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Exploring Active Citizenship: CoCreate McLaren Vale

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I’m ‘putting out there’ an idea to host a gathering called CoCreate McLaren Vale on a Sunday afternoon in October. Anyone who has an interest in continuing to make McLaren Vale the best possible place to live, work or play, would be invited to attend.

Nothing is set in concrete – everything is open to possibilities!

This blog article explains my thinking behind this idea, its purpose and its connections to CoCreate Adelaide and The Change Makers Festival. Please note this isn’t the official blurb – that will be much more succinct! I’ve written this blog as a way to share my thoughts with a number of key organisations and networks in the area and I’d love to know what you think!

I have two lives. One is my professional life where I work with numerous local and state Government organisations, advising them on how best to engage with communities in their decision making processes. The other is my personal life where I live in the beautiful McLaren Vale wine region.

That’s a lie actually – because I am doing more and more ‘professional’ business in McLaren Vale every day – both through my co-founding of a digital engagement business, Strawberry Woo and a very active blog and Facebook page called Winey Kids in McLaren Vale. I’m also volunteering my time to be a member of the board at the local community-run hospital as well as numerous initiatives that I get my arm twisted in to being involved with!

So what I should really say is that I have two lives – one being at the northern end of the Southern Expressway (which pays the majority of the bills) and the other being at the southern end! What’s important to note though is that whilst I’m an advocate for active citizenship and community engagement, I haven’t been particularly involved in delivering any of my professional “engagement in decision-making” work in my own ‘hood.

Having owned land, built a house in, lived and played in the McLaren Vale region for just over 7 years (I’m still very much a newcomer), I’ve made a few observations along the way. The most obvious observation is just how much delicious wine is made here. The other observation, and the one I’m blogging about right now, is that there are so many opportunities within our community. There is SO much happening here and so many people are working on exciting projects that really are putting McLaren Vale on the map!

I want to bring everyone together to have a conversation about the potential for our community.

Whilst most people know the McLaren Vale region for its delicious food and wine, it’s also a place where people live, invest in, work in, commute to, commute from, choose to bring their children up, go to school, require health services, set up businesses, inherit businesses, visit on holiday… the list goes on! Our primary industry here is agriculture, most notably grape growing, but like in a game of Sim City, any core industry comes with a whole infrastructure to surround it. Add to that growth over the years and the make up of this community has shifted to include more weekday commuters to and from Adelaide, new business owners, investors and a need for more services, all mixed in with a community that has been here for many many generations.

This is what I most love about communities – their intricate make up of so many essential wheels in the clog! One wouldn’t exist without the other! From fostering and facilitating partnership working in the UK back in the late nineties and early 2000’s, through to the recent shift to an emphasis on co-design and collaboration here in South Australia, I’ve got a real passion for fostering forward thinking through working together.

No community is ever complete. It is forever evolving.

Having told you about life in the Vale, I’d like you to join me on a journey to the ‘other end’ of the Southern Expressway and I’ll tell you about a project I was involved with last year. CoCreate Adelaide, largely driven by my friend and engagement colleague John Baxter, was a concept based on the theory that by networking with other citizens with common passions, connecting to new resources and seeking inspiration and ideas, we are better able to cocreate the world we want to live in.

Good community engagement is no longer always just about the Government seeking input on their predetermined ideas. Instead it’s about community working together to identify their own needs and aspirations. And then working out who is in the best position to deliver those aspirations – whether that be within the community itself, through community organisations or by Government – or something in between.

I was involved in co-facilitating the first CoCreate Adelaide event which brought together around 60 passionate people for the day in a disused warehouse just west of Adelaide. No agenda was set prior to anyone arriving. Participants arrived, and after being welcomed, were handed the task of setting the agenda for the day. The facilitation technique used was Open Space Technology, a technique I’ve used on numerous occasions and in numerous settings. It’s a really great way of facilitating conversations about things that REALLY matter to people – because they are the ones who decide what to talk about!

So you can see where this is going, right?

John Baxter and I are working together to explore how the CoCreate Adelaide approach can be used in specific locations. On the same weekend in October (date and venue to be confirmed, but looking likely to be Sunday 19 October), John will run a CoCreate event in the Central ward (Adelaide CBD) and I propose to run an event here in the Wine Coast ward, within the City of Onkaparinga.

As an ‘active citizen’ who happens to (allegedly) have some skills around engaging communities, I want to bring this approach of bringing a variety of people in to a space and letting them set the agenda to my own community. I want to pull all the people, businesses and organisations I have contact with individually in to one space for a few hours. I want to facilitate a process which enables potentially important conversations to take place about the future direction of the region in which we live. No predetermined, hidden agendas.

What excites me most is the prospect of bringing together people from different sectors within our community to talk to each other, share with each other, learn from each other.

I’ll be contacting everyone I know in the area, and asking them to contact everyone they know. My immediate contacts already include people within education, health, the wine industry, agriculture, tourism, sustainability, small business, local Government, community groups and maybe even a few commuters! I’ll use the power of word of mouth, formal invites, local Facebook groups, and other peoples contact lists to help spread the word.

Just to add a further dimension to this exciting project, John and I not only want to facilitate these grass-roots conversations amongst the community, but we want to undertake them as part of the run up to the local Government elections to be held in November. We’ll be contacting candidates who are running for Council to come along to the event to hear first hand what the community are passionate about. All too often, the connection between the local members who represent communities and the communities themselves can become distant or irrelevant. We want to trial this approach of taking positive action to integrate the election process in to the heart of the community.

