The purpose of this review was to provide conceptual clarity to the facilitating partners regarding a framework and role for community development in local government. Chief executive officers or local government officers working in the area of community development from 12 of the 15 regions, mostly non-metropolitan, completed the state-wide email survey (about a 40% response rate). Data was supplemented by analysis of documents supplied by officers. These are our findings.
In terms of community development approaches taken by these local governments, the emphasis is on service planning and development in the form of infrastructure programs (facilities, services and installations) to meet community needs and community development in the form of events and cultural programs to create a sense of belonging to a community or place. Local governments rely on communities and the non-government community sector to provide community services and/or community development programs.
Most local governments lack formal indicators to measure progress in achieving the goals of their community development programs. Such measures, though, are considered important to local governments internally, for external reporting purposes and to provide meaningful information to their communities. In less than one-third of cases community development programs are situated within a larger framework or process, usually sustainability, community wellbeing or a triple or quadruple bottom line approach. However, with the exception of the City of Swan’s Quality of Life framework and suite of indicators and the City of Belmont’s Community Wellbeing Plan and Scorecard, indicators tend to be key performance indicators for separate service areas, programs or projects rather than indicators of community sustainability or community wellbeing.
Local government officers by and large find it difficult to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their respective community development programs. Most do not measure or report on the efficiency of community development programs while measuring inputs is problematic particularly for those services delivered by volunteers and community groups. The relationship between effectiveness indicators and the intended outcomes of community development programs is not clear.
Except for the City of Swan, there is little evidence of WA local governments developing indicators with their communities to measure broad trends in community outcomes or progress towards goals that matter to their communities. A few reported engaging communities in planning processes such as visioning and neighbourhood planning, which reflect higher degrees of control by communities. Most, however, referred to strategic or service plans in which community participation is limited to consultation or advising. Moreover, many local governments reported that staffing and fiscal constraints impede their capacity to undertake community indicators projects on their own.
Dr Judith Pugh
Professor Sherry Saggers