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  Case Studies
Case Studies on this page:
01 Wollondilly - Citizens' jury
02 Televoting in New Zealand
03 Search Conference—Victorian Roads Corporation
04 Focus Groups - NSW Meals on Wheels Association
05 Focus Groups - Development of youth crisis service
06 The Villawood Charrette
07 Brisbane City Council - Residents' Feedback Panel
08 Boulder, Colorado, USA. Residents' Feedback Panel
09 Blue Mountains City Council - New technologies in planning
10 Our Ballina- A small, regional, town-based citizens' jury
11 World's first combined televote and citizens' jury

Case Study 01 : Wollondilly Shire Council citizens' jury

A citizens' jury, called a “community panel”, was convened by the Wollondilly Shire Council, and organised by Twyford Consulting, to develop a social plan to describe the local community, summarise the key issues facing the community, and recommend strategies to address identified needs.

After advertisements were placed in local newspapers, residents interested in participating as jurors or presenters were provided with an information kit. Those who then lodged a formal application to participate were selected according to demographic criteria to achieve representativeness. Participants were reimbursed for their travel and child care costs.

Presenters were asked to prepare handouts with their main points. They were briefed in advance as to the key questions which were to be addressed, and tips on presenting including allowing time for questions and using anecdotes to explain complex or new ideas to jurors.

Jurors were briefed as to the procedures involved and order of events, told that they would be given time to ask questions of presenters, and provided with the key questions to be addressed.

The key lessons from the jury were that greater lead time was need to involve indigenous community representatives, jurors' capacity to absorb information was high and they felt they had learnt a great deal from their involvement, and this increased knowledge was due in part to the provision of good briefing materials and clear frameworks for discussion. It was also noted that the commissioning body was committed to respond to the jurors' report, which ensured the outcomes did not disappear but were acted on. This enhanced the importance of the process.

Costs were lower than anticipated because Council contributed resources free of charge. The consultancy fee was less than $10,000.

Source: Lyn Carson & Kath Gelber (2001) Ideas for Community Consultation: A discussion on principles and procedures for making consultation work, A report prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning


Case study 02 : Televoting in New Zealand

A New Zealand Televote was sponsored by the New Zealand Commission for the Future and funded by the NZ Parliament.

Four alternative futures for New Zealand were voted on by over 1000 participants, recruited through a nationwide Televote network coordinated by three universities. Another 4000 New Zealanders filled out Televote brochures printed in 12 newspapers nationally. Radio networks ran talk shows discussing the Televote.

The Televote resulted in increased awareness and community debate over the future for New Zealand. A few years after it was conducted, an academic who had been involved in coordinating the project expressed the view that the Televote had accurately predicted a general shift in public opinion regarding preferences about how the country should move into the future. Three years after the Televote, election results appeared to reinforce this shift as a new government was voted in.

Source: Lyn Carson & Kath Gelber (2001) Ideas for Community Consultation: A discussion on principles and procedures for making consultation work, A report prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning


Case Study 03 : Search Conference—Victorian Roads Corporation

In mid 1990, the Victorian Roads Corporation commissioned a team, led by Consultant Transport Engineers, to explore the allocation of arterial road space in Melbourne as part of a much larger study of Melbourne's traffic. A Search Conference was run in conjunction with this project to explore all related issues at the beginning of the study, and to stimulate debate beyond issues of traffic and engineering. Economic, social, environmental and urban form issues were to be considered, as were the needs of different user groups and conflict between competing needs.

The study lasted several months. The Search Conference was held during the first weeks of the study, and was fully analysed within two weeks. The objectives of the Search Conference were to:

  • search for ideas and uncover problems
  • form cooperative networks for further work
  • seek ways of implementing principles of ecologically sustainable development
  • provide guidance for a larger study into Melbourne's traffic

Participants who attended represented a range of disciplines and the community. On the day, small groups brainstormed ideas which were reported back to the plenary. Then a role play simulation to negotiate about sharing arterial roads was undertaken. This was followed by debriefing and identification of areas of conflict and agreement, and further small group work to discuss what needed to be done, what were the next steps, who was responsible, criteria for measuring success and accountability. Criteria for measuring success included the development of a sense of agreement and common cause, pride and pleasure in the new ideas and insights that arose from the consultation, clarity of articulation of issues, warmth developed among participants, and community ownership of the road problem.

