basic features.
  • Paid plans have extra features.
  • Survey can be completed on an iPad or Android tablet offline so that responses can be uploaded (synced) to the survey website later when the device is online.
  • An app for iPads and Android tablets.
  • Plans for a single survey and unlimited devices start from ~$100.
  • Survey can be completed on an iPad or Android tablet offline so that responses can be uploaded (synced) to the survey website later when device is online.

Presenting the survey results

As with any form of community engagement, the results need to be reported back to both the elected council (to take into account in their decision-making) and the community (and especially those who took part in the survey). 

A report on the survey results will normally include the following information:

Examples of reports on survey findings can be found at the following links:

The Maribyrnong City Council 2012 Annual Community Survey report contains a cover report to council with officers' recommendations followed by the full report on the community survey results.

The council could also consider a media release to communicate the outcomes of the survey to residents. For example, see the Town of Port Hedland's media release.

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6.5 Social Media


There are growing expectations on councils to engage more thoroughly, to move quickly to address issues, to work openly and be more accountable. Although there is ongoing debate about its value and the associated risks, a growing number of Australian local governments are using social media in their community engagement strategies to assist in meeting these expectations. Even smaller councils in rural and remote areas are following this trend, using Facebook and Twitter to communicate with their constituents. 

The broad range of social media tools available to councils covers the spectrum of community engagement, from 'Information-sharing' to 'Consultation' to 'Active Participation' by community members in the decision-making process:

What is social media?

The term 'social media' refers to the broad range of online communication tools that enable people and organisations to create and share content in the form of words, pictures, audio and video in real time, almost anywhere. Social media is usually quite open, allowing a wide variety of people to see, comment on, or collaborate on materials. The tools are often free or low-cost and are relatively easy-to-use. Social media is also designed to be shareable, so people can readily forward, link to, or even re-publish content. This makes it a very accessible medium that can reach a very wide audience, making it a useful community engagement tool for local governments.

The table below identifies some of the key social media formats that are commonly used by local governments for different communication and community engagement activities:

LinkedIn is the world's largest online professional network, with over three million members from Australia alone and 135 million members in over 200 countries worldwide. It is seen as a safe place to 'collect' a lifetime of business connections. Further interactions occur through common interest groups by posting or answering questions.

Facebook is the world's most popular social networking site that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. By the end of 2011 Facebook had over 800 million users, with the average user age being above 40. It facilitates group discussions and is easy to use, particularly as a photo-sharing and conversation hub. Facebook groups and corporate company pages can be conducive to building engagement.

Twitter is a forum that consists of a running thread of 140 (or less) character postings called 'tweets'. Users subscribe to 'follow' of Twitter users of their choice. There is a vast amount of information, from the annoying and mediocre to the excellent and informative. Twitter has become an important source of information and news for mainstream media, as well as a real-time information network for members. Most business users share tips and links to articles and news to spark interest in a conversation. Monitoring Twitter is a wise public relations activity: positive mentions can be thanked and negative ones corrected. Waiting for a negative mention before setting up a Twitter account is 'sub-optimal'. A staff member Twitter presence can be a worthwhile marketing initiative for the purpose of public engagement and brand management.

YouTube provides a forum for original content creators and advertisers to publish videos.

Pinterest is a pinboard-style social photo sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, hobbies and more. Users can browse other pinboards for inspiration, 're-pin' images to their own collections, and 'like' photos. Pinterest's mission is to "connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting" via a global platform of inspiration and idea-sharing. Pinterest allows its users to share 'pins' on both Twitter and Facebook, which allows users to share and interact with a broad community.

Yammer is a simple, scalable way of letting employees share and connect with co-workers in a private, secure enterprise social network.

Flickr is an online photo management and sharing application that helps people make their photos easily available to friends and family. In addition, Flickr enables people to organise photos and videos collaboratively.

Blogs and RSS Feeds
Blogs are distinctly structured websites that contain short, conversational style articles (posts), each housed on a separate URL that can be commented on by readers. They are used widely by professionals. Blogs can replace or supplement email content distribution. They are 'alive' and available anytime. RSS feeds (short for Really Simple Syndication) are able to automatically send updated website content to subscribers' browsers to save them the trouble of having to constantly return to a website and search for new information. RSS feeds can be web-based, desktop based, or delivered to a mobile device.

