Mornington Peninsula Shire has established Australia's first representative standing panel to advise Council on a regular basis. The panel of 45 meets monthly to give advice to both civil servants and councillors on a range of issues, decided by the Council. Building participatory democracy into the Council's processes, the 2022 panel builds on the deliberative Council Plan process that was held in 2021.
The panel consists of 45 participants from across the Shire, and is refreshed annually, in contrast to the processes in Newham, UK, where half of the participants are retained each iteration, to help build institutional knowledge. Instead, this year's panel met with some of the participants of last year's panel who explained the Community Vision and related processes that had been completed in 2021.
Also in contrast to the standing citizens' assemblies of either Newham, or Ostbelgien in Belgium, this panel has not been given a specific task, but is rather an advisory panel, being consulted monthly by Council on a range of issues. As such it is a unique experiment, and it will be interesting to see how it develops. What follows is a summary of the lessons we have learned so far, and some of the challenges that the process represents.
Who is able to participate
For the 2022 Citizens' Panel, the Council sent out a fresh round of 10,000 invitations to addresses that were randomly selected from Council's postal address database. Every residential address in the Shire had an equal chance of being selected, and this resulted in the registration of 188 potential participants. Interestingly this was three times as many as registered for the first Citizens' Panel in 2021. While we are unsure exactly why the numbers jumped significantly, we have two theories:
- There was significant local publicity (such as this) around the first Panel. This media attention would have raised the awareness of how these processes worked, priming people to act more favourably when they received an invite.
- The invitation used quotes from the participants in the 2021 Panel. The 'people like us' aspect of it could have persuaded more people to sign up.
During the sign-up process, potential participants were told at various points that they could be contacted for either the 2022 or the 2023 panel. For the 2023 panel, people who were not chosen for the 2021 panel, but registered an interest in being involved in future events, will make up part of the pool from which panel members are chosen.
Selecting the actual participants
As usual, all potential participants were required to share some basic information about themselves. We asked them to share their address, their date of birth, their gender, and whether they owned their home or lived in a rental property.
We used our standard sortition algorithm which is the fairest possible for the selection. We were selecting an entirely new panel, so the selection process was relatively straightforward. However, while, as the charts below show, we were able to compensate to some extent for under-representation of young people in those that chose to register, this has repercussions for next year's panel - there are not enough people under 35 to comprise a representative sample in 2023. To compensate, we will be working with the Council to conduct additional recruitment in 2022 specifically aimed at younger people.
The pie charts show:
- Column 1 (Target): These pie charts give information about the population as a whole, using statistics provided by Mornington Peninsula Shire.
- Column 2 (Respondents): These pie charts summarise the information that was provided to us by the people who signed up as potential participants. As mentioned above, the chart clearly shows that far fewer young people signed up than those in older age brackets.
- Column 3 (Confirmed Selected): These pie charts summarise information about the people who were finally confirmed to participate in the assembly. Notice that, thanks to our use of a sortition algorithm, the pie charts in this column are very similar to the target charts in the first column. As part of our recruitment process all of these people were contacted by telephone to confirm that they were still willing and able to participate, and we used the sortition algorithm to replace anyone who dropped out with others who shared similar characteristics.
What happens next?
Mornington Peninsula Shire will be working with us to actively recruit people from the younger age groups. During this stage of recruitment, we will also attempt to compensate for other skewing, for example targetting those in the Western Port geographic area which was under-represented in both the 2021 and early 2022 recruitments.
A selection will be conducted later in the year to provide 45 new participants for the 2023 panel.