Focusing on place as a platform for change

News story
New Zealand community-led development expert Megan Courtney shares her experiences of inspiring communities with the Western Australian public sector
Megan Courtney delivers a workshop on how connection to place can be a platform for change and community-led development

Image: Megan Courtney leads a cross-sector information session on community-led development

“Ten years ago we kept getting asked ‘why do community-led development?’. Now the first question is ‘how do you do it?’ Ten years ago collaboration was a choice – now it is an imperative.”

A lot has changed in 10 years for Megan Courtney – one of the founders of Inspiring Communities, a virtual organisation of people from across New Zealand who have skills, expertise and experience in community-led development (CLD) approaches.

Inspiring Communities is now recognised as the reference point for place-based CLD in New Zealand, supporting a network of about 3,500 people, organisations and CLD initiatives.

Ms Courtney was sharing her experiences at a recent Public Sector Reform roundtable with representatives from the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, WA Police Force, the Department of Communities and the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage.

“CLD happens when a community comes together to achieve a shared vision,” Ms Courtney said. “It involves building from strengths, working with diverse people and sectors, growing collaborative local leadership and, importantly, learning from doing.

In New Zealand, CLD principles have been applied to enable creation of new community plans, as well as the delivery of diverse projects such as inclusion of the elderly, skate parks, clean rivers, pedestrian crossings and warmer homes.

Ms Courtney said CLD could both benefit and present a challenge for governments.

“More resilient communities with stronger social cohesion that look less to government to solve their problems is a clear benefit, but power sharing does not always align with traditional funding and service models,” she said. 

A reliance on data alone is not enough to assess a community’s readiness for a CLD approach or evaluate outcomes.  

“We encourage organisations involved in a CLD approach to look beyond data,” Ms Courtney said. “While data is important, learning the stories of that community – their history, leaders, traumas and strengths – is essential. In evaluation as well, benefits are not always easily measurable.

“It takes time to learn those stories, and build trusting relationships and capabilities.  It can take 10 to 14 years to see sustainable, systemic change in a community.”

The Service Priority Review suggested appropriately used place-based policy and service design models may lead to better community outcomes in Western Australia. The Inspiring Communities website has a range of resources and information about CLD principles and their application. 

The roundtable was a part of Public Sector Reform’s Occasional Speaker series to encourage innovation by sharing expertise, experience and evidence from within and beyond the sector.

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Page reviewed 7 November 2019
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