Case Study

Dialogue with the City

Perth ranks highly among the world’s most liveable cities. However, the predicted growth, together with the growing urban sprawl, will place strains on future sustainability.

The Issue

Perth is experiencing some of the highest population and economic growth rates of any city in Australia and this growth is placing a significant demand on the land, resources and environment.

Predictions indicate that this growth will continue, and in less than half a lifetime, the population of the Perth metropolitan area and the Peel region will be half as big again as it is today. Such growth will have significant impacts on transport, housing and employment.

Perth ranks highly among the world’s most liveable cities. However, the predicted growth, together with the growing urban sprawl, will place strains on future sustainability.

Dialogue with the city was launched to give citizens a unique opportunity to contribute to the creation of a planning vision and strategy to guide Perth’s future growth and development over the next two decades. It was the largest deliberative forum ever held in the southern hemisphere and is a case study in deliberative democracy.

The objective of Dialogue with the City was to jointly plan to make Perth the world’s most liveable city by 2030.

The Methodology

  • 21st Century Town Meeting
  • Consensus Forum
  • Community Survey
  • E – Democracy
  • Multi media awareness raising and education
  • Targeted inclusion of groups seldom included

Dialogue with the City was not an event, but a process. It involved

  • an extensive survey to gauge community values;
  • a TV ‘hypothetical’ program about potential futures for Perth;
  • an interactive Web site to enable browsers to access information, input ideas and exchange views
  • regular feature stories on the critical issues published in the daily press;
  • an information campaign using the local press and radio to educate and encourage debate about key issues;
  • a schools art and essay competition to elicit the views of young people;
  • listening and learning sessions with special interest groups including youth, indigenous people and those from non English speaking backgrounds.
  • The process culminated in a very large interactive forum of 1,100 participants.
  • The deliberation continued over the following year with over 100 participants involved in creating the planning strategy.

The planning strategy that has emerged has been accepted in principle by the WA Planning Commission and State Cabinet, has been open for public submissions and will now be re-written yet again to take account of the feedback received.

The Engagement Process

Strategic Partnering
To carry out this process, the Government, together with the Department for Planning and Infrastructure and the WA Planning Commission, partnered with the private sector, which provided assistance in cash and kind.

The Dialogue with the City industry partners were BHP Billiton Iron Ore Division (provided financial assistance), Channel 7 Perth (developed the TV broadcast), West Australian Newspapers (published regular feature articles), Sun Microsystems (provided all the computers), ADI Limited (developed the software) and Alphawest (organised the computer cabling).

Without the support of this partnering agreement, the Dialogue with the City process would not have been feasible. Additional invaluable support was offered by Oracle, and USA organisations – AmericaSpeaks, Fregonese and Associates, and Search for Common Ground.

Community Survey
To provide an understanding of people’s values and views about the future of the city and metropolitan area

A random sample of 8,000 residents of Perth and metropolitan area, stratified by location, gender and age, provided by the WA Electoral Commission.

The survey asked residents to rate the importance of a range of issues that contribute to a liveable city, and indicate how they think Perth is doing on these issues at the moment. It also asked which trends they would like to see happen in Perth, areas that the Government should spend more and less money, their preferred development modes, and the attractiveness of different housing arrangements.

A total of 1,711 people responded to the survey. Respondents closely reflected the actual proportions of Perth’s population in terms of gender, age and location. While respondents wanted to keep the unique lifestyle of Perth, they clearly supported changes to ensure a more sustainable future.

TV Broadcast on Potential Futures

To provide the citizens of Perth with the opportunity to see and understand the issues and choices to manage the predicted future growth of metropolitan Perth.

A panel of nine members, representing state and local government, industry and community perspectives, took part in a ‘hypothetical’ discussion. An audience of 120 participants, representing the broad range of stakeholder groups and perspectives, watched and participated in the debate.

Four scenarios to manage the future growth of the city were discussed. Descriptions of the scenarios were illustrated with visual examples from Perth and overseas.

The Outcomes
The program was broadcast on Channel 7 in prime time, at 5.30pm Sunday, immediately before the news. In feedback to Channel 7, the viewing audience expressed appreciation for the even-handed, interesting and informative nature of the program.

On-line Discussion – the Web


  • To enable participants to register their interest.
  • To provide comprehensive information, including research, data and key issues on the future of the city;
  • To enable readers to input their views;
  • To enable participants to upload and download relevant articles;
  • To enable participation in a chat room to discuss mutually interesting issues.

All those who access the Web.

Chat room content
On-line discussion groups were primarily concerned about improving and promoting public transport, and addressing the issue of the cost of housing.

Comprehensive Information

To encourage as many citizens as possible to engage in dialogue by assisting them to understand the complex and challenging issues facing the city, and to input their views.

Metropolitan and regional residents.

Over a two month period, there were regular feature pages in the West Australian about the issues facing Perth, as well as some coverage in the local newspapers.

Experts on planning and civic governance were interviewed on a variety of radio stations, with some talk back radio opportunities.

