DIALOGUE WITH THE PILBARA: NEWMAN TOMORROW
DIALOGUE WITH THE PILBARA: NEWMAN TOMORROW
30 September 2004
Rich in resources, Newman's mining economy is booming. Such growth
offers both challenges and opportunities. It was determined to engage
the Newman community to develop a sustainability strategy that would
optimize the current boom and encourage long-term growth beyond the
iron ore industry. The objective of Dialogue with the Pilbara:
was to get all levels of government, industry and the community talking
together about the issues confronting Newman to determine the best way
forward to ensure a sustainable future for the town.
To effect a sustainability strategy, it is critical to elicit joint
'ownership' of the broad community, industry, and all levels of
government. In Newman's case, it also needed to include the voice of
the indigenous Martu. The State Government expressed its commitment to
action the priorities set by the community over the next two decades.
It was also agreed that the Dialogue would be used to inform
the Pilbara Sustainability Strategy, being conducted jointly by the
Western Australian Planning Commission, the Department for Planning and
Infrastructure, the Western Australian Department for Local Government
and Regional Development and Murdoch University.
21st Century Town Meeting
Similar to Dialogue with the City, the Newman Dialogue drew
on the methodology of the 21st Century Town Meeting - a large scale
meeting, with small group, facilitated, interactive discussion to
encourage deliberation; networked computers to record individual and
group ideas; and a theme team to discern the common themes of the room,
virtually in 'real time'.
The Dialogue process focused on ensuring that participation
was representative of the Newman population, that comprehensive
background information was presented, that there was an opportunity for
meaningful deliberation in small interactive groups, that common ground
was sought, and that the forum priorities were taken seriously by the
Like Dialogue with the city, the engagement was a process
rather than an event. It involved extensive deliberation with remote
indigenous communities, a school postcard competition picturing and
describing Newman in 2030, a large, interactive forum, and a local
Steering Team to oversee the engagement process.
The engagement process focused on three key questions:
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to go?
- How do we want to get there?
The goal was sustainability:
"meeting the needs of current and future generations through
integration of environmental protection, social advancement and
Prior to the Dialogue with Newman forum
The Steering Team
A Steering Team guided the process. It included representatives of
the key local organisations, industry, local and state government
within the Newman area. Its role was to 'champion' the community
engagement process, and to oversee the process to ensure it was fair,
accountable and transparent.
To ensure a broad cross-section of the community was represented at
invitations were sent to a large random sample of Newman residents and
to a broad range of stakeholder groups, and advertisements were placed
in the media.
To achieve representative participation, a number of strategies were
applied. Advertisements and articles were placed in local newspapers
inviting citizens to participate in the forum. There was also an
advertisement for volunteer facilitators. One thousand letters were
sent from the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure to a random
sample of residents, inviting them to take part. Participants were also
recruited by the Steering Team, including at a 'participation drive' at
the local shopping centre. A comprehensive range of community and
industry organisations, suggested by the Steering team, were sent
letters inviting several delegates to attend. Targeted strategies
elicited the participation of the indigenous Martu community.
Engagement of Local Indigenous Communities
To clearly hear and understand the views of the indigenous
communities, a series of meetings and discussions were held prior to
the forum with members of the Martu communities surrounding Newman.
This separate consultation process took place in July with Martu
communities of Jigalong, Parngurr, and Nullagine. Similar questions to
those used for the Dialogue day were discussed with community leaders
and at community meetings. A significant group of Martu were also able
to attend the Dialogue forum.
Confirmed participants were mailed briefing papers to read in
advance of the forum. These were prepared by independent researchers
from Murdoch University. The Steering Team checked the content of this
work and made some alterations. The briefing pack included a broad
issues paper, case studies and fact sheets. The aim was to expand
participants' knowledge of the issues so as to broaden and deepen the
deliberation on the day of the event.
Some of the key challenges presented by the briefing papers included
how Newman could endeavor to:
Schools' Postcard Competition
- maintain its population?
- plan to meet the challenges and opportunities of economic
- accommodate growth and development for more people without
sacrificing the environment?
- ensure an adequate standard of health services?
- enhance the service of education to overcome problems of
- plan for a more vibrant culture and community life?
- maintain its community as a safe place to live?
A school competition, 'Postcards from the Pilbara', was held
to encourage young people to be involved in the Dialogue
process. Two competitions were conducted, involving the children of the
Newman primary and high schools, and the children of the Indigenous
communities surrounding Newman, with cash prizes both for the winning
schools and students.
The topic was 'Newman 2020, the sort of town I would like to live
in', and children were invited to produce a picture for a postcard and
write some words for the back outlining their vision for the future.
The pictures created were not overwhelmingly positive. Notably, the
winner's postcard described a future vision of 40 days and 40 nights of
rain that filled the Mt Whaleback Mine, creating the Mt Whaleback Dam,
requiring residents to abandon the town for fear of flooding. The
possibility of Newman becoming a ghost town was a frequent undertone.
Another related to the lack of fast food and retail outlets in the
town. Only a minority presented an exciting, positive future for Newman.
The Dialogue with Newman Forum
The stated aims of the day were to:
- Broaden understanding of the issues with comprehensive, balanced
- Provide opportunities to share views, jointly problem solve,
learn from one another and from experts;
- Seek common themes on the direction forward;
- Prioritise what needs to be done to get there.
