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Consultation is a dialogue amongst community and council. e-Consultation can enhance traditional face-to-face or paper-based consultation tools.

This Guide will look specifically at how you can use e-forums, online polls and online surveys.

Developing greater citizen participationEdit

You can use e-consultation tools to increase the public’s level of involvement with local government. You may already do things to enhance community engagement and participation in government, such as running open forums on local issues, using surveys to find out what issues matter to your local citizenry, or having a suggestion box in your Council foyer. It is not a great leap to run the same kind of general forums and surveys on your website or have online feedback and your say forms.

Darebin eForum has more users and members than most of its public meetings or surveys http://eforum.darebin.vic.gov.au/


The key to making these tools work, as with all consultation, is to act on the community input – for example, on the basis of the e-forum discussions or survey results, your Council could pick focus areas for policy development and let the community know what action you are taking.

Darebin eForum: Arts and Leisure Strategy

Darebin City Council held a discussion in December 2006 - January 2007 on the Arts and Leisure Strategy which it proposes to develop. This is an example of using the eForum for direct input into current policy making.

Go to http://eforum.darebin.vic.gov.au/aaa_division/index_html to read the discussion.


Consulting community members in the policy making processEdit

There are two main points at which consultation with community is particularly helpful in policy making:

  • at the beginning, when you have an issue you want to develop a policy on and are looking for general ideas and views from the community - “blue skying”
  • once you have a policy approach and want to get community input before it is finalised – this stage is generally known as consultation
“Consultation isn't just about asking citizens for their opinions; it is about triggering discussions and then actively involving people with democratic processes and their communities.”
International Centre for Local e-Democracy UK


Blue-skyingEdit

Your Council (eg you, your boss or a Councillor) may have identified an issue which you want to have general discussion on before you start developing policy or deciding your program priorities.

Example: Your Council wants to talk about youth services

For example, you may have identified youth services as a real concern for your local community and you want to have a discussion on what should be done before you go ahead and draft policy for more targeted consultation.

In this situation, you might hold an open meeting inviting any member of the public to come along and discuss the issue, or you might take a paper survey to find out people’s general views.

Using e-consultation tools, you could also:

  • put the topic on an online forum and open it for comments and discussion
  • conduct an online survey asking people questions about youth services
  • specifically attract young people to online discussion and comment using online media like video or podcasts on your website which link back to the discussion of the issue


Consultation on proposed policyEdit

Consultation on a proposed policy approach is a recognised step in the development of policy by government officials on behalf of government. For more information about consultation generally, visit:

Currently, you might:

  • develop a draft discussion paper or policy paper and release it for community members’ comment
  • hold open meetings and meetings with specific community representatives
  • form a working group of people in the field to advise Council in the project’s development.

Example: your Council is about to develop an urban renewal strategy.

You have a consultation paper and want dialogue on it – a conversation amongst community members and with you - not just one-way feedback where the public sends you submissions.

Using e-consultation tools, you could:

  • use an online forum to discuss specific set of issues arising from the paper in an ongoing online dialogue. You could run one set of issues one week, then the next set of issues in the second week, and so on, just as you would run a meeting agenda
  • invite people into discussions as they arise and maintain interest by starting up related discussion threads (“hot threads”) regularly
  • conduct quick online polls of views on specific aspects of the issue

To make decisionsEdit

You might want to get a clear direction from community members on a specific issue with their input helping to establish a clearer mandate. In this instance you could use an online poll or survey.

Overview table: aims and e-consultation toolsEdit

The following table matches goals of consultation with e-Consultation tools.

General goalSpecific goalExisting Consultation toolse-Consultation tools
General engagementCouncil wants to encourage general engagement and participation by communityHold open meetings, run surveys on what issues are important to locals, have a suggestion box at Council foyerOnline forum, online survey, online feedback form
Early policy development - blue-skyingCouncil has identified an issue and wants to have general discussion around what to do about it, eg youth servicesHold open meetings, run surveys asking specific questions and getting views on the chosen issue, eg youth servicesOnline forum with discussion topic focus on youth services, online surveys, use youth targeted media to get interest eg video/podcasts
Mid-policy development – consultationCouncil wants to get community input on a proposed policy, eg “draft youth services strategy”Put out a discussion paper or consultation draft of a strategy incorporating a feedback form and survey, hold stakeholder group meetings with community representativesHold a youth services sector open e-forum, publish an online article and link to a e-forum discussion open for a specific time period and moderated by someone from youth services policy area, set up an online survey same as that distributed with hardcopy paper, specifically invite key stakeholders into discussion, invite the youth services sector in to the e-forum and invite “experts” to participate in a time limited online discussion
Feedback to communityCouncil has finalised its policy and wants to let community know the results of their inputPublish final policy with a consultation reportSend out an email newsletter and publish an article on website on results of consultation and actions taken

For further information on e-consultation and its role in policy development a further reference in an Australian context is the Online Policy Consultation document available at http://www.agimo.gov.au/practice/delivery/checklists

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