UPDATE 13th November 2013: Since posting this letter City of Greater Geraldton staff, CEO and Mayor have all responded to this letter and addressed many of the concerns. The Council responses are thorough explanations of this participatory budgeting process, and how past consultations and strategies feed into it. If you are reading this blog and comments because you are interested in the evolution of democracy in our region and how you can contribute, I hope you find it fascinating and encouraging. If you are reading it because you want to find another reason or angle to attack the Council, I hope you actually find it informative about the good and progressive things our Council are doing.
Scroll down or click here to read Council staff response: http://wildpollinators.org/2013/11/08/single-idea-build-better-city/comment-page-1/#comment-2174
Scroll down or click here to read CGG CEO response: http://wildpollinators.org/2013/11/08/single-idea-build-better-city/comment-page-1/#comment-2198
Scroll down or click here to read CGG explanation of the Participatory Budgeting process: http://www.cgg.wa.gov.au/news/city-rings-changes and explained in detail here: http://www.cgg.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/%23ChangesCGG_0.pdf
An open letter to the City of Greater Geraldton.
Dear Council and staff,
This letter is our respectful, open response to your invitation to submit ideas for ‘Building a Better City’. You invited submissions on ‘what people would like to see built’ , and it could be something ‘new’, ‘upgraded’ or ‘expanded’. You send this invitation as part of the new #changesCGG campaign and the latest part of the 2029 and Beyond initiative. We thankyou for your good intentions, doing your best and asking for the community’s contribution.
We support those initiatives, we support you, we elected you (Councillors), we meet with your staff regularly, we collaborate on great projects (like Goodness Festival), we have shared visions, and you even support our work through community grants (like for the Catalyst Program). We know being a good Councillor is hard work, mostly volunteer and pretty thankless. We also know being a diligent, responsive, efficient Council employee probably is not easy either, especially if you’re one of those pushing the boundaries in a complex organisation with a hard-to-change culture and with such a broad community-wide agenda for ‘change’. For all of you there at CGG, following-through on previous commitments to be a world-leader in community engagement, sustainability, innovation and realising the 2029 and Beyond ‘vision’ is a tough ask, and we know many of you are doing your best.
And, here’s a few thoughts in response to your invitation to submit ideas for the next ten years of the capital works program, and then our SINGLE suggestion in response. Adopting this single suggestion could actually be less work than what appears to be happening now. This SINGLE suggestion is not the only suggestion from our members, or from meetings like the one held on Wednesday night with Pollinators members and partner organisations, but it’s the SINGLE idea everyone seems to agree on. So, read on….
Before we do the big ‘reveal’ of the SINGLE idea, we need to provide some context so it makes sense. Basically, we’re saying that almost all the good ideas, good relationships, good strategies and priorities already exist in this town. And throwing things completely open for fresh ideas for random “toilet blocks and play equipment” in a semi-transparent-but-not-entirely-clear process like you’ve done is potentially more damaging to those good foundations than productive. And we think there are better ways to build on those good foundations:
1. Respect others’ time and energy. Literally hundreds of people have been involved for hours and days at a time in consultations related to 2029 and Beyond, or the countless related strategies. To not acknowledge that past contribution, or ignore all the previous outcomes is a bit rude. To give people only 3 days (as per the initial deadline) to generate and submit new ideas is to assume they have nothing else to do than be consulted all the time, or that you don’t really want them to think that hard about their submission. This sort of short-timeline, shotgun approach to getting input into a process negatively affects your relationship with some of the most engaged, respected and representative voices in our community. It’s also silly, because it devalues all the good work we’ve already previously done together and probably creates tonnes of work for you in revisiting all these old ideas. There’s also little practical things, like use a web-based form at least — a word doc submission form is creating a lot of unnecessary work for Council staff!