Cloud-based Hosting Services
Cloud-based hosting services, such as Dropbox, use cloud storage to enable users to store and share files and folders with others across the internet using file synchronisation. In October 2011 Forbes estimated that Dropbox had 50 million users, of which 96% were using a free account. Other cloud-based hosting services include, FilesAnywhere, CloudMe, CrashPlan, Egnyte, iCloud, Mozy, SpiderOak, SugarSync, TitanFile, Ubuntu One, Windows Live SkyDrive, TeamDrive, Wuala and ZumoDrive.

Social media also includes apps (short for 'mobile application') developed for smartphones. Apps are being developed by third party providers (e.g. Snap, Send, Solve) and by councils for their own purposes (e.g. Wyndham Council's Field Inspect app). Popular social media apps include Instagram, which enables users to share photos with friends. Users simply snap a photo with their iPhone, choose a filter to transform the look and feel, and send it to Facebook, Twitter or Flickr. Another app, Foursquare, enables people to share where they are located in real time, such as when they are visiting a library, park, landmark, restaurant, or meeting with friends.

Source: Adapted from Howard, A. 2012, Connecting with Communities: How Local Government Is Using Social Media to Engage with Citizens, Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, University of Technology, Sydney, pp. 7-8.

Marketing and Communications ActivitySocial Media Applications and ContextBenefits to Council
Corporate imageSocial media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Website, blogs) to enhance the council's image and reputation
  • Can reinforce and enhance council's image and increase its visibility in the community when integrated
  • Enables council to show the community that it is listening
  • Allows council's corporate image to be developed through personal interaction and experience
  • Enables the community to contribute to enhancing council's reputation
  • Permits council to quickly correct misinformation
  • Can be used to 'humanise' council's profile when developed in a conversational, friendly tone
Promotion, direct marketingSocial media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, QR (Quick Response) Codes, mobile apps, blogs, video and audio, Google ads) to promote events, arts shows, market days, and other council activities
  • Can form an important component of council's integrated promotion and marketing strategy
  • Allows council to target individuals directly who may be interested in the event
  • Enables council to reach people on their mobile devices and drive traffic to the website
  • Can allow for council to apply QR codes that are linked to events or activities
  • Cost-effective and efficient communication for council
  • Can save on print and distribution costs for council
Brochures, booklets, posters and flyersAll social media (whether it be Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and other community forums) to link information and content (e.g. text, pictures, audio, video) that can reinforce, clarify and enhance messages
  • Enhances traditional one-way forms of communication for council
  • Enables fast updating of information by council
  • Can allow council to tailor language and messages to suit individual target audiences
  • Allows for interaction, with the audience able to ask questions and receive fast answers from council
  • Target audience are easily able to forward the information onto their own social media contacts, thus facilitating the distribution of messages
  • Can save on print and distribution costs for council
Video and audio-visualSocial media tools such as Vimeo, YouTube and Slideshare to embed videos and audio-visual presentations on a council website
  • Can allow council to tailor language and messages to suit individual target audiences
  • Allows council to better engage, entertain and get messages across to the community
  • Can be used by council to facilitate the community's sharing videos with friends and others who may be interested
  • Provides options for production to be undertaken in-house by council
Newsletters and bulletinsWebsites with Web 2.0 technologies using RSS feeds to deliver eNewsletters directly to interested citizens
  • Allows council to make cost savings on printing and distribution
  • Enables council to update and deliver information quickly
  • Allows audiences in the community to share information with others
  • Can enable council to stimulate discussion in the community
  • Encourages council to keep messages relevant and timely
Internal communicationsEnterprise social networking tools such as Yammer and wikis to increase interaction, collaboration and communication between staff
  • Fosters greater understanding, collaboration and sharing of knowledge across council
  • Enables the breaking down of barriers and silos between councils' different functional areas and departments
  • Can be used as a project management tool
EventsSocial media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, QR codes, mobile apps, YouTube, community boards) to promote events and organise staff and volunteers for events
  • Allows council to tap into other communication channels
  • Enables council to apply cost-effective methods of getting the message out directly to target audiences for events
  • Can facilitate follow up by mainstream media and generate additional interest for events
  • Allows council's target audience to easily forward on messages to friends and others who may be interested
Community consultation and engagementSocial media tools (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, mobile apps, Google ads) to expand the potential participation of the community in consultation and engagement activities and generate greater interest
  • Can allow council to drive traffic to its website which, in turn, can provide an online format for consultation and engagement
  • Enables council to support online discussion forums for specific issues and attract feedback
  • Facilitates the linking of people's ideas and opinions of others
  • Allows for council to accommodate different trends with agree/disagree options and for facilitation of discussion
  • Can help council to build a community of interest around specific issues, programs or events
  • Enables council to incorporate geo-spatial attributes into engagement processes
  • Allows options for people to interact and engage with council at a time that suits them
  • Online ads can be used by council to target particular demographics and geographic areas
Community relationsSocial media as an important community relations tool
  • Facilitates council's interaction with citizens and the building of relationships
  • Enables council to clarify misinformation in the community
  • Allows council to develop relationships with 'hard-to-reach' groups in the community
  • Can assist council with presenting a human face and an image that 'real' people work in a council
  • Demonstrates how a council is working for the community
SponsorshipsSocial media tools (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, photo sharing and video sharing sites) as part of an integrated communication strategy
  • Establishes inexpensive and effective ways for council to be involved
  • Enables council to collaborate with sponsors
  • Can allow council to sponsor community activities such as sustainability initiatives, and to positively promote such involvement
Customer serviceSocial media as part of customer service
  • Allows members of the community to raise issues directly with the council
  • Allows citizens to contact a council directly and publicly
  • Facilitates a rapid response to community enquiries by council, whilst also allowing council to direct queries to the appropriate area of the organisation
Human resourcesSocial media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter used to find new staff
  • Can enable council's HR department to gain insights into potential new staff
  • Provides council with an inexpensive and often fast way of recruiting
Issues managementSocial media to allow for the monitoring of issues in the community that are of concern to residents
  • Can be effective and inexpensive to use and assist council to lead discussion, as well as monitor conversations and respond accordingly
  • Allows council to facilitate the building of a 'community of interest' around specific issues
Emergency and crisis managementSocial media as a highly effective way to communicate during times of crisis
  • Allows for efficient and effective interaction and information flow between council and the community
  • Can be accessed by people almost anywhere and at any time
  • Enables quick dissemination of urgent information by council
  • Allows council to answer questions quickly, ensuring that accurate information is made available
  • Provides mainstream media that follow local government social media sites with information to broadcast
  • Can enable citizens to pass on information from council to their followers, which helps to disseminate messages more quickly

