Water Journal : Water Journal September 2015
water september 2015 38 Feature article W e live in a world where we are more connected than ever before, and where we are exposed to an unprecedented amount of digital content. However, with the exception of the recent work on the Lower Hunter Water Plan, consultation on water issues in New South Wales has mostly used traditional face-to-face methods. Traditional consultation attracts an unrepresentative proportion of the wider community, which can impact on the implementation of infrastructure within the built environment. It is critical that governments and organisations have a more considered approach to community and stakeholder engagement on key water policy, governance, planning and infrastructure. Urban computing technologies, gamification and virtual panoramas offer opportunities to devise novel situated community engagement strategies that can engage previously difficult-to-reach, as well as new, segments of society. Existing Community EngagEmEnt approaChEs Community engagement is practised by government agencies and private enterprise with the intention to obtain public feedback on the development of infrastructure within the built environment. Through collaboration with communities, businesses and government organisations, community engagement aims towards guiding the decision-making process based on the outcomes of the engagement undertaken. Community engagement is generally undertaken as a legislative requirement, to inform communities on the creation of policies and infrastructure developments within the built environment. However, relationships between local communities and government agencies have traditionally played a consultative role, with the level of engagement reduced to only informing communities. As a consequence, the engagement process and the level of community input is controlled by government agencies, and is often attributed to political agendas of elected representatives, political party practices and bureaucratic power-brokers. Current methods of community engagement, such as face-to- face workshops, community forums, public hearings and online forms, only reach certain demographics of the population. As a result of this, opinions of community members classified as ‘hard to reach’ are not reflected in the overall engagement process. It has been argued by many engagement practitioners and community groups that legally required methods of community engagement in government decision-making rarely achieve genuine engagement outcomes; create dissatisfaction among citizens who feel they are not being heard; do not significantly improve the decisions of government agencies; and do not incorporate a broad spectrum of the community. It has been further argued that some traditional engagement practices suffer from a lack of integration between governments and the public, and have been shown to have inadequate representation of age groups and demographics. Community EngagEmEnt anD tEChnologiEs In the last decade, information and communication technology as we know it has evolved from simply using a personal computer in the workplace or at home, to becoming an integrated feature of daily life through new forms of digital and mobile technologies. New technologies are increasingly being designed for everyday use in urban environments, such as smart phones, tablet devices, digital signage and urban screens. Researchers and engagement practitioners investigating the use of digital technologies are in the early stages of exploring the myriad opportunities new digital technologies offer for community engagement. In the new age of social interaction and communication, contemporary society has adopted the use of digital technologies in a variety of urban contexts. In particular, the use of situated digital technologies offers opportunities to engage people in localised conversations within a particular urban public space around engagement topics of local relevance. In a study undertaken in Melbourne’s Federation Square, an existing urban screen was used as a situated technology encouraging citizens to respond to community engagement questions using SMS and Twitter. This approach to the community engagement activity enabled citizens to submit their responses on the spot, in real time, which encouraged collective expression and public discourse (Schroeter and Foth, 2009). Similarly, a study undertaken in Sydney made use of a public screen in Chatswood to deploy a situated voting system that consisted of a survey running on an iPad mounted on a stand and deployed in a busy public precinct. Participants were able to submit their votes on the iPad, which then displayed all the responses on the public screen. The study identified that situated digital voting systems can be an effective strategy for attracting the attention of members of the general public and converting them into active participants (Hespanhol et al., 2015). New and innovative approaches to community engagement can actively involve community members through the deployment of small-scale but effective situated digital technologies. An example of this was seen with the installation of low-tech input devices in shops and cafés and displayed visualisations along the street. This enabled citizens to vote on locally relevant questions, encouraged reflection of local issues and generated conversations about the community (Koeman et al., 2015). ) . A further example of this approach was investigated through the deployment of low-cost, open-source interactive posters for citizens to vote on community-related issues. The posters were deployed in two different contexts. The first one was placed on a street lamp post, with little supervision, and the second at a fair, with the interaction mediated by a community group who facilitated the community engagement discussions. This approach ensured greater representativeness, heightened sense of credibility to the engagement activity, and general discussion among members of the community. Additionally, it introduced potential TRADITIONAL CONSULTATION IS DEAD Joel Fredericks and Kylie Cochrane reflect on the impact of digital technology on the future of consultation on water policy and infrastructure.
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