2. Build on good strategies. You have dozens of them, created at great cash expense to Council and ratepayers. Every single one of them also involved probably hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars of ‘in-kind’ (donated) time, energy and expertise from community members, businesses and non-profit organisations. For example, to have forums like the City Centre Forum this week to discuss development and regeneration in the CBD and NOT highlight and build on the previous Carparking Strategy and Vibrancy Report is problematic. Not acknowledging what already exists re-raises expectations, re-opens conversations we’ve already had and reinforces the perception (amongst some) that your unprofessional and don’t know what you’re doing. They are good strategies. We helped create them, read them, made submissions on them and have quoted them back to you in meetings. They are good strategies.
3. Work in partnership and look for synergies. Working with existing organisations that represent large sectors of the community and have high levels of experience and expertise makes sense. Why? Well, you can build relationships, you avoid duplication, you can test ideas and initiatives to reduce the risks associated with launching them. For example, in all the strategies developed so far there are lots of recommendations for ‘hubs’ (Youth Hub, Startup Hub, Renewable Energy Hub etc) which is probably because everyone sees the advantage on co-locating, collaborating or cooperating to save time and resources. It’s that collaborative, dialogic ethos that trumps short, disconnected bursts of energy-intensive engagement. We’re not saying don’t get on and lead on new initiatives, just in doing so please recognise that lots of other organisations in the community are progressing implementation of things that are already aligned, have synergies and can be progressed in dialogue, partnership and even lead to serendipitous benefits. There are great forums like the Futures Governance Alliance, but more of these partnerships need to extend into collaborative private-public-ngo partnership projects.
4. ‘Engage’ by Getting Things Done, measuring progress and celebrating. Nothing engages better than DOING stuff. And, celebrating when it is done. There is no doubt that with 350 staff and multi-million dollar budget that Council is getting stuff done Million Tree, Community Gardens, Water Sensitive Cities Symposium and other examples ARE aligned with outcomes from the 2029 and Beyond process and have been partially-implemented. They’re really positive and need greater support, greater publicity and clearer communication that they ARE because of the input, strategies and priorities of the whole 2029 and Beyond process. The infrequency with which staff conversations, future project plans, media releases link actions back to strategies can create doubt that the change in trajectory we were aiming for is happening:
New cycling facilities, implementation of the Local Bike Plan (and cycling-related actions in the City Centre Parking Strategy) are one example where progress seems to have been slow. This was a top ten priority identified in 2010, and there was a decent bike plan already in place from 2009. Yet, it took 2 years, 51 emails (just from Pollinators), 3 separate formal questions to Councillors, dozens of on-site meetings and tens of thousands of dollars are required to install some bike racks in the CBD out the front of SaltDish, The Provincial and those still-yet-to appear at CityHive. Reviewing the overall Local Bike Plan there’s not a lot that’s been implemented nearly 4 years later. So it gets you wondering…Is Local Bike Plan implementation and ‘Being a Cycling Capital’ is really a priority for Council? Is Council’s version of ‘quick wins’ really that ‘slow’? Or, is it really just not that important compared to the millions being spent on roads? If we’ve spent so much on community engagement experts, how come individual Council staff members on the other end of the phone or computer still have no idea how to ‘engage’ by, say, responding to emails or doing what they committed to?
Unless of course, Local Bike Plan is actually a LOW priority (even though it is a community priority, and priority for a healthy and sustainable city) and there really is no money. If it is a low priority, then tell us as per point 5 below. If something IS a high priority then the best method of engagement is not more forums or idea-generation. The best method of engagement to Get Things Done (or the more colloquial #GSD), work in partnership, measure progress, share, learn, celebrate then go #GSD again.
5. Manage expectations open about your role, vision and priorities. If you are not implementing a strategy or action because something else is more important, just say so. Try it out! Cut through the politics and call the bluff on those in the media, those of the minority view (it is a democratic system, after all) or those with vested interests who want to hassle you about every little thing about the patch of pathway in front of their house, or their business that annoys them. Heck, if the Local Bike Plan is a low priority and that’s why bike racks are slow to appear, then just tell us and open the conversation up! ‘We’ve got no money and it’s a low priority, but is there a way we could still move this forward together?’. Just try it more often, and see what happens. You might find some offers of help that reduce your burden of expectations and responsibilities. We are, afterall, all in this together.
