How often do we actually act on the informed will of the people?

With density, population growth and transport pressures never far from people's minds, how do we work with our communities to be part of a process that engenders ownership, understanding and trust?

We look towards processes that not only engage with our communities, but also empower them!

Late last year I was fortunate enough to participate in a Master Class at the University of Sydney focused on Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement. Facilitating the Master Class was Lyn Carson (affectionately known as Carson). Carson is a professor in applied politics at the University of Sydney Business School and Director of the New Democracy Foundation.

Over a period of three days, approximately 20 people from a wide variety of backgrounds soaked up the wisdom of Carson and her fellow compatriots, we undertook a range of practical exercises and got to know each other using methods that underpin deliberative processesand we had some fun along the way.

Straight off the bat we explored the notion that democracy is not about voting, it's about acting on the informed will of the people. You may say that's obvious, however when it relates to how we plan our communities, can we truly say we use democratic engagement processes? It's a question I should ask myself every time.

If you were to use a deliberative democratic technique to engage your community, that is, hand over some level of decision making to a group of randomly selected community members, there are five fundamental principles that you need to apply. These are, random selection, time, information, authority and a blank sheet of paper. Follow these simple principles and you will have a powerful way of creating a genuine democratic outcome. Just think how trust and respect can be turned around for your organisation!

Developing ideas is also a key facet of deliberative processes, however it struck me that the simple process or techniques used to generate ideas can be used in a plethora of situations.  At TPG we are all about developing ideas, so we strive to ensure these simple techniques help our clients and us.

Another fundamental learning was in the area of 'strategic questioning'.  It would appear that we need to look at planning our places and communities from a different perspective. Perhaps we need to stop giving people the answer and give them the question instead.  Instead of "here is a building in this location and it accommodates 200 apartments", why not ask the community "we need to accommodate 350 people in this community how can we work together to make this happen?"

To quote Fran Peavey...

"What would our world be like if every time we were listening to a gripe session, some one would ask "I wonder what we can do to change that situation?" and then listening carefully for the answers to emerge and helped that group to begin to work for change?"

It was a very rewarding Master Class that was full of great ideas about how we can better engage with our communities, and as we evolve our cities and towns we need to find better ways to work collaboratively. After all, why are we planning at all if not for people, so perhaps people need to be a much greater part of the process?

If you are passionate about getting a great outcome for your project then I encourage you to come and chat to TPG Conversations.

Cath Blake-Powell, Director + Principal TPG Conversations


We'd like to let you know of an exciting change here at TPG Town Planning, Urban Design and Heritage.

We have joined forces with Western Australia's only specialist place-making consultancy, Place Match, to create an exclusive one-stop shop for place creation services.

Click here for more information.

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