View all publications

5. Community planning and decision-making

Deciding on a wastewater system is probably one of the most important decisions your community will make. Not only will it deal with the wastewater itself, but it can influence how the community develops. It will have a major impact on the local environment and on day-to-day expenditure for each household.

This section focuses on a community-driven decision-making process. This is not because of any belief that local councils and experts resist or are uninterested in community involvement. The focus is based on the view that because wastewater management is so fundamental to a community's future, there is immense benefit in having real and meaningful community participation. If nothing else, it is likely to reduce the often huge lead-in times for developing a new system. Resistance and objections can often arise from lack of understanding and frustration. The costs of that frustration can be huge, not least in the costs of challenge in the courts.

The focus on community planning and decision-making is not intended to suggest that the community should 'go it alone'. Professional experts, agencies responsible for health and environmental standards, engineers and the local council will need to form part of the team and the discussions. But the handbook does take the approach that communities need to be supported and encouraged to take a lead.

This section is written with the view that meaningful participation is most likely to occur if the community drives the process. This does not mean excluding or disregarding the expert's view or the council's viewpoints. It simply means that if people can have access to information and ideas before options are developed, and if those choices are transparent and driven locally, then a more successful process will result.

The ideas in this section are based on a community decision-making model, whereby the final decision on the best wastewater option sits clearly with the local community, in partnership with the local council. The emphasis is on encouraging a community-led process and on helping community groups with the nuts and bolts of how that might work.

There are many books and kits available on community planning and decision-making, and there is a list of helpful sources at the back of the handbook. This section acts more as a checklist of issues and hints you will need to explore in more detail as you work your way through your process.

5.1 Key features of a community decision-making process

The table below broadly describes the kind of decision-making process that smaller communities often experience when making wastewater system decisions. Usually the local authority initiates the process, sometimes in partnership with the community. The community's wider ideas or vision for their community will be sought as a kind of framework for making the detailed waste management decisions. Experts will be commissioned to develop and review options. There will then be consultation with the community, usually when the options have been narrowed down to a limited number.

Most local authorities try to consult in a genuinely inclusive way. Some will attempt a partnership approach in terms of managing the project, but a joint analysis of options is rare. This is where the experts and council officers work on the same footing with the community – where information is made available first and then there is joint development of the options and final choices. This needs skilled facilitation and a willingness to take time.

Table 5.1 Summary of levels of involvement for a process initiated by council

Project stages
  Initiate Plan (choose options) Implement Maintain
Community control
Community initiates action alone Community plans alone Community implements alone Community maintains alone
Shared working and decision-making
Authorities and community jointly initiate action * Authorities and community jointly plan and design Authorities and community jointly implement Authorities and community jointly maintain
Authorities ask community for opinions
Authorities initiate action after consulting community * Authorities plan after consulting the community * Authorities implement after consulting community Authorities maintain with community consultation
One-way flow of information; public relations
Authorities initiate action Authorities plan and design alone * Authorities implement alone * Authorities maintain alone *

Note: The areas with asterixes (*) indicate the more common planning and decision making processes used.

As can be seen from the areas marked with asterixes (*) in the table, it is most common for the council to control the process. Both the Local Government Act and the RMA require consultation, so an information-only approach is unlikely to be used by a local authority.

A community-driven process is outlined below (Table 5.2), using the same grid for comparison. A community is more likely to have confidence in a project if it initiates and designs the process. In that situation it can invite the involvement of external authorities and set clear 'rules' of behaviour and involvement. The most successful variation on this is a partnership model where the community and the authorities initiate a project together.

In terms of the second stage – the planning or options stage – it is essential that there is a joint process. This will have a big effect on how and when information is developed and made available. The community will need access to information before any options are developed. That information must be available in a way that everyone can understand, and they must be given time to understand it.

With this process some clear protocols will need to be worked out. Often a local authority will be the source of funding for the project, and often they will commission any technical studies. It will be important to agree how things like project briefs are signed off, and you will need to make sure that community people are present at discussions with any experts. It is often during these face-to-face discussions that the shape of studies and the directions of conclusions are worked through.

A self-help community control model is not useful when dealing with wastewater systems. Whether you are planning for a system for a marae, for your small bach or crib, a community, or a small town, the authorities and experts are likely to have a role. There may be some exceptions to this. For example, your community may be just looking at ways to improve how everyone manages their on-site systems. You may go to the council for information, but the real focus may be on setting up a community maintenance plan.

By far the most useful process will be to involve everyone in the planning and design stage. Indeed, a joint planning and design stage is the most important part of any process – be it community-driven or council-driven.

Table 5.2 Summary of levels of involvement for a community-driven process

Project stages
  Initiate Plan (choose options) Implement Maintain
Community control
Community initiates action alone * Community plans alone Community implements alone Community maintains alone
Shared working and decision-making
Authorities and community jointly initiate action * Authorities and community jointly plan and design ** Authorities and community jointly implement * Authorities and community jointly maintain *
Authorities ask community for opinions
Authorities initiate action after consulting community Authorities plan after consulting the community Authorities implement after consulting community * Authorities maintain with community consultation *
One-way flow of information; public relations
Authorities initiate action Authorities plan and design alone Authorities implement alone Authorities maintain alone

Note: the areas with asterixes (*) indicate the community-planning process. The joint planning options choice stage, area with two asterixes (**), is essential.

It is important to any community decision-making model for the community to keep its influence over the implementation and maintenance stages. There will always be decisions to be made, although some may be years away. For example, a system may be built and then new standards may be imposed that require some changes, such as requiring greater treatment of wastes. It would be easy to say this is a simple operational problem, but it could have as much impact as the original decision. A joint implementation or maintenance group is one way of dealing with this. Or it may be useful to sign an agreement with the council about how and when reviews and consultation will occur.

It is also important to remember that any community will be complex. The willingness to take time in the early stages will be important; it will save time in the later formal stages.

Raglan wastewater and community consultation

In 1994 a resource consent was issued to the Waikato District Council to increase the maximum sea discharge from the Raglan oxidation ponds from 1,000 to 2,600 cubic metres per day. The consent period was five years, with the condition that alternative options be investigated and trialled. The decision was appealed by tangata whenua representatives.

To resolve the appeal, a consultative group was established comprising tangata whenua representatives and an equal number of other community members appointed by the Raglan Community Board. The consultative group developed a number of options during an agreed one-year period and resolved by majority vote that a pond/wetland treatment system incorporating an extended sea outfall be adopted. The treatment standard was to meet bathing water guidelines. However the pond/wetland system did not receive the backing of tangata whenua. Consents for the pond/wetland system were granted in 1999 for a peak discharge of 3,400 m3 per day, and were subsequently appealed by mana whenua representatives, council and other individuals. The mana whenua appeals concerned the continued discharge to sea and wāhi tapu issues relating to the existing treatment site.

