Protecting the Snowies

Project name: Protecting the Snowies

Client: NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

Background: Australia is home to the largest wild horse population in the world, with over an estimated 400,000 horses spread across the country.  Kosciuszko National Park is home to the only alpine ecology in Australia and horses, as an introduced species, place this environment under significant pressure.  For 10 years the management of horses has been directed by a Wild Horse Management Plan, developed by National Parks in close consultation with environmental and horse stakeholders.

The review of the Management Plan is therefore a complex, contentious and important project. It involves identifying and understanding the impact that wild horses are having on this unique National Park. It also involves balancing the protection and enhancement of the Park’s ecology while recognising that to some, wild horses or ‘brumbies’ have significant historical and cultural value, as memorialised in the ‘The Man from Snowy River’, iconography that creates emotional attachment and amplifies animal welfare concerns. Discussion about these issues has been long dominated by the opposing views of horse and environmental advocates. Their positions are strongly held and well known, having been involved in formal and informal engagement with NPWS for an extended period of time.

Engagement brief: Develop and undertake comprehensive stakeholder and community engagement program to support the review of the 2008 Wild Horse Management Plan for Kosciuszko National Park. The objectives were to:

  • Provide information about the issues associated with wild horse management in the Park
  • Generate considered dialogue about the management of wild horses
  • Capture a representative cross-section of community views
  • Gain an understanding of the underlying values that drive those views.

Description of engagement: The extensive engagement programme, which ran for seven months, included a range of mechanisms by which the voices of everyday citizens, whose taxes fund the Park, could be heard. In addition, there were activities in which stakeholders could participate, recognising their specific expertise and commitment but ensuring that theirs was not the only voice heard.

Randomly-recruited focus groups in Sydney, Parramatta, Canberra and Jindabyne were designed to identify the breadth of views held by the general public and to help frame all future engagement activities by providing details of key values and issues of importance to the community.

Two online surveys were conducted at different stages of the process. The first online (panel) survey was designed to generate a rich body of data on unmitigated community views (those uninfluenced by explanatory information) and the diversity of views held by different types of community members. A second online survey was conducted approximately four months later and used similar questions although was delivered via the online engagement platform. Participation was self-selecting therefore this mechanism did not target the ‘unengaged’ but the community with some pre-existing interest.

A 21st century town hall meeting was designed to capture the opinions of a demographically representative ‘mini public’ as they participated in the day-long deliberation.  Stakeholders also participated in the event which enabled them to hear community views. This structure provided a direct comparison between community and stakeholder views, which, through the use of Keepad technology, were able to be immediately and transparently shown to all participants.

An online engagement platform was designed to maximise the reach of the consultation. The ‘Protecting the Snowies’ page was designed to be a central bank of highly accessible, accurate information and facilitate ongoing in-depth discussion. A series of short film clips were designed to enable the community to appreciate the complexities of this issue and provide feedback in a simple and engaging manner. Approximately 21,000 people participated in the engagement program with the online platform receiving almost 20,000 unique visitors, making it the most popular NSW online engagement ever.

Kitchen table discussion guides were designed to enable participants to have guided but self-directed discussion with people of their choosing, at a time and place that was convenient for them. As such, it facilitated deliberation and grassroots feedback without the time and travel commitments of meetings or workshops. In addition to NPWS information, the guides included the opinions of vested stakeholders to allow participants to understand the full breadth of views on the issue.

Stakeholder meetings were also undertaken to facilitate direct dialogue between NPWS, and capture stakeholder views and keep them informed of the consultation process.

The outcome of the engagement program was a significant body of qualitative and quantitative data which clearly indicates the community’s views on wild horse management and the protection of native flora and fauna.


The outcomes of the engagement program were reported to the Independent Technical Reference Group (ITRG) so that it understood the topics of most concern to the community that could be addressed by scientific evidence. The Chair of the ITRG made the following statement about Straight Talk’s engagement program:

“It is hard to over-emphasise how exhaustive and thorough were the methods used, from focus groups, through town hall meetings, to telephone (sic) surveys.  The ITRG was impressed with the thoroughness of the approach because past attempts to hear from the community had become somewhat captured by lobby groups. The presenter was well versed in the breadth and depth of the different methods and their results. The ITRG, before the briefing, had been concerned to ensure that it had sufficient, and comprehensive, understanding of community views in formulating its recommendations. After the presentation, it felt thoroughly well briefed and much reassured that the credibility of the engagement process was such that the ITRG was building on a firm basis.”

