Yankalilla’s most extensive community consultation underscores the power of a community outreach engagement approach.
When it was time for South Australia’s District Council of Yankalilla to talk about the future, an integrated community outreach approach drew robust participation from a diverse and dispersed population, generating strong community buy-in to envision priorities for a shared future. It’s also placed Yankalilla in the running for the 2020 IAP2 Core Values Awards in the category of Planning.
“You really did hear us”
“The engagement was all about talking to the community … and really sitting back and listening.” Nigel Morris, CEO, District Council of Yankalilla
Yankalilla Council recently called on its community to picture the future together in their most extensive community consultation yet: ‘Nature’s Best, Let’s Plan the Rest.’ Bringing on-the-ground priorities and aspirations to decision-makers on a range of domains, the consultation will inform the Strategic Plan for 2020-2030 with 12 Key Priorities.
The unique difference with Yankalilla’s community engagement approach was reaching out with a ‘blank page’ first and listening intently to gather community insight, ideas and concerns upfront. With Council leadership and buy-in – and successful integration of offline and online methods – it successfully produced a consultation that engaged a substantial 10% of the community.
Nigel Morris, CEO, District Council of Yankalilla, reflects on how the engagement defined its success with an open-ended approach to capturing community priorities:
We went to the community and said we want to listen to you. Let’s have a conversation with you. Let’s listen to what you want before we go back and draft a plan … The engagement was all about talking to the community and having those conversations and really sitting back and listening. So when we go back out with a draft plan which we prepare based on their feedback, to listen to the community and have them say “You really did hear us”, is what is going to be the mark of success.
The District’s success also demonstrates the potential of a digital-first approach to engagement. Bringing digital tools and processes into the planning and design of engagement from the start, rather than tacking it on subsequently, the dedicated engagement site served as a central hub for online consultation. Your Say Yankalilla, the District’s dedicated engagement site, carried crucial messaging and leadership from the Council, in addition to providing community members with a way to have their say. But that’s not all. Community responses from social media and offline events and questionnaires were continuously fed to the site to activate engagement and generate and collate themes for analysis. Even as Yankalilla drew from a range of methods to capture community insight, the site enabled a cohesive space where it could all come together.
Capturing the Range of Local Insight
Home to a population of 4,500 permanent residents and around 16,000 non-resident and visiting community members on weekends and holidays, the District reaches across a sprawling 750 square kms. In creating a strategic management plan, the Council had to speak to the interests of a diverse population distributed across the region in its townships and rural communities. Woven through a multitude of domains, the project to imagine Yankalilla’s future for the decade ahead had to address youth and senior priorities, the environment, education, farming, fishing, disabilities, the arts, and related issues across their permanent and non-resident ratepayer population.
Through the consultation, Yankalilla’s localities and townships highlighted their common goals and shared values, and their differences too. On the topic of growth, for instance, some communities were looking forward to change while others were not. Some of these revelations brought fresh insight to Elected Members: “Some of the Elected Members, through that process, really did learn about the differences between the townships and had put some assumptions in place before – but after the engagement process they’d realized some of those townships were very different from others,” notes facilitator and engagement consultant Becky Hirst, who played a key role in the consultation.
Internal buy-in was strengthened as the consultation progressed and unlocked its potential. As CEO Nigel Morris attests: “In the end, I was proud of (the Elected Members) to sit back and listen and hear what it was all about first and get heavily involved in the session…As the process progressed, we could see that when they were listening they were hearing many great new ideas coming from the community.”
On the subject of new ideas for the future, the District’s youth demographic are major stakeholders. Highlighting the appetite for change, youth responses to the consultation are vital, as Nigel Morris points out, the ten-year-olds of today will be twenty-year-olds in the timespan that the strategic plan will cover. Therefore, children were engaged with the same open-ended approach, but with a more creative, child-friendly method of capturing their contributions. In the sessions for children designed by Becky Hirst, participants were tasked with drawing their vision for the future and providing accompanying keywords or a statement. These illustrations were then showcased through the storytelling tool on Your Say Yankalilla.
