The theme of this article is current developments in community governance (see, for example, Rolfe, 2016), but it comes with a warning: this is an area where definitions are extremely difficult and it is easy to become distracted by semantics, rather than focused on the substance. Discussion is further complicated by the variety of practice, the many different approaches which can come under the umbrella of community governance, and the formal responsibilities of local government in different jurisdictions: local government in England and Wales has significant social service delivery responsibilities (albeit typically under fairly tight government requirements), but in both Australia and New Zealand local government’s actual involvement in social service delivery is relatively minimal, although Australian local government does have a role in care both of older people and of children, especially in the provision of childcare centres.
There are three principal elements to a community governance approach, only one of which is picked up in virtually all current New Zealand consultation and engagement practice. The three elements are:
- the council seeking feedback from its communities on council proposals;
- the community seeking dialogue with the council on initiatives which the community wishes to put in place (the opportunity to make submissions on a long-term plan or annual plan falls short of a community governance approach for a number of reasons, including time constraints and lack of opportunity for genuine dialogue);
- dialogue within a council’s community or communities themselves in order to arrive at a representative view on what it is the community wishes to see take place – a contrast with the current situation, in which input from a community level is typically from individuals or groups with no specific mandate to speak on behalf of the community as a whole (especially when it affects a geographic community rather than a community of interest).