Community Consultation

I have just returned from a community consultation for a footbridge that was washed out just about a year ago. We discovered it would be at least two years before a replacement was constructed. After spending all day in a facilitation training session, it was pretty disheartening but not surprising to see zero facilitation skill displayed by the council reps nor the bridge engineers presenting their findings. In essence, the outcome was not an experience of being consulted, especially when the question about who was recording what the community was saying couldn’t be answered.

It was pathetic, and my faith in council has dropped to just about nothing. The start of the meeting didn’t thank people for coming, didn’t state the purpose of the meeting, where they were at in the process and only just outlined how the meeting would go. When chaos broke out and the engineer answering a question became a 1:1 conversation and people started talking amongst themselves, the council representative did nothing. At one point several painful minutes later he got the attention of the room and then quietly said, if there’s nothing else… not, does anyone else have any more questions, or thanking people, or being clear about next steps. Clearly a box-ticking exercise, not a genuine interest in drawing on the care and commitment present in the room full of local residents.

From the Friends of Edgars Creek website, not an image used in the presentation.

The wisdom in that room was vastly underutilised, people who clearly knew the area better than the engineers and council staff, people who had lived there and had family living in the area for 40+ years. People who had seen three bridges built, and washed away. Many of the people in the room were from Friends of Edgars Creek, had planted up the area over years, noting that Melbourne Water had provided funds for planting, yet they were the blockage in terms of standards for a bridge across a waterway they manage.

There was so much disconnect, the Edgars Creek Strategic plan being raised as a factor in the planning, yet the engineer and council rep not seeming to know about it. Later we heard they had been provided with a copy, but it wasn’t acknowledged. Very poor communication skills. I’m considering writing a letter and making observations about my experience and what could have made a difference. My cynical self noted┬áthat council really doesn’t give a shit. That the right hand not knowing what the left is doing is just normal, and the care factor in being any different wasn’t sufficient enough to warrant a letter.

The upside is that I got to see who cares about the issue. Lots of longtime residents, very few young people, a couple of families, mom’s talking about the impact it has on getting their kids to school, many members of Friends of Edgars Creek talking about the plantings, the strategic plan and clearly a strong understanding of every angle, incline and tree in the vicinity. It’s nice┬áto know that people care and that as a new resident of a reasonably unwelcome development I can contribute to the expression of care for the place we live in.

This post is 33 in 45 posts for 45 years.