The outcomes included moving the debate beyond previously intransigent and polarised opinions, and allowing participants' views to be incorporated into planning.

Source: Lyn Carson & Kath Gelber (2001) Ideas for Community Consultation: A discussion on principles and procedures for making consultation work, A report prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning


Case Study 04 : Focus Groups - NSW Meals on Wheels Association - review of pilot food service project

Between February and June 2000, the NSW Meals On Wheels Association, in partnership with three corporate partners: Goodman Fielder, Macquarie Valley Juices and Dairy Farmers, piloted a new breakfast and snack food service. The service was piloted by seven local Meals On Wheels services throughout NSW.

The Consultancy firm, GHD, was contracted to review the pilot and provide the partners with findings and recommendations about:

  • the effectiveness of the program for clients
  • the impact of the program on participating services
  • the effectiveness of the resources provided to assist services
  • the implications of rolling the program out state-wide, for the partners and service providers

The review was undertaken using a combination of stakeholder interviews, data collection and a series of focus groups with representatives of participating services.

Three focus group meetings were held on one day. These were with:

  • service coordinators
  • representatives of service management
  • volunteer workers from each service

Each focus group had 5-10 participants, and its own independent facilitator. The facilitator also took notes which formed the basis of a report to the commissioning agency. Participants were not paid, but refreshments were provided.

Each group worked through a series of questions about their experiences. Some common questions were used with each group, as well as questions designed to deal with some specific issues relevant only to each of the groups.
Questions included:

  • What, if any barriers did you encounter to implementing the pilot?
  • What difference did participating in the pilot make to your relationship with your clients?
  • In hindsight do you think you had enough information about the project before it began?
  • What strategies did you use to introduce the program to clients?
  • Which of these strategies worked for you and why?

Source: Lyn Carson & Kath Gelber (2001) Ideas for Community Consultation: A discussion on principles and procedures for making consultation work, A report prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning


Case Study 05 : Focus Groups - Development of an after hours crisis service for young people

A NSW government agency convened a series of focus groups to develop a model for an integrative after hours crisis service that was being planned for young people. An independent facilitator was commissioned to meet with separate groups of young people and service providers.

The young people were paid $20 to attend. The service providers attended as part of their work. The facilitator led groups of 10-15 participants through a series of pre-prepared questions: eg

What do you know about the issues?
What's happening now?
What of that is good?
What is not so good?
What should happen?

The responses were noted and a report was written for the commissioning government department. In the findings it was noted that the young people involved thought very creatively, and brought a fresh range of ideas to the table.

Because young people were involved, particular care was taken to situate the focus groups in an appropriate environment—in this case a youth centre - or a service with which young people were familiar. Refreshments were provided. There were fourteen focus groups in all - 8 with adults (service providers) and 6 with young people (the service users). Each focus group cost between $500 and $1000 (including facilitator's fees, report, participants' fees, refreshments).

Source: Lyn Carson & Kath Gelber (2001) Ideas for Community Consultation: A discussion on principles and procedures for making consultation work, A report prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning


Case Study 06 : The Villawood Charrette

The Villawood Charrette was held from 13 June to 17 June 1996. The charrette discussed the commercial centre of Villawood. The centre was originally designed in the 1950s, and identified problems included lack of pedestrian space, poor commercial location vis a vis main road traffic, complicated car entry, inadequate seating and shading, and run down buildings. It was undertaken after the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and the Minister for Housing jointly requested Fairfield Council and the Department of Housing to undertake an integrated planning study of vacant land, shops and transport in the area.

A Steering Committee, consisting of the General Manager and Director, Environmental Services of Fairfield Council, and the Director, Regional Manager and Villawood Place Manager from Fairfield Council, managed the project.