Source: Adapted from Howard, A. 2012, Connecting with Communities: How Local Government Is Using Social Media to Engage with Citizens, Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, University of Technology, Sydney, pp. 24-5.

Before establishing a social media presence, councils need to consider a range of matters, including:

The following checklist will help councils to further consider these issues in the development of their social media strategies:

Checklist for developing your council's social media strategy
ObjectivesClearly identify council's objectives
What is the objective and how does it fit with council's overall community engagement objectives? Are you trying to increase attendance at an event, improve transparency, solicit more community engagement, seek feedback on a specific proposal, increase economic development or improve daily operations?
StrategyDevelop a strategy outlining how the new social media tool will help meet the desired objectives
What are the key challenges to meeting this objective? How can social media help to provide a new solution? Will this allow us to reach a new audience or provide a new service? How will it integrate with council's existing commuications activities? Be sure to keep an open mind in the brainstorming phase.
Current ConversationListen to the social media conversation to discover where your council or mayor is already being talked about online and by whom
Determine the key topics, participants and social media platforms being used for these conversations. "Listening in" to the conversations before joining can help determine what is of interest to participants and how the council can be helpful and involved in the conversation.
ResourcingCarefully and realistically assess the resources required to launch, manage and maintain your social media presence
Consider staff time, technology resources and any funding required.
Social Media PolicyDevelop a social media policy that establishes clear guidelines for councillors and council staff in the appropriate use of social media
(See below for further details.)
ResearchNetwork with other councils and conduct research about the new social media technology
Network with other councils and colleagues to understand how they are using social media applications and what challenges were faced during implementation.

