Our Work

We have an action research approach: advances are made through practical trials, and here you can see each of them.

Local councils are uniquely placed to engage deliberatively with their community. They make complex trade-off decisions that need to be tailored to local needs. Traditionally, this level of engagement has been too difficult for small councils, and so surveys and self-selected groups are default options. These are both too easy to ignore and provide the wrong kind of answers. A representative and deliberative engagement is much more difficult to set aside because of the way it involves the community in actively making the informed decision for council. 

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Read the Collaboration Hub Report here.

The ACT Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate is conducting a review of Housing Choices in the ACT. The next stage of engagement will comprise a consultation method that helps reach the core of community concerns through considered engagement. The ‘Collaboration Hub’ is a deliberative democracy process that will draw out key ideas as well as policy recommendations, and encourages direct participation to arrive at well-considered public decisions.

EPSDD has engaged newDemocracy to design and provide oversight of the Collaboration Hub. We will operate a deliberative process with approximately 36 randomly selected members of the community who will meet 5 times between May and July to produce recommendations that will be handed unedited to the Minister for a direction response. The process will incorporate a Stakeholder Reference Group of the largest community, business and industry stakeholders to provide input into the design and operation of the process.

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The Byron Shire is well known as a domestic and international tourist destination, with over two million annual visitors. Local residents and tourists alike place significant value on the unique character of the area and its lifestyle.

The conundrum before Council is how to balance protection of that character with demands for more, and higher quality, infrastructure.

With rates recently increased, the next issue to be addressed was: how should the money generated through the rate increase and earmarked for expenditure on infrastructure be prioritised, and how should those priorities be funded if rates alone are not enough?

Council engaged with the community thoroughly on this front; going deeper in talking about how resources should be allocated over coming years, embarking on the hard conversations about priorities, growth, development and service levels. Like many other small, regional councils, they needed to do this within limited means and find a way to genuinely build a role for residents as a complementary voice and input in making public decisions.

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Read the Citizens' Jury's Final Report here.

In developing its 5-year costed plan, Yarra Valley Water must pair customer and community feedback with their own in-depth knowledge of their water and sewerage networks, and the challenges these services face. Pricing cannot simply be an expert task.

Additionally, Yarra Valley Water is faced with the fact that water and sanitation services are not top-of-mind for most customers. Instead, their consciousness of the importance of these services is typically only elevated when access is compromised (for instance, through water restrictions, a water main burst or a sewer blockage/spills). 

The community is often thought to be averse to increasing rates and raising household costs, based on their top of mind opinions, but we don’t know the considered view.

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Geelong Citizens' Jury Final Report    |    Victorian Government Response to Citizens' Jury Final Report

In April 2016 the State Government acted on the recommendation of an independent Commission of Inquiry and dismissed the Greater Geelong City Council, and committed to consult the community about its local governance model before the next council election. This inadvertently created one of the single great opportunities to explore how citizens would design a local system of representation if given the chance.

Over four months a randomly selected group of 100 people from the City of Greater Geelong convened to deliberate on the remit - "How do we want to be democratically represented by a future council?" Drawing from international and domestic advice and their own choices of expert speakers, the Jury delivered a final report with 13 recommendations, 2 'practical' and 11 'aspirational'. The Victorian Government agreed to adopt 12 of the 13 recommendations.

The Victorian Legislative Council passed the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2017 on June 8, bringing about the new Mayoral and Councillor structure as recommended by the Citizens' Jury.

In an Australian first, the Geelong Citizens' Jury process put local residents at the forefront of the decision-making process, letting them determine how their new council should be designed.

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The Foundation exists with a goal of finding improvements to how we make trusted public decisions - democratic decisions – which represent the informed general will of the people. To do so, we seek to run practical projects in controversial areas of low public trust and where genuine public discourse is impossible as the topic generates immediate opinions and likely is an ‘electoral tripwire’. The opportunity to test a process on the topic of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle is a near perfect test environment for this.

At the core of this project is the idea that there is a tradeoff worth exploring, and that it is worthwhile seeking to find public judgment rather than responding to public opinion.

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The City of Greater Bendigo has a large urban area home to around 85% of the local government area's population; in turn this is surrounded by an array of rural areas and small towns. In most circumstances this pattern generally leads to a sense that the centre “gets everything” at the expense of the outer areas. We had no idea of the accuracy of that view, but it raised an important question. How could the local Council ensure they were provided with a considered consensus view about the range and level of services (in the broad sense, so including capital works) to be provided across all of Greater Bendigo?

The City of Bendigo is required to produce a new Council Plan setting out the key strategic issues and outcomes it will focus on in its term of office and outlining the services they provide to the community by June 2017, following elections in October 2016.

