Criticism of consultation methods are being considered ahead of one of the biggest engagement processes for Ashburton District Council: the long-term plan.
Considering how to engage with the community is almost as important as what is consulting on, democracy and engagement group manager Toni Durham, said.
“It’s a consistent challenge and focus for us to ensure that people are engaged throughout the community.
“We are reviewing ways to improve this, despite the resourcing constraints we have.”
The council’s approach to consultation came under fire during the recent economic development strategy (EDS).
Several submitters suggesting that the draft EDS lacked cultural diversity and was light on business responses, considering it was an economic strategy.
Some submissions also questioned if there had been enough engagement before the draft was produced.
The EDS draft was formed with input from businesses and groups that were engaged in the process through a series of workshops and conversations since 2021, Durham said.
“These stakeholders helped to form the intent and action points in the draft document.”
What wasn’t clear in the strategy was who those stakeholders were and what exactly they had added.
“We are always conscious of ensuring draft documents are concise and clear to be readable to the community.
“We will consider how best to provide this information in the future.”
Council chief executive Hamish Riach said the consultation process looked at whether to go to the community with a blank piece of paper or prepared draft as the starting point.
The council could engage with a lot more people to form any draft but “a really deep participatory approach would require significantly different resourcing”, Riach said.
Strategies and policies are generally developed with some pre-engagement to help shape the draft document and then consultation to refine it, Durham said.
“The balance is always in ensuring the right conversations, with the right people at the right time.”
The council had a "pleasing response" to its pre-engagement for next year’s LTP process, with more than 900 responses to the survey and workshops, Durham said.
That number could bode well for when the LTP draft is released for consultation next year. The 2021-31 draft LTP only received 431 submissions.
Durham said that figure was low but it reflected the work of the pre-engagement undertaken for the last LTP.
Council officers are preparing business cases and activity plans to be considered for the LTP.
“This work will continue over the next 10 months,” Durham said.
By Jonathan Leask