Adapted from Hansen-Flaschen, L. & Parker, K.P. 2012, The Rise of social Government: An Advanced Guide and Review of Social Media's Role in Local Government Operations, Fels Institute of Government, Pennsylvania, pp. 24-6.

Case Study: Using Social Media for Emergency Management: Brisbane City Council's approach

Brisbane City Council demonstrated the power of Twitter as a fast and effective communication tool during the Brisbane flood of January 2011. It used Twitter as one of its social media tools to quickly and accurately engage with residents and businesses that needed to evacuate. Council reported that Twitter enabled it to share important information with Brisbane residents, which instilled confidence and positioned Council as a central source of truth on flood related issues. Council also used Twitter to coordinate volunteers during the clean-up phase of the flood recovery efforts by creating their own hashtag, #bnecleanup.

Source: Howard, A. 2012, Connecting with Communities: How Local Government Is Using Social Media to Engage with Citizens, Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, University of Technology, Sydney, p. 32.

Useful link: Social Media Guides

The following link provides good additional information for councillors and council staff wanting to get started using social media: Local Government Association (UK), Using Social Media: A guide for Councillors.

Developing a social media policy

Councils will need to develop a social media policy to establish clear guidelines for councillors and council staff in the appropriate use of social media. Having a clear social media policy will ensure councils avoid the common pitfalls for organisations using social media, which can include the posting of inappropriate content, redundant or inaccurate information, staff mixing personal social media use with professional social media use, and handling public comments in an unprofessional manner.

A basic social media policy should include the following elements as a minimum:

Source: Hansen-Flaschen, L. & Parker, K.P. 2012, The Rise of social Government: An Advanced Guide and Review of Social Media's Role in Local Government Operations, Fels Institute of Government, Pennsylvania, p. 62.

Resource: Social media policy samples and template

The City of Prospect (SA)'s social media policy provides a good example for rural, remote and Indigenous councils to consider: City of Prospect 2012, Social Media Policy.

This downloadable model social media policy template was developed by LGMA Tasmania and can be used by councils as a basis for developing their social media policy: LGMA Tasmania, Social Media Policy Template | Guidelines for using the template.

Connecting with young people in Indigenous communities

In recent years, it has been reported that young people in Indigenous communities have strongly embraced social media apps using mobile phones, particularly Facebook and chat room apps such as Divas Chat. Young Indigenous people are a very difficult audience for local governments to engage with due to their high levels of mobility and often limited engagement in community organisations. Social media may therefore be a potentially useful avenue for council to engage with young Indigenous people.

For information about the way young Indigenous people in the Northern Territory are embracing social media, click here.


Facebook is the most commonly used social media tool for rural-remote and Indigenous councils. A brief scan of council Facebook pages reveals that some of the main purposes that rural-remote and Indigenous councils use Facebook include:


There has also been significant growth in government use of Twitter as a tool for providing information updates to interested constituents. The graph below illustrates the growth in Twitter accounts by governments at all levels in Australia to the end of 2012.

Source: eGov AU, Australian government Twitter accounts.

Resource: Examples of local government social media profiles

The following social media profiles illustrate the way that local governments are using Facebook and Twitter to inform their communities. The Facebook profiles listed all belong to RRI councils.

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MODULE 7: Analysing and using community input

7.1 Overview

Engaging with the community has important benefits in making people feel valued, but it is not an end in itself. Ultimately, the reason for engaging with the community is to obtain information that can be used by council to make better decisions. A common pitfall for councils is that after all the effort of getting the community involved in a decision making process, there is insufficient effort around how to use the information that is obtained.

The purpose of this module is to:

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7.2 How community input helps decision-making

The diagram below illustrates that engaging the community to obtain their input is part of the process of making good decisions about important issues.

