Select Page

“Nothing About Us Without Us” – Sunshine Coast Council’s Inclusive Engagement Guide

 “Nothing About Us Without Us” - Sunshine Coast Council’s Inclusive Engagement Guide

With Cindi Coinix and Chantelle Kenzler, Sunshine Coast Council.

The principle “nothing about us without us” comes from the premise that decisions on planning, policies, programs, and services should not be made for any population, without explicit input from the very population that will be impacted.

So what does this look like in our everyday community engagement practice? At Sunshine Coast Council it is about:

  1. Acknowledging and addressing barriers to participation,
  2. Authentic engagement of people with lived experience to improve outcomes,
  3. Valuing many perspectives and individual needs,
  4. Practising curiosity, and
  5. Learning through doing.

To apply these principles to planning inclusive engagement activities, Sunshine Coast Council developed a dynamic Inclusive Engagement Guide to ensure that everyone in our community has a voice.

With every community engagement activity there will be people who will find it difficult to participate due to their individual circumstances. An inclusive community engagement approach is about recognising these circumstances, designing an approach, and choosing appropriate engagement methods and formats to help address barriers to participation.

Inclusive community engagement includes:

  • Acknowledging and respecting people’s differences.
  • Providing equitable opportunities to contribute.
  • Adopting flexible approaches to your engagement to suit individuals and groups.
  • Using a variety of engagement and communication methods.
  • Creating respectful and safe environments for people to have their say.

To support our Excellence in Engagement Framework and hosted on our internal intranet, the Inclusive Engagement Guide was designed in 2022 as a dynamic and interactive tool, to be easily accessed, read and digested by Council employees. It includes videos, key information and tips to achieve inclusive engagement, downloadable resources and employee support information and tools.

The guide aims to support our employees with their community engagement planning and ensure our engagement activities are accessible to the different and diverse people who make up our communities on the Sunshine Coast.

Acknowledging and Addressing Barriers to Participation

The first step in the process is to encourage employees to think about inclusion in the early stages of their community engagement planning by defining participation barriers and providing guidance on how to overcome common barriers such as:

  • Inequity
  • Access
  • Communication
  • Being time poor, and
  • Apathy or mistrust with government

Authentic Engagement of People with Lived Experience to Improve Outcomes

To develop the guide, a series of interviews were undertaken with a diverse mix of Sunshine Coast residents. This was supported by a targeted online survey for people who were not able to, or who did not wish to participate in an interview. Our aim was to engage with people who have different barriers to participation and to hear their stories and understand their experiences.

This engagement explored how they find out about things happening locally, how they spend their free time, places or venues that they frequent, their interest in council activities, how they would like to be engaged and their barriers to participating in council engagement activities.

These insights helped us to create a series of personas, including:

  • First Nations people
  • People with disability
  • Young people (12 to 25 years)
  • Older people
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • People who are culturally and linguistically diverse
  • Children (under 12 years)
  • People who are busy and apathetic towards Council

Valuing Many Perspectives and Individual Needs

A key aim of the personas is to ensure our employees put people at the centre of their project planning. The guide details not only how Council’s projects will benefit from gaining insights and input from diverse voices, but it also outlines how the people engaged will benefit. The guide and personas help to highlight that we are all individuals and just because someone identifies with one or more demographics it doesn’t completely or wholly define who they are, how they interact, or what needs may exist.

Practising Curiosity

We know that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to engagement does not work so our intent is to ensure our employees are not making assumptions or generalising and instead are practicing curiosity by:

  • Challenging assumptions and biases.
  • Exploring and experimenting with new engagement approaches.
  • Creating safe and supportive environments for people.
  • Using each community engagement activity as a learning opportunity.

Learning Through Doing

To help foster a culture of continuous improvement we encourage our employees to see each engagement activity as a learning opportunity. The Inclusive Engagement Guide provides advice around evaluation and seeking input from participants about their experience, if the engagement methods and information provided, or even the meeting location meets their needs. This not only helps to inform other council projects but also assists employees to resource projects appropriately so future engagement activities will be appealing, inclusive, and effective.

Through use and application of the Inclusive Engagement Guide, we have built the capabilities and confidence of employees to plan with intention, enable equitable engagement opportunities and to practice curiosity. We continue to learn through doing and have fostered a culture where we are adapting our practice to maximise participation as our population grows and becomes more diverse.

So how are you putting these principles into practice?