A mediation convened by the Environment Court was held in 2000, where it was decided that the views of council and other appellants were too divergent to allow mediation to occur. It was agreed that a less formal, facilitated meeting process might be helpful in reaching resolution. A series of facilitated meetings was held between 2000 and 2002. The meetings were funded by the council and a meeting allowance paid to appellants. A number of treatment and disposal options were put forward for consideration by appellants, council, consultants and specialist companies. Several preferred options were investigated in greater detail.

In 2002 agreement in principle was verbally reached between mana whenua appellants and council for an immediate upgrade to the treatment process to produce a shellfish-quality discharge of 2,600 m3 per day, a 15-year consent term, and the commitment of $1 million of council funding toward investigation and implementation of land disposal within a five-year period. The wāhi tapu site would be restored by removal of the front treatment pond. However, the agreement was not formally signed by the mana whenua appellants, who subsequently sought a five-year consent term and financial penalties on council if land disposal is not in place within five years. Mana whenua's stated bottom line is that there be no discharge to sea. Also, they retain a historical distrust of council arising from past events.

Council is reluctant to give a cast-iron guarantee that land disposal of all treated wastewater can be practically achieved within five years. This is due principally to the poor soakage characteristics of local clay soils and the potential effects on small tributary streams.

The council's perspective was that the facilitated meeting process allowed full and open discussion and provided a forum where options could be fully investigated, criticised and evaluated in light of all parties' concerns. It allowed the parties with widely differing views to come very close to reaching agreement.

The perspective of some of the appellants was that there was a recognition of equity issues and there was a genuine attempt by council to investigate alternatives and address issues. However, from the appellant's perspective, this was only a small step towards an inclusive and open process. This reflects the importance of good process in resolving these differing points of view.

After almost $1 million expenditure of public money on the process and investigations since 1994, a full court hearing still appears likely. The old oxidation ponds are still in service awaiting a major upgrade, while the township of Raglan continues to grow rapidly. Designing a process involving community and Māori at the beginning would probably have reduced these costs.

The remainder of this section explores some suggestions about how to get started and how to start looking at options. It also provides some general suggestions on how to survive along the way.

Riversdale Beach: sticking with the process!

Riversdale is a small coastal community east of Masterton in the Wairarapa. It was first developed in the 1950s and has a permanent population of about 90 people. There are about 230 houses, so in the summer the population more than doubles. The lagoon that was used in the past for swimming is now unusable, and there is a general perception that the groundwater is contaminated by septic tanks. Future development potential is limited, but if a new system was put in it would mean further land could be developed. The community must decide on the system it wants while thinking about this wider development issue.

The community process began in the early 1990s and is still under way. The process began with the local ratepayer association taking the initiative and holding public meetings with the Wellington Regional and Masterton District Councils. A consultant was commissioned to develop a report, but the results were not agreed to at a public meeting. The report was updated three years later in 2000 and there was a community survey, which showed positive but qualified support.

A community steering group was set up comprising two people each from the Residents and Rate Payers Association, from the wider community, from large-scale activities such as the campground, as well as two district councillors. Support was to be provided by the regional and district councils. During 2001 the group identified its objectives and further work that was needed. This included sampling on-site septic tank systems to assess their condition and undertaking a groundwater survey. It was found from these that most septic tanks did not meet modern standards and that there was groundwater contamination. It was agreed that the group would also look at water supply issues. The community was kept informed through newsletters.

A public meeting outlining a preferred option was to be held at Labour Weekend 2002. In September it was decided more detailed information was required before that presentation could go ahead. It was also agreed that the group would be extended to include local iwi and hapū and other community representatives. The group met in October and a further timeline was set. This included looking at what detailed information was required and how the wider community was to be kept informed.

The process is ongoing. It has been a long process, with times when there has been little progress. At the same time, the community has started to broaden their focus to look at water issues as well. The implications of decisions for the future development of the settlement are also understood.

Choosing a wastewater system for your community can take years from starting to think about it, setting up the process, doing the investigations, looking at technologies, getting funding and building the system. It will be slow, time- and energy-consuming, and frustrating. Meanwhile there will be pressures to move faster. It will be important to make progress, and you will need to be flexible. It will be equally important to make sure that what your community felt was a good process at the beginning is being followed through.

The project will be complicated. You will need to get a feel for the community's attitudes to growth, understand the technical options, environmental conditions and standards, different ways to fund and how the rating system works, and how formal resource consent processes work. You will need to find out who the movers and shakers are and who the politicians to work with are in the council.

How to survive: some advice!

  • Accept varied commitment and people's limitations. People will have different levels of time they can give. Don't get resentful if it is small, and take what you can get.
  • Be prepared to repeat yourself. People will come and go – seasonal residents will have varying involvement. Be prepared to provide updates and to repeat information.
  • Run a positive process – avoid the 'agin the government' approach. It is easy to get angry or dump other frustrations with authorities on the process. Try to be positive – it will allow you to explore options more easily.
  • Give yourself a break – make it okay for people to move in and out of the project. The process will use up energy. The more tired people get, the harder it is to try out new ideas.
  • Give people room to change their views. People will have strong views about the 'right' wastewater system. Focus on providing information and ideas that will allow them to change without losing face.
  • Avoid the inner and outer circle approach. This is especially an issue for coastal communities where permanent residents and visitors don't always interact. Everyone's views are legitimate, and tolerance of different views is essential.
  • Make sure the process makes it possible for everyone to take a leadership role. There is a danger of confident people dominating the decisions and ideas. There is also a danger that you will run out of steam when the leaders get exhausted. You need to encourage a pool of talent and be open to new people. Encourage people to take new people under their wing.
  • Use different ways to communicate. Don't rely on endless papers and reports – only some people will engage with that. Use discussion, drawings, pictures and maps to convey ideas.
  • Be honest about what is possible, or the size of any task. Don't suck people into the process with the idea that there may be only small involvement. Feeling trapped into participation is not going to be helpful in the long run.
  • Be prepared to use outside help, such as a facilitator, to resolve conflict. You will run into conflicts – there is no doubt about that – within the group or outside. If you feel you can't fix it, get someone who is independent to help. Don't feel you have failed by doing that.
  • Acknowledge that there are differences in power and influence right from the beginning of the process.

5.2 Getting started

A community decision-making process usually starts in an informal way, with people slowly deciding that something needs to be done. There will be discussions among individuals, and then at some point things will need to 'go public'. There are different ways of doing this depending on the focus for your community. It might be via your local residents and ratepayers group, or the local school trustees group, or the local sports club.