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Like many local government areas in NSW and across the country, Eurobodalla Shire Council faces the challenge of having significant infrastructure to manage, maintain and renew as well as having an enormous breadth of services to deliver. Coupled with finite income sources; a geographically, socially and economically diverse community; and a level of existing community concerns around issues including the Rural Lands Strategy among others, and Council has the unenviable task of trying to balance limited means with endless needs in an environment of narrowed trust. Council decided to work with newDemocracy to tackle the complex task of engaging with their whole community to make difficult decisions about services and expenditure. What would a group of randomly selected citizens recommend?

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As citizens and voters we all want and value infrastructure. Unfortunately, over the years this has led to the community looking at public decisions about major public investments with a weary cynicism: is this really the project we need, or is this simply a project to appeal to a marginal electorate? This perception is enough to have a dramatic influence on the ability of governments to feel empowered to take the right decision and not simply the most popular decision. Victoria has taken the first step to change that.

The Victorian Government has taken the step of creating an independent infrastructure body with an independent Chair and Board. However, that alone is unlikely to be enough to quell doubts and scepticism built up over a long period. As a result, they have taken the unprecedented decision of starting consultation as their first public act.

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Obesity policy and how to respond is a challenging area for governments around the world. The current situation leads to billions of dollars in care costs borne by the state and its citizens, but efforts to change this rarely survive the test of the daily headlines. Food is at once something we all understand, and this quick reaction makes the application of non-obvious solutions difficult.

This process design is new for NDF: for the first time we are attempting to move more of the deliberation online. Most other design documents here have a heavy (even total) emphasis on in-person deliberation which brings a groupf of 30-40 people together 5-7 times for around 40 hours across three months. Here, the NDF Board and Research Committee were seeking a project to test what could be achieved online, and we were approached by VicHealth seeking a largely online experience with a single weekend’s in-person meeting to find common ground around a final report.

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Balancing competing needs in a growing community

Penrith City Council is a large, iconic council area and like many local government authorities in New South Wales, it is growing and changing rapidly. That change brings with it both opportunities and pressures on services and finite resources. With nearly $300m of future infrastructure needs already identified and an annual budget of $237m, Council turned to its citizens for consideration of this difficult issue.

The Penrith Community Panel, 34 randomly selected citizens, met six times between September and December 2015 to provide Council with a set of recommendations on what services and infrastructure are needed in Penrith and to what level of quality; and how these services and infrastructure should be paid for. This was not a wish list exercise: this was the exploration of how citizens want to see money from their own pockets spent in their community.

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Who Pays? Agreeing Fair Shares in Infrastructure Funding (South Eastern Drainage)

Many government decisions fall into the category where all avenues of action are open to criticism from some interested party. This is especially the case where it is viewed that “the government should pay” – and more so when government has historically done so. This is the case with the several thousand kilometres of infrastructure provided over many decades which comprise South East Drainage Network.

Government will occasionally judge that some assets are not public goods in the pure sense of the word, as the benefits provided fall disproportionately on a subset of the population rather than the whole.

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In 2013 Noosa Shire Council de-amalgamated from Sunshine Coast, with the elected representatives ascribing their electoral success (and that of de-amalgamation) to their position of putting more decision making in the hands of the local community. In 2014 newDemocracy was approached to provide advice on structures and processes which could deliver on that commitment.

The Noosa Community Juries were a trial of one potential approach. The two projects aimed to provide a structure whereby critical decisions which affect the entire local community (by nature of service, or by virtue of the cost that would be borne across all ratepayers) were shared with a representative sample of everyday citizens.

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Like many councils across the country, Marrickville Council face the challenging problem of renewing a vast portfolio of aging capital assets - from roads, to parks, to pavements, stormwater drains and beyond. There are also new assets the council may wish to build such as cycleways and greening initiatives to be factored in - while at the same time income sources are heavily regulated and limited. The scale of investment is vast, and most feedback from vox pop channels only lets councillors know citizens want everything fixed - and lower rates (local taxes)!

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Participatory budgeting processes traditionally focus on a component of discretionary budget – such as a representative's ability to ringfence a couple of million dollars for community facilities. However, in many ways the larger challenge in budgeting is the dominance of interest groups coupled with the capacity to present any and all decisions as an electoral negative: cutting services or raising rates are both equally tricky paths to navigate. Moreover, the challenge facing all elected officials is the need to take a long-term view beyond the current electoral cycle – a challenge which is counter to any representative's interest in survival.

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In South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill has continued to use the Citizens Jury methodology as a way of hearing a community view in policy areas where organised – and polarised – advocacy groups can drown out all other voices. Consistent with our position of not working to repeat past methodologies, in this case NDF was not the full service operator of the process – this was easily handled by the Department of Premier and Cabinet working with a recognised independent facilitator.

