Many councils around Australia do an excellent job of engaging with their residents and delivering service based on the needs of those communities. Yet even great councils may be missing easy opportunities to be better. As with the retail sector’s mystery shopping approach, it can help to put yourself into the shoes of your residents to really get a feel for their experience making contact with your local government, and getting a better understanding of what they hope for and what they expect from their dealings with local government.
- Are the phone numbers easy to find on council documents?
- Are they in big enough type for older residents to read?
- Who answers the phone?
- How easy is it to negotiate the directory?
- How easy is it to get through to the right department and the right person?
- How are callers managed when staff are unavailable?
- Is there a contacts page?
- Are there phone numbers available on the contact page?
- If there is a range of depts. contact details?
- Is there an indicator of when queries will be addressed?
- Are there email addresses listed?
- Is the website easy to navigate?
- Is there sign or an available person to explain how residents can reach the person they need to speak to?
- Is there a pleasant place to wait?
- Are there accessible toilets?
There are many other great methods of considering the lived experience of your community, and working to improve it. Macdonnell Shire Council did a great job on this by using knowledge and awareness of the people it wanted to engage as it was encouraging the communities to get involved in the Tidy Towns competition. As many of the residents in remote communities don’t speak English as a first language the council provided signage in the local Indigenous languages. This had obvious, practical benefits, but there was also an emotional element; signs in their own language subtly said to the residents that this program was for them, and their community.
Glenelg Council realised residents were struggling to follow the council’s required planning processes, and introduced a new role of Development Liaison Co-ordinator. The person in this position is now a one-stop-shop for all information on development in the shire, providing a much more streamlined process with greater certainty.
Collecting data and analysing it is another very effective method of understanding your community – and planning for its future. Just looking at the economic and demographic indicators of your area provides instant insight into the community, such as the percentage of residents who speak a second language (Greater Dandenong: 61%!!) or where a high proportion of residents take public transport to work (Marrickville: 35%). Geelong Council worked with .id, the population experts, using population forecasts to predict health outcomes based on the links between chronic disease and unhealthy lifestyle conditions and built form, while the City of Wyndham used the same company to project and plan for aged and disability services over the next 20 years.
You can’t fix everything. And you don’t have to – listening more closely to your community and engaging with them gives both councilors and local government professionals the opportunity to explain the constraints, the logic and the priority of any given project. This was the experience of Cardinia Council as it engaged the community online and in a town hall meeting during The Big Budget Brainstorm. You can read the full story in our latest LG Professionals Australia magazine.
Take a walk in the shoes of your residents. It might just make council’s job easier.