Map-based community engagement in Australia: case Methven Park

18. Jan 2018 News
Map-based community engagement in Australia: case Methven Park

Moreland is a local government area in Metropolitan Melbourne. The local community wants to be actively involved in developing the city. How to gather reliable insights from the community and get a sufficient level of feedback?

Participatory tools can efficiently solve small-scale planning issues that however have a significant meaning for the local community. This was the case last summer in Moreland when the city council was about to begin the construction of a public toilet at Methven Park.

A new public toilet for an old 19th century park had been a debate between the council and the public for nearly twenty years.

”The community could not agree as to where the new toilet should go and the council did not want to put the toilet where it had been for a range of logistical and infrastructure reasons. And the traditional methods of consultation had been used – and there had been division and resistance amongst the community. For one reason or another over that course of twenty years nothing had happened”, says Marco Bass, Manager of Communications and Customer Service at the City of Moreland.

Early summer of 2017, when the construction work was about to begin, several community members expressed their concern especially related to the location of the toilet. Therefore the city council did not proceed with the construction work, deciding instead to ask the community once more for insights on the location of the toilet.

Reliability and efficiency with a map-based web survey

The chosen community engagement tools were Harava map survey, community events and phone voting. In the survey the council presented two optional locations for the building. The council also explained why due to logistics and infrastructure certain locations proposed by the community were unable to implement.

In Moreland community engagement is considered an essential part of urban development processes. The local community is very active and vocal and they want to have their voice heard. The council has to be able to confirm that the results of the engagement surveys are reliable.

We needed a platform that A) would tell us that the local community were having their say and B) would give us a statistically meaningful result” — Marco Bass, Manager of Communications and Customer Service at the City of Moreland

Bass says: ”So we needed a platform that A) would tell us that the local community were having their say and B) would give us a statistically meaningful result. And Harava, with being able to know who was voting and where they were voting from provided that absolutely beautifully. We got a very strong response and outcome that was beyond challenge.”

This ended the debate on the public toilet that had been going on for almost twenty years.

Community engagement had a genuine impact on the process

The council received 349 replies to the consultation. The majority of the answers were received with the Harava survey.

Over 80 percent of the respondents agreed that Methven Park needs a public toilet. Over 65 percent of the respondents preferred the provided option B close to the edge of the park. The council received also a number of comments on the appearance and colouring of the building.

The council went through the response data before making a final decision. As a conclusion, the toilet is now being built in the location preferred by a majority of the respondents.  Some improvements were also made to the appearance of the toilet.

Participatory tools are important in Moreland – the role of efficient marketing is essential

”Moreland is an unusual community in Australian cities – it is ethically, sociodemographically and politically extremely diverse. About 44 % of the population speak a language other than English at home. Because there is so much change going in Moreland particularly in urban densification and change to the suburbs, there is a lot of anxiety in the community about that change, and a desire to be consulted and to participate in how that change occurs”, Bass describes.

In Moreland City Council, community engagement is considered to be very important. It is important for the council to make sure that the desicions are in tune with community wishes and values.

Both traditional and digital methods of participation are used in Moreland. The traditional methods include addressed mail, public notices in newspapers and marketing material in council offices and buildings. On occasions, relevant communities of interest are approached to a consultation around current themes.

”In more recent years we have tried to do a lot more digitally online and we’ve used a range of online products to consult the community around a whole range of issues. And I think that in the last few years we’ve got more sophisticated in doing that, and particularly in marketing those surveys which in my opinion is becoming an increasingly vital part of getting a meaningful level of participation”, Bass says.

Harava GIS functionalities had a key role in the successful community engagement

Why did Moreland choose Harava?

”Well, I was very impressed by the GIS based functionality in Harava which at a basic but very important level allowed us to load up our own GIS data to, within reason –  guarantee that the respondents were actually residents of the municipality. In the past I haven’t come across an online product that has offered that. The live data that the platform produces is also critical because we can see if it is being skewed for one reason or another”, Bass says and continues:

”The visual interactivity that Harava offers particularly for a local government where a lot of the consultations are around planning or other place-based changes and initiatives,  your platform is extremely well adapted to have that sort of interaction.”, Bass says.

Harava survey tool is distributed in Australia by Arnetech. Kristian Jaakkola from Arnetech interviewed Marco Bass, Communications and Customer Service Manager at the City of Moreland for this article.