Decision Scrutiny Project Brief
(Picture source: Lacey, 2014)
The first 2-3 years project delivers a digital local governance oversight tool, through a number of development iterative sprints. The first sprint delivers a prototype that conceptualises (via a survey) how community engagement participants can evaluate the governance performance and quality of council decision making. Once this concept model is confirmed, future sprints involve piloting its database system in a number of councils and eventually transform into a blockchain system solution.
The first prototype works out the process guidelines that community engagement participants can follow, also supported by the availability of an online evaluation survey that they can give feedback data, when analysed provide the governance and compliance performance quality measures and contexts of council decision making and execution.
The survey data will help build a database of trusted and secured local governance performance information, which be analyzed to effectively inform council decision making and execution, and help assure that decision impacts are economically, socially and environmentally responsible and deliver best value results for local communities.
Local governance is a term that refers to adopting data driven approach and good governance principles in council decision making and execution (United Cities & Local Government, 2020). Local governance is good governance when decision making and execution activities integrate governance and compliance data. Australian councils’ good governance doctrines follow 8 common principles (Tasmania Local Government, n/a; MAV, 2020, VLGA, 2012), which are summarised in the diagram below:
When a council makes and executes decisions relating to a specific administrative or service episode (eg budgeting, town planning, sale of council land, proposing a new advocacy project, etc), they are obliged to show unbiased decision making and responsible execution. Unbiased decision making requires natural justice to prevail, so that the public can trust the decision processes and information and hence result the carried decisions. Community engagement, in one or more formats (e council meetings, Have your Say surveys, community workshops, listening post events, mail-outs, etc), allows the public to understand the processes and information of each council decision episode.
Through community engagement, the credibility, hence trust, of a council’s decision can be determined openly, to be the product of a transparent and deliberative decision making and execution process framework that openly shares and discloses decision information with the public; and sometimes participate in part of the decision making process.
Today, many councils make decisions based on discretionary intuition, observations or subjective guesswork, agreed and finalised by consensus majority. Decision execution reporting does not usually prevail and if it does, performance information is unclear, lacks measures and is subjective. The use and reporting decision information is not mandatory, nor consistent, nor show traceable procedural and information compliance to good governance principles. Because of this practice, fraud and corruption risks in council decision making prevail and are hard to understand, define and manage.
However, states’ fraud and corruption agencies are starting to reveal better understanding of these complicated risks and their occurrence impacts. For example Victoria’s IBAC’s operation Sandon (2019), which is still examining how planning corruption occurs in Victoria’s Casey council . The IBAC findings indicate the need to “explore whether the use of professional lobbyists or planning consultants to lobby government at all levels has resulted in undue influence over planning and property development decision making within Victoria”, implying the extensive scale of risk exposure and undetected occurrences.
Because community engagement are legislated in LG reforms to improve good governance performance in council decision making, we have 2 opportunities:
- Local communities can also play a governance oversight role in determining and reporting the quality of decision information, required to be disclosed publicly via community engagement.
- Council decision making have to be data driven. The quality of council decision information disclosure is already defined by state’s information management standards, such as the Victorian Government’s data quality framework (2018), in which data quality dimensions are clearly specified, as follows. Allowing community engagement participants to rate the degree of compliance and provide contextual feedback to each of these data dimensions potentially provides the data sets that measure the quality of council decision information and procedures and whose data analytics are also useful for informing risk managers of fraud and corruption risk exposures.
Product Scope of Prototype Version 1:
Community Engagement Evaluation Guidelines
- Identify the nature and scope of your council’s decision episode.
A decision episode is linked to a specific type of event, such as annual council budgeting, town planning, community service, waste management, advocacy campaign, climate change crisis, etc. The episode follows good practice unbiased enterprise decision making steps, which research evidence confirms the following model, whose information flows would show reporting traceability of natural justice. When your council engages with its local community in a decision episode, it needs to clarify the scope of its decision making, ie explaining which steps it has executed and the public information it provides must linked to information flows of the executed steps.
- Identify the type of community engagement and methods applied. Almost all councils follow the IAP2 spectrum of community engagement (IAP2 International, 2019), which standardizes the types of community engagement into the following levels: Each community engagement type or level can apply one or more engagement methods, such as emailed submissions; special face to face review meetings; council meeting attendance, social media conversations, “have your say” feedback submissions, participatory budget meetings and delegated work activities; listening post conversations and followups, etc
- Identify all the decision information resources provided. The engagement methods applied should disclose information sourced, processes and reported by executed steps, assuring one that decision makers have:
(a) used reliable and current information to inform their decision making;
(b) considered more than one alternatives, discussed and identified the evaluation criteria and weighed the alternatives;
(c) confirmed the chosen alternative’s best value outcome-measures and the financial, social and environmental sustainability impacts;
(d) committed to publicly avail timely decision execution performance information, and other traceability of nature justice prevalence.
They are also obliged to disclose the number of and reasons for closed decision discussion meetings.
- Explain the purpose and structure of the survey tool and how responses collected would be used. Users may need one to one coaching or group training to use the surveys, providing an opportunity for a local group to engage with its members and subscribers and build value adding relationships.
- Invite survey respondents to receive the survey findings and optionally attend any followup community discussion events regarding the survey findings. Once you have analysed the survey findings, it is important to share the results with the contributors, even councils and other LG agencies, to reveal the governance performance quality of council decision episodes.
Local Governance Evaluation Survey
Version 1 is available for review and feedback.
Click HERE to review the survey. Attached is a pdf copy of the prototype, for easy reference during your evaluation. These resources are subject to copyright and you must contact us if you intend to use
Prototype Review & Feedback
We appreciate your review feedback about the process guidelines and the survey tool. Please return your feedback via email to us.We will use the information to enhance these two components.
When we finalize the process guidelines and survey, we will transform the prototype into a database system and pilot test it in a number of councils. If you are interested in testing the pilot system, please indicate in your email and we will include you into our list of pilot user testers.