From Potholes to Policy: How Invercargill City Council Informs Itself of and has Regard to, the Views of all of its Communities
In the 1990s, governments in the Western world were seeking solutions to the economic and social dysfunction resulting from a decade of pure neo-liberal policies. Increased inequalities in the distribution of wealth, the promotion of individualism at the expense of community and citizens feeling alienated from government had become critical problems, nowhere more so than in New Zealand. A solution that has been adopted is to reconnect government at all levels with citizens and the civic sector. The good governance agenda proposed increased transparency and accountability of government to citizens, and a new role for citizens as participants and partners. It became the foundation for a fundamental reform of local government in New Zealand, resulting in the Local Government Act 2002. However, the acquisition of a right to participate does not necessarily lead to knowledge of that right and the capacity to exercise it on the part of citizens: nor the willingness to allow it on the part of government. There are also more general questions about the exercise of power, about representation and about whose voices are heard. This thesis, through a case study of Invercargill City Council, a local government authority in Southland, New Zealand, examines these issues relating to citizen participation and the extent to which the Council has been able to create an environment and processes that enable all of its communities to participate. In doing so, it draws on a body of literature in the field of Development Studies, where participatory theory and practice have held centre stage for almost two decades. The thesis asks whether the lessons learned in that field could inform the practice of citizen participation in local government in New Zealand.