John and I have spoken with some community development staff from the City of Onkaparinga who love the idea of this style of grass-roots initiative. We’ve got a whole list of people to now contact to talk to about this idea. Part of the reason for me writing this blog is to have my thoughts documented in one spot which I can refer people to as I contact them to see what they think!

So. I’d love to know your thoughts about this idea in the comments section below. I’ll be honest that it’s another venture that I’m considering taking on which gives me butterflies! It’s risky to try new things where you live – especially when you want to live there for a long time yet! This isn’t just my professional reputation on the line, it’s my personal one too.

What’s in it for me? It’s a great professional development opportunity for me and my community engagement skills. It will give me a great ‘case study’ of using this approach and I’ll look forward to being able to compare how CoCreate McLaren Vale runs in comparison to the one held in the CBD. It’s also an interesting ‘experiment’ to bring local Government candidates in to a process being led by the community.

But more importantly, it’s using those skills to invest in a place which I call home. A place which I love. A place which I know others love too.

If you are interested in keeping informed about CoCreate McLaren Vale, please sign up to the mailing list here.

13 Comments

  • beckyhirst August 27, 2014 - 10:28 am Reply

    Feedback received via email: “I wonder if it might be worth giving a broad definition of ‘McLaren Vale region'”

    My response: Yes, we need to determine what area people at the gathering want to talk about. There is often confusion between McLaren Vale itself and the McLaren Vale region which is a much broader area. One thought I’ve had is to simply cover the “Wine Coast Ward” area which gives us a specific geographic boundary which ties in nicely with my wanting to tie in with the local Government elections. That does cover quite a big area though – viewable on this map – file:///Users/beckyhirst/Downloads/wine_coast_ward_boundary.pdf

  • John B August 27, 2014 - 11:36 am Reply

    Onya Becky : )

  • beckyhirst August 27, 2014 - 11:42 am Reply

    Another response via email: Great idea, my only concern it the date and it being during the care taker period of council and a time where candidates will be ‘electioneering’ . there a number of restrictions on elected members who are nominating for re-election and im mindfull that such an event could be seen as self promotion?.. im not sure if im right but im just putting it out there as something to perhaps be considered in relation to timing.

  • Leonie August 27, 2014 - 4:48 pm Reply

    Another great idea. Date might be a problem for me personally.

    Would love the Wine Coast candidates to be there and take on the concerns and ideas of the community.

  • Ali Pilborough August 27, 2014 - 7:21 pm Reply

    I would absolutely love to get involved with this but alas the date is an issue. I’ll get on the mailing list and see where it rolls!

  • Cr Don Chapman, Wine Coast Ward August 28, 2014 - 1:25 pm Reply

    Becky, I am fully supportive of this idea. As far as I’m concerned having been an elected member for the past four years the more community organisations, groups, individuals that get together to improve, enliven and enrich this area the better and calling on their elected representatives to assist the implementation of their wishes. It is all EMs role to facilitate the wishes of residents as much as possible. Please stop me when I start electioneering. You might like to include the local members of parliament fed and state, too, though it seems to be just about the upcoming Council elections. As far as boundaries I prefer your original idea of CoCreate McLaren Vale and that the boundary be the wine region than making it the arbitrary political boundary of the Wine Coast. I guess I think it would be better for the ongoing nature of CoCreate McLaren Vale if people were keen that it should have a future role.

    I didn’t see the arts on your list, nor did I see Kaurna culture. I’d be happy to spread the word to these groups as well.

    Also, what didn’t come out of your blog or the videos was what were the outcomes of the previous CoCreate you ran last year?

    Please keep me posted and October 19 is in my diary. regards Don

  • beckyhirst September 8, 2014 - 10:24 am Reply

    Feedback via email from an Elected Member – “A great idea, would love to be involved.”

  • beckyhirst September 8, 2014 - 10:25 am Reply

    Feedback via email: This is a great idea. Unfortunately I can’t make it that day and we will be away for the weekend. The Vale Cru tasting is on that afternoon which might affect attendance from Wine people. Hope it all goes well! I’ll be watching on twitter as always.

  • beckyhirst September 8, 2014 - 10:27 am Reply

    Feedback via email: Love it Becky. The idea of “free fall” people participation and a little bit of organised chaos sounds exciting. Also good to get variety of thought amongst people who may not usually get the chance to communicate together in a forum. Count me in if it goes ahead, that Sunday is currently free in my diary! There may be a danger of some hijacking by electoral candidates but I know you can cope with that element and keep it all positive.

  • beckyhirst September 8, 2014 - 10:27 am Reply

    Feedback via email: Interested! Timing a bit tough as we have the McLaren Vale Wine Show judges coming in that day for the judging the following week – which is a bit of an epic week, but should be able to make some time.

  • beckyhirst September 8, 2014 - 10:29 am Reply

    Feedback received in conversation: I don’t have time to attend another talk shop. We need to know what outcomes we are hoping to get out of it.

  • beckyhirst September 8, 2014 - 10:44 am Reply

    Feedback via email: I think that’s a really cool idea! Being new to the area, I’m not sure how much I would be able to contribute but it would be valuable for me to hear a bit more about what’s going on in the community and what people are keen to talk about as a group and work together on.

  • beckyhirst September 8, 2014 - 10:57 am Reply

    Feedback via email: Love this idea – would like to be a part of this process. I am employed 3 days a week (Monday Wednesday and Thursday) so I would need to check with manger re: working a Sunday. Please keep me in the loop.

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