Listening and Learning Sessions with Special Interest Groups

To engage those frequently left out of community participation processes, to ensure their views were clearly heard and understood.


  • Approximately 50 youth
  • Approximately 35 Indigenous people
  • Approximately 25 people from non-English speaking backgrounds

A broad range of organisations addressing the interests of each of these groups provided lists of potential participants

To ensure participants felt welcome and able to contribute, and to encourage cohesiveness and continuing contribution, tables of participants with their facilitator and scribe were kept intact for both the listening session, and the forum itself.

The views of youth, indigenous people and those from non-English speaking backgrounds were recorded, discussed at the Dialogue forum, and highlighted in the preliminary and final reports from the forum.

The Schools Competition

To gauge what kind of city our young people would want by involving them in a schools competition based on the theme: ‘Perth 2030, the kind of city I want to live in’. The process was designed to give young people a voice


  • Primary school children – painting competition
  • High school youth – short essay competition

Over 200 drawings were submitted by pre-school and primary school children, and 30 essays by high school students. A panel from Curtin University’s Faculty of Built Environment and Design judged the entries.

The winning entries were copied and given to each participant at the Dialogue forum. All drawing and essay entries were pinned up in the foyer for participants to see. An analysis of the drawings and essays was done By Curtin University schools of Planning and Design.

The Dialogue with the City Forum

To engage the community, industry, local and state government in a deliberative, inclusive, and influential planning forum to address how the future growth of the Perth metropolitan area could best be managed. The stated aim was to make Perth the world’s most liveable city by 2030.

Saturday 13 September, 2003

Fremantle Passenger Terminal

Over 1,100 participants, consisting of approximately 1/3 random sample, 1/3 invited stakeholders and 1/3 self nominations from advertisements in newspapers, radio and on web.

The forum’s key hopes for the future, prioritised aspects to keep and those to change, and preferred planning scenario were projected back into the room virtually in ‘real time’ and were distributed to all participants at the conclusion of the forum in a Preliminary Report. Each table determined growth patterns, open space and transport linkages on maps. Each participant received a copy of the map they had developed with their table, as well as the integrated map for the room, together with a more in-depth analysis of the inputs in a Final Report soon after the forum

The concept for the Dialogue with the city forum was based on several methodologies from best practice initiatives overseas and in Western Australia:

  • Consensus forum developed in WA which focuses on:
    • Inclusiveness – by encompassing a random sample of residents, a broad range of stakeholder groups including local government, other state government agencies, industry and industry bodies, environmental groups and a comprehensive range of social interest groups, as well as those who respond to advertisements and self nominate; and ensuring disadvantaged groups are included;
    • Deliberation – by ensuring the discussion is informed, with ‘open book’ information, dissemination of comprehensive briefing materials prior to the forum, and renowned speakers at the forum; and by providing opportunities to understand others’ viewpoints and values, participate in small group interactive dialogue, and together, search for common ground;
    • Influence – by clarifying from the outset that the findings of the forum will be integral to the Government’s decision-making process and by including participants through to implementation.
  • ’21st Century Town Meeting’
    This is a large scale public participation process developed by AmericaSpeaks and applied across the USA, including with nearly 5,000 residents after September 11 to plan for the future of the Ground Zero site in New York. This process uses small group, facilitated deliberation together with networked computer technology, to enable the room’s key themes to be broadcast to the entire room virtually in ‘real time’. Table inputs are relayed to a theme team who synthesise the results and display them to the room on large screens. Key issues are prioritised, with each participant nominating their individual preferences. The Perth version of this method required not only a facilitator but also a trained scribe to input both ideas and maps developed.
  • Regional Mapping Game
    This planning tool was originally devised by Fregonese Calthorpe Associates and applied across the USA to encourage citizen understanding and input to regional plans. The Perth Dialogue game, based on realistic GIS data, enabled participants to take the role of planners in creating their preferred future shape of the city. Participants needed to choose between four potential scenarios to manage the predicted growth of metropolitan Perth. Trade-offs could be made between different densities. To complete the map required participants to find practical solutions to planning dilemmas. The Perth game enabled the table maps developed to be input to the computer, digitised and later synthesised.

To achieve a meaningful result, it was deemed important for participants to be representative of the total population. Participation of 1,100 at the forum was achieved in three ways, each yielding approximately 1/3 of the participants:

  • A random sample of residents in metropolitan Perth, provided by the WA Electoral Commission, were invited to attend the forum.
  • Advertisements and articles in newspapers, radio and TV shows and a Web page encouraged participants to register.
  • The Steering Committee helped to determine the key stakeholder groups who were invited to nominate delegates. In addition, those people often under-represented in consultations – youth, indigenous people and those from non-English speaking backgrounds, were targeted and invited to attend special ‘listening sessions’ as well as the Dialogue forum.

Requests were made for volunteers to facilitate and scribe at the forum. There were approximately 250 from both the private and public sectors in supporting roles at the forum. All volunteers were trained at a full day’s training session. Some, such as the theme team, took part in several training sessions.

