Getting a handle on household waste with stakeholder engagement.

The Problem

The Sunshine Coast Regional Council is firmly focused on inspiring sustainability in their region and with their local community. This includes managing their carbon emissions, energy production and, of course, waste.

However, when the council undertook analysis on their current waste management systems, they found that only around half of the material coming through household general waste bins was being diverted from landfill or recycled. They wanted to do better.

But to do so, the council needed to understand how future waste services in the area could be managed to help them achieve more sustainable outcomes. They also needed to hear what the community thought and what they’d be willing to commit to with their own waste habits. An important part of this was also to understand community views on the introduction of a Food Organics, Green Organics (FOGO) service, which would allow residents to put food and garden waste in the same bin to be turned into high-quality compost and mulch products, in the region.

The Engagement

The Sunshine Coast Council commissioned Engagement Plus to undertake an engagement project with the Sunshine Coast community. The purpose of this engagement was to gather insight and responses from the community to help the council make thoughtful, community-focused decisions on waste and resource recovery matters.

Council needed to reach out to the community to get a better understanding of community values, concerns and waste habits. Importantly, they wanted to understand community views on the introduction of a third bin to capture food and garden waste. This information and insight would allow the council to create a plan for the successful implementation of waste reduction and resource recovery services, programs and activities.

The Objectives

The specific community and stakeholder engagement objectives of the project were to:

  • give the community balanced and objective information about council’s waste services and targets.
  • get feedback on the organic waste services options (such as FOGO) and on the possible changes to waste collection services from the community as a whole.
  • gather information to assist council to implement the Sunshine Coast Waste Strategy 2015-2025.
  • support the council to reach their goal of becoming Australia’s most sustainable region.

The Approach

To meet the objectives, we designed a two-part engagement plan which would enable in-depth discussions and ensure that the whole community had the opportunity to have their say. This plan included both a series of deliberative workshops and a community-wide survey.

Part One: Deliberative Workshops

To ensure a diverse and balanced range of views half of the workshop participants were randomly recruited, while the other half were representatives from key stakeholder groups such as environmental groups, resident groups and community groups. In total, 57 people participated in the waste workshops.

The workshops were held in three locations across the Sunshine Coast region in December 2020. Using a deliberative inquiry approach, Engagement Plus presented information about the FOGO project and its options and addressed questions before creating an environment where participants could explore and discuss the issues together.

We designed each workshop to take place over a three hour period and to be educational and informative about waste services. We also allowed space for participants’ to deliberate. Workshops included active participation of attendees through card storming, world café, digital engagement and market place engagement.

In addition to the workshop activities, we asked participants  to complete a series of surveys to allow us to gather additional information. This included a pre-workshop survey, an at home survey, a post-workshop evaluation and a post-workshop reflection.

We analysed the data we gathered from these workshops and presented it to council to assist them in the development of the wider community survey.

Part Two: Community Survey

Following the workshops, we worked with council to develop a community survey. This survey was designed to help us understand the community’s views on swapping the current opt-in garden waste service to an opt-out garden waste or FOGO service. Entitled, ‘Our Future Waste’, the survey was launched on 2 February 2021.

We created a comprehensive multi-channel communication strategy to achieve wide distribution of the survey and high participation in the community. This included social media posts, an online survey and distributions at council facilities. Each communication was supported by a strong call to action asking residents to fill out the waste survey and have their say on the future of Sunshine Coast waste collection services.

The survey attracted a huge response with over 7,500 surveys completed in the four weeks it was open online. This was one of the highest number of surveys completed by any council in recent history.

The Outcomes

The Sunshine Coast Council was exceptionally pleased with the engagement activities. Both the workshops and the survey were highly successful and allowed the council to understand where the community stood on the issue of FOGO and green waste service. The council was happy with both the process itself, and the outcomes achieved.

A representative from the Sunshine Coast Council said, ‘[T]he engagement activities have proven to be a great success, thanks to you and everyone who worked on the project’.

Once the information gathering stage was completed, Engagement Plus produced finding reports for both the survey and the workshops. Importantly, we helped the council obtain everything they needed from the community to understand if and how they should expand the organics waste service in the region and about waste services in general.

The Sunshine Coast Council said, ‘A good news story. Yesterday the council endorsed the introduction of opt-out garden organics collection services. So most households will now get a green bin. This is the first step we concluded from the engagements. Thanks for your help in getting the community input which no doubt enabled this decision to be taken.’

Lessons Learned

The Sunshine Coast FOGO stakeholder engagement project demonstrates how well a multi-focused engagement approach that combines both workshop and surveys can work to enhance understanding and knowledge. It also showcased the benefits of the deliberative inquiry methods in workshops, which allowed participants to consider the issues deeply first before providing feedback.

Stakeholder engagement is vital for thoughtful community-focused projects. Get in touch to see how Engagement Plus can help you today.