The Bronte Catchment Citizens' Jury
Enhanced stormwater management through local community participation1
The Bronte Catchment Citizens' Jury Project built on the work that was undertaken as part of the Effective Environmental Education Project – working with the community and small business2. It developed, supported and evaluated community and council activities to improve water quality at Bronte Beach.
This project tried a new approach – pollution prevention using deliberative decision making and community participation processes, which included:
- social research, community development, and active learning techniques to profile community barriers to participation
- strengthening environmental education initiatives with participatory strategies
- testing new deliberative processes in environmental management
- building democratic and environmental capacity across the catchment
- demonstrating the critical importance of council and community commitment to participation in environmental management.
There were three main components to the project:
- community development activities with all sectors of the community, especially those who aren't usually involved in environmental management, who may be prevented from participating, or who aren't seen as having a stake or an interest in the issue (such as tenants, visitors and traditional owners)
- a trial of deliberative decision-making processes – a Citizens' Jury and a Citizens' Telepoll
- a review of council activities and processes, to identify how the council could reduce stormwater impacts.
The project was evaluated from start to finish by community members, council officers, the project team, and other key government and non-government stakeholders.
Where is the Bronte Catchment?
Bronte Beach, in eastern Sydney is highly valued and well used by local residents and visitors.
The Bronte Catchment covers about one-third of the Waverley local government area, and has historically attracted a lot of attention. The residents and community groups in Bronte are concerned about the condition of the beach and are committed to improving the water quality.
When the project began, water quality was managed with gross pollutant traps and routine council activities. The traps were expensive to install and ongoing maintenance costs are high. There is considerable scope in the catchment for involving all sectors of the community in helping to prevent stormwater pollution in more cost effective ways.
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What do we mean by 'community'?
'Community' was defined broadly to include everyone who has an impact on the water quality in Bronte.
The community includes residents, local businesses, Waverley Council, community groups, traditional landowners and people who regularly visit Bronte.
What did we want to achieve?
- More representative and broader-based community participation and involvement
- Positive improvements in knowledge, attitudes and behaviours about stormwater
- Identifiable changes in council policy and practice
- An evaluation of the effectiveness of trial participatory processes
- Sustainable processes to continue community and council pollution prevention beyond the life of the project.
Stormwater pollution at Bronte Beach, 18 January 2001 - photo taken by community volunteer, David Ellison
How did we proceed?
The project had several distinct phases:
- preliminary information gathering, or 'getting to know the community'
- community and council participation in the project and other development activities
- education campaigns for residents and small businesses
- a trial of deliberative democracy including a telepoll and citizens' jury
- council and community capacity building
- development of strategies for sustainable and integrated project outcomes.
Preliminary information gathering, or 'getting to know the community'
This phase was crucial as we needed to find out how to work with the range of existing community groups and interests and to understand the catchment's biophysical and social environment.
We attended community meetings, participated in community events and school fetes, and spent time on the beach and in the park talking with people to find out what they felt, knew, and did about local environmental issues.
We surveyed over 300 households, interviewed over 50 key community figures (see Stakeholder interviews), and attended numerous community groups and every precinct committee meeting. We visited swimming groups, local businesses and spoke with visitors and traditional owners. We continued to work with all of these groups throughout the project, asking them to help us plan activities, inviting them to participate, and providing feedback on what we learnt, as we learnt it (see Catchment profiling).
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Community and council participation and other development activities
We worked with key community groups and residents to monitor pollution hot-spots (see Physical monitoring, visual and observation audit sheets), take water samples, educate people about the issues and identify key policy and planning priorities. Community volunteers took photographs of pollution problems. Some of these were used in project newsletters, posters and displays.
The local surf club volunteered to have a rain gauge installed on their roof, and a local resident donated his time and professional expertise to undertake water quality sampling and analysis.
Members of the community attended meetings to discuss local stormwater pollution and project findings. They circulated project information and introduced the topic to community group and precinct committee agendas. They also sent us unsolicited emails and letters about particular pollution problems.
Community representatives and other stakeholders participated in project planning groups and ongoing project evaluation.
Community involvement in local decisions about stormwater management
Improving water quality by changing ordinary practices at 'source' is a relatively recent approach to stormwater management. If source control approaches are to be sustainable, everyone who has an impact must be involved in the solution.
The community is often involved in broad consultation processes such as public meetings, plans and reports advertised for comment, or submissions to the council. However, these forms of consultation do not work for everyone, and can often suit only the most vocal, educated and recognised 'players' in established community and council forums. They can also result in polarised responses that emphasise difference and special interests, rather than consensus and collaboration (see Working with the community).
Why deliberative democracy?
The state government has recently outlined a number of innovative models of community consultation in its proposed 'Planfirst' framework for local and state government planning. However, many of the proposed models are largely untested at the local government level.
