Scarborough Deliberative Survey

Coastal development in and around Scarborough Beach has been a contentious issue in Perth for many years, both before and since the high-rise Observation City development.

The Issue

Coastal development in and around Scarborough Beach has been a contentious issue in Perth for many years, both before and since the high-rise Observation City development. The issue has polarised public opinion, as well as impacting on planning.

The development opportunities of beach precincts have lead to many proposals, which have reached various levels of formality. At the same time, active lobby groups opposing development have also formed.

The City of Stirling, through its Scarborough Environs Area Strategy (SEAS), proposed to revamp the Scarborough Beach area, including a high rise development on the Scarborough beachfront. To achieve this required an amendment to the City of Stirling’s Town Planning Scheme, which would need the approval of the WA Planning Commission and the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure.

The City of Stirling had undertaken public consultation that suggested the community was evenly divided, however extensive studies strongly supported the proposals. On the other hand, some community groups vociferously claimed the public was against any high-rise development and had also carried out research that supported their views.

This issue was not only of local interest. Scarborough is a regional attraction. Moreover, the Dialogue with the City process had just put forward specific, metropolitan beach-related recommendations that would have been helpful for the debate had they been known and understood.

Since the Minister needed to make the final determination on the proposed planning changes, she wanted to understand community attitudes towards the development, and whether those attitudes would shift as a result of comprehensive information on the issues and the opportunity to deliberate.

To give a more informed insight into people’s views, it was decided to carry out a deliberative survey. Participants from a random sample fill out a survey, are invited to a forum to learn and deliberate, following which they fill out the survey for the second time. A comparison of the two surveys is helpful in the decision making process.

For example, if views were based on incomplete or inaccurate information or assumptions, and they changed with more complete or accurate reference points, then they should not be the (sole) basis for decision-making. On the other hand, if opinions did not change after receiving additional information and opportunities to deliberate, then first opinions could be given more weight in the final decision making process.

The Methodology

Deliberative Survey
The purpose of a deliberative survey is to:

  • Provide baseline information on the views of metropolitan Perth residents, in particular, Scarborough beach user suburbs, on Scarborough Beach development;
  • Clarify whether comprehensive information and deliberation changes those views in what way.

A deliberative survey suggests that there are two elements that need consideration:

  • the top-of-mind opinions which are held based on current information and understanding; and
  • the considered opinions held after being provided with more comprehensive information and after more deliberative processing.

The first of these is obviously important, as it provides an insight into the current views of the community. The second is equally critical, as it shows what the potential views of the community might be under different circumstances. Being able to factor both positions into any decision making process increases the likelihood of a decision being made that meets the real needs of the community.

The Process

Steering Team
A Steering Team, comprising members of the Coastal Planning and Coordination Council and the Dialogue with the City Implementation Team, was appointed to ensure the process was fair, open and accountable and that all viewpoints were equally represented. The Steering Team had input to the survey and to designating the key stakeholder speakers and expert panel for the forum.

Development of the Survey
An independent consultancy firm developed the survey, with input from the key stakeholders (including high-rise protagonists and antagonists), and the Steering Team. Questions were added, altered and deleted as a result of these discussions until all parties were satisfied that the survey covered the issues in a non biased way.

Participants were randomly selected through a telephone survey. The catchment area for survey and workshop participation was divided into three tiers, reflecting a 2003 beach user survey of Scarborough beach, carried out for the Department for Planning and Infrastructure. Sixty percent of participation was selected from a fairly close arc around the beach; thirty percent from a larger arc, and ten percent from the broader Perth Metropolitan Region.

Participants were contacted by telephone and asked if they would they be willing to participate in a survey and forum on a coastal development issue (Scarborough was not specifically named to reduce potential bias in recruitment).

Participants could choose to fill out the survey only, or to participate in the deliberative session as well. A survey was mailed to all consenting participants who fitted the geographic, age and gender requirements (based on ABS data).

The pre and post forum surveys were the same except for two variations. The pre forum questionnaire included a question relating to what information people felt that they were missing or would like on the issues, and who might be a credible provider of that information. The post-test questionnaire asked additional questions on the usefulness of the forum, whether participants thought they had changed their views as a result, and why.

