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Future Melbourne

September 21st, 2008 · 1 Comment

Our 55th ambassador is Lord Mayor John So of Melbourne, Australia.  He writes about the Future Melbourne project, an innovative experiment in online participation in democracy at the city level.  See the post it in its original context here.

Lord Mayor John So

We are extremely proud and excited at the City of Melbourne to be involved with One Web Day 2008. As an OWD ambassador, it is an honour to be publishing this blog on the eve of what will be a series of events around the globe to celebrate the empowering nature of the internet. I’ve watched with interest as this year’s list of participating cities and countries has grown over recent months. To commemorate this year’s event the City of Melbourne will host a breakfast for invited government and industry representatives where speakers will discuss the innovative, participatory consultation process used to develop the Future Melbourne Community Plan. In hosting our event we hope to inspire other organisations to follow in our footsteps.

This year’s One Web Day theme of ‘online participation in democracy’ is closely tied with our use of wiki technology, a key component in finalising the Future Melbourne Draft Community Plan. We believe the decision to use a wiki to enable anybody to read, discuss and directly edit the plan represents a world-first on this scale and a significant step towards participatory governance. We hope others will be interested in what we’ve been able to achieve. Read on and see what you think.

Our decision to use a wiki was initially driven by the desire to engage more closely with the residents and users of the city and to also utilise wider knowledge networks than ever before. The Future Melbourne model involved a wide array of authors from both within and outside the City of Melbourne who could each provide unique knowledge and ideas. The possibilities of the wiki technology allowed these authors to collaboratively develop the draft plan.

The decision to enable public editing flowed naturally after settling on the wiki platform. Directly and creatively engaging the city’s residents, workers, students and visitors in the plan’s development was an essential requirement driving the project’s success. Enabling direct participation can accelerate public ‘ownership’ of a plan and thereby increase its likelihood of long-term success. In other words, when someone takes an active role in creation, this investment tends to stimulate greater affinity and concern for the outcome.

So what were the results?
Well, during the formal consultation period we witnessed a tangible contribution from a wide cross section of the community. Between 17 May and 14 June 2008, the Future Melbourne site received more than 30 000 page views by nearly 7 000 individuals. More than 200 edits were undertaken to the plan by members of the public. These spanned the spectrum from corrections of spelling and grammar through to extensive well-considered contributions on the future of the city. When compared to traditional consultation programs which often involve town hall meetings and hard copy documents, we were extremely happy with the level of accessibility and interest in the plan stimulated by the wiki and the sustainability of the process.

Interestingly, during the four-week consultation period the site did not receive a single incident of spam, off-topic posting or offensive content. We were pleasantly surprised that we did not need to refer to the legal safety net of our Terms and Conditions. This was perhaps because the consultation period was not simply a case of City of Melbourne leaving the front door open before heading off on a four-week holiday—so to speak. Instead, council officers were actively editing and engaging with wiki participants throughout the consultation period. People were able to learn from experts by discussing and witnessing the real-time incorporation of their contributions into the plan.

Perhaps most exciting about the process was the possibility to draw upon a global pool of knowledge. We saw registered users from Nepal to New Zealand and India to Indonesia. It’s true that many of the challenges we face as a city today are global challenges also being experienced in many other cities around the world. The potential to collaborate on this scale with those who possess specialised knowledge and ideas opens exciting new horizons for city planning.

While the Future Melbourne wiki was a major tool in the public consultation period, it’s important to also note it was just one of many tools. We were careful to ensure that traditional opportunities for engagement were also available for those not able, or not willing, to participate online. These included face-to-face Question and Answer sessions with the public, a variety of public forums, opportunities for written submissions and distribution of hard copies of the plan to local libraries and community centres. Since June 2007, more than 15 000 people have been consulted in some way, shape or form as part of the Future Melbourne project.

The next step for us will be an in-depth review of the wiki consultation process involving interviews with wiki participants as well as extensive quantitative analysis. A decision is yet to be made on future applications of the technology.

The City of Melbourne prides itself as a progressive organisation, intent on embracing world’s best practice and indeed, leading the development of best practice. We’ve demonstrated that direct and open public participation in policy development is achievable. We now hope other organisations will feel empowered to take the next step and we challenge them to follow our lead.

From all of us at the City of Melbourne, have a great One Web Day 2008.

Lord Mayor John So

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Nappy Cream // Sep 21, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    This is a genius initiative and we need the same in the UK.