Obviously councils are responsible for the efficient management of ratepayers’ assets. Employing management consultants to assess this is fine and ‘accountable’ …BUT… who writes the brief? And, if the brief is lacking in, for example, what’s needed to ‘engage’ the community, whose responsibility is it tom address this situation?
This council brief required a consultant to assess ‘best practice’ with regard to different management models and actual community management of a council/ratepayers’ owned building. Several quite reasonable observations and subsequent recommendations were made to council. These were then presented to the community committee that ‘oversees’ the building management. Most of the committee had not had any discussion with the consultant.
It seems the brief was followed but without much insight into the way communities operate. The only people consulted were those directly involved on a physical day-to-day
basis and the grassroots ratepayers’ perspective was not considered – probably on the basis that all this would take too long and ‘they’ probably wouldn’t be interested anyway. Fair enough, BUT, this meant that the actual situation did not emerge through the prescribed process.
Many community groups are interested in using space in this building for various purposes but a comprehensive booking schedule is not readily available.
Let’s acknowledge the ‘them and us’ attitude that often/usually exists between ratepayers and local councils – often regarded as ‘the ones who collect the garbage’. Personally I believe contemporary councils have a fairly enlightened approach but I don’t think I am strongly supported!
I believe it’s possible to soften this entrenched attitude by taking time to ‘engage’. Working meaningfully with communities DOES take time and needs to operate from a basis of trust. Let’s take a few hours over maybe a few months for a council officer to:
Over this period – similar to a policy formulation period within council itself – it is likely the community will see that the council is genuinely wanting grassroots feedback. Feedback might already be available through letters to the editor, phone calls to local councillors etc. If none is forthcoming people may be happy to let council deal with the issue itself.
Working from a base of solid info-percolation a consultant can act as a steward/sounding board to guide community thinking with a chance of general agreement, as most will see where the middle ground lies and that favourite hobby horses may not have the numbers!
According to Jamal & Getz in ‘Collaboration Theory & Community Tourism Planning’