Once you have started talking to each other and have agreed that something needs to be done, the first thing to do is sit down as a group and draw up a 'risk management plan'. This might seem a bit technical and bureaucratic, but it is absolutely essential if you are going to be successful. It is a simple process that needs to be documented as you go.

Getting on board with the idea of risk

Whatever the decision-making process your community chooses, you will not have perfect information to give you complete certainty about what the right decision is. You will have to work with the idea of risk, which involves understanding that problems may arise, the nature of those problems, their potential impact, and the probability of when they might occur. You will need to put things in place around these risks to either reduce the probability of the problem happening, or to deal with the problem when it arises.

There will be risks associated with the decision-making processes themselves: for example, a poorly run process brings the risk of increasing costs in formal resource consent processes. Over-confidence, listening too much to 'false alarms' and not listening to 'silence' around key issues are all risks.

There will be risks associated with each kind of technical solution; some will be acceptable to the community and some will not. Or, you will need to set in place processes to deal with them. For example, on-site wastewater systems can reduce the risks of water pollution, but there are risks that people will not look after them and they will fail. The community can either choose another system, or put in place processes to avoid the risk of people's neglect of their septic tanks.

It is important that the idea of risk and steps for managing it are part of every stage of the process you are working your way through. This needs to be done in a formal way, and you need to record your thinking.

The four steps for risk management

Risk management has four separate steps that need to be worked through.

Step 1: Understanding the issues

You need to understand the various stages of the overall process you are going to go through so that you can consider the risks associated with each of them. Overall there will be three broad levels of risk to think about:

  • risks to your process of decision-making
  • risks associated with the technical solutions you choose
  • risks associated with the receiving environment.

In terms of process, you will probably pass through the following stages.

  1. Getting a community mandate to start.
  2. Initial design of your community decision-making process.
  3. Gathering information about and understanding:
    • environmental problems
    • public health problems
    • how the natural systems work in your area
    • the social and development pressures on your community and people's expectations
    • types of technical wastewater systems, what they can deliver and their ability to deal with risks
    • the relationship between the possible systems and the realities of your area.
  4. Choosing the best option.
  5. Developing the best option.
  6. Managing it in the long term.

You need to understand the risks associated with each stage. You will not necessarily understand all the risks at the beginning, and you will learn a lot. Don't worry about that, but make sure you review things as you go. Talking to other communities who have been through it will help.

In terms of risks in relation to technical systems, there is a range of things you can think about. These are explored in detail in Part Three, but some examples are:

  • treatment process failure
  • the reliability of the engineering systems and plant
  • impacts of re-entry on the environment (eg, odour)
  • re-use of recovered water and biosolids
  • the ability of the community to manage the system
  • development pressures and the capacity of the system
  • ongoing running and maintenance costs.

Step 2: Risk or hazard identification

This step involves identifying each source of risk for each stage or issue. This is a very important part, and a number of the sections in this handbook will help with tips on what the risks might be and will provide information to help.

A particular issue for understanding risk in relation to the technical systems will be understanding how things will perform in normal conditions and in abnormal conditions. Normal conditions would involve understanding issues around the impact of discharges on the environment. Abnormal discharges might involve understanding how the treatment system might work if extra toxic waste suddenly went down the pipe into the plant, or how the plant would stand up to an earthquake.

Step 3: Considering the consequences of each risk

This involves thinking about the consequence of a particular risk and the probability that it will happen. For example, a risk might be that you could be challenged in the Environment Court by parts of the community, or they don't agree with the final option. The consequence might be that you have to start again. A key question is: is it likely to happen, for example, if you fail to keep people informed or fail to get them involved? This does not have to be a complicated process, but it can be enlightening and very useful.

There will be some technical issues to do with risks that you will need help with and that can be dealt with as you go.

Step 4: Managing the risk

This is the process you will put in place to deal with the risks. Often the process risks are neglected while a lot of effort goes into the technical risks. Within the technical area a lot of effort often goes into understanding the ability of the technical system to deal with health risks and environmental risks; less effort goes into dealing with the risk of the community not being able to manage the systems once they are built.

Your risk analysis may have layers, with a simple analysis of risk for each stage and then more detailed thinking for 'bits' within each stage. It may be worth developing simple sheets to record your risk thinking. They could look something like Table 5.3.

Table 5.3a Process risks

Stages Risks Possible effects Management

Obtaining mandate

  • Others challenge process
  • Delays
  • Increased costs
  • Diverse community – moderate risk of happening
  • Make sure all groups are involved in setting-up process
  • Develop communication plan (eg, newsletter)

Gathering information

  • People do not understand technical issues

  • Important information not gathered in time
  • Unnecessary conflict over options
  • Delays
  • All options not considered
  • Technical issues complex – high risk of this happening
  • Options cannot be fully reviewed
  • Time delays
  • Work out a process to introduce technical information
  • Choose experts who can communicate
  • Set timetable and do not proceed to next stage until people comfortable with info.


  • Information from one person, group or the media distorts facts
  • Unnecessary conflict
  • Lost time as issues are relitigated
  • Have a communication plan
  • Get someone respected by all groups to write up and send out information
Lack of resources
  • Overestimation of what can be achieved
  • Unrest if don’t deliver on promises (eg, about the process)
  • Exhaustion for key people
  • Some people excluded
  • Think carefully about process and what is needed at the beginning
  • Negotiate resources – don’t participate until this is in place
Consenting approvals
  • Major challenges through to Appeal Court
  • Failure to include all groups and consider perspectives
  • Failure to consider alternatives to proposed options
  • Poor communication
  • Spend time on planning the project
  • Identify the full range of interests
  • Involve them from beginning
  • Ensure have right information available

Table 5.3b System risks

Issue area Risks Possible effects Management
Treatment process
  • Unable to handle normal circumstances (for your area) of both domestic sewage and food-processing tradewaste
  • Abnormal – major sudden toxic load
  • Odour and noise
  • Plant breakdown
  • Treatment system shut down – have to find short-term alternatives
  • Low risk in normal circumstances
  • High risk in future – area growing and new businesses coming in
  • Set standards for normal treatment performance


  • set standards for tradewaste entering the system – restrict those system cannot deal with


  • restrict business growth


  • identify likely trade wastes in future and design system to fit.
  • have a back-up plan in place if system fails.
  • resource consent and discharge permit provisions

With system risks, this process does not give you the final answer about the best system, but allows your community to assess the cost of designing the treatment system to reduce the risks. It also pushes you to assess the costs of a back-up process if the treatment system fails, or the costs of restricting some business development.

