Week 3. Participation and stakeholder input
The key takeout for me in this week’s work was that participating and stakeholder input must be real and not token. Public participation, as one of the readings stated, must be a process and and not something simply pulled from the ‘tool kit’. The unit also reminded me of the need to use the right means to engage with people. For example, social media may not reach all people. Public meetings may not meet all people. Letterboxeing leaflets may not be read by those they are intended to reach. Finally the unit reaffirmed to me that public participation can serve different purposes – informing, consulting, involving, collaborating or empowering.
There were three things missing from the unit based on my experiences of working in public policy. The first was that it is important to realise that you are never going to be able to keep all people happy all of the time. Some people will bender be happy no matter what you do. This needs to be recognised and taken into account. The ‘NIMBY – not in my back yard – principle applies often. Second, it is important to realise that some issues of subjects of participation can be hijacked for political purposes and can be the victim of political expediency. The Westconnex project in Sydney is a classic example. The local Labor member, Anthoiny Albanese, when in government supported Wesctconnex. When in opposition and under pressure from the Greens for his seat, he reversed his support. Third, and it sort of relates to second point, it is important to recognise that circumstances, times, personalities and governments can change during a process and some things, no matter what the consensus, are just not politically saleable (as as a result they get dumped despite huge amounts of work). Practitioners need to be conscious of ‘professional protesters’, political expediency and changing public environments when addressing environmental issues.