New Byron Shire Community Panel to Build Trust & Faith in Council

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Random committee meeting shot to go with the story.

BYRON SHIRE Council’s Mayor Simon Richardson said this week that recent feedback from work on Council’s Community Strategic Plan showed people had a general lack of trust and faith in the Council and wanted more community-led decision making.

“Let 2018 be the year when we build genuine bridges with our community. For that to happen there needs to be trust and the first step in this process is the Community Solutions Panel project,” Cr Richardson said.

“Over a series of sessions the panel will be tasked with developing a series of recommendations to solve our infrastructure challenge – and then these recommendations will be wholly adopted by Council.

“We’ve heard through our special rate variation consultation and recent engagement that infrastructure and ‘fixing the roads’ is a priority – this is the next phase of the process.

“The project will be designed and run by the newDemocracy Foundation, a not-for-profit research foundation which is a world leader in innovative and effective community engagement.

“Byron has a long and proud history of activism and it’s a tradition that continues today with residents coming forward to have their say on issues that are important to them – and it’s this spirit of involvement that we’re hoping to capture through the Community Solutions Panel process.

“The idea is that by reaching out to the whole community, we are gaining representation and thinking from residents who might not normally step forward or speak up. 

“This is a process of direct democracy; adding an extra level of community engagement to the stakeholder and engagement processes we currently run,” Cr Richardson said.

“It’s an opportunity to learn how to do things differently, and to think about decision-making from a fresh perspective,” he said.

Similar to the running of a court – information will be provided to the jury to make informed decisions. Local groups and experts will be provided opportunities to give information and make submissions. Council staff will provide full briefing notes and resources to the Panel and will be on call to answer any questions that come up during the Panel’s meetings.

“And it’s a trust building exercise, so it’s imperative that we put our money where our mouth is and genuinely listen to the decisions made by the Panel and act upon them,” he said.

newDemocracy CEO, Iain Walker, applauded Byron Shire Council for acknowledging that difficult problems warrant democratic innovation if they are to be resolved through trusted decision-making.

“Around the world, more and more people are trying to find ways to improve democracy, to make it more representative and aimed more at solving long term problems, with structures that restore trust.,” Mr Walker said.

“We know the Byron Shire community is uniquely active and passionate and that makes it the perfect place to try something different to fundamentally change democracy.

“I expect there will be a lot of people vocally sceptical of any action taken by Council. We want to hear from you – but instead of commenting on what’s wrong with a Council document, we’d like you to make your case on how you would solve the challenge of prioritising infrastructure. Your contribution will then be reviewed by a jury-style group of randomly selected people discussing and learning about the merits of various solutions before making a recommendation they can collectively support.

“Can we create a local Byron model that empowers everyday people in decision making and then share it around the world? Let’s give it a try,” Mr Walker concluded.

Over the next two weeks residents will be contacted via email with an invitation to register their interest in joining the panel. Around 28 panel members will be randomly selected by the newDemocracy Foundation, with the group broadly reflecting the demographics of the local area.. For more information about the project, go to www.yoursay.byronshire.com.au or call 6626 7000, or visit the newDemocracy Foundation’s website at www.newdemocracy.com.au.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The newDemocracy Foundation (nDF) is an independent, non-partisan research and development organisation. nDF is a not-for-profit organisation, not a consultancy, that aims to discover and develop, demonstrate alternatives which will strengthen and restore trust in public decision making. nDF conducts real world trials using random selection and deliberation as a central process. nDF is not a think tank and holds no policy views. nDF has convened deliberative projects across Australia on an array of topics and for a variety of political leaders, agencies and jurisdictions.

Highlights have included:

  • Geelong Citizens’ Jury (for Local Government Victoria, 2016), convened to provide recommendations to the Victorian Government on the question of how local citizens wanted to design their own local system of representation. Ten of 11 jury recommendations were accepted by the Government.
  • Nuclear Fuel Cycle Engagement (for South Australia’s Department of Premier & Cabinet, 2016), convened to tackle the contentious question of under what circumstances, if any, could South Australia pursue the opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste from other countries. After an exhaustive and challenging process, the final jury’s recommendation not to pursue the opportunity under any circumstances was adopted by the State Government.
  • Simultaneous metropolitan and regional juries (for Infrastructure Victoria, 2016), were convened to advise the agency on Victoria’s long- term infrastructure needs. The recommendations those juries produced were instrumental in the development of Victoria’s first ever 30-year infrastructure strategy.
  • The City of Melbourne People’s Panel (2014), convened to assist the Council in the development of a 10 Year Financial Plan spanning annual expenditure of approximately $400m, with a (contested) forecast $1bn funding shortfall across the decade. The Panel’s recommendations saw approximately $800m worth of measures adopted by the Council to close that gap.

Community Information Sessions – everyone’s invited to have their say:

Community workshops with newDemocracy, Councillors and Council’s senior executive team will also be held to provide you with an overview of how the Community Solutions Panel will be selected and how it will operate. The workshops will also provide opportunity to make a submission to the Panel using a template which will be provided (which you can complete then or take away with you). Workshops will be held as follows:

RSVP to ourbyron@byron.nsw.gov.au or call 6626 7290.


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