You won't know all the risks you need to consider before you begin the detailed thinking about technical options. But if you are going to use a community-based decision-making process, you will need to begin thinking about these issues early on. Often the traditional approach is to have experts go away and assess systems and risks, rank them, and then ask the community to make choices. A community-based system requires your community to understand the issues and risks prior to exploring options. Therefore, as part of your community design process you need to plan for time to gather and make information available to people about the kinds of risks and issues that exist.

Many of the environmental and health issues will be discussed by professionals in terms of risk. For example:

  • What is the risk of health problems if there is some leakage of sewage from pipes or a septic tank?
  • Should pipes and a treatment plant be designed so only a certain number of overflows occur?
  • Is it a problem if the overflows are cleaned up immediately?
  • Is it better to design the wastewater system so that people will never come into contact with overflows?
  • Or is it more realistic to allow for some overflows, but put up signs to keep people away from beaches or discharge points when it happens?
  • What is the risk that people will take no notice?
  • What is a reasonable compromise between health risk and building heavily designed systems that are extremely expensive?

There are further questions:

  • How likely is it that there will be a failure in the nutrient cycle in the local lake if a certain volume of nitrogen is deposited in a nearby stream?
  • Will there be an immediate effect, or will the amounts need to accumulate to have an impact?
  • What is the level of risk if the volume of water in a stream is low because of drought over the summer?
  • What is the probability that drought will happen?
  • What is the risk of pollution of groundwater and soils if there is heavy rain and the water table rises?
  • What is the likelihood of heavy rain and flooding?

These last issues are particularly hard to understand because the experts talk about such things as a one-in-five-year drought or a one-in-100-year flood. This doesn't mean that the flood will only happen every 100 years – it could happen any time. It means that a flood of a certain size occurs more or less frequently. The risk management issue is making sure the system is capable of dealing with that volume of water if and when it happens.

Understanding this language of risk is important. A good community process will depend on people having a general understanding of the technical issues so they do not feel forced to accept options and decisions. This does not mean everyone needs to become an expert, but experts will need to be prepared to explain the technical language and the way they think about risks. Your community process will need to work with each expert to understand the risks they are trying to manage and the trade-offs and compromises between them.

The remainder of this section looks at designing your community-planning decision-making process.

5.3 Developing a decision tree

Some risks to be managed include:

Issues coming from 'left field'

  • information is not ready when you want to start making decisions
  • the formal consent process fails or is slowed.

These risks are heightened if you have not:

  • thought through all decision-making points or stages
  • thought of all the material 'inputs' at each stage
  • factored in the thinking about risks at the right time.

It is all very well to think about the risks and issues. But how do you string them together in the right order? There is a logic to decision-making that is often only possible to see if you build up a road map of the key routes, intersections and give-ways. This visual approach is sometimes called a decision tree.

A simple decision tree is shown in Figure 5.1.

Figure 5.1 An example of a simple decision tree

This figure shows an example of a simple decision tree. Information about people’s ideas is fed in at the top, leading to a discussion of the community vision. Objectives are decided on and issues and risks identified. Possible options are then identified and tested against the issues and objectives before the best option is chosen. The final solution is also tested against the original objectives.

There are some examples of decision trees, flow charts or 'logic processes' in Appendix 8 which have been used for some wastewater options. They include:

  • a process for deciding whether pit toilets are the best option
  • a process for deciding on a septic tank system.

The focus of these is on the important decisions that will need to be made about technical options. The process can also be used to describe and plan each stage of the community process. For example, the next subsection is on how to get a mandate and how to keep it. It may be worth drawing up a flow chart or 'road map' of the main things that need doing, and the decision points.

A decision tree can be used for the 'information gathering bit', for any process that you might use to work through with the local council, for any part of your overall task. In fact you can have a series of layers, with a broad overall process, and then a breakdown of each part. This might seem excessive and overly detailed. But if you remember the length of time (it can be years), the amount of effort and the complexities of the formal consent processes, it is worth doing. Remember that the potential impact of the wastewater decision will determine the complexity of your processes. If it is a simple issue of whether to upgrade the septic tanks in your area, this may involve less complex processes than if the issue is whether to build a big system that can accommodate major new growth. This is discussed further below.

5.4 Getting a mandate and keeping it

A key thing will be to talk to the people you think have influence in the local community (it may of course be you!) and get them on-side about doing something. This is called having a mandate.

You face a choice, at some point soon, about whether you go to the local council or whether the local community builds up its own mandate. You may be tempted to go to the council because you can get money to help in the early stages. In fact it may be useful to try to put off doing that until you have a clearer idea of what you want to do.

Even if the pressure to look at wastewater issues is coming from outside, make sure you have got your own process well pinned down before you respond to that timetable. It may be worth letting someone know that the community is looking at a process, so that a formal one is not designed and under way before you know it.

Think about bringing people together and get a mandate to start a process. At that meeting:

  • get agreement on the way forward (eg, are you going to work via an existing structure?)
  • get agreement about who would like to be involved (don't worry if the group is large)
  • be prepared for the wider group to start taking the initiative and leadership
  • get agreement about how things are to be reported back and how people are to be kept informed
  • agree when any positions of leadership and representation are going to be reviewed.

Some risks to be managed include:

  • challenges during formal processes, such as when going for a resource consent
  • splits in the community that lead to long-term tension
  • having to go back and repeat parts of the process.

These risks can be reduced if:

  • an effort is made to involve all groups
  • people in the process feel that their representatives are expressing the wider views of the group.

5.5 Developing a process with iwi and hapū

If your group is driven by your local iwi, hapū or marae then this is not going to be an issue, although, as occurs in any situation, the processes among these groups do not necessarily always work well. Otherwise, now is the time to make sure you have a partnership with your local iwi or hapū, or their representatives.


You should not treat your relationship with iwi as a sort of consultation process. You need to have an agreed joint process with them from the beginning.

Communities becomes frustrated when authorities press ahead with ideas and develop proposals and options before seeking to involve them in the process. Māori communities are no exception. The role of Māori in any wastewater management initiative extends beyond that of simply being a stakeholder – they have a formal role in the decision-making process. (See Section 4.1.)

Certainly, as part of any later formal consent process, you will come to know what local Māori groups, including iwi and hapū, in your region think of your proposed options. However, the collaborative approach (in terms of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and provisions of the RMA) assumes a level of participation by Māori which is more comprehensive than that of endorsing (or challenging) your final proposals. The best way to do this is to start early.

Your picture of partnership with various groups could look something like Figure 5.2.