The Day of the Forum
To encourage participants to listen to different views, they were purposely seated at a table with dissimilar others, that is, a mixture of random sample participants with stakeholders and those who self nominated. At each table, the scribe entered into the computer the table’s commonly-held views, any strongly held minority views, and in many instances, each person’s views. The networked computers transmitted the data to a ‘theme team’ who analysed the data in real time and broadcast the common themes back to the entire room.

In the morning, the deliberation focused on hopes for the future, what participants wanted to keep and change, and what they might and might not value if different scenarios of Perth were to occur and each table prioritised their preferred scenario. To encourage informed deliberation, the TV video of potential futures was broadcast, a computerised fly-through of the scenarios was shown, information packs and maps were available on all tables, and two renowned overseas speakers gave presentations.

The afternoon was spent playing a hands-on planning game. Participants needed to negotiate with others at their table and make trade-offs to complete the task of allocating the housing, industry, open space and transport links needed by 2030.

Each table chose one of four development scenarios. (72% chose the Network City model). Each scenario was represented by a package containing different density ‘chips’ (or game pieces of differing colours and sizes), based on Geographic Information Systems data (a digital mapping and analysis system). The chips represented the housing densities, industry and commercial areas required by 2030. Participants needed to place these on the map. They could also trade chips with other scenarios. The table needed to agree on its plan, then stick the chips onto the map, and enter the data into the computer using mapping grids.

Participant Feedback
The qualitative analysis of participant feedback forms pointed to their high satisfaction with the forum. Many were initially cynical about the political agenda and anxious about achieving productive dialogue or consensus with such a large, disparate group. Accordingly, they expressed surprise at the extent of common ground forged, hope that politicians could be trusted to listen and respond to the people, and delight with the goodwill of fellow participants to engage in positive dialogue.

Quantitatively, forty two percent (42%) said they changed their views as a result of the dialogue, while many more admitted to broadening their views. Over ninety nine percent (99.5%) of participants thought the deliberations went okay or great. Importantly, ninety seven percent (97%) indicated they would like to participate in such an event again.

Implementation Phase

Over 100 participants from the Dialogue with the city forum from the community, industry, state and local government, participated for a year in developing a planning strategy for Perth and Peel. This process involved a series of interconnected teams, working together in an iterative way to develop a plan that all stakeholders could live with.

From the outset, it was clear that state and local government would need to work together in a different way if the outcomes of the forum were to be implemented.

Local Government Forum
All Local Government participants in the Dialogue with the City forum were invited to attend a workshop to devise ways for effective partnering between the State and Local Government to action the outcomes of the Dialogue forum.

The Local Government forum developed a broad range of strategies to move the process forward. A partnering agreement has since been drafted and is still undergoing negotiation.

Implementation Team
An Implementation Team of 13 participants from the Dialogue with the City process, representing the community, industry, state and local government, had responsibility to oversee the process and the plan, having the final say on its content.

Local Government, Community and Industry Liaison Teams
Three Liaison Teams, each consisting of 12 – 15 participants from the Dialogue process, had the task of ensuring their constituent groups were informed and could input to each stage of the plan

Six Working Groups
Working Groups, each with 14 – 18 participants from the Dialogue process, from the community, industry, state and local government, each had the task of developing one of the critical issues to be addressed, recommending strategies and actions.

At several stages, the plan was taken to the participants of the Dialogue with the city forum and to the broader community for their input. The final result – ‘Network City: A Community Planning Strategy for Perth and Peel – was accepted in principle by the WA Planning Commission and State Cabinet. The period for public submissions is drawing to a close and a revised plan will be developed with the assistance of the Implementation Team.

Continued Dialogue
The Communities Program, involving $1.5 million in grants has been launched to assist local governments to engage their local communities in meaningful dialogue to develop strategies, plans and projects that will contribute to the emerging objectives of Network City. The first round of grants has been announced and the second round will commence soon.


Dialogue with the City was an extraordinarily ambitious program. It was only successful because of the generosity of the partners, the goodwill of colleagues including those from AmericaSpeaks and Fregonese and Associates, and the hard work of the government and volunteer Dialogue team. It was a grand example of those who believed it could be done getting on and making it happen, and those who didn’t, getting out of the way.

Regardless of the efforts to be inclusive, provide opportunity for dialogue, and influence government policy, each of these elements could still be improved:

  • More work needs to be done to include those who shy away from participating in community engagement.
  • Although there was informed deliberation as well as practical activities to engage participants in the complexities of planning, more innovation is needed to achieve greater in-depth dialogue.
  • While it was made clear by the Minister that the Dialogue process would result in “action on the ground”, and there were many efforts to involve the broad community, nonetheless, more innovative processes are needed to broaden community ‘ownership’ of the outcomes to prevent implementation from becoming stalled.

There are considerable advantages in large-scale community deliberation for government, the community and the institution of democracy. Government acquires the legitimacy to carry out plans that otherwise they may not have been able to achieve. The community has the opportunity to engage in important decision-making processes that will impact on their lives. They are also reminded of the importance of being a citizen.