When designing community engagement, it is important to always focus on the issue that the council is seeking to address and how the information and input from the community will help the council to address this issue. As described in Module 5, a crucial early step in running a community engagement process is to define the objectives and scope of the engagement (Step 2) – essentially, what is the issue and why does the council want to engage the community? Deciding who will be engaged (Step 3) and how they will be engaged (Step 4) will flow directly from the scoping work in Step 2. As discussed in Step 2, it is worth setting out some focus questions about the issues at hand that the council is hoping the engagement will answer, for example:

These focus questions make it clear what information and input the council is seeking from the community. As illustrated in the diagram above, the focus questions will dictate the engagement methods used by the council. If the questions were framed properly and the right engagement methods were used, the findings will comprise information that has direct implications and relevance for the issue the council is seeking to address.

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7.3 Collating and analysing the findings from a community engagement process

There are two steps in determining the findings from a community engagement process:

1. Collating the information

This involves gathering, typing up (if necessary) and logically organising all the information collected so that it can be analysed. It is essential that the council ensure that there are measures in place to capture feedback in all community engagement processes, for example:

What is involved here depends on the methods used in the community engagement process. For example, it might involve things like:

  • typing up the minutes of community meetings
  • typing up the outcomes of a workshop as written on butcher’s paper
  • arranging a number of community submissions or social media posts into a single spreadsheet
  • collating the answers to a survey (this will simply involve printing off automatically generated reports if software such as SurveyMonkey were used).
  • 2. Analysing the information

    This involves carefully and methodically considering all the information to determine its meaning and relevance to the issue. A community engagement process may yield a very large and bewildering array of information. To make sense of it all, the council needs to refer back to the core issue that it is seeking to address and the focal questions that it was seeking to answer at the outset of the engagement process. Much of the information that is collected during community engagement will be irrelevant to the issue and the focal questions. This information may have other uses and may therefore be worth documenting, but it should not distract from analysing the information about the core issue. Therefore, the analysis task involves putting the ‘raw’ collated information through a filter (i.e. the focus questions) to capture the information relevant to the issue at hand.

    There are many ways of analysing community engagement data. For example, if the community engagement involved community consultations about the new community hall, a simple method would be:

    Example: Analysing consultation data about the community hall

     Focus Question 1: What is the community’s preferred location for the new community hall? Focus Question 2: What range of activities should the community hall be able to accommodate?Focus Question 3: What facilities are required by community groups using the new hall?Other comments (not directly relevant to focus questions)
    Written submission ASite A (near train station)Catered functions, dances, movie nightsCommercial kitchen, tables & chairs, lectern, stageCouncil needs to improve public transport so people can get to council facilities
    Written submission BCommunity meetings, indoor volleyballSuitable flooring for volleyball
    Written submission CSite C (in the park)Community functions, trivia nights, book groups, youth groups
    Facebook post XSite A (near train station)Bible studyTea and coffee making, comfortable chairs
    Facebook post YSite A (near train station)
    Table 1 at consultation workshopSite A (near train station)Community group meetings, entertainment eventsCatering facilities, small meeting rooms, An online booking system is needed for council facilities
    Table 2 at consultation workshopShould be near public transportRoom for seminars with up to 100 participantsLectern, media projector, screen

    For more complex community engagement processes, or where there is a very large amount of community engagement information for each focus question, it might be necessary to do deeper analysis to try to identify the common themes in the information. For example, a council has conducted community engagement involving workshops and an online discussion forum about community satisfaction with the council’s performance. The focus questions were about governance practices, customer service, programs and services, and community infrastructure. Under the focus question about ‘council governance’, the feedback includes a very wide range of comments, expressed in a variety of ways. To make sense of this feedback, the comments need to be analysed to identify the common themes. For example, it might become obvious that the following themes recur throughout the feedback: ‘listening to the community, ‘role of interest groups’, ‘transparency of decisions’, ‘leadership’, ‘behaviour at meetings’. Allocating a different highlighter colour to each of these themes, it is possible to read through the feedback and highlight various comments in the relevant colour. As a next step, all the comments highlighted the same colour (e.g. the ‘listening to the community’ theme) can be extracted and collated together. It will then be possible to identify the overall tone of the feedback about that theme. For example, the finding might be expressed as: 'The majority of people thought that council was not listening enough to the community. Comments ranged from criticism that councillors were focused too much on their own interests, perceptions that some councillors were aloof or even arrogant, and concerns at the lack of consultation about key decisions.'