Figure 5.2 Examples of community partnerships

This figure outlines examples of community partnerships. In the first example, locals and iwi agree on a joint process, then others are co-opted or a process is agreed for involving councillors, council officers, experts and other authorities. In the second example, locals, iwi and council representatives agree on a joint process, and others are then co-opted or a process agreed for involving council officer, experts and other authorities.

Working with iwi and hapū organisations and with Māori residents: some tips for those who are unfamiliar with the area

  • Don't assume that local Māori residents are members of the local iwi. If they aren't, they cannot be expected to speak on their behalf. They may however, be able to help you identify the relevant representative body with which you should be making contact.
  • You will still need to talk with those residents, for they will not only offer a relevant cultural perspective, but as community members, they may also have views on your proposed initiative. It is important to remember that engaging with Māori at this level is not a substitute for working with the relevant iwi or hapū authority.
  • Your council may be able to help you to determine whom to contact, but don't rely on that – not all councils know or will have got it right.
  • Once you have made contact with the appropriate iwi organisation, it may also be appropriate to engage directly with various hapū in the region. This is a bit like talking to a regional council: it may have responsibilities for some things and the local authority will have responsibilities for others, often with more direct day-to-day involvement. Representatives from your local iwi authority will be able to advise you on what level of consultation, beyond the representative body, might be necessary, and may also be able to provide assistance to ensure you get it right.
  • You may find local hapū to be marae-based, including a marae committee, and you can make contact through them.
  • In addition to iwi and hapū structures there will be family or whanau groups who may own land in the area or have an interest. They should also be approached to see if they have an interest in being involved. They may also be happy to work through the other groups.
  • You may find that tensions exist between the various hapū and the iwi organisations on these issues. There may also be conflicts and tensions between individual people – this is no different from other groups. Don't get bogged down in the issues. Don't expect groups to agree – there is no reason why they should. After all, local and regional councils don't always agree.
  • Remember, too, that there may be other groups who have had a history there in the past who have moved out of the area long ago. They may have urupa (burial grounds) or other wahi tapu, which they have an interest in protecting. This is akin to having a family grave in a town that you no longer live in. You still have an interest in protecting the site.
  • Talk to as many of these groups as possible about how they may want to be represented on any steering group. Don't be afraid of having a number of people there. They have a responsibility (called manakitanga) to look after the wider community as well, and they will. They may prefer to agree to a good process rather than having representatives. That's fine, but you will need to take responsibility for making sure that talking and discussion occur.
  • Remember, like other members of your community, many Māori are working full-time. As well they may be heavily involved in marae and a host of other activities. Don't assume that because they are unable to commit a lot of time to something, they are not interested in the issues, or are not concerned.
  • If, as a part of your over-all project you will be seeking funding assistance, remember that many marae and other iwi organisations also operate on limited resources. Take into account that they may need assistance to participate in any community planning process.
  • Wastewater management often affects wahi tapu and seafood-gathering areas. You may need information about sensitive sites to manage discharges. Be aware that often, only certain people will hold that type of information, especially where wahi tapu is concerned. Past desecration may make people reluctant to give out information. Talk this through and work out a way that can allow good decisions to be made without endangering the sites. Something may have already been developed with the local council. Check this out.
  • There will be protocols used in meetings and discussions – make yourself aware of them and see how they can be respected in any wider processes the community may have.
  • In the end, the key issue is likely to be whether treated wastewater is passed directly to water or passes through the land. You will need to include this in your thinking. You will also need to be honest about whether the community is really committed to examining this issue. The partnerships set up at the beginning of the process may need to make a formal commitment to looking at this approach so that it does not get lost.
  • Remember that iwi/hapū members will be involved in any resource consent process and have a formal statutory right to be there. They will reserve that right. They will also reserve their right to challenge some issues. This is a bit like the council: it will involve itself in discussions and develop options, but it also has responsibilities through formal processes to protect the environment. Like iwi and hapū members, the council will protect its regulatory role.
  • This may all seem complicated, but it is no more so than trying to cover all the other residential groups and interests, the ratepayer groups, the recreational fishing groups, your project will bring you into contact with. Do not assume that in talking with one person, you will have addressed all possible issues.


  • don't worry about getting things wrong at first
  • talk things through with your iwi, hapū or marae organisation
  • people will welcome a process that is done in the spirit of partnership.

Risks to be managed include:

  • rejection of your community process by the local council if it has a commitment to working with iwi and Māori residents
  • loss of trust between Māori and the wider community and council if the wastewater issue is poorly managed
  • challenges during formal processes, such as when going for a resource consent – considerable weight will be given in formal processes to how the community has worked with iwi and hapū
  • splits in the community that lead to long-term tension
  • having to go back and repeat parts of the process.

These risks can be reduced if:

  • iwi, hapū and other Māori residents are involved early in the process and work in a partnership framework, including at the decision-making design level
  • wider kaitiaki responsibilities are respected and statutory requirements understood
  • the particular spiritual concerns of all groups are recognised and given respect
  • iwi organisations work well with local hapū or marae groups, and vice versa
  • there is willingness to seriously consider Māori perspectives about waste treatment and re-entry into the environment
  • all people who have a right to speak for the groups are included and consulted
  • enough time is set aside for internal discussions.

5.6 Designing how you will explore options

Once the community has decided on doing something and has established some sort of structure to take it forward, the next stage is to design the process for choosing wastewater options.

One tip for designing your process is to understand the level of agreement in the community about where people want to go. What is the long-term vision?

There may be a remarkable agreement about what that vision is. There may not only be agreement among locals but with the wider council and with possible future developers. It may be that your community is not under a lot of population pressure (either growth or decline) and there is little pressure from tourism. It may just be that the current wastewater system is old and needs replacing, and you want to review what is available. Or it may be that the community is not sure if it is right on the 'cusp' between continuing with an on-site system or changing. You need to know whether you really do have to change your system or whether you have flexibility.

Suppose you want to get a better system, but you don't want to change or grow. In that situation you don't need any elaborate exercise of matching choices about community development to wastewater systems. You just want a simple technical fit to your circumstances.

Straightforward? It seems like it. You had better be sure, because if you make assumptions and get further down the track – invest in a system and then face major pressures – it's going to be a big problem.

This suggests you need a 'community vision-checking' exercise. This is really just bringing people together to look at people's expectations for the area, what the pressures are, how real it all is. The questions the community can ask itself can go something like this.