We set out to trial two such processes based on notions of 'deliberative democracy' – a Citizens' Telepoll and Citizens' Jury. This was an Australian first, never before conducted with a local community around water quality and environmental management issues.
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What makes a deliberative, democratic process?
A process of deliberative democracy brings together a range of so-called 'ordinary' people to consider detailed evidence, deliberate together in depth to test the evidence, and produce recommendations to inform decision making.
This process assumes that citizens who are given comprehensive, detailed information can produce high quality recommendations that can be implemented and achieved. Most importantly, the process emphasises the importance of bringing individual and collective experience together to help think 'outside the square' and produce recommendations in the 'general interests' of all.
Such a process may involve complex social, technical and scientific questions. It is often assumed that 'ordinary' people are not able to contribute to these questions because they do not have the necessary experience and expertise to assess them, and it would be better to leave the issues to those most qualified to assess them. For example, in the stormwater management area, the 'experts' would be considered to be council officers, environmental scientists, engineers, and elected representatives.
However, community consultation can be extremely valuable in offering perspectives and solutions that may not otherwise have been considered, or assumed to be supported.
An extensive community education campaign was carried out across the catchment. It delivered detailed, locally-focused and targeted information to households within the catchment informing the community about the telepoll and citizens' jury processes.
An introductory letter, five-page pamphlet and catchment-specific postcard were directly addressed and sent to over 3000 households randomly selected from the electronic White Pages.
Key messages included community concerns about local stormwater pollution; the impacts of visible, non-visible pollutants, urban design, and planning issues; source control solutions; and community participation initiatives. The campaign also invited volunteers to participate in the Citizens' Telepoll and Citizens' Jury (see Working with the community).
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A range of deliberations
The education campaign was followed by a citizens' telepoll. An independent research company telephoned households to invite them to participate in the campaign. They were asked to consider the material received, discuss it with family and friends, and then to respond to a series of questions. These questions were the same as those to be considered by the Citizens' Jury. Of those contacted 358 residents agreed to participate (over 40%).
The aim of the telepoll was to test a range of deliberative views across the catchment, against the outcomes of in-depth deliberation in the Citizens' Jury.
The telepoll demonstrated high levels of knowledge and understanding of source control, an emphasis on integrated and sustainable approaches to stormwater management, and established the importance of urban planning and design issues, as well as the impact of non-visible pollutants, as key issues of concern.
The call for volunteers to participate in the Citizens' Jury was advertised widely across the catchment. This included:
- inserting articles in local newspapers
- making presentations to community groups and precinct committee meetings
- distributing flyers at school fetes, in local shopping areas, cafes, parks and at the beach
- displaying posters in businesses, at bus stops, council chambers, the library, surf club and other community centres
- inviting members of the households that participated in the education campaign.
Pre-jury activities at Bronte Beach, 9 September 2001
The Citizens' Jury
Over 70 residents volunteered to participate in the Citizens Jury. Of them, 15 were selected as jurors on the basis of their availability for all three days of the jury, and to ensure that a balance of demographic characteristics, environmental attitudes, community participation and involvement in local government was included.
The aim was not to look for the 'right' people, but to find a balanced range of views and perspectives. The selection criteria was developed by a Planning Group made up of representatives from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA)3, Stormwater Trust, cross-factional councillors, council officers, community and precinct committee representatives, an observer from UNSW, and the project team.
The Planning Group prepared detailed reports and papers for the jury to consider. It developed criteria to define the range of witness perspectives, and recommended questions for the jury to address.
The Citizens' Jury met for three days from 14–16 September 2001. They considered specialist briefing material, heard and questioned expert witnesses, deliberated together and tested the evidence, and produced a series of recommendations around key questions.
Pre-jury activites at Bronte Gully, 9 September 2001
At the close of the jury, jurors presented over 50 recommendations to an audience of councillors, council officers, community representatives, friends and family, and representatives from the EPA and Stormwater Trust. Recommendations were directed to community groups, council, state government agencies and departments, and non-government agencies.
The jury recommendations prioritised integrated solutions to stormwater pollution, involving the community, council, businesses, visitors, and state government agencies. They emphasised source control approaches, especially in the areas of community education, participation and urban design and statutory planning controls.
The recommendations from the Citizens' Jury included:
- a coordinated council community education strategy, involving residents, businesses, visitors and council staff
- an interactive and guided eco-walk at Bronte Gully
- a community mulching station
- a free public car-washing space
- an annual water festival, similar to the 'Sculpture by the Sea' festival
- the use of film canisters for people to 'butt their butts in' while at the beach
- ongoing water quality monitoring and research, involving community volunteers
- increased support for regulatory staff
- ongoing support for community participation in environmental management initiatives
- community consultation during the implementation, and a review of the recommendations made.
