Road Train Summit

Considerable community concern had been expressed over the increasing incursion of long vehicles and road trains into the metropolitan area on routes that were perceived to be neither safe nor appropriate from an environmental and public amenity viewpoint.

The Issue

Considerable community concern had been expressed over the increasing incursion of long vehicles and road trains into the metropolitan area on routes that were perceived to be neither safe nor appropriate from an environmental and public amenity viewpoint. Many freight route ‘hotspots’ in the community, not resolved to the community’s satisfaction, resulted in grass roots protests – highly organised and persuasive. The community felt its issues and voice were being ignored.

On coming to government, Labor honoured an election commitment and placed a moratorium on any expansion plans and took a much tougher stand on issuing permits. This, in turn, was greeted with outrage from the industry, and dire warnings of its impact on the State’s economy. Emotions were running high. It was determined that if inroads were to be made into participatory decision making, then what better place to begin than one where there had been a lot of heat and not a lot of light.

The Methodology

Road Train Summit
To achieve this, the Road Train Summit was held, consisting of four Consensus Forums in the Perth metropolitan area, Katanning, Kalgoorlie and Geraldton.

Consensus Forum
The Consensus Forum is a democratic process for incorporating the community in decision-making. It provides a way for lay people, representative of the community, to deliberate on technically complex issues, with the support of those who are ‘expert’ in the area. The issues are explored using the best available knowledge and the widest possible views. Where consensus is achieved, these views become integral to the decision making process.

The Process

Considerable effort was made to ensure all stakeholders in the road train debate were fairly represented. At each Consensus Forum, there was a representative group of participants including:

  • Community members responding to advertisements in state wide and local newspapers; and residents living on or near main truck routes, selected from a large, official random sample
  • Industry representatives: truck drivers, owners and operators; key users of road trains and those working in associated industries; suppliers and customers; and members of transport and safety lobby groups
  • Government representatives: regulators and other state and local government officers involved

Just under 100 participants attended each Forum, each person placed to ensure the various stakeholder groups were represented at each small table. Although there was only one Forum Facilitator, members of parliament – Labor, Liberal and Greens – facilitated at each table, together with CEOs of the Departments involved and their executive teams. The Table Facilitators received detailed ‘how to’ facilitation notes from the Forum Facilitator, and attended briefing and debriefing sessions. Designated scribes from the Departments assisted at each table, with the scribes also receiving ‘how to’ notes and participating in training prior to the forums.

Steps in the Process

Prior to the Conference
As a result of a stakeholder focus group, the key issues to be resolved were ascertained. Background papers were developed by community groups, industry groups, local and state government for each Consensus Forum, and circulated to participants prior to each Forum. All participants were requested to read the papers before attending, and to think of questions needing to be asked.

At the Forum
At the Consensus Forum, participants listened to short presentations from the authors, added information from the floor and asked questions of the panels. Dialogue at the tables began with a task of empathetic listening, where each stakeholder’s point of view needed to be thoroughly understood by the other stakeholders at the table before proceeding. The key issues to be resolved were determined at a plenary session.

To determine a broad range of options to address each issue and discern the extent of consensus, a technique called ‘Station Rounds’ was used. Each issue was written on a flip-chart and placed around the circumference of the room. With one table team at each flip-chart, team members brainstormed options to address that issue. After a set period of time, the teams moved on to the next flip chart. Once there, members stated the extent of their consensus with the options written, and added new options.

Finally, each individual prioritised the most important options with coloured stickers representing short, medium and long term priorities. These were totalled to determine the priority short, medium and long term consensus options. The technique used was a simple ‘Nominal Group Technique’.

After the Forum
Prioritised consensus options were then taken to the next Forum to determine the extent of State-wide consensus. By the end of the four Forums, there was a large list of consensus items for the Government to consider.

The Minister’s Role
The Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Hon Alannah MacTiernan, played an integral role at each Consensus Forum. She indicated at each Forum that where consensus could be achieved, the Government would respond by devising ways to incorporate that consensus into the regulatory framework. Her objective was to ensure the community was placed at the heart of decision-making.

The Outcome

Stakeholder Planning Implementation Team
All consensus options from the four Forums were referred on to a small Planning Implementation Team of community, industry, state and local government representatives, chosen by the Minister. This Team worked together over several months to translate the consensus options into actions to be undertaken under a series of key strategies.

Steered by the Implementation Team, and with the support of Main Roads Western Australia, each action item was resourced and target timelines set. Over the next two years, all participants received quarterly feedback newsletters outlining the progress made against each action target. At the end of two years, each action agenda in the Final Report was put into effect.


Given the complexity of the issues to be resolved in such a short time frame (ie one day per Consensus Forum) the day had to be highly structured. The Table Facilitators were critical to the success of the Forums, both because of their skills, and the symbolic value of having politicians and senior bureaucrats really listening to the community’s views.

Papers and Discussion
Authors of papers were asked to be succinct, ie.4 – 8 pages, with dot points, maps, illustrations and tables where possible to assist with understanding.

Each of the authors was given only 10 minutes to present their paper, in order to maximise the time for interactive debate. From the level of the debate that ensued, it appeared that participants had read the papers quite thoroughly before each Forum. It was not always easy to manage the intensity of the debate, which could well have taken the entire day if the Forum Facilitator had not intervened. It was always a fine line between ensuring everyone had the opportunity to have their say and moving the Forum on.

Achieving Consensus
Possibly the most effective part of the day was the time spent in empathetic listening, ensuring all voices were heard and understood. Given the time constraints and large number of participants, the Station Rounds technique used to gain consensus, was productive. Again, because of time constraints, using the Nominal Group Technique to determine priorities was possibly the only effective way to determine what was most important to each Forum.

Ideally, there needed to be more time to explore ideas together. An additional half day per Forum would have assisted.

Overall Comments

Feedback from the stakeholders after the Summit changed radically from negative, cynical, emotional and even abusive, to highly positive.

The consensus outcomes were far broader than any of the stakeholders had anticipated. To respond to them, it was necessary to reorganise the Main Roads department to deal with the new agenda. The acceptance of interstate transport ministers and senior bureaucrats had to be elicited to bring in compulsory accreditation of all road trains. This was achieved. New ways of dealing with the public on changes to freight road designations were trialled; and government policies and priorities were re-formulated.

The community, industry, state and local government remained engaged from the inception of the Consensus Forums through to implementation of the Forum outcomes and their evaluation. The whole process took over 2 years. All the prioritised actions from the Forums have been put into effect.