Canterbury Dialogues Building Social Cohesion
- based on an interview with Mark Prain, the General Manager of
"While no-one has yet produced the definitive answer to the question of how
a nation goes about accumulating social capital, there are four
characteristics which are found in communities that have it. They are: a
sure sense of belonging; strong social cohesion; support systems for the
family; and the nurturing of individual potential ... we are going to hear
more about the concept of social capital, but there is as yet no clear
consensus on how we go about building it in a modern society."
- The Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Hon. Jim Bolger. May, 1997
Just a lot of verbiage?
We are going to hear a lot about social capital and social cohesion. But is
hearing about it from politicians going to be the beginning and end of this
In Christchurch moves have begun to ensure that this does not happen, and
that there is wide representation among the groups that discuss social
cohesion, a clear focus in the discussions and accountability from those
who take part - accountability signifying thoughtful preparation for the
discussions and communication with the groups they represent.
The organisation for the present moves has been undertaken by the
Sustainable Cities Trust, based in Christchurch.
Who are these people and how are they funded?
Sustainable Cities Trust is an independent agency and is not answerable to
any one organisation for funding. It has been operating for nearly three
years with a small management team, and the active support of a strong
cross-sectoral Board and associate companies in Auckland, ("Common Ground &
Associates), San Francisco ("Materials for the Future Foundation"), and
Denver ("AddVenture Network").
"We are project developers who innovatively broker resources to strengthen
community enterprise both now and into the future. As an independent
not-for-profit organisation we aim to bring high quality research together
with integrated management to achieve collaborative solutions - it's about
turning good ideas into practical action."
from 'Moving the Game' A quarterly newsletter from Sustainable Cities
Trust - Volume 1 Issue 1
A key current programme is "Canterbury Dialogues".
'Catalysing Cross-Sector Agreements for the Future of the City/Region'.
Some organisations' future planning focuses on a distant date - which often
means that visions and concepts are not carried through to action.
These dialogues are focused on the pressures that confront the quality
of life in Canterbury NOW, not in twenty years.
The Dialogues are being led by Dr Morgan Williams, the Commissioner for the
Environment. A cross-sectoral working party has developed the format and
the programme. A cross-sectoral group of forty five to fifty key movers
and shakers is taking part in the dialogues. They are from three sectors
-the corporate sector, the public sector (top bureaucrats and senior
politicians from both central and local government and from government
agencies) and directors from fifteen not-for-profit agencies.
The major stakeholders are the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce,
the Canterbury Regional Council, the Christchurch City Council, the
Ministry for the Environment, Trustbank Canterbury Community Trust and
Sustainable Cities Trust.
The Dialogues are happening over four months and are organised like a
board. The participants are fed immediately with a distillation of what
went on in each session, including what has come from the evening public
sessions,(immediately following the formal Dialogues),and information on
what is involved in the next one. The first two Dialogues focused on
"Smart-Growth"(sustainable development) and Economic Creativity &
Development, led by Dr. Peter Newman and Gil Simpson respectively. The next
two are scheduled for October 15 and November 12.
The Aim - by the end of November to reach the beginnings of a common set
of agreements across the sectors about the issues and the formulation of
action programmes to be implemented accordingly.
What is consultation?
General Manager Mark Prain emphasises that the Dialogues are attempting to
do more than merely 'consult'.
"There's a lot of nonsense talked about consultation. If consultation is
to be genuine it must go further than just a local government agency
sending out a comment form to residents asking what they think about
certain issues. That is not consultation in my view.
If you genuinely want a high level of community participation you must
engage. The consultation is merely about laying out the parameters of
what you will have dialogue about, then you have the dialogue, and the real
challenge is to reach a negotiated position....most of us regardless of
what sector we come from, will only buy into agreements in which we feel
that we have genuinely been consulted and genuinely been participating.
No-one's saying this is easy, and we are not expecting the Dialogues
program to achieve miracles, but it is clearly a more comprehensive way of
tackling difficult issues."
Topics - the four primary issues that are stresses on Christchurch
An invited keynote speaker provokes discussion at each seminar.
Moderator of the Dialogues - Dr Morgan Williams, Parliamentary
Commissioner for the Environment
Seminar 1 - Overview and growth scenarios for Christchurch - are
there to be boundaries placed on the growth of the city which is growing at
a rate second only to Auckland?
Professor Peter Newman, Perth, urban renewalist, has worked for the World
Bank and been responsible for the Freemantle yacht channel.
Seminar 2 - Corporate sector, its role in maintaining and enhancing the
quality of life in Christchurch - how can we maintain and enhance the
quality of life to attract the type of staff needed for the economic
Gil Simpson of Aoraki Corporation
Seminar 3 - The Environment - air, noise, soil, water, waste, the
built environment and recreational options - How can we deal with issues
such as smog, the threat to our pure water ...?
Alisdair Hutchison, South Island Manager of the Ministry for the Environment
Seminar 4 - Social cohesion - how can we ensure that the positive
aspects of Christchurch are available to be enjoyed by as many Christchurch
people as possible?
Judy Lawrence, CEO Ministry of Women's Affairs, with experience in the
Ministry of the Environment
The format for the participants is a keynote address followed by small
cross-sectoral working groups and feedback and discussion.
Study the model shown below to see how the group sees the process working
and benefiting the community