Moorebank Intermodal Terminal

Project name: The Moorebank Intermodal Terminal Citizens’ Jury

Client: The Moorebank Intermodal Company

Award: This project was Highly Commended in the 2015 IAP2 Core Values Awards (Infrastructure).

Background: An intermodal terminal, to facilitate the transfer of goods to, from and within Sydney, and to relieve traffic congestion on Sydney’s roads, is being planned for Moorebank, in Sydney’s south-west. The terminal will bring considerable benefits to the broader community including:

  • Enhanced economy: $9 billion in economic benefits through improved productivity, reduced business costs, reduced road congestion and better environmental outcomes
  • New jobs: Around 1,500 jobs during construction and 2,200 long-term jobs during operation of the terminal
  • Reduced congestion: A reduction of over 60,000km travelled by import/export freight trucks in Sydney each day. Intersection upgrades will address extra truck traffic in Moorebank and surrounding suburbs.

However, the terminal will have an impact in the immediate vicinity of the site, particularly in relation to traffic, noise and visual impacts. Although these impacts will be mitigated so that they comply with environmental planning and protection legislation, and other relevant guidelines, The Moorebank Intermodal Company (MIC), the government entity established to facilitate the terminal, determined to provide an additional avenue for the local community to identify community benefits that the terminal could fund.

Engagement brief:  Community engagement had been undertaken over a number of years as the proposal was developed.  However, the low level of community engagement about the terminal from the majority of the local community, and the fact that those who were engaged were focussed on opposing the terminal and not open to considering public benefits, meant that another mechanism was required to ensure the community could input to any decisions MIC made about community benefits.

The newDemocracy Foundation, which champions citizens’ juries as alternative methods of community decision-making,  approached MIC to suggest that a citizens’ jury, which would allow ordinary local community members to decide a package of measures to benefit people living near the terminal, would be the most effective mechanism to involve the community in making this decision.

A citizen’s jury is a group of everyday citizens, chosen at random and who largely mirror the target population (in this case, Liverpool local government area) who meet several times to consider a question (or ‘charge’) and make recommendations.  They are provided with access to accurate and unbiased information.  As a group, and acting on behalf of the wider community that they represent, the jury then deliberates and comes to decisions or recommendations.  It is the jury’s ability act on behalf of the greater good, as opposed to individual agendas, that is one of the things that sets the citizen jury process apart.

Straight Talk was engagement to design and facilitate the citizen’s jury process.

Description of engagement: The jury was charged with identifying what kind of public benefits would be best for the local community. To form the jury half of the participants were drawn from people living within a five kilometre radius, and half from within a 10 kilometre radius of the planned terminal. Newdemocracy Foundation managed the selection process of jurors, at arms length from both MIC and Straight Talk.

The objectives of Straight Talk’s design and facilitation of the jury process were to:

  • Ensure the jury decided who they needed to hear from and what information they needed to have in order to be able to meet their charge
  • Provide the jury with the skills and capabilities they needed to function effectively and appropriately as a team, such as critical thinking and consensus building skills
  • Guide the jury through the early stages of the jury process, while modelling appropriate inclusive behaviour, so that jury members were able to progressively ‘own’ the process and self-facilitate.

MIC’s commitment to the jury was that it would implement whatever recommendations the jury made provided they were implementable (e.g. they are consistent with relevant government policies and MIC’s legal obligations). It was also made clear to the jury that their recommendations would only be carried out once the project received all necessary government approvals.

The jury was very culturally and linguistically diverse, and there were significant issues with literacy and participation, with some cultural mores mitigating against the concepts of argument and debate.  Straight Talk needed to design processes that:

  • Allowed the participants to understand the highly technical aspects of the proposal and its impacts and importantly, how these would be addressed within the planning process
  • Supported the group to understand the notions of deliberation – weighing things up – and working as a representative group
  • Helped create consensus without leading or directing the jury in a particular direction.

We were able to create a range of activities that were fun, engaging, not text based yet allowed the jury to take full ownership of the issues.  Throughout the process Straight Talk emphasised our role as facilitators, that we were there to create a process that the jurors themselves would ultimately own and, at the last meeting, this came to fruition with the jury taking over the process to work together and create their recommendations – the most resounding evidence of success!

