In a recent conversation I had with an ACT Government directorate, I was told:
“We have not spoken with the community because we don’t have any funding and we don’t want to raise expectations.”
Our conversation was in relation to calls for improvement to safety at an intersection in my neighbourhood. This was the subject of a petition to the ACT Legislative Assembly which had attracted 1000+ signatures.
I had followed up with the Directorate as there had been some ad hoc and insufficient measures implemented in the area seemingly in response to the community calls.
The local community was getting grumpy (so was I).
Six months had passed since the petition was tabled in the Legislative Assembly and supported unanimously. In this time, the Directorate, while evidently putting some thought into the issues, had initiated not a single conversation with the community to learn about the nature of the concerns, provide information about any of the proposed measures, or the provide an update on the status of the request.
To put this in perspective, this was six months of local residents passing through the area most days, sometimes several times, thinking, wondering whether their calls had been heeded. They would become increasingly disappointed that they had seemingly not.
The most disappointing part of the local resident mind set for me was that they expected this from our Government – they were unsurprised that their united community calls had not been responded to.
But they had! Kind of.
The Directorate had looked at it, developed a proposal, been rejected for funding and implemented some ‘quick fixes’.
Wait, what?.. Why doesn’t the community know about this?
Because they “didn’t want to raise expectations…”
Apparently, our local community do not understand the basic principles: ‘you need to pay for stuff’ and ‘stuff is expensive’.
Well after some pressure, the Directorate did come and listen to the community. Six months too late, but nonetheless they were fabulous in the way that the listened and took on the community concerns. They were honest, laid out the money issue and certainly didn’t make any promises. They also walked away with a (maybe within budget) short term community sourced and tested proposal that would go some way into addressing the key safety concerns.
The community was pleased! They felt heard! They had hope! They were not as grumpy as the day before! (They will keep advocating).
The lesson (based purely on this one little bit of anecdotal evidence):
- If you choose not to engage with the community about issues they have raised with you, you will be certain to make 100% of those proponents grumpy.
- Respect that the community will understand the complex principles of ‘you need to pay for stuff’ (even if they do try to make the point that their stuff is more important than the other stuff).
- Open and honest conversation goes a very long way to pleasing the community and even if you cannot deliver, they feel like you have taken on their views.
- Especially when you are doing things! Tell the community about them! Or you might as well save yourself some time and do nothing at all.
- Keep in mind that local residents are reminded of these issues every. single. day. Every day feeling less heard and respected if there has been no dialogue.
So, the answer to the question, to engage or not to engage?
Have the conversation!