  1. Are there any existing plans for some land owners to build and develop?
  2. Does anyone have a development gleam in their eye?
  3. Do people want to subdivide their backyard (eg, to fit a bach for the daughter's family on it)?
  4. If everyone did that how much growth would there be? A lot?
  5. Does anyone know of any outside developers who are keen to do something?
  6. Does the council have any grand plans? Check for an Urban Growth Strategy and what is in the LTCCP. 12
  7. Is there going to be a major oil or gold find in the area that will mean a boom?
  8. What are the tourism operators up to?
  9. Is our town ever going to attract a tourist?
  10. What does the district plan say?
  11. Do you generally mind if things change? Are there differing views on this?
  12. Is the population declining?
  13. Is your community growing?

If there are conflicting views you don't have to find a solution. In fact don't even try – it will just become messy and it is unnecessary. You just have to know what the pressures are and whether there are differing views in order to develop a process. Once you know, you can put together the best planning and design process to fit your circumstances. You can find this information out in various ways, and you don't have to spend a lot of time doing it.

Some tips

  • Check whether this sort of thing has been done in your area in the last few years. Local authorities do visioning exercises more and more. Don't reinvent the wheel.
  • Don't spend too much time getting information at this stage. Getting the local planner , or local land owners/developers to present ideas to the community may be useful.
  • Above all, talk to land owners, hapū and groups such as local women's and service organisations.

Figure 5.3 Examples of community classification

This figure gives examples of community classification. With limited change, there is no desire to grow, no growth or decline pressures, and environmental problems may or may not be big. This leads to a simple process of matching technical solutions to needs. A joint but small-scale options design process is needed. With moderate change, wastewater systems and some growth/decline issues must be juggled, but major change is not wanted. Environmental problems may or may not be big. This leads to the need for a community planning and design process that looks at some development realities but doesn’t need to solve them. Areas of growth/decline and any constraints should be mapped and flexible solutions considered. Where there are big plans and big differences of opinion, it is tougher to resolve. This is a community development plan issue and the wastewater system may be used as a tool to push or restrain growth. Wastewater management is only part of wider decisions to be made by the community.

Remember that you are not trying to solve future community development issues – only find out what is going on. Once you know the attitudes and possible pressures, you can probably classify your community into something like Figure 5.3.

Community control over analysing options

To ensure a community-driven process for selecting a wastewater system, it is essential that the community manages the way that options are developed and selected. Often the model used by an external authority is to seek preliminary views from the community – usually about general values and development intentions – then develop options. The information used to develop the options is developed by the professionals for professional use in the options analysis.

The community process means the information is developed for use by the community and professionals, who will combine for a practical analysis of the options. The community will need to have a major involvement in setting the framework and signing off work commissioned for the project. It will have to insist that the community understands the background information and the possible systems before the actual joint community design/options analysis happens.

Developing options: some ideas on how it might be done

Whether it's the 'limited change' approach for your community, where the wastewater issues are dominant, or 'the biggie', where the development issues dominate, a community-based options design process is important. Whatever the process you choose, there are three broad elements that probably should be included.

  1. Pull together the information needed to think about options and get it out to people first. This needs to come before any joint options/solutions session.
  2. Then hold a joint community options process – in conjunction with the experts and key players.
  3. Finally, design a follow-up period where people can consider the ideas developed, think about them, get them checked for detail, and work through any further choices.

It is important that whatever the process, the community has access to information first and can take a lead role in a meaningful way. From an expert and council perspective this can be very valuable, provided everyone has the same level of information and the process is not captured by a few informed members of the community.

A joint community options event: a possible approach

One approach to bringing the community together to choose a range of options for detailed analysis is to have a 'short sharp event' that takes place over a set time – perhaps a week or a weekend. Experts and the community would work together in the same room on plans and in discussions. The focus should be on the actual physical place – you cannot choose a system without stepping out the door and looking at the area you are planning for.

This means going beyond general vision statements such as 'to have clean beaches' or 'to ensure that where possible the wastewater system replicates natural processes'. The process needs to focus on actual maps, visiting sites, and deciding exactly which part of the landscape might be modified to take a plant. It is really just old-fashioned physical planning based on the place, while trying to select technical wastewater solutions that fit your community's social and economic needs.

This options process should not be a general overview of the issues. It should get down to where, what and how, and should be able to test for costs as you go. The wastewater experts you work with 'shoulder to shoulder' should be able to produce a general range of costs for different systems easily. If there are conflicting views, try to fix them on the spot by finding practical on-the-ground solutions. Figure 5.4 provides a template for a community options session, providing goals for what you can expect to achieve.

There are variations to this approach, but the main idea is to avoid a long process of community vision statements, consultant reports on technical issues, then separate development of options, then submissions, then a decision. A 'place' focus allows everyone to take all the factors together, test options, and discard some at an early stage without fixed positions being taken. Local knowledge is just as important in this process as expert knowledge.

With this kind of process, the preliminary information stage is essential to ensure that everyone participating in the process has equal access to information. There should be no surprises.

This isn't a magic solution, nor is it guaranteed to be problem-free, but it does help people to look at things in a fresh way. It helps people to work together and deal with the detailed issues, rather than looking at general principles and leaving the experts to develop the options. It will require some intensive project management pulling all the information strands together for the joint options work.

Some risks to be managed include:

  • resistance to a community decision-making approach on the part of agencies (low risk: most agencies are committed to community processes)
  • loss of community influence during the process (medium risk)
  • it can become a long, drawn-out process, with high costs, loss of influence and burnout (high risk)
  • people dropping out of the process (high risk)
  • capture of the process by particular interests and groups (high risk)
  • external agencies may not trust the process and therefore decisions, and will challenge outcomes in formal processes (medium risk)
  • the process bogs down in debates about the future development of the area.

These risks can be reduced if:

  • people feel empowered by having access to knowledge and information
  • agencies feel a community-driven process is designed to include them and their particular responsibilities and concerns about risk
  • people recognise that the wastewater issue is intertwined with questions about the future of the community (development issues)
  • the community is involved in the commissioning of information
  • the process is designed to consider development issues 'head-on'.

Figure 5.4 Developing a community options session

This figure describes developing a community options session. Step one is to develop background information and skills, which includes preparing background material, exchanging information and creating local experts before the options design, and briefing key players. The next stage is developing and testing ideas or options in a community options session over a week or weekend. This is on-site locally, with experts, locals and politicians, using maps, testing information and developing ideas – checking costs and funding impacts. The final stage is further discussion (reviewing options and looking at RMA requirement) or preparing a detailed implementation plan.

5.7 Information

A community-led process means having access to information about issues and opportunities in a form people can understand. The information you will need will fall into four broad areas.