Approximately 150 Dialogue participants were seated at 20
tables of 6-8 people with a scribe and a facilitator. A lead
facilitator coordinated the proceedings. Computers at every table were
networked, relaying the ideas of each group to a 'theme team' who
worked collaboratively to find the common threads emerging in the room.
The theme team collated ideas and projected the conclusions on to a
screen for the entire room to see.
All facilitators, theme team members and some scribes took part in a
half day training prior to the event. Most of the scribes were
participants who volunteered to take on the role at the forum. At many
tables, this role was rotated between participants at the table.
Participants were asked to address a series of questions to vision a
sustainable future and determine how this vision could be implemented.
The focus was on the long-term integration of economic, social and
environmental elements. Questions included:
- What are your key hopes for the future of Newman and its
- Remembering your key hopes for Newman:
- What do we need to keep?
- What changes do we need to make?
- You have been transported to 2020. Describe how you would like
Newman to be:
- You are now in charge of this town. Your job is to head Newman in
the direction of the 2020 vision. What are you going to do:
to ensure Newman thrives?
Dialogue developed around three key questions: "Where are we now?"
"Where do we want to go?" and "How do we want to get there?"
The first question, "Where are we now?" was addressed through the
presentations and panels responding to participants' questions.
Presentations included the BHP Billiton Iron Ore Social Impact Study,
the Pilbara Regional Sustainability Strategy Issues, the Strategic
Planning of the Shire of East Pilbara and the Pilbara Development
Commission. In addition, a series of three short videos were shown on
the challenges confronting the residents of the Pilbara. Using
fictitious characters as a vehicle for dramatising the dilemmas, the
videos were intended as a tool for identifying issues, and a catalyst
for discussion within groups.
The remaining key questions: "Where do we want to go?" and "How do
we want to get there?" were addressed through small group, interactive
dialogue. Themes generated from these dialogues were projected on to a
large screen, virtually in 'real time'. Participants then prioritized
the key themes. These individual priority rankings were added to
discern the priorities for the room.
The description of the engagement process, as well as the themes and
priorities developed during the forum were written into a Preliminary
Report. A copy of this Report was distributed to all participants
before they left the forum.
At the close of the forum participants were asked to fill out a
feedback form. All participants said the day went 'great' or 'okay',
with sixty percent ranking it as 'great'.
The information packs distributed to participants prior to the day
were well received. Respondents were impressed with the level of
organisation and the efforts of the support team. Most importantly,
they felt that participation by the community was interactive and
inclusive, and that their voice was heard.
Suggestions for improvements varied from comments on the logistics
and need for more time, through to ideas about improving the
consultation process itself. These included accessing a Martu
interpreter; suggestions to improve the video including more local
input and using real dialogue rather than 'stories'; and advance notice
of the questions to be addressed at the forum.
Of those who responded to the question whether their views had
changed as a result of the day, most felt they had not. A number,
however suggested that their views had been strengthened or broadened,
while others learnt new information and better understood others'
viewpoints. Overall, it was felt that much learning had occurred.
Comments on the community consultation experience were very
positive, with some participants interested in more broadly applying
the Dialogue process, in particular the information technology utilised.
When asked if they would take part in something of this nature
again, ninety three percent of those who responded to the question said
'yes'; no-one said 'no'; and seven percent declined to comment.
Considerable concern was expressed about whether the results of the Dialogue
would be actioned, including the suggestions of the Martu.
Overwhelmingly, participants expressed appreciation for the work of
the volunteers - the Steering Group, the table facilitators and
scribes, as well as the organisers.
For participants to attend a full day during the weekend and still
be prepared to be involved in further community consultation was a
clear indication of the success and worth of the Dialogue
Following the forum, independent researchers from Murdoch University
undertook a further analysis of all suggestions submitted to ensure
that all the themes and minority issues had been taken into account.
The Final Report consisted of the themes produced at the forum; the
additional Murdoch University analysis; the findings of the preliminary
dialogue with the indigenous Martu communities; and the suggestion that
an Implementation Team of the key stakeholder groups be established to
oversee and 'champion' the implementation of the Dialogue vision and
priorities. This Report was distributed to all participants, made
available on internet as well as at the offices of the local shire and
Member of Parliament.
The Newman Dialogue findings are being included in the
Pilbara Sustainability Strategy. Although the suggested Implementation
Team has yet to be established, some of the key suggestions have
already been implemented by BHP, the East Pilbara Shire and the Pilbara
It was felt that the Martu would have difficulty with the format of
the Newman Dialogue
forum, in particular with the short time lines to respond to questions
and the use of the computers. To the contrary, they stayed engaged
throughout the day and took delight at seeing their suggestions
broadcast to the entire room. Nonetheless, it was important to have
carried out independent engagement at their community sites with their
elders, in the way to which they are accustomed.
The Steering Team was critical to the success of the engagement, in
particular in eliciting strong community participation, and in ensuring
the language of the information was appropriate not only for the
background papers and reports, but also by participating in the theme
team at the forum.
It would have been preferable if a follow-up process of
implementation had been agreed and announced at the outset of the
engagement process. This would have given greater assurance to
participants that the outcomes of the forum would be seriously
considered and actioned where feasible.