Stop, collaborate and listen: 5 ways to work with your community

by | Apr 27, 2018

The famed words from the Vanilla Ice one hit wonder – stop, collaborate and listen – contains some important lessons for those working with their communities.

From our experience a collaborative approach between local councils and their communities is a key ingredient to the success of a project. Indeed many communities now expect this as par for the course. Although meeting this expectation is not always possible from a budget or time perspective. But, if we take the time to stop and plan a collaborative approach, it can be factored into the budget and timeframe for a project from the outset.

Lessons in working collaboratively

The UTS Centre for Local Government – Walking with Communities report – highlights the importance of local councils establishing a meaningful and legitimate way of communicating with their communities. This is particularly in the context of local area renewal.

Whilst this study focuses on collaboration in a broader sense, it provides some valuable lessons which apply to small and large scale projects delivered by local councils:

1. Local councils are in a unique position to work collaboratively with their communities. This is particularly so in regional communities where local councils are the connectors and main provider of infrastructure or services.

2. When it boils down to it, local councils exist to serve their communities. Sometimes this basic fact can be overlooked in the planning and implementation of a project. This can leave communities’ off-side, disengaged and distrustful of the outcome. Take time to pause and remember this fact.

3. Collaboration takes more time – don’t rush it. This means taking time to talk with and listen to your community, and empowering them to be part of the process. A community that is listened to, will often be more willing to listen to their local council – it works both ways.

4. Collaboration leads to greater ownership of the outcome. This is because the community will have a valid voice from the start and will be included in the decision making. As opposed to decisions being made and imposed by others.

5. There needs to be a shift of thinking from focusing on the specific area relevant to your job to working across your organisation or issue. In a local council context this means taking a step back:

  • look at an issue from a broader perspective and from the eyes of the person who ultimately will use / benefit from the end product
  • break down silos within your organisation
  • look to partner with other stakeholders who may be better placed to address the needs and interests of your community.

Collaboration examples

We have been proud to work with communities such as Shoalhaven Heads and Berry on the South Coast of NSW where we have assisted to bridge community desire to strategic planning that is understood and embraced by the local council. We also know of others, such as Kyogle Council’s Community Masterplan’s Project, that are also pursuing this direction and congratulate them for doing so.

However, we also know that a collaborative approach is not appropriate for all projects. In this case, it is critical to communicate with the community early and upfront, so they have a crystal clear understanding of what their role is in the process and decision making.

We believe having a healthy and collaborative relationship between communities and councils should not be something that is seen as an ideal rather than a reality.

If you are interested in working collaboratively with your community, get in touch with us:

Steve Thompson Director Planning and Strategy

Steve Thompson

Director - Planning and Strategy

T   0419 700 401


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