The media response to my article last night, in which I suggested that there is a more positive story about community engagement to be told, was swift and impressive. I woke up this morning to find an article in the Telegraph (Sydney’s daily tabloid) highlighting the new trend of online engagement.
Admitedly this wasn’t the biggest suprise, given that I had been interviewed for it, but the interview was some weeks ago. Even if you don’t believe in my theory that Mr Murdoch read last night’s blog post and demanded a positive article in today’s edition it still shows that this can be presented as a positive story.
Local councils use internet chatrooms for resident consultation
By Vikki Campion
April 20, 2009 12:00am
RATEPAYERS can help change local government policy with the click of a mouse using a world-first anonymous chatroom.
NSW councils are adopting a new wave of consultation that lets residents have their say on planning, services and other decisions without leaving their chairs.
It has already changed how people swim at Broken Hill, in the state’s Far West, and where trains will run in the Hunter region.
Bangthetable.com director Matthew Crozier said organisations had been using websites such as Facebook and Myspace as tools to engage the community but needed a framework to collect real data.
“We only host discussions for decision-makers. This is extremely useful to government, which can use it to judge the heat and depth of an issue,” Mr Crozier said.
About 700 people weighed in on a plan to upgrade Broken Hill’s swimming pool, change its entry fees and keep lap swimmers apart from other users.
More than 100,000 engaged in a “ding-dong debate” to move a rail line through Newcastle and changed State Governmentpolicy in the process.
Transport, heritage issues and parks have triggered the fiercest online chat.
“The top three would have to be lighthouses, buses and dogs,” Mr Crozier said.
The former consultant said that stakeholders who shopped, paid bills and worked online were crying out for online consultation.
“If you want to put your point across (to the government), you need to speak at a public meeting or write a submission,” he said.
“It’s an onerous task and there are people who are not comfortable in that world.
“On the web, people can engage in their own time and space and it gets to people who wouldn’t normally participate.”
Mr Crozier said the internet should never be used instead of face-to-face contact but he had realised it was a necessity after watching a 12-year-old girl debate a 50-year-old man over a bus stop.
“If she was at a public forum, she couldn’t do it, but in an anonymous forum you are judged only by your words,” he said.
“The web is a powerful tool; it’s a leveller.
“People use their tone of voice and physical presence to dominate a debate but noisy people struggle to drown out the weaker voices online.
This month, Blue Mountains City Council will launch a forum about off-leash areas for dogs.