At the close of the process the majority of jury members strongly agreed that: the jury worked for the common good and represented the interests of the wider community; the level of consensus reached on the recommendations felt robust; and the jury process will achieve valuable outcomes for the community.

Never before has a group of everyday citizens been given the opportunity to decide on a package of measures to benefit their community and no other process would have been able to get beyond the ‘loud and articulate’ to ensure everyday citizens could contribute to lasting benefits for their local community.

Testimonial: Mr Iain Walker, Executive Director of newDemocracy Foundation indicated that he was extremely satisfied with the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal Citizens’ Jury:

“Building a major piece of infrastructure is rarely popular with those immediately adjacent to it, and the catchment area of community members was known to have a very broad range of linguistic, educational and cultural backgrounds – I think we had 17 different cultural backgrounds for the 18 people in the room! Straight Talk were able to get them to bond and work together as a coherent group rather than as a mix of individuals with independent interests. Finding a shared sense of community enabled them to work out what they could agree was a fair outcome. That jury have publicly owned the recommendations – which are simultaneously insightful and controversial because they depart from the simple media back and forth on the topic. To achieve this, the key variable is very experienced facilitators.”

Infrastructure Highly Commended

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Senior Consultant Nicola Wass receiving the Highly Commended (Infrastructure) Award at the 2015 IAP2 Core Values Awards.

Public secondary education

Project name: Strengthening the Future provisions of Public Secondary Education in the inner Sydney area

Client: NSW Department of Education and Communities

Award: This project was Highly Commended in the 2015 IAP2 Core Values Awards (Planning).

Background: The inner city area of Sydney has experienced significant growth in population and this trend is set to continue, with a marked increase in the number of families with school-aged children now living close to or within the CBD.  The Department undertook planning for a new primary school in the Ultimo/Pyrmont area in 2013 and in early 2014 the Inner City Schools Working Party (ICSWP) was tasked with determining recommendations to the Government for addressing future high school education needs.

Engagement brief: Straight Talk, and the ICSWP developed a stakeholder and community consultation program to seek community input on options for strengthening the future provision of public secondary education in the inner Sydney area.

Community engagement needed to:

  • Provide a range of ways for diverse stakeholder groups (students, teachers, Principals, parents, future students and parents, P&Cs, local Councils, local politicians, community and interest groups and hard to reach groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and people of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds) to participate
  • Avoid polarising discussion and debate around the relative merits or failings of particular schools and focus on educational needs and strategies for addressing future growth
  • Ensure feedback represented the full diversity of views so the Department and Government could have confidence in the outcomes.

Description of engagement:: Straight Talk developed a stakeholder and community consultation program to seek community input on options for addressing high school education needs in the short and longer term.

The engagement process recognised that public secondary education is something that potentially affects all of us at some point in time. The comprehensive engagement process ensured that there were multiple opportunities for stakeholders and the community to be involved, and that these methods took into account how individuals wanted to get involved so no one was left out (i.e. whether that be with a group of strangers at a workshop/focus group, group of friends through the Kitchen Table Discussion Guide or individually via the online discussion forum).

Engagement also took into account different levels of literacy and styles of learning. Each activity was tailored to the target group; this resulted in 18 individually tailored processes running at the same time. For instance, some of the differences in focus group structures included:

  • Primary school children were asked to draw what their ideal secondary school might look like.
  • ‘Future parents’ were asked to explain the key factors taken into consideration when selecting a public secondary school.
  • Culturally and linguistically diverse parents were asked if there were any specialist offerings they look for in a public secondary school.

Another critical success factor in ensuring those who were affected were involved was that the invitation to be involved came from both the Department, through its website, social media, advertisements and media releases, and the schools themselves. Emails and newsletters were deliberately ‘trickled down’ from Principals to P&Cs and from P&Cs to their community.

Engagement activities included online, focus groups, workshops, self-directed Kitchen Table Discussion Guides, briefings and regular newsletters and email updates.

Over 4,500 people were involved in the process with over 600 people from a large and diverse range of inner Sydney school communities actively participating in workshops, focus groups, Kitchen Table Discussions and/or the online forum as part of the consultation.

