Part 2: How well Summaries communicate to communities

Matters arising from the 2009-19 long-term council community plans.

In this Part, we:

Summary of our findings

Summaries of the LTCCPs are very important. They need to present the major issues for debate, the choices available to the community, and the implications of those choices, in a clear and accessible way.

Overall, the Summaries of the 2009-19 LTCCPs were more timely and of a higher quality than they were for the 2006-16 LTCCPs.

That said, some were still too long, or unclear and verbose. Some simply "copied and pasted" from the LTCCP. We encourage local authorities to continue efforts to improve on the effectiveness of the Summaries in engaging the community in debate. We also encourage local authorities to evaluate how well they used their Summaries to consult with their community.

Improved quality of the 2009-19 Summaries

We observed a significant improvement in the quality and timeliness of the Summaries of the 2009-19 LTCCPs. First, this was evident from the project planning intentions of local authorities that they reported to their appointed auditors in self-assessments (see paragraph 10.11 for more information about the self-assessments). They indicated an intention to prepare Summaries earlier.

Secondly, our auditors noted that the Summaries were largely completed in conjunction with preparing the Statements of Proposal. This enhanced the quality of both documents, because they generally worked together as a combined package of relevant information for the communities being consulted.

Summaries have a pivotal role in promoting the right debate. They need to clearly present the important issues, choices, and implications reflected in the Statement of Proposal in a balanced manner.

The Act is clear that the Summary must be in a form determined by the local authority.3 It is important that local authorities tailor their Summary to their individual community needs while also including the strategic and important issues, choices, and implications reflected in the Statement of Proposal. However, local authorities also need to exercise discretion because section 89 of the Act requires them to carry out effective communication and consultation with their community.

Effective and honest consultation through quality Summaries can also give communities confidence in local authorities' processes and reduce complaints about poor process.

The Summaries of the 2009-19 LTCCPs were better at promoting the right debate than the Summaries of the 2006-16 LTCCPs.

SOLGM's competition

SOLGM ran a competition for the Summaries of the 2009-19 Statements of Proposal. This competition sought documents that were easy to read and that told a clear story. The judges observed that a good Summary is, generally, a sign of good thinking and processes when preparing the overall LTCCP. The best Summaries were started early in the LTCCP process and were often completed by someone who had not been very involved in the details of the LTCCP. This allowed them to summarise the large volumes of information in a balanced manner.

Waitaki District Council's Summary was judged the winner in the SOLGM competition, and Tauranga City Council's Summary was awarded second place. The winning Summary was considered to be creative, both in its layout and in the presentation of issues for consultation. It was an easy read for the general population, and the submission form was well designed and easy to use.4

However, we noted that some Summaries were very lengthy, or did not present the important information in a clear and concise way. For example, some appeared to simply "cut and paste" directly from the Statement of Proposal. The length and clarity of the document are important to ensure that the reader is presented with the right information at the right level. We encourage the sector to continue addressing these matters.

The Summary should not introduce material that has not already been covered in the Statement of Proposal. If it does, it indicates that the Statement of Proposal is incomplete.

How local authorities used Summaries to seek submissions

SOLGM's 2009 and Beyond guides about LTCCPs emphasised the importance of a good quality Summary. In the Telling Our Stories guide,5 local authorities were encouraged to help the community participate in the LTCCP decision-making process through the Summary. The guide noted that local authorities could make it easier for the community to participate by:

  • attaching a submission form to the Summary; and
  • providing other details about the consultation process (such as the dates and venues of any meetings) and details about the right of submitters to make an oral submission.

We consider it crucial for Summaries to include information that explains how readers can make their views heard.

We acknowledge that the number of submissions received by a local authority is not necessarily evidence of a good quality LTCCP process or Summary. A number of factors may well – and in some cases did – influence the number and nature of submissions. However, our discussions with most local authorities about submissions indicated that good Summaries are associated with good community participation, which is reflected in the number of submissions received. Consequently, we used the format of submission forms and other information included in Summaries as evidence of how local authorities approached consultation.

Format of submission forms

Local authorities accepted submissions through a wide range of methods – for example, by fax, email, and online submission. These options were usually clearly documented in the Summary. There were also a number of local authorities that offered to take submissions by telephone.

About 15% of local authorities did not include a submission form in their Summary. Instead, these local authorities usually informed readers about where a submission form could be obtained (usually on the local authority's website). It is not possible to establish whether this affected the number of submissions made on the Statement of Proposal because that depends on many factors (such as the profile of projects being carried out in the community). However, failing to include a submission form may have discouraged some people from making a submission.

Most submission forms included some basic contact information, so that submitters could contact the local authority, and a space for the submitter to write their views in detail. The submitter was also asked to raise any matter arising from the Statement of Proposal that they had a view on.

Some submission forms included more specific questions, such as:

  • asking submitters to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with the major projects outlined in the Summary;
  • asking submitters to rank preferred projects; and
  • requesting submitters' views on the major issues.

We are aware, from anecdotal reports, that providing more detailed information or giving the community easy options to provide feedback was an effective way to gain submitters' views on the major issues that the local authority was consulting on. Doing so may have made it easier for an individual to make a submission because, for example, submitters had an option to tick a box compared with writing a detailed submission.

Any detailed submission form that includes questions to prompt the reader needs to be carefully worded so that the local authority is not seen to be predetermining the community's views on issues.

Preparing for 2012

It is important that local authorities evaluate how well they used their 2009-19 Summaries to consult with their community. In particular, local authorities need to consider what worked best for the individual circumstances of their community.

In our view, the evaluation should assess the types of responses and the level of community participation. The evaluation should also include the cost of current and proposed processes.

3: Section 89 of the Act.

4: SOLGM media release, 19 August 2009.

5: SOLGM, June 2008 Telling Our Stories, available at

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