Ongoing/continuing public engagement during the planning

The GBR legislation mandates 2 formal phases of public engagement when planning – one seeking input prior to developing a draft plan, and the second to provide comments on that draft plan. However previous planning processes in the GBR demonstrated that public engagement was more effective if undertaken throughout the process. This included the preparation of various brochures, technical information sheets (some tailored for different target audiences), periodic updates (see Resources below) and graphics explaining concepts like connectivity. Throughout the planning process (1999-2003) the public were engaged by a variety of methods e.g. newspapers, radio, TV, the website (refer Resources below). Planners knew a revised plan was needed. However, communication experts pointed out that the wider public did not understand why a new zoning plan was needed when there already was an existing plan. Rather than progressing the new draft plan, communications experts advised the planners to pull back for several months to conduct an awareness campaign called “Under Pressure”. Once the public were more aware of the problems facing the GBR, they were more accepting of the need for a new plan but also understood they could have their say.

The supporting role of experts in public education and communications was critical throughout the planning program. These specialists are experts in public engagement, so their perspective on a number of issues (e.g. ensuring the public understood the problems facing the GBR and why a new plan was necessary) was invaluable during the GBR process. Keeping the public informed and on-side using a range of methods were key components for success before, during and after the planning program.

  1. Public engagement was more effective when undertaken throughout the planning process.
  2. The ‘Under Pressure’ campaign was successful in raising public awareness as to why a new plan was needed.
  3. The support from communications experts throughout the planning program is invaluable.
  4. The periodic updates were useful to keep the public informed of progress between the formal engagement periods.
  5. The media can be a great/influential ally – or a potent opponent. Work closely with all forms of local media so they get to know you and how you work.
  6. A trained media spokesperson in your team who knows both the topic and how to present well is important.
  7. Expect that some media will be critical or opposed to what you are doing – and be prepared to counter those views with clear and concise messages.
  8. Keep a running list of all meetings/engagement events and the numbers present – politicians are usually interested to see how many people you have engaged.