With New Zealand’s councils currently full swing into long term planning, it is a good time to consider the important role a citizens' panel can have during the planning process.
A citizens’ panel can be useful in two key areas:
- · Long-Term Plan Development – Testing and Pre-Consultation
- · Long-Term Plan – Public Consultation
1. Long-Term Plan Development – Testing and Pre-Consultation
A citizens’ panel gives immediate access to a representative sample of the community. This provides council planners an invaluable tool to pre-test assumptions their planning is based upon, and allows for fine tuning the plans before they go to public consultation.
A good example of how this can be achieved is when the Manawatu District Council (MDC) went out to their citizens’ panel with a survey asking for feedback about their long-term vision statements. The MDC had developed a variety of vision statements for respective areas of their community. Using the results of the panel, they were able to establish how inspirational and relevant the vision statements were. Panel members were also asked what changes they would make to the vision statements, in order to improve them. In addition, the community outcomes associated with each vision statement were presented to panel members, and community outcomes were ranked by importance for themselves, their families and their communities.
The information garnered from this consultation process was able to be used to help guide the next stage of the planning process, and develop a draft plan ready for public consultation.
2. Long Term Plan – Public Consultation
In addition to assisting the development of the long term planning process, a citizens’ panel can form an integral part of the public consultation process. While it is not suggested that a citizens’ panel can replace the public submission process that is standard procedure for most councils, it does provide an additional channel for public feedback. One of the key benefits of the panel is that it enables councils to receive feedback from members of the community who would not normally go through the formal submission process.
Palmerston North City Council has used their panel to good effect by presenting their draft plan to panel members, as well as having panel members respond to a survey that addresses key issues from the plan.
While a citizens’ panel can provide councils with a great tool to collect feedback from the community on an on-going basis, it can also be put to good use for all the planning processes that councils are required to undertake.