PHOTO | Participants at the Watercare Citizens’ Assembly [Credit: Watercare]

Wellington City Council is about to embark on inviting members of its community to be part of citizens’ assembly. A citizens’ assembly is, in essence, a miniature public. This is not a new concept, but it has the potential to shape a new way of doing local government politics. It also has huge potential in adaptation planning and planning for natural disasters, where local government will need to play a central role in helping communities to understand and respond together.

Last year Watercare and the Koi Tū Centre for Informed Futures ran a citizens’ assembly - a group of 37 Aucklanders representative of the people of the city – based on age, gender, ethnicity, education and home ownership. They were tasked with deciding what should be Tāmaki Makaurau’s next future water source to meet the city’s water needs beyond 2040. In Porirua, Ngāti Toa is working with the community to run wānanga, or Te Tiriti-based citizens assemblies, that will likewise seek to solve public problems in new ways. Last month’s Future for Local Government Review recommended more such innovations.

In Wellington’s case, a firm contracted by the Council (Global Research) will send out 10,000 invitations. From the positive responses they will select 40 residents. Their selections will be based on six key categories: age, gender, education, home-ownership status, ethnicity and suburb, which it is hoped will form a group will be broadly representative of the wider city. Their task, over four weeks in September and October, will be to determine what the public wants to see in the Council’s Long Term Plan, which sets the city’s direction for the next decade. Councillors have committed to receiving the citizens’ assembly report, incorporating its advice into their decisions, and reporting back to the assembly on what they’ve done.*

This exercise is, in part, an initiative to help reset the troubled relationship between residents and Wellington City Council. A survey undertaken by Council last year showed only one resident in eight was satisfied with how the Council makes decisions. This process is revolutionary because it recognises that the relationship between the public and its representatives is troubled and looks to a different solution. It’s the latest sign of a movement slowly gathering steam.

If it works in the capital city, other areas may soon follow suit. We think this has significant potential in the area of adaptive planning where consenting solutions need to be flexible, agile and bring the community along with them. Will this be a new way of doing local government engagement and planning? We’ll be watching with interest.

*Content and data used in the article has been sourced from: Rushbrooke, M. (2023 July 15) A Revolution in How Local Government Works Could Be Coming To A Mailbox Near You. The Post / Te Upoko o te Ika.