Let’s close the loop on community consultation

Above all else, the reason Noosa has achieved a rare – albeit precarious – balance between humans and nature is that we have one of the most engaged communities in Queensland.  

Sadly this does not by itself guarantee that community inputs are adequately represented or given due weight in final council plans, strategies, or programs.

A point indirectly acknowledged in a recent staff presentation to Council which stated that “…Council will endeavour to close the loop with the community, sharing what was heard from the community and how this has informed Council decision-making.”

This is no doubt an acknowledgement that Council’s community engagement approach lacks complete transparency, and that any two-way communication process requires appropriate feedback.

What is missing from Council’s community engagement and consultation processes is an appropriate framework that assures the community of transparency. 

For there to be transparency in the process the community needs to be satisfied that Council’s analysis of community feedback actually and accurately represents community input giving adequate weight to the concerns and priorities identified by residents.

It is critical that the community understands what issues have been raised, to what extent and how those issues have been prioritised.

The “gold standard” in this approach was the process undertaken in the development of the Noosa Plan 2020. The Plan was developed after considerable community consultation and input and, at the conclusion of the engagement process, council staff provided a tabulated analysis/ summary of issues and recommendations raised in submissions.

Confidentiality can be maintained by not identifying individual submissions. But by including a figure which indicated the number of respondents who raised a particular issue, or made a comment, the community could judge for itself the importance and relevance of the issue in question.

On the release last year of Noosa’s Corporate Plan, the then mayor stated that the document reflected the community’s views with some 1100 respondents providing feedback during the process. There was no way, however, for the community to judge whether the direction outlined in the Corporate Plan accurately reflected the concerns or priorities of the community. Residents should be able to judge for themselves.

While council policy commits to the clear articulation of the engagement process it also commits to council reflecting back to the community as to how they have influenced Council decisions. Council’s Community Engagement Policy also commits to providing information to the community including the reporting of engagement outcomes.

Noosa Council has embarked on an extensive program of community engagement initiatives for 2024 “to ensure residents’ voices continue to shape decision-making on key strategic projects for Noosa Shire.”

Key projects include phase 2 of the Destination Management Plan, the Noosaville Foreshore Infrastructure Master Plan and Concepts for Resilience Phase 2, the Pomona Placemaking Plan Phase 2, the Noosa Botanic Gardens Master Plan and the Noosa River Catchment Management Plan.

A range of planning scheme amendments aimed at addressing the local housing challenges and further limiting the spread of short-term accommodation are now out for community comment.

The proposed Amendment No.2 to Noosa Plan 2020 is probably one of the most significant policy initiatives to be considered by council this year and, given community concerns over recent state government interventions in the planning area, it is critical that the community’s input is made public to allow residents to evaluate for themselves the issues raised by residents.

If Council is genuine in its desire to reflect back to the community how their input has influenced Council decisions, then closing the community consultation loop on these community engagement processes would be a good place to start.

Residents will welcome the commitment that all written submissions regarding the proposed Amendment No.2 to the Noosa Plan 2020 will be reviewed by Council and a consultation report published on Council’s website as to how each submission was considered. All submitters will be notified.

Council should adopt, as a matter of course, the consultation and engagement process used in respect of the Noosa Plan and subsequent amendments as the standard for all community engagement initiatives.


This Post Has One Comment

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    Interestingly Council’s Community Engagement Policy was not put out for consultation which might have improved its processes.
    The Commonwealth Parliament publishes all submissions (unless privacy is requested) enabling the views to be shared. This ensures that the community can see if their submissions were adequately considered and adopted. Noosa Council should adopt this approach as well as tabulating the responses.
    It would also be helpful to the consultation process if the multitude of plans and strategies were implemented before Council moves on to consulting about another issue.
    The Corporate Plan consultation identified 10 issues with transport first and tourist accommodation tenth so Council moved to a Destination Management Plan for tourism which identified transport as first priority. The Transport Strategy prepared in 2017 is still languishing and the excuse apparently is the that one part-time staff member has resigned and has not been be replaced.
    Consultation is only worthwhile if it influences the policy and the policy is implemented. Then the policy needs performance indications so the community can judge its effectiveness.

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