ACT Environment Directorate
Healthy Waterways Community Consultation Program
Canberra is the biggest urban centre in the iconic Murray-Darling Basin and the only Australian capital where water travels beyond its borders. Stormwater is the biggest source of water pollution, posing a risk to public health and aquatic life and threatening the many social, economic and environmental benefits Canberra’s lakes and waterways offer. That’s why the ACT and Australian governments created ACT Healthy Waterways.
The joint initiative includes the construction of infrastructure such as wetlands, ponds and rain gardens as well as research trials, a community education campaign and improvements to water monitoring practices.
The team driving ACT Healthy Waterways recognised that there is often community hostility to new infrastructure projects developed by government. To mitigate this risk, the community was involved in the strategic planning phases which resulted in community feedback helping to shape the project. Additionally, this minimised any possible negative attitudes toward the project and the need for consultation in later phases.
A communication strategy was developed to support the project and to help educate the ACT community on the need for a healthy waterway system and to change current behaviours. The communication team created an extensive community consultation process, transparent communication and a strong online presence to help form positive opinions and educate the community.
The key objectives of the communication strategy were:
Build trust and support for the program and the project team.
Encourage media coverage and public stakeholder support throughout the program.
Manage potential backlash around the project.
Increase awareness in the community of water quality issues in the ACT and regions and the role of infrastructure in addressing those issues.
Ensure interested parties are informed through accessible information.
Anyone who is interested in the project feels informed and is provided with easy to access information.
The extensive consultation program began when a panel, including technical experts and community representatives, evaluated the original list of 500 potential sites and prioritised them according to cost and feasibility. The list was reduced to 188, and the design team developed concept plans for each site ahead of the first round of communication consultation in July 2015. Comments were received from a range of different sources, including experts in the field, community groups and people who attended the six catchment-based drop-in sessions.
During phase two of the project, when the building had begun, regular media updates helped to ensure the community had regular access to information. From January to June 2018, there were 20 items of media coverage on various stages of the project across radio and print. Other tactics used to support the campaign included print, a new website, social media, public presentations, online videos, email and letters.
The result was that more than 3000 people either attended one of the six drop-in community communication sessions or visited the ACT Government’s ‘YourSay’ website to view the plans. The ACT Healthy Waterways project team had confidence that the infrastructure projects were well supported due to the community engagement, open communication and educational elements of the communications program. This was reflected in the positive opinions seen through the feedback and is a direct result of the strong communication strategy which highlighted the importance of community engagement, open communication channels and education.
The community consultation and communication campaign supported the creation and success of the ACT Healthy Waterways innovative project. As a result, the entire ACT community will benefit from the efforts made in waterway conservation and the ongoing education output in the community.