Suggested forums on Auckland’s Housing problems
I have recently submitted the following fantasy outline of a set of citizens’ forums to consider Auckland’s housing problems, to propose solutions, and to receive the Council’s feedback on the proposals.
Auckland Housing Workshops
What follows is a relatively detailed outline of a way of involving citizens in looking at Auckland’s housing problems, and in citizens, after deliberation together, making recommendations to the Auckland Council. It should be stressed that this is not any kind of hard and fast proposal, but simply an attempt to illustrate a way in which things might be done, drawing generally on overseas sources. It is hoped to stimulate discussion of how Auckland might work to introduce more inclusive and deliberative democracy in relation to some very hard problems. It tries to show that inclusive democracy needs careful and detailed planning, if it is to be attractive to and even fun for those who participate, including it is to be hoped, Council staff.
Peoples workshops on Auckland’s housing problems
Send invitations to say 1000 Auckland residents chosen at random to become part of a pool from which 100 will be chosen to participate in three two hour workshops on successive Saturdays. There would need to be study of how many would be needed in order to get a reasonable reflection of Auckland’s demographics. The first workshop will divide the 100 participants into ten groups of ten. Each group will come up with a ranked list of the problems with housing in Auckland. The results are posted and all groups rank all problems in order of importance. The top 10 problems are then randomly assigned to the ten groups, who discuss and propose solutions to the problems. The proposed solutions are posted, and each group presents its proposals to the workshop as a whole. The proposed solutions are then voted on by the workshop as a whole. The top ten proposals are then assigned randomly to the ten groups and also go to Council staff for consideration. At the third workshop council staff present their reaction to the proposals, describe what limitations and constraints there are to the implementation of each of the ten proposals, and suggest ways in which the proposals could be implemented. The groups then discuss ways the responses by council staff and draft a set of recommendations to be submitted, with due formality, to the Auckland Council.
Choose the 100 participants by lot and confirm that they can all attend. Make any necessary arrangements to ensure that people can attend on three successive weekends.
3. The workshops
3.1 The first workshop;
Greet participants as they arrive.
Explain the aim and structure of the workshops, by handout, by verbal presentation and by posters around the room. Each participant is invited to draw a lot (coloured ball, card …) assigning to one of the ten groups. The groups assemble at the appropriately marked table. Within each group the members are asked to greet each other by some culturally acceptable means so as to promote a feeling of group membership.
Each group has a facilitator attached who has prepared various materials in advance. The facilitator will then produce a set of cards with some of the obvious housing problems (not enough building, bad quality building, poorly regulated rental market, whatever) and invite the group to think of others. The aim of the group is to produce and agree on a set of the most pressing problems with Auckland’s housing. Rules for discussion should be suggested by the facilitator, to make sure that everybody gets a say and the group is not dominated by one or other forceful individual. If the group likes the rules, they can adopt them, or they can suggest modifications to the rules. When rules have been agreed, the group take turns to make suggestions and discuss problems with housing. Each in turn could make their suggestion and explain why they think it important. If the group agrees with the suggested problem it is written on a square of red paper and posted on the board which the facilitator has provided. The person who made the suggestion pins the paper up. If time allows and the group wants, there could be two or three rounds of suggestions. Each piece of red paper is numbered.
At the end, each member of the group is given a voting form with say ten spaces, and they are asked to list their top ten problems from the set on the board. Preferably this should be done privately, so as to avoid group-think and copying. At this point a rule shold be agreed as to how to sort out ties in the voting. The votes are counted, and the group’s top ten problems identified. These are then posted on the main results board, along with those of the other nine groups.
Time is then taken for all participants to look at the posted papers, and they are told that they will be voting for the overall top ten problems. The voting system for this should preferably be different from that used within the groups. Alternatively, the top ten could be drawn by lot, or by some other method the participants think is fair.
It is then announced that at the next workshop the participants will either be reassigned in new groups of ten by the same procedure as at the beginning of day 1, or could stay with the same group they have been working with on that day. The particpants would be invited to choose, perhaps by a simple show of hands. At the second workshop, each group will be assigned one of the top ten problems, by drawing lots, and will then spend the workshop thinking of solutions to the problems.
The workshop then adjourns for a buffet lunch, after which everyone heads home.
3.2 The second workshop:
Participants greeted as before.
There are posters on portable boards or easels illustrating the ten top problems which are going to be considered, with luck presented in a vibrant and interesting manner. The groups then reassemble, or are reassigned depending on what they have chosen. Each group draws lots (nine black one coloured ball in a bag?) to identify the group member who will draw lots to assign the problems. A staff member, or other individual, then draws lots to identify the first group to get a problem assigned, and the selected member of that group then draws a number between one and ten, and that is the group’s problem for the day. The group carries the poster with their problem to their table. This is repeated, quite quickly, so that each group has their problem assigned.
Then, using the procedures previously agreed, each group starts to consider actions to solve their problem, writing them down on coloured paper as before once they have been discussed and agreed. The facilitators may need to have had a few ideas of their own to get ideas flowing. There should be no attempt at this stage, unless voiced by the members of the group themselves, to discuss legal or administrative limitations to possible actions or solutions. That will come during the third workshop.
At the end of the deliberations the adopted actions from each group are again posted on the common board and all can take a look, chat and discuss, before adjourning for lunch followed by departing for home.
The council team will need to take note of all the various actions proposed so that they can prepare a response, to be delivered at the third workshop. The responses should consider each proposed action and describe the conditions under which they could be implemented, and what actions would be necessary for them to be adopted. It is not the council officers job in this context to accept or reject the proposals of the citizens, but to enlarge on how they might be effected. The most effective presentation for the third workshop might be again to prepare a set of posters with a summary of how the staff of council see each proposal being implemented, with a summary which might serve as a the basis of a resolution to be adopted by the workshop.
3.3 The third workshop:
Participants greeted as before.
Some time is allowed for a general perusal of the response posters produced by council staff. The posters are then moved to the tables of the appropriate groups and group discussion begins according to the previously agreed rules. The aim would be to produce a set of final recommendations to be put to the Auckland Council for consideration.
4. Submission to the Auckland Council
At the end of the workshop, lots could again be drawn within each group to select the persons to make a formal presentation of the final recommendations to the Auckland Council, perhaps with the media in attendance. It would be good if the Council could, without too long a delay, give their response, preferably in the Council Chamber with all the workshop participants present. A common perceived problem with submissions is that it is seldom known whether they have achieved anything other than ticking a box labelled “consultation”. It is important for outcomes to be known, and to be explained. Otherwise participants rapidly lose interest.