  • an overview of pressures and people's vision for their community: to help understand the kind of community options process you want to use
  • the legislative framework: including the local land-use and environmental management rules set out in the local district plan or the regional plans
  • technical information to bring people up to speed so they can participate in developing options: if the information is being commissioned via the council, don't fall into the trap of getting an expert 'options analysis' done before any community design process. This may foreclose on perfectly acceptable systems. The options thinking should be developed once everyone has had access to the necessary information. You may use a formal risk analysis process that helps you to identify all the information you are going to need
  • expert peer review of the solution developed by the community to see if any technical issues have been missed: don't fall into the trap of this part becoming the real options analysis, with the community design process being just an information exchange forum. The community design process should have people there who can look at options in terms of funding and costs, as they are discussed.

The information gathering should emphasise pulling in people who are able to talk about information and explain technical matters and ideas. People in the community will have to do their homework and read written material. This does not mean they can become experts. It does mean they should be able to hold their own in discussion, challenge ideas and act as full players in any options decisions.

How to gather the information

You may choose to depend on a relationship with the local council to gather information and engage experts. How this is done will be important to the integrity of your options process. If the commissioning of the work is left to the council, it may fall back into the old process of commissioning an options analysis and then consulting. This won't be because of a desire to ignore the community-based approach – it will happen because people are used to working that way. A community design process needs the information to be gathered and made understandable, with the options analysis happening later as a team process.

So, if you are working with the council, consider developing a process that provides for the following.

1. Issues and options development stage

This will involve:

  • joint exploration of information gaps
  • identifying how these might be filled
  • jointly commissioning an expert to develop information if there is a gap
  • jointly interviewing and assessing the ability of experts to:
    • convey information in lay terms, verbally and with graphics
    • listen to local information and ideas and respect them
    • work in combined design groups
  • development of a process for formal assessment of environmental effects (AEE).

The last of these skills are important and may not be so easy to find. There will be some land-use planners (planners will need to be involved) who are used to such a process. Some engineers may be less familiar, but will be more than willing to participate.

2. Technical peer review of options, environmental effects, costings and analysis against objectives.

Jointly commission the peer review with a clear project brief.

Avoiding re-inventing the wheel: where to go for assistance

It may be useful for the community to explore the availability of experts and establish a pool of people who would be useful, before starting any formal process. This will include those who can undertake assessment of the environmental effects of options. Some engineers specialise in wastewater systems for smaller communities; it will be worth searching them out and getting them to talk initially about concepts. There are also organisations that have an interest in the improvement of wastewater management and the use of alternative systems.

Many small towns and settlements – especially coastal towns – have struggled with wastewater issues. It would be worth hunting them down and talking to people, maybe even getting them to come to talk to your community. The case studies used in the handbook will give you some ideas but there will be more. Professional experts might be able to point you to others, while local authorities should be able to help you with examples in their area.

Finally, there is a very good chance that wastewater issues have been investigated for your community or nearby communities by the local authority in the past. It is worth digging for this. Current staff may have limited knowledge of the work; if so, try to get someone to go back through drainage records to check. The technical information and systems may be dated, but there may be perfectly useful information about soils, hydrology and even water quality.

Your community may have attempted to get to grips with the issues in previous years. Check this out and try to track down the person who holds the records.

General checklist of information needed for a design process

(a) Understanding future demand for wastewater services

Your local council should have some feel for this. It can be commissioned or it can be pieced together from various sources.

Table 5.1a - Understanding future demand for wastewater services

Information needed Suggested sources
Expected population growth
  • local authority
  • Statistics New Zealand
  • be careful about assumptions underlying the figures – check against your ‘gut’ feel.
Number and type of households
  • as above
Number and type of businesses – future growth
  • hard to do and will depend a lot on local knowledge (eg, camping ground owner wants to expand)
Current wastewater volumes of an existing system – in wet and dry weather
  • local authority

(b) Understanding current problems

You will have a feel for this, but the impact on water and ecosystems will need to be quantified. Any health problems will need some sort of assessment. Your local council should have some feel for this. It can be commissioned or it can be pieced together from various sources.

Table 5.1b - Understanding current problems

Information needed Suggested sources
Water quality, groundwater, streams etc.
  • local council and regional council
  • local iwi
  • local people
  • expert assessment of impacts
Human health
  • local council / regional council – especially for impacts from bathing
  • local medical officer of health
  • GPs
Ecosystem health – just dealing with water quality information may not let you really understand final impacts on ecosystems
  • You probably need to commission an independent assessment – expert advice is important for this.
  • You will need to talk with iwi members and locals.
  • Remember – look at water ecosystems as well as things like the local condition of soils.

(c) Physical constraints and local conditions that might affect the choice of system

Table 5.1c - Physical constraints and local conditions that might affect the choice of system

Information needed Suggested sources
Soils – condition, capacity to absorb wastes and wastewater
  • local council and regional council
  • local iwi
  • local people
  • expert assessment
Hydrology – water flows, etc
  • local council will hold some information related to flood management
  • local iwi and local knowledge
  • expert assessment
Marine and coastal environments – issues such as whether there is an adjacent marine reserve, seafood-gathering area, valuable bush or wetlands
  • local council, regional council and local knowledge
  • Department of Conservation
  • local iwi
  • local environmental groups
  • you may want to get an independent assessment of implications

(d) Social and cultural constraints and local conditions that might affect the choice of system

A key issue may be the age of your community: are people going to manage on-site systems? It may be the overall level of income: what sorts of systems can people afford?

Table 5.1d - Social and cultural constraints and local conditions that might affect the choice of system

Information needed Suggested sources
Types of households, age, future age, income (eg, are people on fixed incomes such as superannuation?)
  • local authority
  • Statistics New Zealand
  • local assessment of issues
Information about what people value about their area
  • local expertise – discussions, community mapping, survey (maybe)
  • remember your seasonal populations if you have one
Tangata whenua concerns and issues
  • local iwi and hapū

(e) Understanding the wastewater systems

This is obvious, but you will need to get the information in a form everyone can understand. The handbook is a start, but there is no substitute for face-to-face discussion and summaries.

Table 5.1e - Understanding the wastewater systems

Information needed Suggested sources
Types of system
  • expert who knows how to communicate
  • handbook and technical back-ups
  • networking with other communities
  • local authority (only after you have canvassed things first)
Pros and cons of each system
  • independent expert – get one who is interested in small community systems
  • expert who knows how to communicate
  • handbook and technical back-ups
  • networking with other communities
  • local authority (only after you have canvassed things first)

(f) Understanding funding and management

Table 5-1f - Understanding funding and management

Information needed Suggested sources
How does the rating system in your area work?
  • local authority
What are the available funding options?
  • independent expert – get one who is interested in small community issues
What are the management options available to go with your wastewater system?
  • get the wastewater systems expert to include this in their discussions
  • find out the local authority’s attitudes.

