The Christchurch City Council (CCC) should be promoting wide and genuine public consultation on its draft ten year budget and plan given the serious implications for the city’s future of its proposed asset sales, outlined in the plan.
Instead, it is being unduly restrictive by limiting submissions on the Long Term Plan to the traditional format of written submissions. Unlike councils such as Dunedin and Auckland, Christchurch is not accepting social media comments as “submissions.” It is not giving the full scope of public views the weight they deserve.
The CCC is failing to take full advantage of last year’s changes to the Local Government Act 2002 intended to encourage better public engagement with local government decision-making. The law changes gave councils more flexibility about how they consult, especially around long-term and annual plans.
The Dunedin City Council is treating Facebook comments and tweets as formal submissions on its Long Term Plan, provided they are made on the Dunedin Council’s Facebook page or use the Council’s Twitter handle.
Christchurch City Council’s reluctance to recognise fully the value of online social platforms is disappointing given the significance of the forthcoming decisions on asset sales.
Its failure to accept Facebook posts and tweets as “submissions” defies recommendations in its own 2013 review of its community engagement strategy. The review found that traditional methods of engagement, such as written submissions, are more likely to be used by an older demographic (50 plus). As the review report noted:
“those currently engaging with the Council tend to be older, 50 plus, often retired, home owners – people who are “civic minded”, and have motivation and the time to attend public meetings, and write submissions”.
The review found that a younger demographic was more likely to engage with the Council through a more innovative approach, such as the successful and widely applauded 2011 “Share an Idea” campaign.
A significant review recommendation was that the Council, “build on its formal engagement strategy by instigating a range of new engagement initiatives to increase the reach and diversity of those it engages with.”
The review said, “one of the important priorities of this engagement strategy…is to broaden public participation in and awareness of decisions facing the community and the Council, reaching out particularly to younger residents of the city and key stakeholders”.
The review report said a key focus for this broader and more innovative strategy should be: “Developing the means for engaging with people online – discussion forums, interactive tools to create an online community that utilises the capability and growing relevance of this medium.”
The Wellington City Council has been more innovative in its consultation, using the online platform Loomio in one recent consultation on its alcohol management strategy.
Congratulations to Auckland, Wellington, and Dunedin for moving beyond a “business as usual” approach to consultation and engagement.
Christchurch needs to come into the twenty first century and embrace social and online media, as Auckland, Wellington, and Dunedin city councils are doing, if it wants to canvass and give proper weight to the views and opinions of all Christchurch citizens, especially the under 50s on an issue as important as the proposed sale of city assets.
 Demographic Profile for “Share an Idea”: Under 25 – 10%; 25-49 – 53%; 50-64 – 28% 65 and over – 9% .“Share an Idea” generated 106,000 ideas for the rebuild of the Central City, much more than the Council’s traditional formal engagement methods.
 ADOPTED BY COUNCIL: 28 March 2013 Christchurch City Council Community Engagement Strategy