Before the charrette was held, local developers and residents were informed and invited to attend charrette meetings. Pre-charrette consultations identified the problems to be discussed and gathered data to be disseminated.

On the first day of the charrette, charrette teams visited the site. An open public meeting was held with a presentation from the charrette leader, and the public was invited to discuss their likes, dislikes and ideas (in small groups which then reported back to the whole group).

On day two, identified stakeholders met and formulated a policy statement. Focus meetings between stakeholders, members of the public and consultants enabled in-depth exploration of issues. The outcomes of these meetings were fed back to the charrette teams.

On day three, a design studio was opened to the public, and a design meeting was held to discuss potential outcomes and their feasibility. On day four these meetings continued. On day five, a public presentation was held to present findings and recommendations to the general community.

Following the conclusion of the charrette, follow-up meetings of the Steering Committee were held to confirm management support for the outcomes. The outcomes were reported to the Minister and Fairfield Council, and a Town Centre Redevelopment Task Group was established by Council to advise on the implementation of the options suggested by the charrette. The options were also publicly displayed and further feedback encouraged.

It was felt by the organisers that a charrette was most useful when there was broad public support for “doing something” in an area, and when all stakeholders were involved. The Steering Committee held the charrette to budget. The Villawood charrette cost approximately $80,000 to $100,000. Preparation time required at least three months. Providing the public with a design, which was easy to look at and understand, was preferable to producing a written document.

Source: Lyn Carson & Kath Gelber (2001) Ideas for Community Consultation: A discussion on principles and procedures for making consultation work, A report prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning


Case Study 07 : Brisbane City Council “Your City Your Say” A city-level Residents' Feedback Panel
used in conjunction with quantitative survey methods.

Brisbane City Council governs approximately 820,000 residents. It initiated the Your City Your Say project in 1998. The panel was designed to enable public input into developing strategic direction for Brisbane (Peel 1999). (The large size of Brisbane City Council means it is equivalent to some smaller State government areas.)

Newsletters were sent to all Brisbane residents calling for residents to join the panel, and providing background information relevant to strategic planning (such as environmental issues of concern, community infrastructure, and the financial state of Council). Attached to the newsletter was a registration form asking for the name and address of registrants, as well as some representative information such as their age group, sex and occupation.

Around 6500 residents are registered in the panel, and some have participated in visioning activities and focus groups on issues such as traffic and transport. The Council has had to target young people, indigenous people and women for involvement, because they remained under-represented following an initial invitation to join (Peel 1999).

Every few months newsletters are sent to registrants, containing information on community projects and how to get involved. Survey questionnaires are often included in the newsletters, which can be folded and posted back to Council free of charge. Survey results are published in later newsletters.

Questionnaires have sought feedback on issues including people's definition of their understanding of “community”, the importance of a range of facilities and services, uses and ways of improving the Brisbane River, and traffic and transport issues.

The 'Your City Your Say' project utilises new technologies to enhance accessibility, and can be viewed online at www.brisbane.qld.gov.au

Source: Lyn Carson & Kath Gelber (2001) Ideas for Community Consultation: A discussion on principles and procedures for making consultation work, A report prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning


Case Study 08 : Boulder, Colorado, USA - A city-based Residents' Feedback Panel used in conjunction with survey methods.

A Residents' Feedback Panel was created to discuss Boulder's transportation system. Under discussion was the appropriateness of an extensive highway system, vis a vis facilities for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users. The project was supported by the Transportation Advisory Committee [TAC], the organisation responsible for creating a Transportation Master Plan.

Participants in the RFP were randomly selected. Seven hundred residents were selected, stratified by location and housing type, to receive an invitation from the mayor to participate in the RFP. [This is the “personalised letter writing” method of random selection outlined in the accompanying “Principles” report.] Responses were received from 1/3 of these people, and a panel of 147 participants was formed. Participants were told in advance that the project would require a commitment of approximately 12 months.

A variety of quantitative survey methods were then used, including mailed questionnaires, a telephone survey, and two face-to-face interviews at the residents' homes. Each participant was interviewed by the same interviewer both times. During the 12 month period, only 10% of participants withdrew.