    Collating the number of community members who mentioned a particular theme in their feedback makes it possible to quantify issues raised in qualitative feedback. For example, using the approach described above, it would be possible to count the number of passages highlighted a particular colour within the consultation data to gauge how often the issue was raised.

    Example: Using analysis of themes to quantify qualitative consultation feedback

    The extract below from a Maroondah City Council consultation report for a Community Wellbeing Plan illustrates how community feedback can be grouped into 13 common themes for statistical purposes. These themes were further grouped into five broader themes for the writing of the report.

    Source: Maroondah City Council, Community consultation report Maroondah Community Wellbeing Plan 2013-17, p. 10.

    Where a survey has been used, the analysis will involve producing graphs and tables of statistics to display feedback. These can be generated automatically if online software such as SurveyMonkey have been used. However, if the survey included open-ended questions, it might be necessary to analyse the themes in the feedback using the process of analysis described above.

    Useful tool: Word clouds

    One way of illustrating the issues that came up most often in community consultations is to generate a ‘word cloud’. This is a graphic that contains all the words that occurred most frequently in a body of text, with more frequency used words corresponding with larger font sizes. There are various software programs that can generate a word cloud. A free online tool can be found at Simply cut and paste a passage of text into the program and it will automatically generate a word cloud. For example, from a few paragraphs of this toolkit, the following graphic was generated:

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    7.4 Reporting the findings

    There are two audiences for reporting the findings of the community engagement process:

    1. The council – As discussed in Section 5.8 of this toolkit, a report to the council is important to enable the findings to be taken into account and influence the decision or direction taken by council
    2. The community – As discussed in Section 5.9, to ‘close the loop’ in a community engagement process it is crucial to report the findings back to the community and identify how they have been taken into account.
    3. The reporting of the findings could be in separate reports or in the same report. Section 5.8 sets out some tips to consider in reporting back to council on an engagement activity. There is also a link to a template report to council.

      Where the community engagement process was solely through a survey, the advice in Section 6.4 under the heading ‘Presenting the survey results’ may assist in preparing a report. There are also links to local government reports of survey results.

      Key questions to keep in mind when reporting findings of community engagement processes include:

      • What is the most important information to answer the focus questions and assist council to make a decision?
      • What is the clearest way to present the information?
      • How reliable are the findings, given the sample size and methods used?
      • How do the findings compare to other available evidence and the results of other consultation processes?
      • How much agreement and consensus is there amongst participants in the engagement process?

      Examples of reports on the findings of community engagement processes can be viewed at the links below:

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    7.5 Using the findings to make better decisions

    If the information from the community engagement has been properly collated and analysed with reference to the focus questions identified at the outset of the process, then the council will have a body of relevant information to help it make the decision that it engaged the community about. Although a community engagement report may have been produced to capture all of the findings, it will usually be the role of council staff to prepare a council meeting agenda paper to further summarise the findings, draw conclusions about the policy implications, and make recommendations to the council about the appropriate way forward.

    Tips: Issues to consider in reporting back to council on an engagement activity

    Resource: Template for report to council on community engagement

    This downloadable template report format can be used by council staff to report back to council on the issues raised above.


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    MODULE 8: Encouraging community involvement

    8.1 Overview

    The purpose of this module is to:

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    8.2 Why aren't more people involved in council affairs?

    More involvement of the community in council business has benefits for both the council and the community (see Section 2.3), yet a common complaint by councils is that residents do not seem interested in council affairs and are very hard to engage. For example, many councils complain that when they hold community meetings, no-one shows up. 

    It would be easy for councils to conclude that residents are simply not interested in involving themselves in council affairs in significant numbers. However, there are many examples from around the country of successful engagement by local governments. In light of the potential benefits, the challenge is not to give up on community engagement, but to look for the reasons why people don't get involved and to come up with innovative solutions.

    Why won't residents engage with us? Common reasons given...

    When searching for reasons, consider possible factors both internal and external to council.

    Factors internal to council

    A key issue might be the previously poor communication or public relations practices of the council. It may be necessary to revitalise approaches, for example by:

    Factors external to council

    Factors external to council could include the capacity of residents to engage, or other factors in the environment. Residents' capacity to participate in local government engagement activities might be hampered by their lack of time, resources, motivation or 'know-how'. 

