Here's a few thoughts on the recently completed Love the Bay drop in sessions.
On the bright side the sessions were pretty well attended, especially compared to the workshops. I would guess that approx. 150 people went along on a wet Wednesday night and even more than that on Sunday, with maybe 200+ people coming through. However, there were a lot of familiar faces from the workshops so it's hard to know how many new people the drop-in format brought out. Even with making some generous assumptions about that it's hard to see how the drop in sessions have increased the overall engagement of Island Bay residents in the Love the Bay process much above the 5% mark. It's clear that while people at the more extreme ends of the debate have been well involved the process simply hasn't engaged the vast majority of the community.
Active transport was a popular option at both drop in sessions
The downside of the reasonably good turnout was that it was quite crowded on both days and difficult to get a look at all the information on display. That problem was compounded by the sheer volume of information to look at and provide feedback on, most of which was quite technical. These were not "drop in" sessions by any stretch of the imagination. There were five different stations around the room each with four or more options to assess against the 32 design statements. For every option the feedback forms asked you to consider the advantages (what about this option will work well?), the disadvantages (what about this option will work poorly?) and ideas (how could this option be further developed?). Even if you didn't bother with trying to assess every option against every design statement you still faced filling in 20+ feedback forms and answering 60+ questions. It was obviously just too much for many people who I suspect defaulted to trying to push their preferred outcome without any real regard for the information being presented. That's a massive missed opportunity.
Island Bay residents working their way through a large amount of information
Unfortunately this was just the wrong format for what was being asked and it reinforced my view that the workshops phase of the Love the Bay process has been prematurely concluded. This is the part of the process where the rubber hits the road (no pun intended) and the hard work of deciding priorities and making trade-offs, including financial ones, needs to occur. Getting groups of residents together to discuss the all the pros and cons of the various options with facilitation and guidance from technical experts could have worked really well. At the very point where the real value of a participatory process should have been most evident it feels like it's been cut off at the knees.
There also appears to be some confusion about what will happen with the feedback that was collected. Many people still seem to be under the impression that this is a numbers game and that the feedback forms are effectively 'votes'. However, the council staff I spoke to were absolutely clear that this is not the case and it's quality not quantity of feedback they are after. That's really important because...
There will be another opportunity to provide feedback online. If you weren't able to attend the drop in sessions or you want to supplement the feedback you've already given, you can. Keep an eye on www.lovethebay.nz over the rest of this week. Given the volume of information to consider taking some time to work through the options in the peace and quiet of your own home is probably the way to go. Hopefully the feedback period will be long enough to give the kind of quality feedback being asked for.