Innovative Approaches to Citizen Participation

Carol Mills, Institute for Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology Sydney

Relevance of the Practice

While there are many examples of Australian local governments involving citizens in decision-making through processes like citizen’s juries and participatory budgeting, there is little research which looks at the effectiveness of these activities. Many case studies have been documented but little work has been done to follow up the engagement process to determine the impacts (both positive and negative) on the decisions taken.

Description of the Practice

Local Governments in Australia have a track record of developing and implementing innovative approaches to citizen participation in decision-making. In Melbourne a citizen’s jury was held to help council shape the future of the city. In New South Wales (NSW), Canada Bay Council carried out an extensive participatory budgeting exercise with its residents to inform the development of its budget.  In addition to these activities, local government reform processes are strengthening requirements for community engagement in the strategic planning process.  The Integrated Planning and Reporting framework was established in NSW in 2009 requiring extensive community engagement in the development of the long term community strategic plan. In Western Australia (WA) similar requirements were introduced in 2011. 

Assessment of the Practice

Little is known about the impact of stronger requirements for community engagement on the quality of the decisions made. Whether the community and councillors are more supportive of these decisions; how a council reconciles opposing views during engagement activities; and, if citizens should be given the opportunity to deliberate and come to mutual agreements, or whether the final decision left up to councillors or staff when there are contrasting ideas, are all points worth further examination.

References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications

Christensen HE and Grant B, ‘Participatory Budgeting in Australian Local Government: An Initial Assessment and Critical Issues’ (2016) 75 Australian Journal of Public Administration 457

Thompson NK, ‘Participatory Budgeting-the Australian Way’ (2012) 8 Journal of Public Deliberation 5

Hartz-Karp J, ‘Laying the Groundwork for Participatory Budgeting – Developing a Deliberative Community and Collaborative Governance: Greater Geraldton, Western Australia’ (2012) 8 Journal of Public Deliberation