To ask or not to ask. That is the first question in community engagement.

Recently, we woke up to discover that they’d changed the parking in our street. Overnight. No warning, no consultation.

Parking doesn’t matter much to me but it affects my partner. And most of my neighbours.

What does matter to me is people having a say in decisions that affect them.

Just as the parking changed, signs popped up in our park about the proposed re-location of a 19th century gun. Did we want it moved to our park from a nearby suburb?

“Have your say!” and we’ll give you three weeks to do it. But not about parking.

I’m sure the gun was really important to someone, but I reckon parking affected more people.

Parking’s tricky. From regional towns to inner-city neighbourhoods, we feel entitled to park out the front of their house or our local shops.

RMIT’s Elizabeth Taylor tells us that Melburnians have expected ‘the authorities’ to preserve this for us since 1929. Doubtless, it’s the same in every car-dominated city.

We know this has to change. Melbourne is on track to become Australia’s largest city in about five years. And regional cities are not exempt with population expected to increase by 26% by 2026.

But just because change is inevitable doesn’t mean you can get away without involving people in how to change things.

And who knows? The people you ask might have some great ideas about how to do it differently, whether it’s a great design for a library or how to price water.

Instead of limiting car spaces for parents to drop off their kids at the local school, maybe there was another way.

But we’ll never know because nobody asked the people who live in our street.

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Parking may not be a ‘wicked problem’ that calls for deliberation by a citizen’s jury but it’s a tricky one to solve and emotions run high. Two signs that tell you it’s worth asking the people affected.

Not every change needs community input (historic gun anyone?).

Not every change needs collaboration – sentencing laws and speed limits, for example.

I’ve been working with a group of stakeholders to design the engagement plan for a significant project. It’s a steep learning curve for some of them and we can get caught up in activities and processes. So, we keep returning to the questions that I wish our local Council had asked us:

🗩 Who’s interested?

🗩 Who cares? And who do they talk to?

🗩 Who’s impacted? They may not know

🗩 Who must have a say?

🗩 Who should have a say?

🗩 Who’s voice is missing?