Where to start: raising active living and healthy eating
The Local Government Act requires councils to prepare and implement a Community Engagement Strategy, based on social justice principles, for engagement with the community in developing and reviewing their Community Strategic Plans. The IP&R Manual (2013) requires that councils identify relevant stakeholder groups (and appropriate engagement methods), and give due consideration to expected service levels.
Local councils will also need to consider the type of background information that should be provided to promote discussion.
Background material for community engagement
While the Engagement Strategy should be broad and open-ended so as not to limit community input, there are a number of matters relating to active living and healthy eating that could be provided in the background information/ issues papers:
- Benefits of active living and healthy eating (see NSW Health's Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) Strategy and Make Healthy Normal campaign).
- Basic data on the health of the local community. Ideally, a benchmarking tool could provide a snapshot of the existing situation, like a mini health report. This would uncover gaps and feed opinions and also help in performance monitoring. There is a range of sources for such health data. For instance, via the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Department of Health website or the Social and Health Profiles for LGAs compiled by some Local Health Districts (see section 9).
- Basic data on food production and distribution eg. fresh water infrastructure and ‘urban food mapping’ (maps where edible produce grows on public land).
- Active living and healthy eating priorities in the NSW State Plan, State Health Plan and other regional plans/strategies including the NSW Healthy Eating and Active Living Strategy and A Plan for Growing Sydney.
- Councils' legal obligations - Councils' Charter and social justice principles
- Existing council service and regulatory activities that directly relate to active living and healthy eating eg. open space and recreation; roads, cycleways and footpaths; and promotion and regulation of healthy food .
The IP&R Manual (2013) also requires consideration of acceptable service levels as an essential element of the Engagement Strategy. This is a role for a preliminary Resourcing Strategy – a ‘reality check’ that can prompt views on expected levels of service.
Raising resourcing at the engagement stage
In the context of active living and healthy eating and, given the direct implications for asset provision and management, it is suggested that a 'preliminary' overview of resourcing issues be prepared to coincide with community engagement, preceding the Community Strategic Plan (and included in the background/briefing material). This would assist the community to nominate priorities, acceptable service levels and the strategic use and condition of assets.
Consideration could also be given to utilising recent, relevant consultation and survey work undertaken by the council (and other agencies).
The choice of participation/ consultation mechanisms depends on the location and size of the council and the nature of the local community. A sequenced program of general information sessions followed by specific, targeted workshops/ focus groups (reflecting community interests/ concerns) is a simple model. Elected Councillors should be briefed/ workshopped at key points in the engagement process.
In relation to active living and healthy eating, most councils surveyed had sessions on health (and specifically on active living and/ or ‘Getting Around’). Local councils consulted to inform this resource utilised a broad range of other engagement methods including:
- Random telephone/ online surveys
- Citizen Panels
- Community summit
- A web-forum (and other social media)
- Newspaper advertisements and articles
- Photographic competitions (eg. for young people). Children’s visioning.
- Letterbox drops (eg. “postcards” about the consultation)
- Study groups and workshops, reflecting demography and spread of interests
- ‘Have a say days' or open days
- Ongoing customer satisfaction surveys
- Staff surveys / workshops
- Councillor workshop(s)
One small rural council emphasised the importance of using established connections and informal engagement, in addition to a formal structured program. Use can be made of existing Section 355 Committees (established under the LG Act) and other local user groups, such as sporting, food-related and progress associations.
Providing a spatial component to engagement
Given the significance of connectivity and access for active living and access to healthy food, it is suggested that there be a spatial component to engagement – map-based discussions of local areas, highlighting location of various food outlets, open space (and recreational facilities), transport connections, access and mobility. Discussing localities in this familiar fashion can help to highlight issues and problems.
From discussions with the local councils consulted the following suggestions were noted:
- The main agencies with a stake in active living are the Office of Communities, Sport and Recreation, the Department of Planning and Environment, NSW Ministry of Health, Local Health Districts, Police Force NSW, Office of Local Government, Roads and Maritime Services, Transport for NSW, Infrastructure NSW, Urban Growth NSW and Ageing Disability and Home Care.
- In relation to healthy eating the key agencies are NSW Health, Local Health Districts, Office of Communities, Environment Protection Authority, NSW Food Authority, Health Education and Training Institute, Community Services, Aboriginal Affairs and the Commission for Children and Young People
- Consideration of timing – a forum for all relevant agencies after a draft CSP has been prepared: ‘something for them to consider’; also early notice/ informal negotiation of dates
- Targeting particular senior staff with previous interest and expertise in such matters
- Utilising the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Regional Manager’s Network as a mechanism to encourage participation.
- Regional Organisations of Councils (ROCs) and County Council meetings as a way to minimise the load on State agencies (and to raise and coordinate cross-boundary matters)
- Negotiating protocol or Memoranda of Understanding as mechanisms for promoting involvement. Such agreements do not need to set specific commitments and timeframes and could be based on agreed principles of engagement.
Non-Government organisations are also a useful source of information (and possible consultation). For active living this includes: the NSW Premier's Council for Active Living, Heart Foundation, Planning Institute of Australia, Australian Sports Foundation, Kidsafe NSW. Additional contacts can be found in the OLG's Creating Active Communities Guidelines (2006). Similarly, for healthy eating, there are a range of community and volunteer organisations in the field. For example, the Heart Foundation, the Cancer Council and Diabetes NSW.