In November 2009, The Indigo Shire won the Local Government Professional award for excellence in Local Government Corporate and Community Planning. As a local resident and in a voluntary capacity, Cathy McGowan took the lead role in designing the innovative community engagement process based around a series of 'dinner table' conversations. The citation for the award reads:
"The 'dinner table' consultation format has broad appeal. Volunteers and attendees saw a dynamic, proactive working model of consultation that many now adapt in their respective communities.
The model has been integrated into different Council departments.
Indigo Shire has employed specialist staff to drive a three- year Community Strengthening Project focussing on helping communities to develop their volunteer base, formulate and deliver community plans thus developing long-term self-reliance. This project, funded through several government agencies, is using the Council Plan consultation format extensively in community meetings throughout the shire.
Indigo Shire resident Cathy McGowan designed the 'dinner table' community consultation process down to the minute. She structured the format so that residents could choose which of five tables they would sit at initially. A community representative facilitated the conversation at each table, first of all inviting people to introduce themselves, thus 'levelling the playing field'. Each person then had the same amount of time to speak. Council staff took notes on butcher's paper, which was put up around the room during the dinner break. The process was repeated after the break, with participants moving to a second table of their choice. The butcher's paper acted as a visual cue throughout the process providing a prompt for further discussion and validating participants' ideas and suggestions as well as helping to provide a summary at the end of the process. The content was then compiled by an outside consultant and fed into the development of the Council Plan.
CEO Brendan McGrath introduced the evenings, providing an overview of the evening before handing over to a community facilitator. David Montgomery and Sally McCarron provided logistical support.
It was a team effort and involved another 40 or more community volunteers, adults and some young people, too numerous to mention here.
"From the 'dinner table' consultation process and the issues raised by our community, outcomes include
- improved structure and roll-out of community forums across the shire
- increased understanding by staff in the implementation of the new Council Plan
- an improved reporting regime against the Council Plan
- employment of a Communications Adviser
- a new Communications Policy
- a new Customer Service Charter
- a new Environment Strategy with help from a community-driven Section 86 Committee
- a survey of community planning is underway
- new design of Council newsletter with improved content directly relevant to residents."