Ward meetings are a great idea, but are they serving their purpose?
Is the average citizen engaged or even represented if they are not present at these types of meetings?
Should council dedicate so many resources and so much time into such a format, if they are poorly attended, and often only by the same few people? The 'same few' are to be admired for their tenacity, but I worry the input of the few might be considered representative of the views of the 'rest of us'.
The problem is that the 'rest of us' make little attempt to provide feedback, input or participate. Why is that? Are we happy with the services and priorities that council identify and deliver? Maybe, otherwise wouldn't we make a greater attempt to put our ideas forward?
Difficulties in engaging might have to do with a lack of creating value in the process to the community. Have you ever been part of something that made a positive change to the situation or circumstance around you? Did you remember the feel-good vibe during and after?
It feels good to be part of a solution, even if your only job was bringing it the right person's attention. Just walking by or leaving it to someone else sends a what-you-permit-you-promote message, and achieves very little. We shouldn't leave our opportunities of being part of the solution to someone else.
So how do you create value in the process? Make it fun for a start.
In my experience no one ever volunteered, turned up or chose to ditch an episode of their favourite HBO TV series for something that wasn't at least fun.
Yes, everyone's version of fun is different, but I believe council and our elected representatives need to put their mind to it, to make the meetings engaging.
Sitting everyone down class-room style in (freezing cold or too hot) halls, centres or hubs while we are talked to is not many people's idea of fun. Why not walk to a place of interest/relevance, bring something for others to touch, feel, experience or share?
Wouldn't that bring the consultative experience alive? To sit around a table, rather than in rows? Ask the attendees to select an option, construct something, play a game, vote, draw or tell a story?
Most importantly is that we strive to engage differently, offer different experiences and opportunities and attract a greater variety of everyday citizens. The everyday citizens who traditionally might not participate need to be engaged, and with some creativity I know we can build their desire to be part of the solution.
This is why I think citizen juries are a good start. The organisation running the first citizen's jury in the City of Greater Bendigo, New Democracy, describes the jury as a method of engagement which:
I like how New Democracy describes that "Council know what the impassioned and motivated advocates feel is right for the community, because they hear it often. The jury is designed to inform councillors of the informed views of people who are much less likely to ever engage with council'. They then summarise "our elected tend to hear from insisted voices, the jury method adds structure to make room for some invited voices".
This is a good way to get people started in engagement, and what this city needs more than ever is more people being heard.
If you are excited about the future of community engagement, vote to #GetAWriggleOnCouncil in the Eppalock ward.
COMMUNITY. INTEGRITY. ACTION.
Yvonne Wrigglesworth is a Councillor in the Eppalock Ward, City of Greater Bendigo Council.