The project was run by a policy analyst and a team of interviewers, who developed information materials, designed and administered the surveys, collected and analysed data, and presented the findings in written form to the TAC. Participants reported favourably on their experience.

The TAC used the panel's feedback in four ways:

  1. where applicable, as evidence of community support for its policies
  2. as a means of resolving differences among the committee when the community expressed clear support for one of two or more options
  3. to revamp or relinquish policies with demonstrably weak community support
  4. to justify and explain its policies where community support was weak.

The panel therefore affected the direction of planning and the mode of decision making of the TAC.

Source: Lyn Carson & Kath Gelber (2001) Ideas for Community Consultation: A discussion on principles and procedures for making consultation work, A report prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning


Case study 09 : Blue Mountains City Council - The use of new technologies in planning

A public hearing was held in 1998 to discuss the Council new draft Local Environmental Plan 1997. The planning documentation and thousands of submissions were placed on computer. During the public hearing the stored maps, submissions and aerial photography were projected onto large screens and information was manipulated using split screens to show submissions and planning constraints simultaneously. It offered clear visual demonstrations for those in the public gallery of Council's and residents' proposals, coupled with maps and photographs that allowed constructive dialogue to take place.

The draft LEP 2000 has built on the 1997 process. New technologies have enabled improvements in the accuracy of the information and visuals that can be stored electronically. The draft LEP 2000 is soon to go on public exhibition when residents across the Blue Mountains local government area will have an opportunity to interact with an electronic work place, via computers placed in various locations. The LEP, once gazetted, will also be available on CD and via the Internet. BMCC hopes that it will soon be possible to gazette an LEP from this purely electronic form.

Estimate of cost: including public exhibition in 1997, public hearing in 1998 and work completed since then (eg technology importation & development, laser scanning & other specialist studies) is a minimum of $350,000 (excluding staff time).

Source: Lyn Carson & Kath Gelber (2001) Ideas for Community Consultation: A discussion on principles and procedures for making consultation work, A report prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning


Case study 10: Our Ballina - A small, regional, town-based citizens' jury

In 1994, Lyn Carson was asked by the Ballina Information Service to conduct a visioning exercise to gauge community opinions and ideas on development within the Central Business District. A decision was made to train interested volunteers as an exercise in community capacity building.

First, general information was distributed to all residents in a mailbox drop. Then names were randomly selected, and those selected were visited in person by the coordinators of the project. A venue was booked, catering was organised, informational material gathered and speakers organised.

Some citizens selected were reluctant to participate - particularly older women who felt they had little to contribute. On the day of the consultation, fifteen participants turned up out of an expected twenty. The majority of participants were older residents, reflecting the ageing population of the area.

After introductions, participants were given time to look at the displays and develop some initial thoughts about the meeting process and the topic under discussion. Then a town planner, a lecturer in planning, an employee of the tourist information centre, a member of a local environmental society, a high school student and a shire councillor each spoke and were available to answer questions. During discussion time, residents took the opportunity to air their own concerns.

This was followed up with small group work, involving modelling with clay, crayons and other craft materials. This session was very successful and animated, and developed some innovative suggestions. Each small group reported back to the group as a whole on the key elements of their discussion, and agreed on a list of five things they valued and wanted retained in the planning process, and five things they would like to change. Priorities were voted on, and volunteers agreed to compile a report for the local Council, the participants and the media.

In the weeks that followed, participants continued to enquire as to the status of the report. They said they found the process enjoyable and successful. The report was used to lobby the local government to act on the group's recommendations.

In this case, because participants and organisers were volunteers, the costs of the jury amounted to only $400.

