Written public submissions during the planning

Given that GBRMPA had previously never received so many public submissions (> 10,190 in the 1st phase and 21,500 in the 2nd phase commenting on the draft zoning plan), the following multi-stage process was used to analyse all the submissions:

  1. Contact details from each submission were recorded in a database, a unique identification number was assigned, and an acknowledgment card was sent to whoever made the submission.
  2. All submissions were individually scanned and the electronic files were saved into an Oracle submissions database.
  3. Trained GBRMPA staff analysed each submission using a coding framework consisting of keywords for a range of themes and attributes. The framework was developed from a stratified random sample of submissions based on place of origin and sector. The database linked the scanned PDF with the relevant contact details and analytical information (i.e. keywords)
  4. A search and retrieve ability based on the keywords enabled planners to search and retrieve PDFs of specific submissions or to run various queries of all the information in the submissions.
  5. Many submissions involved spatial information, including some 5,800 maps in the formal submission phases; these maps were digitized or scanned.

The legislation outlines a comprehensive process for community participation in the planning process. The fact that the locals were ‘familiar’ with two phases of public participation and written submissions from previous experiences with GBR planning processes did assist this most recent planning process. Many groups assisted by submitting joint submissions. Consistency of analysis across the analytical team was ensured by the team leader checking a sample of the analysed submissions.

  1. The analysis method must consider the substance of submissions rather than the number of times a comment is made. The submission process is not a numbers game but more about the quality of any argument that is made.
  2. In the first public phase, many open questions on the submission form led to long rambling answers; these proved hard to code, as were the large maps that were also distributed.
  3. The 2nd phase was more effective as a simple two page A3 size submission form asked more specific questions. Not everyone used the submission form, but it did make scanning and coding easier.
  4. Many pro-forma submissions were received; easy to code but not helpful.
  5. Linking spatial information with a qualitative coding system in the GIS was important.
  6. Coding was based on seven key themes and a range of sub-themes, allowing a detailed analysis of each submission and all information provided.
  7. Public feedback is important to demonstrate that all comments were considered.