If you do those things, and if those good foundations exist, then it makes sense that should mean we all put TRUST in:
- Democratically-elected Councillors to represent the views of their electorate,
- Well-paid Council staff’ to use their professional judgement to prioritise within the strategies they already have sitting in their shelves,
- Ongoing relationships with existing groups and organisations will help prioritise and implement specific actions…
…to deliver on the most important priorities of our community.
So, with that as context, with those good foundations and a fundamental trust in you, and our democracy….What is our SINGLE THING for Council to do with its Capital Works budget?
Implement the capital works recommendations identified within existing strategies and reports. Prioritise your work on those strategies and works projects that are most aligned with community priorities (as already identified through community engagement including through ‘2029 and Beyond’)
Easy: Get. Things. Done. The things you said you would do. Guided by the strategies we worked with you do develop. Do the things you already implicitly committed to do, when you scoped, developed, drafted, and adopted each and all of those strategies.
Well, we know it’s not thaaat easy, but it’s like the work on strategising and prioritising has already been done (which is probably about half the hard work because it’s the part that involves all these stakeholders and complexity).
You’ll notice we haven’t said the SINGLE best idea was ‘Install more bike racks on Marine Tce‘, or ‘Build a Startup Hub‘ or ‘Improve fencing, signage and pedestrian access in the Chapman River Wildlife Corridor’ because those, and every single possible good idea has basically been talked about ten times in the last 4 years and ten different forums (including some MORE this week!). So, no need to call for more ideas.
Almost all of these strategies could or should be done in the next ten years, achieving the targets and criteria already set in the strategies and the community plan. If you need to CHOOSE between them because there’s not enough time and money (see point 5 re: manage expectations) then check the 2013-23 Strategic Community Plan. The relative priorities of all those ideas and strategies are ALREADY reflected in the Strategic Community Plan, and these priorities flow through to the strategies. For example, if “A sustainable built form and natural environment” is a priority in the Strategic Community Plan (see p. 17), then make the implementation of the capital works relating to the Local Biodiversity Strategy e.g. fencing to protect Bushland, or coastal management works a priority! If a measure of your achievements is “Quantity of waste recovered for re-use and recycling through the community” then implementing the capital works recommendations of the Strategic Waste Management Options Report should be a priority!
In case you’ve lost track or can’t find them on your website (to be honest, we still had trouble finding most of them), here are the list of some of strategies with capital works recommendations that should be implemented in the next 10 years using the Capital Works budget (in no particular order).
- Greater Geraldton Economic Development Strategy
- Local Bike Plan
- Towards a Digital Geraldton Strategy
- City Centre Carparking Management Plan
- Towards a Water Sensitive City Water Planning and Management Strategy
- IBM Smarter Cities Report
- Enabling a Digital and Carbon Neutral City’ Community TRUSTees Report
- City Centre Vibrancy Report
- Local Biodiversity Strategy
- Creative Community Strategy
- Strategic Waste Management Options Report
- Designing Our City — Final Report
- Sporting Futures Report
- Small Steps Towards 2029 Report
- Chapman River Wildlife Corridor Management Plan
So, we hope that helps. Thanks for the invitation, we think this whole #changesCGG participatory budgeting thing is a pretty interesting process, but it is a means to an end and deliberative processes and events are just ONE of many ways to engage which may be more or less appropriate in different situations. It may be that the submissions for capital works was just not the appropriate method at this point in time. We just haven’t seen enough clear action, communication or follow-up from previous forums and strategy processes about the different decisions and actions that have resulted. We want to see a different set of decisions made about capital works, a change in the trajectory of our community’s development, more trust developed, more a more sustainable, prosperous, diverse community that has the infrastructure for 80 to 100,000 people (as per the vision).
Please build on the good work, good relationships and good ideas that have already been developed…for the greater good in Greater Geraldton.
We look forward to working with you to implement your priority strategies and Build a Better City for 2029 and Beyond.
Pollinators Inc, members and friends.