Obituary: Have Your Say, 2008-2013


I was thrilled that my recent post about empowering communities received such positive and welcoming responses, particularly within the IAP2 Australasia LinkedIn group.  Some 45 comments later, I have been left inspired by a suggestion from Fran Woodruff that the term “Have Your Say” is dead!

It’s a phrase that has really boomed during the last 5 or so years and you could certainly say that it has become a bit of a trend. Just a simple Google search of the phrase brings up pages and pages of ‘decision-makers’ using the phrase alongside their engagement activity (I stopped scrolling at page 30, but it look to continues on and on). It’s a phrase that makes sense and to be fair has brought about a much clearer marketing and communications message to promote the opportunity to get involved in civic life.

But what has really changed? Has this boom in using catchy phrases seen any greater public influence over Government decision making? Sure, the numbers are probably slightly higher but that is probably more likely due to an increase in online engagement during the same time period which has broadened (slightly) the number of people able to ‘have their say’. I checked out Google Trends for the worldwide popularity of the phrase ‘Have your say’ from 2004 until now and there’s quite a clear growth pattern!

Have your say

In reflecting on the over use of the phase, Barbara Chappell said that she has long been irritated by the phrase. Quite rightly, she sees it as an ‘out’ for decision makers and a dead end for community members. So you have had your say and then what?… Barbara wants to see the shift from a parent-child relationship between Government and community to an adult-adult relationship. Hear hear!

The questions we need to ask are whether we are hearing that communities are connecting better with Government? Are we witnessing communities being heard by decision-makers once they’ve ‘had their say’? Are we seeing better, more sustainable decisions being made by Government? Hmm… I’m not so sure. What do you think?

As for me, I’m out. No more “Have your say” here. It has developed a reputation for being over used and under delivered. It’s officially banned.

Long may it rest in peace.


  • Andrew Coulson May 15, 2013 - 3:03 pm Reply

    One word… ‘Yay’

    Long have I promoted Community Engagement as a collaborative process rather than a paternalistic relationship to allow balanced decisions. In fact I say so in my staff training.

  • Marion Lawie May 15, 2013 - 3:48 pm Reply

    The king is dead, long live the king (and his new clothes). I think this phrase has meaning and recognition for the community, who still want to have their say. As Becky says, the question should be about what ‘decision makers’ do with what they hear; this seems to me to be more important to address than the wording of an invitation to speak. Or am I just cross because I’ve just approved new banners with this blazoned across them 😉

    • beckyhirst May 15, 2013 - 3:51 pm Reply

      Don’t be cross! Your new banners will be fine, I’m sure! You are completely right – it isn’t the phrase that is necessarily the problem but what the decision makers do with what they hear. If I’ve triggered even a quick double check of the process after the banners have been hung then I have a little feeling of satisfaction! All the best with your engagement activity.

  • Jennifer Stone May 15, 2013 - 4:36 pm Reply

    Can’t agree with you on this one Becky. My opinion is there’s nothing wrong with the words nor with the use of a short-hand attention-grabbing invitation. In fact I quite like the words – they cut through the crap of professional jargon. The fact that those holding the decision-making power often choose to not honour the invitation with meaningful participation has nothing to do with the phrase ‘Have your say’. The phrase itself implies a diologue of mutual respect. From my perspective, the invitation is too late, the processes are not deliberative enough, and the level of transparency not all that it should be. In a nut-shell, the phase ‘Have your say’ is but a minor part of the window dressing and disingenuous practice of public consultation and engagement we currently see.

  • Wendy Sarkissian May 16, 2013 - 10:29 am Reply

    Oh I agree.

    Have Your Say to me is such a weak cop-out.

    Have your say.. and then what?

    To me, it smacks of “your input will be taken on board.”

    Great, and where exactly is this vessel heading?

    What’s its destination?

    And how will I know when my precious local knowledge is offloaded from its “on-board” status and given to someone with influence and clout.

    So that I can have influence and not just be made to “feel good” (Arnstein’s ‘therapy’ level on her ladder).

    Here’s a bit from one of my recent books:

    ‘Your input will be taken on board’: Wendy’s reflections

    Often during a community engagement event, like a meeting or a workshop, a senior person (planner, developer, their consultant, a bureaucrat…) will thank participants and tell them (always in the passive voice), ‘Your input will be taken on board.’

    But where does this information go? What is this ghost ship that sails away into the mist carrying a cargo of comments from community engagement processes? I have never seen this ship on the ocean or entering a port. Nobody I know has, either. To my knowledge, it has never docked and unloaded its treasures of community comments or the plans that evolved from community ‘input’.

    I see this ship in my mind’s eye, lying on its side somewhere, rusted beyond recognition. That ‘somewhere’ is a very long way from the place where my neighbours and I contributed our ideas. Long ago, all our heartfelt and passionate contributions slid off the deck into the ocean and were washed out to sea. Some perished on the rocky beach. Tiny shreds still cling to the rotting timbers. Vestiges of our passionate words echo weakly inside the rusted hull…

    So, if you don’t mind, if you can’t tell me where the ship is headed, who is steering it and how its precious cargo is to be handled, I don’t want my ideas ‘taken on board’, thanks very much.

    How many times have you heard this phrase during community engagement processes? For us it always rings warning bells. It makes us question, ‘How will that be taken on board?’, ‘How will differences of opinion be resolved?’, ‘Who will make the final decisions?’ and ‘Who will be responsible for implementation?’

    After forty years of hearing this mantra, Wendy, in exasperation began carrying around a photo of a rusted beached cargo ship lying abandoned on a forsaken beach at a ship salvage yard. Her call to action: ‘That is where community contributions will end up unless we challenge the ‘that will be taken “on board” approach.’

    Well done, Becky. I believe that one of the great barriers to creativity n community engagement is over POLITENESS. It’s nice to be polite. But honestly, it’s 2013 and we can do better than “Have Your Say” or “Your Input wil be Taken on Board”.

Leave Comment