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A series of summaries describing community consultation projects were prepared for Kimbra White Consulting.
Open Space Strategy Community Forum, City of Melbourne.
The Situation. The City of Melbourne is renowned for its public open space which residents and visitors enjoy for a variety of sporting and recreational activities. Many people are attracted to live in Melbourne because of this and the city has gained a reputation for its ‘liveability’. Public open space consists of parks, reserves, waterways and publicly owned gardens, as well as major attractions such as the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG ) and The Zoo. In the Report on Parks and Open Space Strategy Forum written by the City of Melbourne it is reported that public open space contributes to social connectedness, physical and mental health, biodiversity, cultural heritage preservation, the economy and the growth of culture.
The City of Melbourne’s draft Open Space Strategy was developed to plan for the future management of the City’s extensive public open space over the next fifteen years. Developing the strategy occurred in two stages. Stage One involved surveying approximately 1800 residents and developing the draft document. Stage Two involved seeking feedback on the draft strategy through a number of activities. The main consultation activity associated with Stage Two consisted of a Community Forum in which a demographically diverse group of residents and interest groups met to provide feedback on aspects of the draft strategy. Kimbra White was appointed by the City of Melbourne to design and run the Community Forum.
The Challenge. Recruiting people to volunteer to attend a forum to discuss public open space (in a city already recognised for doing so) was thought to risk very low recruitment numbers. In addition a broad sample of the population was required who were willing to discuss high level strategy. A method of recruitment was required that could deliver a broad sample of people willing to discuss the management and planning of public open space for the next fifteen years.
Another challenge of the Forum was to find an appropriate method of gathering participant feedback during the Forum, that enabled participants to provide their feedback immediately and anonymously.
The Work. In order to assemble a diverse group of residents for the Forum Kimbra White undertook to recruit participants directly from original survey recipients. People were randomly selected based on four categories (suburb, housing type, gender, and age). Those selected were contacted directly by email and telephone and invited to attend the Forum. In total 66 people attended the evening Forum.
The Forum was designed to achieve three main objectives: to inform participants about the overall direction of the strategy; to gain in-depth feedback on the original survey content; and to gather direct feedback on specific precinct plans contained in the draft strategy.
Kimbra White utilised keypad technology as a method to gather feedback during the forum. Following group discussion of a particular issue or question, each participant was able to immediately and anonymously register a vote on their keypad. This enabled everyone at the Forum to have their say. All participants were able to see the results of group voting patterns, which had the effect of generating further group discussion and led to greater insight into the thoughts and feelings of the participants.
The Results. By utilising random sampling a broad sample of people was successfully recruited to attend the Forum and provide feedback on the draft strategy. This solved a perceived barrier to recruitment associated with potential disinterest in the matter of the future planning for public open space in the City of Melbourne. The Forum successfully brought together a demographically diverse group of people who were able to provide in depth feedback and a valuable sample of local resident’s aspirations, values and planning preferences.