How the City of Casey built historic advocacy campaign success
In his recent webinar with Bang the Table, Sid Wynen reveals how the City of Casey crafted and delivered the Commit to Casey advocacy campaign, securing $1 billion and $3.6 billion in direct and indirect funding prior to the Victorian election.
Drawing on his extensive experience in community engagement, advocacy, and public policy – and his insights from helming the Commit to Casey campaign – Wynen unpacks the key elements of successful local government advocacy.
Commit to Casey spoke to the needs and aspirations of Victoria’s largest, most populous municipality and fastest-growing council. With almost 350,000 residents and a projected population of over 500,000 by 2041, Casey is no stranger to the opportunities and challenges that face growing communities. In advocating for the community, the Council called on State and Federal Government to set out the infrastructure, services, and funding necessary to plan for a liveable, sustainable future. Involving local residents, businesses, and leaders, the success of Commit to Casey holds a number of lessons for the effective design and delivery of community-engaged local government advocacy campaigns.
How a strategic approach to advocacy shaped Commit to Casey
A fundamental element in the success of Commit to Casey was the framework on which it was built. However, this is a recent development. Prior to the creation of an overarching framework, advocacy efforts were plagued by a number of challenges, played out over smaller former projects. To begin with, the community had no say in the Council’s advocacy priorities. These were identified by the Council’s Executive Management Group and Councillors, sometimes aided by external data. With little investment in defining priorities, the community often had little motivation to actively support the campaign. Diluted or unclear advocacy priorities translated themselves into confused or ineffective messaging, and limited the impact of the campaigns.
Responding to the need for a strategic approach to guide their efforts, the Council developed a unifying Advocacy Framework in a bid to activate a culture of advocacy in the organisation. This framework would set up a process for selecting advocacy issues, and support the role of advocacy in addressing the Council’s long-term strategic planning goals. The framework was generated with support from market research conducted in 2015, which also illustrated community priorities for advocacy. The Council tapped into Casey Next, the community engagement project imagining the future of the city, to home in on resident needs and expectations.
Casey Next revealed the following three themes: better connectivity, better safety, and improved natural environment. Participants further singled out the following issues: improving public transport, roads, and safeguarding the environment; enhancing safety and connectivity in the suburbs; bringing more jobs and businesses into the community; and supporting local culture and leisure opportunities to be more accessible.
Internal buy-in and support was activated with a workshop. This aligned Councillors with the strategic advocacy approach and equipped them with the selected community priorities. The selected priorities were subjected to a round of testing with further community engagement, revealing considerations around issues, demographics, locations, projects, campaign messages and tactics, potential best practice and methods to foster community participation, and advocacy channels.
How did Casey mobilise the community to own and drive the campaign?
Community interests sit firmly at the centre of Casey’s advocacy campaign. A key principle of their overall strategy is to create a ‘community of concern’. What does this mean? In placing community needs at the driving edge of the campaign, Casey enabled community and campaign to derive strength from each other. An activated community is a crucial asset for advocacy campaigns, as demonstrated by the success of Commit to Casey.
Mobilised through community outreach and organising, community voices drew vital attention to the focus issues of the campaign. Community groups and local stakeholders have a key role to play in shaping community-led campaigns and taking them to their targets. Participation should, therefore, be built into the process and made easily accessible.
Wynen outlines a three-phased approach to running community-led advocacy campaigns.
Phase 1: Educate leans on intensive online and offline community engagement to create the campaign’s ‘community of concern’, thereby building the relationships and conversations necessary to define and deliver the campaign.
Phase 2: Activate involves drawing local community stakeholders and groups, business groups, and third party allies into supporting and growing the campaign. For Casey, this phase was defined by the development of a campaign website on the Council’s dedicated online engagement hub Casey Conversations to provide information, campaign collaterals, actionables and briefings.
Phase 3: Advocate spans the outreach, communications and targeted activities directed at government leaders and election candidates. Commit to Casey saw over 3,500 residents using petitions or email to call on their local Member of Parliament to address road and rail needs.
Commit to Casey effectively tapped into community power to bring attention to an array of interconnected issues around population growth, infrastructure, economic development and local public services.
While the community used the campaign to take specific needs and concerns to the relevant decision-makers, the City collaborated with government and industry stakeholders to draw attention to broader policy concerns and questions emerging from the priorities set out by the campaign.
How did Casey measure the success of its historic campaign? What advice does Wynen have for engagement and advocacy practitioners looking to create winning campaigns? Tune in to our webinar to learn more.
Photo supplied City of Casey