    There is often not a strong culture of political participation at play in Australia beyond compulsory voting. Councils are competing for the attention of residents in a world where there is rapid change in the way people live their lives, limitless opportunities to access information, and a myriad ways to connect to others. On the other hand, this environment presents opportunities for councils as residents become better educated, more affluent and more connected to information sources through technology. 

    Strategies for getting more people involved

    By understanding the reasons why people are often reluctant to engage in local government business, councils can develop strategies to increase community involvement. These could be either:

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    8.3 Short-term strategies: Getting people involved in specific engagement activities

    In the design of any engagement exercise, for example holding a consultation workshop, it is important to consider the barriers to residents' involvement and to think about strategies through which these can be overcome. The following diagram includes some tips for engagement:

    Source: Voluntary Action Westminster, Involving people: a practical guide, p. 59.

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    8.4 Longer-term strategies: Building a culture of citizen engagement in council affairs

    In the longer term, to overcome the apathy or disinterest in the community toward local government the overriding challenge for councils is to ensure that local government is relevant to the community. To succeed in community engagement, it may not be enough to simply capture people's interest for the purpose of specific engagement activities or to develop strategies to target certain groups such as Indigenous residents. Sustaining ongoing involvement of residents in council business may require councils to invest effort in developing specific strategies for building a culture of citizen engagement in council affairs into the future. The key building block for such a strategy is increasing the knowledge and understanding of the everyday relevance of local government to people's lives. 

    Increasing understanding of local government

    Australian school children today receive basic education about the roles and responsibilities of the three tiers of government as well as the principles underlying our liberal democracy and the associated civic duties. However, that information is not well developed into a practical understanding of how to participate, nor is it consolidated as they move into adult life. There is also less focus on local government in school education than on the sovereign levels of government where parliamentary processes are the focus. School children may have an excursion to Parliament House, but how often is there an excursion to the council chambers? Furthermore, many older generations will never have received citizenship education at all.

    It is in the interests of local governments to help fill this gap. There have been some useful recent exercises in building public knowledge of the role of local government and how it operates – for example, through the mock council meetings held during Local Government Week in New South Wales. 

    Councils should talk to local schools to explore opportunities for outreach. Obviously, the time of councillors and staff is at a premium, but it is worth having a conversation with local schools about ways to spark interest in council affairs. This could start small – for example, with an annual visit by the mayor or another councillor to selected schools, perhaps on a rotational basis.

    Visits would ideally be coordinated with the curriculum but need not be restricted to lessons about government, or be limited to elected officials. There could be many topics in which specialist and professional council staff could engage with students, such as environmental sustainability (water and waste management and recycling), or matters of engineering and construction. 

    Visits to the council chambers, with or without a mock council meeting, or to other council facilities could make the business of local government more tangible to students. 

    Even without personal interactions, materials about the council could be provided to aid teachers in bringing in a local or applied dimension to their teaching. Where teachers are interested, there may be scope to base school projects around any number of council responsibilities or activities. There is no reason such collaboration could not extend to TAFEs and universities too.

    Strategies for reaching teenagers outside of school would obviously include the use of social media and distributing information of specific interest to them at gathering places such as skate parks, sporting facilities and shops. The importance of encouraging youth engagement should not be overlooked as they are the future leaders of the community, and involvement with council activities could provide a positive outlet for expression in rural and remote areas where opportunities may be limited.

    Reaching out to the community

    Councils can be creative in finding other ways to reach out to the community to educate people about what local government does and how they can contribute. For example, council could:

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    8.5 Capacity building is a continual process

    Beyond specific efforts to inform and educate the public, councils can make better use of everyday opportunities to demonstrate the relevance of local government. For example:

    Given the difficulty of catching people's attention and holding it long enough for them to learn something about local government, councils need to be opportunistic in leveraging existing instances of engagement. As with all learning, hands-on involvement is usually the most effective. People need to put their 'toes in the water' on community engagement. If it feels good, they will return. Ensure there are frequent and meaningful opportunities for them to do so. While engagement activities take time and resources, they produce better government and more satisfied residents; a very sound community investment.

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    MODULE 9: List of practical tools and templates

    9.1 Toolkit Resource List

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    8.2 Other resources


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