Members of the Citizens Jury formally presented a report to the council in October 2001. Their report was received with unanimous support and praise from councillors across all political parties, senior council officers, and state government agencies. There was also widespread support across community groups.
Discussing sustainable solutions to stormwater issues, 15 September 2001
The Citizens' Jury recommendations have been used to develop a new Integrated Stormwater Management Plan to direct environment levy-funded priorities, and to establish an ongoing community consultation forum to review the implementation of environmental initiatives, resulting from the project. The Citizens' Jury recommendations and final report to Waverley Council are available at www.elton.com.au/bronte.htm.
A review of council activities and organisational support
The success of the community participation and deliberative democracy processes would not have been achieved without significant support at all levels and across all sections of the council.
The Bronte Catchment Citizens' Jury, 14–16 September 2001
About one-third of project time and resources was devoted to working with council staff and councillors, which included:
- reviewing the impacts of council policy and practice on stormwater quality in the catchment
- consulting with staff (particularly operational and front-line staff) about opportunities for change
- developing an evidence base to inform the community
- engaging cross-factional, multi-level support for the Citizens' Telepoll and Citizens' Jury.
We talked to front-line staff, supervisors, managers, directors and councillors across all sections of the council. We conducted a formal survey with all groups, and had focus group discussions with front-line and operational staff. The emphasis was on the coordination, planning and integration of different activities across the council.
This resulted in the establishment of a new cross-departmental and Director-led Officers Stormwater Working Party, to support continued coordination and planning of stormwater management initiatives.
It also resulted in significant organisational support for the implementation and integration of project outcomes into ongoing council initiatives.
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Outcomes for the community
The project demonstrated a shift in perspectives across community groups and precincts, from minority and special interest views, to a position of collective and general interest.
Extensive pre- and post-test social surveys conducted at the beginning and end of the project demonstrated improvements in environmental attitudes, knowledge and self-reported behaviour across the catchment, particularly regarding non-visible pollutants and urban design and planning issues.
The project broadened community representation and participation in local environmental issues, extending beyond the traditional participation of established interest groups, to include 'non-traditional' participants in source control initiatives. These participants included tenants, visitors, businesses, traditional owners, schools, surf club members, and swimming and sports groups.
The participants also included the range of community volunteers who participated in 'hotspot' photographs, and most particularly, residents who acted as jurors in the Citizens' Jury. They will continue to have a consultative role in ongoing environmental planning.
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Outcomes for the council
The project identified new community-endorsed directions for environmental management policy and practice.
The outcomes of the project contributed to high-level council policy and planning reviews. It established the terms of reference for a new Stormwater Working Party and integrated, cross-departmental stormwater planning and resourcing.
The recommendations formed the basis of an Integrated Stormwater Management Plan. It led to policy and procedure changes in catchment activities. It acted as the basis for a trial of locality-specific planning across the council for integrated environmental outcomes.
- Sustainable changes in catchment outcomes must involve the community. The community and the council should work together, reviewing and changing what they do.
- 'Community' needs to be defined more widely than simply rate-paying residents – it should include all groups who impact on stormwater quality.
- Ordinary citizens, supported by good processes and information, can move beyond a position of 'special interest' to general interest. They can produce highly relevant and achievable recommendations, and the council should be willing to support the process and its outcomes.
- An evidence-based approach, finely detailed planning, and clearly structured processes are critical features of effective community participation and deliberation.
- Successful community consultation and participation initiatives require significant and intensive resources and support from the council, the community, and other key state government and non-government agencies.
- Ambitious community consultation and deliberative processes, such as the Citizens' Jury, require high-level organisational and cross-factional political support.
- These processes can be potentially threatening to officers who currently manage stormwater issues. Elected representatives may see it as a potential threat to representative democracy.
- Any specific community engagement process must occur in tandem with, and be supported by, the council.
- Trans-disciplinary approaches and perspectives from a range of 'players', including community development workers, volunteers and participants, environmental scientists, engineers, elected representatives and others, critically enrich the outcomes.
- Ongoing, integrated evaluation of what you are doing, why and how, is paramount. This should be open, transparent, and informed by all participants.
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1 This project recognised the traditional ownership and stewardship of the Bronte Catchment by indigenous peoples. It was a joint Waverley Council and Elton Consulting initiative, supported by local community groups such as Keep Bronte Beautiful Committee; Bronte, Bronte Beach and Charing Cross Precinct Committees; Bronte Gully and Calga Reserve Bushcare groups; and the Bronte Surf Life Saving Club.
2 The Effective Environmental Education Project was a joint Waverley Council and University of NSW (UNSW) initiative. It was designed, developed and delivered by the School of Social Science and Policy at UNSW.
3 In September 2003, the EPA became part of the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC).
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Page last updated: 26 February 2011