Source: Lyn Carson & Kath Gelber (2001) Ideas for Community Consultation: A discussion on principles and procedures for making consultation work, A report prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning


Case study 11:World's first combined televote and citizens' jury

Australia's first combined televote and citizens' jury:
Information or informed discussion?
Lyn Carson

Australia is no more advanced than other Western countries when it comes to innovative methods for citizen participation in decision making but there are some signs for optimism. Australia has an impressive history of referenda (nearly fifty referenda have been put to the population so far) but few succeed. In 1999 a referendum was held to decide whether Australia should become a republic but, alas, the model was rejected by a majority of citizens. Prior to this referendum a deliberative poll was convened and this showed how much our preferences can change if we have the chance to engage in informed deliberation. Sadly the wider population did not have an opportunity to do so (see Worldwide Direct Democracy Newsletter, vol 2, no 2, 2000).

Recently an interesting project took place in Sydney. Dr Stuart White from the Institute for Sustainable Futures was commissioned to undertake an independent review of container deposit legislation for the Minister for Environment in New South Wales (NSW is Australia's largest state). Container deposit legislation or CDL is legislation to require a mandatory deposit on containers-eg soft drink bottles- to encourage their return by consumers. It was obvious that the beverage and retail industries opposed CDL and local government and environmental groups supported it. The issue was complex and opinions were polarised. What did citizens think?

There had been considerable quantitative research on this topic. A number of opinion polls had been completed by industry and government in Australian states without CDL and all polls showed overwhelming support for the idea (a beverage industry poll showed 77% support). One survey completed in the only Australian state that has CDL also showed strong satisfaction (95% support). Therefore, it seemed that citizens who did not understand the complexity of enacting CDL supported the idea but so did people who were living with the legislation. What further information could be derived from social research? Well, Dr White wanted to know not only what citizens thought about the idea of paying a deposit on beverage containers but also how they thought this deposit should be refunded (eg at shops, depots, reverse-vending machines). The findings were instructive for those with an interest in deliberative democracy.

The televote involved 400 citizens who had been randomly selected. They were surveyed about their opinions then asked if they would participate further. At that stage 71% supported CDL (consistent with earlier opinion polls). The televote participants were sent information that had been agreed to by all parties in the debate (achieving this consensus was no mean feat!). Then televote participants were surveyed again. The level of support dropped to 59%. One could speculate that support dropped away once people understood the complexity of the issue and the difficulty of living with CDL but this is inconsistent with the poll that showed 95% support from those who are already dealing with the complexity and inconvenience of CDL. And the televote response is in sharp contrast to the citizens' jury result. We speculate that the reduced support occurred because of the complexity of the issue and the difficulty of resolving that complexity by talking to friends and answering a survey. More deliberation was needed for people to deal with their unanswered concerns.

In contrast 2000 people were randomly selected and invited to respond if they wanted to be part of a citizens' jury. Of those that responded 12 were chosen (and 11 participated). Prior to knowing anything about CDL 7 supported it and 4 were unsure. After reading the same printed information as the televoters 6 supported CDL, 4 were unsure and one was opposed. Subsequent to this, the eleven participants had an opportunity to question experts about CDL. They listened, argued and perplexed and sought more information and discussed and argued some more. Eventually the group produced a written report that sought to satisfy the needs of all stakeholders. The eleven participants were unanimous in their support for CDL but, importantly, had been able to apply conditions to that support. Their concerns had been satisfied. The jury's recommendations were incorporated in full into the Final Report.

By the end of this project, like the jury members, we had learnt a lot. Those of us who were involved in the design and implementation of both participatory methods felt certain that good information and a willingness to discuss this information had not been enough. Yes, information is essential for democratic practice but so, too, is informed discussion amongst equals, that is, discussion beyond a sharing of printed information and mutual confusion and biases. Sustainable democracy needs opportunities for citizens to directly decide about issues of importance but these opportunities should be supported by discursive spaces in which reasoned and considered debate can occur.

Of course, the big question is: did the decision makers take the citizens' views into account? CDL is so contentious that politicians want to bury it. Already they have claimed that there are national impediments to implementing CDL in NSW and this attitude will definitely stall any legislative change. Interestingly, the Minister for Environment has printed copies of the Review's first two volumes only. The third volume which covers the social research described above was not included. Thankfully, it is available electronically (see Links).


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