The final decision, a new high school, was announced on 16 February 2015 and the site, the existing Intensive English High School at the old Cleveland Street Boys High School site, was one that had been identified through engagement. In addition, ideas for how the Intensive English High School could be relocated to existing CBD commercial premises, for example, were also identified during the engagement process.

The high degree of transparency about the process and its outcomes contributed to improved relationships between the Department and key stakeholders including inner city parents, and has allowed a greater depth of press coverage to illustrate the complexities of forward planning for public education facilities in rapidly changing urban environments.

Testimonials: The feedback below demonstrates the high level of stakeholder and community satisfaction with the engagement process:

Feedback from principals and teachers:

“Thank you very much for the opportunity. Wonderful!”

“I thought it was a good and fair process”

“Lots of opportunity for people to have their say”

Feedback from targeted focus groups:

“I thought the focus groups functioned well with a diverse group of people”

“It was very well done and all of the group seemed free to talk. I was happy with it!”

“Very important, very valuable, very informative”

“Good, positive, inclusive discussion”

Planning Highly Commended

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Senior Consultant James Page receiving the Highly Commended (Planning) Award at the 2015 IAP2 Core Values Awards.

Campaspe Our Future

Project name: Campaspe Our Future

Client: Shire of Campaspe

Background: Campaspe Shire is located 180 kilometres directly north of Melbourne on both the Murray and Goulburn Rivers. It is a popular tourist and retirement destination. One of the challenges for Campaspe Shire Council (Council) is to deliver services efficiently across its area of operations, which spans more than 4,519 square kilometres.  It is a relatively new shire, having been formed after the local government reforms in Victoria over the last decade.

Engagement brief: Straight Talk was commissioned to undertake community and stakeholder consultation and prepare a Strategic Plan for the Shire of Campaspe.

The process of developing the Strategic Plan was to be consultation-led. As such, the Strategic Plan was prepared in consultation with stakeholders, including government agencies, non-government service providers, council staff, local business owners and residents.

As the Strategic Plan informs the development and implementation of all strategic and operational plans to ensure all Council activities are delivering on the community’s vision for the future, it needed to:

  • Reaffirm (or define) a vision to reflect what is important and set the direction for Council over the long term and identify priority issues that are so significant to the overall well-being of the Shire that they require coordinated long term action from Council
  • Define expected objectives that clearly state what Council must achieve to address the priority issues
  • Determine who is accountable and how objectives will be met – strategies, projects, plans and budgets to provide a clear framework for how Council will allocate time, staff and money to address priority issues and achieve its defined objectives.

Description of engagement: Straight Talk designed and implemented a range of community consultation activities for the development of the Strategic Plan that outlines the Shire of Campaspe’s vision and priorities for the next twenty years. Straight Talk then drafted the Strategic Plan titled ‘Campaspe Our Future’ in direct response to community input.

Straight Talk conducted a suite of engagement activities to obtain feedback from community members, organisational stakeholders, community groups and Council. These included:

  • Online survey – available via Council’s website throughout June, collecting feedback from the community, including secondary school students, about what the community values about the municipality and where they live, their aspirations and the things that are of most concern to them about the future
  • Community workshops – conducted in Echuca, Rochester and Kyabram to collect feedback about what the priorities for the future should be
  • Outreach (pop-up) activities – short, fun activities were undertaken in Stanhope, Rochester, Kyabram, Lockington and Echuca to capture feedback on values, aspirations and the vision for the future
  • Stakeholder meetings – to capture feedback on long-term trends and the key priorities for the future
  • Schools competitions – two competitions to encourage primary and secondary school students to participate in the engagement process and provide feedback on young people’s vision for their community and its future

To view Campaspe Our future, click here

Testimonial: The feedback from a Shire of Campaspe Councillor demonstrates the enthusiasm with which the strategic plan was received:

“Can I commend you on an excellent report. Its visually dynamic and ‘fun’ feel belies a depth of research into our environment overlaid by an awareness of local issues that is ‘out of the box’ as to any report I have had presented through council in my time as a councillor. Context, national trends, regional relationships and a terrific capture of the pulse of the community – followed by the vision for the future and strategies/principles by which council, community and businesses can achieve it is great.You have also captured those areas where council has the opportunity to improve directly and respectfully. Well done…….In all, I think this is a terrific piece of work (I don’t usually get excited when a draft report is presented!) and I genuinely hope we will see more of your work in future.”