Citizens Committees can enhance decision-making
We are great believers in Citizens’ Committees although we would seldom use that specific term. ACELG has just released a highly useful report on this subject, The Role and Future of Citizens’ Committees in Australian Local Government.
But role clarity is critical
We find a lot of confusion exists about what “representative” means in this context. There are a lot of ways that Councils can supplement their understanding of community preferences based on a sample of the population that faithfully represents the age, gender, ethnicity, and geographical demographics (as relevant to that community). This may or may not include the use of Committees. BUT let us not confuse that with a Council which, by definition, represents the community. When “Councils appear reluctant to explore the possibilities of adapting citizen committees to [provide] a representative citizen view…” (page 27 in the report above), it is often because they consider they ultimately represent the community. And they do.
Councils elected role is a special kind of representation
Their representation includes the community of the future that isn’t born or hasn’t migrated yet. It includes the minority voices that might be unheard even while present on a “representative” committee. It includes the possibilities that less brave or visionary citizens, who have never stood for election or re-election by their communities might dream or imagine possible. Yes, let our civic leaders be open to advice and influence, let them draw on the expertise in the community, let them be listeners and co-creators. But they are the ultimate citizens’ representatives so may they be elected wisely and may they lead with vision and wisdom.