However, what DPC did recognise is the difficulty in conducting a recruitment process which the public trusts. Rusted on citizen cynicism (occasionally well earned!) means that everyday people may view community engagement processes as being stacked with friendly faces if conducted by the Government itself – there will always be something of a problem with being both poacher and gamekeeper. As a result, NDF offers government a basic service to conduct independent recruitment for jury processes.

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Moorebank Intermodal Company (MIC) was established by the Australian Government to oversee the development of a freight terminal at Moorebank. The terminal will improve the distribution of freight arriving in Sydney through Port Botany and on the interstate rail network. The terminal will benefit the NSW and Australian economy but it will also have an impact in the local community. MIC wants to ensure that people living near the terminal receive more of the benefits so has established a 'local benefits fund' of $1m.

The terminal must meet government environmental guidelines (e.g. on air quality, noise and traffic) so the terminal will include a host of measures to reduce its environmental impacts.

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The City of Canada Bay has once again appointed the Foundation to conduct a citizens' Policy Panel to provide policy advice to Council on lease conditions fair for the proposed use where Council-owned buildings are formally leased to third parties for their sole use on a discounted or subsidised community basis.

The City of Canada Bay has already seen the value in engaging a representative sample of the community via random selection, and by empowering them within criteria agreed by elected Councillors. In 2012, the Citizens' Panel (CP) was asked the question 'What services should we deliver in the City of Canada Bay, and how should we pay for them?'.

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The Darebin City Council established an infrastructure fund and made a commitment to consult with the community to determine what this fund would be used for. Council decided to use a Citizens' Jury process to get advice on how this money ($2m in 2014 - 2016) should be spent. The Council determined to accept the Jury's recommendations - all or nothing.

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A bi-partisan committee of the House of Representatives in Federal Parliament conducts a review after every election. This review has been made more topical because of interest in the role of minor party preferences for the Senate and the lost votes in the WA Senate recount.

The NDF submission focuses on the difficulty elected representatives face in attempting to review and improve an electoral system given that they are effectively setting the rules of their own game, and that this fact above all others will tend to guide the views of the citizens. This is not a comment on the merit of proposed reforms nor the capacity of elected representatives to deliberate on their merits: rather, it seeks to highlight the challenge of earning public trust and offers a solution for the JSCEM to consider.

In September 2013, the Foundation was appointed by the City of Sydney to conduct a Citizens Jury which mirrors the process underway for the South Australian Parliament through Premier Jay Weatherill.

Importantly, the City of Sydney’s role is complemented by the commitment of Premier O’Farrell to table the results of the Jury’s deliberations into Parliament verbatim and unedited – meaning that the projects underway in SA and NSW both come with equivalent levels of pre-agreed authority.

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In April 2013, the Foundation was appointed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet to conduct a Citizens Jury to complement other measures and policy responses linked to alcohol related violence.

In all spheres of government, it can occur that good decisions don’t get made for fear of the political cost through a vox pop response. The Citizens Jury, comprised of randomly selected citizens not affiliated to a party, not up for re-election, and not linked to lobbyists nor interest groups thus has the power to act as a final filter to ensure worthwhile policy options have the chance to be publicly considered. Their judgment has fewer perceived impairments and has been shown to earn greater public trust.

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In December 2012, the Queensland Government announced a comprehensive review of the electoral process (attached below for ease of reference). The submission was made on March 1st and the Review is ongoing.

The Foundation has made a submission referring to three major parts of the review: the chance to apply a candidate diversity rule to the electoral funding received by the parties, the application of truth in advertising legislation, and explores the merits of adding a 'none of the above' option within a compulsory voting environment.

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In July 2012, as part of the Inquiry into the Economics of Energy Generation the NSW Parliament will commission a jury style process to make a structured contribution to the public inquiry process.

The Foundation will operate two policy juries – one in regional NSW and one in Metropolitan Sydney – in order to identify an informed view of everyday citizens, and to see this view incorporated into the process of “how we do government” in a structural fashion agreed prior to the commencement of the process.

The Foundation appreciates the support of the members of both parties, and independents, who form the Public Accounts Committee, led by Jonathan O’Dea (Liberal, Davidson) as Chair.

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In May 2012 the City of Canada Bay Council commenced a process to devolve decision making to a random selection of 36 citizens drawn from the local government area. They are being asked the question ‘What services should we deliver in the City of Canada Bay, and how should we pay for them?’.

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In July 2011 the NSW Government began a comprehensive review of the state's planning system. The Minister sought submission and comments from the community and the Foundation has made two submissions which you can download here.

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