ANSWERS: What is successful policy discussion?

Damian Light, Candidate for Northcote, United Future

This is mostly national as I’m taking experience from my time in a political party but it applies to everything really, even business.

For me good policy discussion is open and honest on all sides – people often have already formed an opinion, but it’s essential that everyone is open to other ideas. Otherwise it just becomes a competition on who can shout the loudest or longest. Having proper research is useful, so the debate can be on facts and figures, not just emotion. That said, people and their needs and wants are essential and discussion should never be cold and heartless. Sometimes the right thing to do, doesn’t make economic sense but it’s still the right thing to do.

I try to frame these sorts of discussion around the problem and then possible solutions. This might seem obvious but it’s essential that the solution addresses the problem, otherwise we end up with policy for the sake of it. It also helps when you have a disagreement, because you take the discussion back to the problem, what we’re trying to achieve. Often it’s helpful to have a broad statement about the sort of outcome you want, to help guide the discussion – a set of values or vision.

I think the most important part is the discussion itself – no politician or political party has all the answers so they need to listen and engage to be able to govern. It needs to be properly moderated so that the debate does not become an argument which can get personal or aggressive. Policy can have significant impact on so many people, so it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion.

Dr. Grant Gillon, Member on the Kaipatiki Local Board

As a local body elected member I consider meaningful policy discussions with the community to be critical to real local democracy. of course many might have different views on what meaningful actually means.

I suggest that it is more than just a discussion that leads to little more than a great chat. In my years in local government I have learnt to understand that the community expects real listening, and honesty, from its politicians. The community expects that policy discussions should involve all sectors of the community including local neighbourhoods, businesses, ratepayer groups, young people, older people and new residents. It does not expect some sectors to be disregarded with off-hand slurs such as being accused of NIMBYs or self-interested. The community also does not expect elected members to be partisan nor controlling in their actions. They expect submissions to be heard and treated with respect and not thoughtlessly discarded.

Too often, politicians form a strong view on what people in the community should be doing. Often this view is based on rigid measures and yet communities and neighbourhoods are not operating to strict rules.

So real community discussions should be centred around communities deciding, within the normal bounds and restrictions,  the future direction of their neighbourhoods. Local councils were established so that communities cooperate together to develop their needs such as water supply and roading.  Although, they should be run efficiently and effectively in a business like manner, they were never established to be economic units in their own right.

Our communities and neighbourhoods should not be subject to the whim, and sometimes force of local councils. We should be particularly mindful of our communities, especially so at a time when the penalties of Council’s overspending are being applied to local boards instead of the grandiose schemes. Our communities should not suffer the proposed 39% cuts in parks, shorter library hours, community halls and pocket parks hocked off just to pay for untested, uncosted and unclear ‘transformational projects’.

So lets hope that there is some real, meaningful engagement and policy discussion and community consultation before the accountants pick up the red pen of local deletions.

Jonathan Coleman, Incumbent, Candidate for Northcote, National

In broad terms, it’s discussion that addresses all aspects of the issue in question, includes a broad range of stakeholders, and produces implementable solutions leading to desired (and desirable) outcomes.

John Gillon, Member on the Kaipatiki Local Board

Successful discussion of policies and projects at a community level is where the community is engaged through a consultation process. Ideally, policies and projects should be inspired and shaped by the “grass-roots” community rather than top-down from Council/Government. Where this has not happened, genuine community engagement must be as widely encompassing as possible.

In the past we’ve had projects that were foisted on communities with very little or token consultation that has caused unrest.

Anne-Elise Smithson, Candidate for Northcote, Greens

A core attribute of the Green philosophy is an emphasis on local, grassroots-level political activity and decision-making. It is crucial that citizens play a direct role in the decisions that influence their lives and their environment.

For example, it is our grassroots membership that discusses, debates and creates all our policies (that you can all find on our website). It is our grassroots membership that decides the list-ranking of our candidates (rather than caucus or people higher up the chain, as in other parties).

Outside of the party, grassroots decision-making is good for communities. And it’s good for democracy.

Another critically interesting view on policy discussion. What I take from this is that people who discuss policy who come out with clear cut proven ways to deal with issues and turn this into policy articles are participating in successful policy discussion. Leave your own ideas in the comments section as always.

You may see some changes happening over the course of the next couple of weeks. Otherwise, see you on Friday with the next question:


Theme: Engaging Community
Question: What is the best way or ways to rally support for policy & votes?

Until then,


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