Participants were issued with an ID code at the time of their first survey, and were asked to keep a reminder card with this code on it for when they attended the deliberative session. (If the ID was forgotten at the forum, the survey consultants gave assistance.) This code was attached to their second questionnaire to enable the tracking of specific changes in attitudes from pre-to-post testing.

There was no payment offered to encourage participation. Four hundred and fifty three participants completed the survey (a response rate of 61%). Initially, two hundred respondents agreed to attend the forum. However, as the day got closer and other commitments came to the fore, the number reduced dramatically. Just over one hundred attended on the day. However, according to the analysis of the independent consultant, the forum participants had a similar demographic profile to the main sample, and were not attitudinally skewed away from the main sample. Thus, while the deliberative sample was smaller than intended, it was still representative of the main sample, and therefore could be used to compare results and identify changes that occurred after the forum.

A preliminary analysis of the survey forms returned prior to the Deliberative forum was used to determine whether additional panel members were needed to cover the key issues of interest to participants.

Key Stakeholder Speakers and Panel
Determining who would speak and what needed to be said was an iterative process that included the Minister, the key stakeholder groups and the Steering Team. Each stakeholder speaker was asked to prepare a ten minute presentation and to answer questions from the floor. Two of the stakeholder groups requested that two people represent their group rather than one. This was accepted. All speakers were offered assistance with preparing powerpoint presentations or with any other information they needed to make their presentations.

The Deliberative Forum
Purpose of the Deliberative Survey Process:

  • To provide decision makers with information about what a representative group of people think about development guidelines and zoning in the Scarborough Beach precinct, and whether these opinions shift as a result of comprehensive information on the issues and deliberation.

Aims of the forum:

  • Provide comprehensive, balanced information
  • Respond to participant questions from different viewpoints
  • Provide the opportunity to share views
  • Following information and deliberation, enable participants to complete the survey for a second time

Since the outcome of the forum was not to seek a consensus position, it was suggested that participants focus on inquiry (seeking to learn) rather than advocacy (seeking to expound a position).

Some aspects of the 21st century town meeting technique were used, with each person and team submitting ideas on written sheets to an independent theme team who analysed the data, sought common themes for questions, and projected them back into the room on a large screen, virtually in ‘real time’. In this instance, table computers were not used.

Participants were seated at tables of ten with a facilitator at each table. Both the facilitators and theme team had undergone a half day training session prior to the forum.

Following the welcome speeches, the forum commenced with small group discussions about participants’ interest in taking part in the deliberative process. The common themes were broadcast back to the entire room.

The first panel presented the background information. Four speakers were given ten minutes each to outline their key issues. Areas covered included sustainable planning, the planning context, including the relevance of ‘The Network City’ (the newly developed metropolitan community planning strategy), and the coastal planning context.

Following each speaker, participants submitted questions in writing about the issues that they thought needed further explanation. These were collected by ‘runners’ and given to the theme team to seek commonly asked questions or themes. The themed questions were firstly given to the speakers to give them a few minutes to prepare responses, and were then projected back into the room. Each speaker responded to their key questions. Other speakers had the opportunity to add additional information. Following this, each table deliberated to determine the issues that needed further explanation. These too were submitted in writing to the theme team. The panel responded to these questions.

This process was repeated for the panel of the key stakeholder groups. This panel included Stirling Council, the Scarborough Beach Association (pro development), and Save our Sunset (against high rise development). The discussions for this session were far more animated than the prior sessions. When the themed questions had received responses, additional questions were allowed from the room.

Later in the afternoon, there was a panel of academic and industry experts who covered a broad range of planning, environmental, economic and social issues as well as transport impacts, urban design and architectural issues. Each panelist gave a brief explanation of matters of importance to their area of expertise. Then the panel questioning process was repeated. The focus here was on conflicting issues, areas needing a more ‘independent’ analysis or areas not previously covered. Once again, following the themed questions, additional questions were allowed from the room.

