Over the next couple of months New Zealand councils will be releasing their Long Term Plan (LTP) consultation documents, so it’s timely to review Audit New Zealand’s advice on how to make these documents as effective as possible. In ‘Long-term plans: Our audits of councils’ consultation documents’ the Auditor-General notes “in our view, there are still opportunities for councils to improve the content, structure, and presentation of their consultation documents and we encourage councils to do so.”

The report also provides valuable suggestions on options to enhance the level of community engagement with these documents.

The purpose of a LTP consultation document

The reason for creating the LTP consultation document is to provide a concise, easy to understand document that highlights the significant issues, options, and the implications for the community. They contain specific questions on options facing the public.

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Clearly differentiate between LTP consultation content and background information

Audit New Zealand advises that the consultation questions are critical, as they need to clearly indicate the options and proposals on which a council is seeking feedback.

Figuring out what a council needs feedback on is a good place to start when deciding what content to include and what to leave out of a consultation document. Important information which is not directly related to the consultation questions can be made available through supporting documents, and the consultation document should clearly signpost where people can access additional background information.

Design features (such as background colours and sidebars) can be used to separate background information included in the consultation document from the main discussion of the issues and options being consulted on.

The wording of consultation questions and feedback forms strongly influences the success of consultation processes. Audit New Zealand recommends asking specific, open questions rather than seeking a narrower support/oppose response. Open questions will encourage engagement and demonstrate a genuine desire to receive feedback from the community.

Options for improving community engagement

Here are some ideas from Audit New Zealand on how to promote engagement with LTP consultation processes.

During the pre-consultation phase:

  • Use discussions with community representatives to shape the issues presented in the consultation document.
  • Test draft documents on some members of the public.
  • Run a radio advertising campaign to raise awareness about the upcoming consultation process.
  • Create partnerships with community groups and ask them to encourage feedback from a more diverse range of people.
  • Update library and customer service staff about the consultation document so that people in these public facing roles are well equipped to increase awareness and encourage feedback on the consultation document.

During the consultation phase:

  • Hold informal meetings at a neutral venue where people can drop in and speak to elected members and staff.
  • Publish a series of Facebook posts to promote the issues.
  • Make videos about the issues being consulted on for inclusion on the council website and for publishing online.
  • Provide rates calculators on the website that can be used to create a personalised assessment of how the proposals would affect an individual ratepayer.
  • Include an interactive map of the city or district on the council website where people can access more detail on projects being consulted on.

Do you need to prepare a community engagement plan?