FutureMelbourne has been the most ambitious community consultation project ever undertaken by the City of Melbourne and, indeed, by a local government organisation. The extensive community engagement undertaken in the development process has ensured that it is a rich and robust plan that really represents the community’s vision for our city.
Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle
We take a look at a case study that focused on digital engagement to enable the City of
Melbourne to embark on a vision for bigger and better collaboration.
In 2007, the City of Melbourne decided to take a new approach to consultation when creating its ten year strategic plan. The city wanted to explore open collaboration as a more authentic, engaging and transparent strategy to involve the public and stakeholders in the planning process. Looking for new ideas, David Mayes, the manager of strategic planning, contacted Mark Elliott after reading some of his recently published PhD work. Mark’s PhD offered a theory of scalable collaboration that provided a means to draw upon new technologies.
The project started with conversations over coffee, building a vision for what might be possible by sharing ideas and latest thinking in collaboration theory and government consultation. This quickly evolved into a formalised relationship and the creation of Collabforge, enabling Mark to partner with the City of Melbourne to reshape their planning consultation process.
Getting started and building momentum
Before the City’s ten year planning process could be re-imagined and re-engineered, it needed to be understood. Collabforge worked with David and his team to build a detailed map of the current process and players. This provided a foundation on which to establish where and how collaboration could be better or different, and how this would contribute to specific outcomes. The approach they arrived at was ground-breaking: To allow internal City of Melbourne units, stakeholders the general global public to directly edit the City’s ten year strategic plan (now known as FutureMelbourne).
The team were excited and enthusiastic about the potential for the project to improve their processes and demonstrate a new valuable approach to public consultation. However, the idea was a significant departure from existing processes. This generated internal resistance by some who were unsure the new approach could be trusted to deliver value. Fortunately, having executive and Council support in taking the risk to innovate, along with a strong strategy, meant the project was able to gain support and build momentum.
The first city plan anyone could edit
Inspired by Wikipedia, the existing planning process was extended with a relatively new technology at the time, known as a ‘wiki’.
This technology provided an online, open-access, searchable document with document editing features that combined an edit history, ability to make comments and hold discussions, with the ability to print the current version of the plan with a single click.
Initially used internally by the planning team, the FutureMelbourne wiki progressively opened up to stakeholders and the general public, allowing them to comment on content and make direct edits to the plan.
The Outcome: An engaging process that generated a robust plan
During the public consultation period (17 May to 14 June 2008), over seven thousand people visited the site. David Mayes noted that, “the wiki created a buzz of interest in its own right – people were enthused by being given the power to write”. All contributions made by stakeholders or the public were reviewed by the project team to ensure the wide range of submitted ideas were organised, refined and incorporated appropriately. Importantly, the wiki was not the only form of consultation, but enabled transparent integration from other sources such as surveys and town hall meetings.
While collaboratively drafting the city plan in a wiki was considered to be fairly high risk, this risk was mitigated by the capability to instantly revert changes that were deemed inappropriate or not relevant using the built-in revision history. The wiki was also monitored 24/7 during the public engagement period, and no instances of untoward or disruptive behaviour took place.
Melbourne City Council found that through taking a collaborative approach to the planning process, it was able to involve a larger cohort than previous methods allowed for, while doing so in a way that was more authentic, transparent and engaging. As David reflects, it “introduced a more dynamic model of continuous collaboration”. The project resulted in City of Melbourne winning the Planning Institute of Australia’s prestigious President’s Award.
This project represented a world first and has generated a great deal of ongoing national and international interest for the City of Melbourne and Collabforge alike. It demonstrated the power of the internet to provide opportunities to involve large numbers of participants in the strategy-making processes through genuine collaboration.
Since FutureMelbourne, the City of Melbourne has created a specialist consultation and engagement unit whose job it is to build and develop the organisation’s engagement processes, both on and offline. “This has made great improvements and is about to move into the next generation of citizen and government engagement”, says David.
A version of this piece was originally authored and published by Collabforge senior strategists Rebecca Dahl and Hailey Cooperrider on Collabforge’s own collaboration wiki ‘Epic Collaboration’ at http://epiccollaboration.com/. Thanks to David Mayes, Project Director FutureMelbourne, for generously contributing his insights and experiences to this piece. For more, please see FutureMelbourne.com.au