Creating Community Buy-In
Yankalilla’s diverse and dispersed range of interests and voices compelled engagement planers to take the engagement through to all the ways in which the community was likely to respond. This community outreach approach was flexible in that it brought people into conversations as well as took conversations out to where best to engage a diverse and wide-reaching populace. Engagement planners reached into a combination of traditional and digital media for this capability. As Hirst points out, this meant asking when, where, and how was the best way to engage these diverse communities.
The consultation’s external offline events included township forums, topic-based panel discussion events, interactive exhibitions, and school forums. The timing and venue of the events responded to the local knowledge of the Council staff and engagement planners. For instance, holding events away from Council’s formal venues lent itself to reconfiguring the tone of participation. When it was suggested that events for non-resident ratepayers be held on Friday evenings, there were initial concerns about the timing. But, as it turned out, these events drew a full house.
Yankalilla took the big questions out to the community via social media, traditional brochures mailed out to community members, events, and online on Your Say Yankalilla. But while the mediums differed, the messaging, branding and open-ended approach remained consistent across the board. The website, in its unifying role, was fed with responses from across mediums. Not only did this compile responses so that themes could be easily drawn from them, but it also served to populate online discussion forums with these responses to motivate people to contribute online. The site was instrumental in maintaining a closed-loop, capturing, compiling, documenting, and submitting responses across mediums for analysis before taking the insights and outcomes back to the community.
The Added Value of Community Engagement
There is growing evidence that the benefits of community engagement extend beyond the transactional giving and taking of information to foster the relationships and connections that sustain communities. These outcomes are crucial to fulfilling the community-building promise and potential of engagement.
CEO Nigel Morris underlines this dimension of participation:
Community engagement is not all about us learning new information from the community. It’s about the community learning from the community themselves. And it’s really nice to see neighbours meeting each other in real life for the first time and realising that they had common goals and common themes. A lot of friendships were made during the process and would continue after.
For Yankalilla’s mixture of demographics and stakeholders, the consultation provided a way for participants to connect with and be heard by decision-makers, other community members, and stakeholders. Speaking to this community-building power of engagement, a community member reveals:
Each of the sessions provided an opportunity for permanent residents and non-permanent residents to meet and hear each other’s opinions which sometimes are from different perspectives. The opportunity for these two groups to meet is rare but their feedback is valuable in future planning.
Yankalilla’s integrated community outreach approach lent itself to a substantial engagement rate. Community references for the Council’s nomination reflect how this approach resonated on various levels. A Normanville resident who was invited to be on panels for forums on aging and the arts points out:
The two forums I attended were really well organised and both were facilitated professionally with clear explanations about the process, timekeeping and most importantly to encourage discussion…The forums were enjoyable and had a relaxed feel to them which really encouraged people to participate in the conversations and their contributions were greatly appreciated.
Equally, across mailed brochures, face-to-face events, online engagement, and social media, the consultation’s ‘one-size-doesn’t-fit-all’ approach was bolstered by consistent messaging, and the effective creation of welcoming and safe places to listen and be heard. As a participant observes: “The tone of the event, from the advertising and invitation right through to the facilitation of the actual events, was consistently positive and inclusive … It was refreshing to be able to hold a community discussion with differing opinions and have everyone around you feel safe to speak and to have differing opinions but to still be heard.”
This consistency extended to how the community were kept informed on where their input was going and how it was being used. This was experienced across the consultations. From a local business owner praising the fact that it was “fantastic to see a comprehensive report emailed out so soon after the consultation process” to a participant in events on environment and aging, who states, “Follow up from other members of the team with summary emails of the process were an excellent part of the overall consultation.” In addition to acknowledging the community’s contribution, this closing the loop is essential to creating accountability and transparency for engaged communities. The consultation’s youth engagement focus also struck a chord: “As a parent of teenagers and young adults I was impressed at the effort that went into ensuring the young people within the community had a fair opportunity to participate and voice their opinions.” A sentiment echoed by another participant who points up the inclusiveness of the consultation was key to fostering community awareness: “lncluding the opinions of the local school children – the next generation – was a commendable exercise and, hopefully, can be conducted similarly with future projects to help foster community awareness, pride and an interest in the affairs of the district.”
Tune in to learn more about how Yankalilla crafted its digital-first, community outreach approach to engagement and earned a nomination for the IAP2 Core Values Awards.