Where possible, the information needs to be mapped, in pictures and diagrams, and summarised. Nobody should be expected to wade through detailed reports – at least until they have become experts on the systems.

Risks to be managed include:

  • developing options that don't fit people's vision for their area or the problems that exist
  • formal and individual challenges to the process
  • people withdrawing from the process.

These risks are reduced if:

  • information is provided with the aim of involving people in decision-making
  • information is provided in a form people can understand
  • anecdotal information is given a status in the process
  • information about what people want for their community is gathered
  • information is gathered about the community, what it will be like over time and what systems it is capable of managing
  • people are provided with the tools to participate in developing options rather than being confined to choosing between them
  • information about risks is well understood.

5.8 Facilitation, negotiation and conflict resolution

Organising and running a community process where people have differing views, or where sheer numbers make it complicated, takes real skill. Often the loud and the powerful will dominate. Thinking about how to facilitate events and discussions is very important. There may be people in the community who have those skills, or you can bring someone in who has those abilities.

Some key times when facilitation may be useful are:

  • negotiating any partnership or relationships with the authorities about how they will be involved in your process
  • running the intensive community options process (this is probably essential)
  • prior to and during the resource consent process.

There will be times, particularly during the community options period, when negotiation skills will be needed. For example, there may be a perfect option, provided the council is prepared to be flexible around some requirements – or a large land owner may be fixed on what they want to do. The beauty of having a range of wastewater systems to choose from means that it could be possible to negotiate a solution that fits everyone's particular needs. The developer's needs might be covered if they use a cluster system while others use on-site systems – provided the developer does the development in a sensitive way.

During the formal resource consent period there will be formal opportunities to negotiate solutions and seek mediation around choices and positions. This will require particular kinds of skill and familiarity with the RMA and legal requirements.

The ability to negotiate during an intensive process is a valuable skill. Rather than bringing in someone from the outside who has general skills, you need to gather technical experts and locals around the process who can negotiate in this way.

Finally, there may be quite serious conflicts on an issue – about the process, the actual wastewater systems, the community goals for the future shape of the area, the environmental effects, and tangata whenua concerns. You need to design in a conflict resolution process at the beginning and stick to it. Get agreement about who might be used: they need to be independent and acceptable to everyone.

Risks to be managed include:

  • domination of group processes by strong individuals
  • domination by experts, councils and major interests
  • rushing the process.

These risks can be reduced if:

  • processes share responsibilities, talking time and information
  • the decision process is open and transparent
  • everyone's agendas are out in the open.

Piha-Karekare wastewater options study

The Auckland west coast communities of Piha-Karekare in Waitakere City comprise three settlement areas separated by two streams. The estimated permanent population in 745 dwellings for 1995 was 2,660, rising to a peak summer holiday level of 5,215, with a further 6,000 day visitors. Both streams, which discharge to popular recreational areas, exhibited high enteric bacteria levels above those set for bathing-water quality. This was considered to be due to failed and poorly performing on-site wastewater systems, exacerbated by high population levels at peak recreational times. Poor soils, difficult topography, substandard installations, and lack of system maintenance contributed to the problem.

A partnership approach to resolving the issues at Piha-Karekare was instituted by Waitakere City Council and community representatives. This began with a community consultation programme, following which three main initiatives were developed. First was the provision of community information, including resource material on operation and maintenance and upgrading of on-site systems. Second, participatory community projects were introduced. These included demonstration projects for alternative technologies together with stream clean-up events and stream monitoring programmes. Third were on-property investigations and system performance assessments. These identified some 177 faulty septic tank and soakage systems on 671 properties.

For the 25% of all properties found to have faulty systems, average upgrade costs were estimated (1996) at $15,040 per upgrade. Full upgrade for all properties with effluent outlet filters retrofitted on septic tanks and with ETS beds or LPED trenches to replace failed existing soakage systems was estimated at $8,860 per lot. To retrofit all properties with new septic tanks and new disposal fields was estimated at $16,107 per lot. Community off-site reticulation and treatment options varied from $15,170 to $18,790 per lot.

The least-cost option of upgrading faulty on-site systems and retaining all other on-site systems would only achieve an effective long-term solution provided that all systems were placed under a maintenance and management programme. This was recommended to involve twice-annual (summer and winter) system inspections, along with continuance of the council-organised septic tank pump-out scheme.

Note: ETS = evapo-transpiration seepage;
LPED = low-pressure effluent distribution.

5.9 Maintaining an audit trail

Maintaining an audit trail (so that anyone can see what you have done) will be important because at some time you will move from a community process into the formal process of application for resource consents. Then you will need to show:

  • how the consultation and community discussion have occurred
  • the process whereby iwi, hapū and Māori residents were involved
  • the assumptions and reasoning behind the key 'inputs' into the options (eg, what did you assume about population growth?)
  • the technical information used
  • the process for formal peer review of the issues and options
  • the decisions made and the reasons for them.

Key to this audit trail will be keeping records of meetings, and this should be as formal minutes. Records of meetings should include:

  • any formal set meetings, such as a working group or committee
  • meetings with experts and external groups where decisions were made about key issues – not just actual options, but also decisions about key assumptions, etc.
  • any formal notices of meetings.

It is worth keeping file notes of conversations with any key players so that people are clear about any day-to-day decisions that have been made. Keep copies of newspaper articles, council committee reports, background technical documents, etc.

This might seem like a huge paper trail, but if you do this your case will be so much more powerful in any situation where there is a formal challenge. It is also possible that the project will be long. People will come and go and it is important that anyone taking over the records can trace the history. If your structure includes a secretary, it is worth appointing a helper (if you can get one!) because it will be a big task.

You will probably be working in conjunction with the local council, and will both be generating a paper trail. It is worth agreeing on some sort of protocol or process that has your record-keeping 'in sync'. Council records will have their own record/file number and it is worth getting a list of those being used so you can gain access to records quickly, even if you don't hold hard copies.

Finally, keep paper copies and electronic copies!

5.10 Communication

This is one of the most important factors in maintaining a successful community decision-making process. Without good communication it will fail. It's as simple as that. If people don't know what is happening they will become suspicious. Publish a regular update – even if nothing obvious is going on. If the timetable is falling behind, explain why, and talk about any knotty issues up-front.

The local council has a stake in the process working well and it is worth having a joint discussion about communication. It may be possible to have something in a council-published paper, provided it is made clear that it is a joint report on progress. The local newspaper may be willing to make space for a regular update.

Beyond this, have regular contact with key players. This could include key land owners who might not even live in the area; it must include iwi, hapū and marae groups. It is worth touching base with key council officers and other agencies. The best way to do this is by having a joint working group.


12 Long Term Council Community Plan. return