At the conclusion of the deliberations, each individual once again filled out the survey. After filling out participant feedback forms, and the farewell speeches, the forum closed.

A copy of the final proceedings and survey results was sent to all forum participants and was also made available to the general public on the Department for Planning and Infrastructure website.

Participant Feedback

Nearly all participants said the day of the forum was worthwhile, with fifty percent stating it was ‘great’, forty nine percent stating it went okay, and only one person saying it was ‘not so good’

Many found it ‘heartening’ that there was a focus on Scarborough and its future. They were particularly interested in understanding the complex nature of issues and recognized the complexity of finding a good solution. The speakers from the various stakeholder perspectives were variously received, though the panel of independent experts was overwhelmingly well received

Suggestions for improvements varied from wanting more clarity about the Council’s proposals, through to ideas for refining the forum’s process. There were many comments on the nature and approach of the speakers including – the need to broaden views, provide more evidence and to focus on the needs of future generations.

Most participants reported that they learnt a lot during the day, and felt positive about that. They gained new knowledge about Scarborough, its history and possible futures. They also learnt about the complex nature of planning and development processes. Comments on the community consultation experience varied from positive to cynical. While some were concerned about the potential ‘tokenism’ of such events, others felt they were essential to understand the complexity of issues, others’ viewpoints and that there is usually not just one ‘right’ answer.

The logistics, including the role of the facilitators and other support staff were highly praised. A number of participants expressed their appreciation at being included in the process, and in the role the Minister had taken in the deliberations.

Importantly, ninety five percent of participants said they would take part in something of this nature again

The Outcomes

The support for sixteen story high-rise development at the Scarborough Beach precinct did not increase from the first survey to the second. However, the forum did increase the perception that the Scarborough Beach precinct was an appropriate part of Perth to include higher density living options, and buildings up to nine stories received significantly more support following the forum.

While there was very strong community support for the need to do something to improve the Scarborough Beach precinct in both the first and second surveys, the forum increased the perceived need for substantial development if improvement was to occur. The perceived need to attract people into permanent and short-stay accommodation in the precinct also increased after the forum. However, the importance of the foreshore, the environment and the relaxed lifestyle did not alter from one survey to the next.

In summary, while participants had a better understanding of sustainability and what was needed to make significant improvements to the precinct, participants’ core perceptions about high-rise development and their preferred beach environment remained the same.

As a result of the deliberations, the Minister gave her support for some eight story development but not higher.

The outcomes of the deliberative process also provided important background information for the preparation of the Metropolitan Coastal Strategy, which is being developed by the Coastal Planning and Coordination Council.


Given the passionate feelings about this issue, and the influence of strong lobby groups, it was apparent that the deliberative survey was a productive technique to use. This technique had been far more conducive to deliberation than other engagement techniques, such as the consensus forum, used in the past in similar situations. With lobby groups in the role of ‘expert witnesses’, their views could be heard without the potential of drowning out any other voice. With a random sample deliberating, there was less likelihood of ‘grandstanding’ advocating of a particular view, and greater likelihood of learning and inquiry into others’ views.

This initiative revealed important insights into the prevalent attitudes and opinions in the community, as well as showing how these changed in response to more complete information and discussion. Both were important, and both needed to be considered in the decision making process. A far more thorough understanding of the community’s attitudes was obtained than a traditional survey could have delivered.

The reduction in expected number of participants on the day of the forum was disappointing. To achieve a highly rigorous statistical comparison between the first and second surveys, higher numbers would have been preferable. When this technique is used in the future, more thought will need to go into achieving higher numbers on the day.

In a one day forum, it is difficult to cover the information that needs to be understood as well as allowing sufficient time for team deliberation. However, expanding the one day forum into two or more also causes difficulties in terms of likely drop-off in participation.

There was also the vexed question of observers, how many were allowed (each key stakeholder group was allowed two, but there were questions about community groups being over-represented), and whether they should have been there, given their potential disruptive influence.

As with any planning initiative, the results indicated what people currently think, and how they believe they would respond to various hypothetical scenarios. This is not a definitive indicator of how people will ultimately respond.