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Community Engagement Toolkit for councils

Engagement with community and other stakeholders is an integral part of each stage of planning projects. This guideline describes approaches local councils across NSW can use when they engage their community on planning matters.

Creating your CPP

One of the objects of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (the Act) is to provide increased opportunity for community participation in environmental planning and assessment. Community participation is an integral part of the exercising of planning functions. 

Supporting this object is the requirement for all NSW planning authorities, including councils, to prepare a community participation plan (CPP). Information on CPPs and how to prepare one, is available here.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment  is committed to the participation of the community and other stakeholders in planning in NSW. The Department recognises that people should have a say in decisions that affect their lives, and that participation results in better planning outcomes.

Councils have an important role to play in engaging the community on planning matters.
This toolkit has been prepared to provide councils across NSW some guidance and tools to use when planning or undertaking community engagement. It supports the Department's commitment to raising the bar of community engagement across NSW.


The following guideline is intended to be used as a toolkit and emphasises the need for:

  • Early engagement, which gives a council the opportunity to provide information to community and other stakeholders and receive input on the issues to be considered.

  • Effective engagement which requires a council to commit to listen, document and respond to input received at each stage.

The engagement described in the toolkit reflects international best practice as established by IAP2.

1. Define the purpose

The first step in developing a community engagement plan is to define the purpose of your engagement project.

To clarify the purpose of the engagement project, it is important to:

  • Define the purpose.
  • Define the objectives.
  • Outline the scope and limitations of the engagement project.
  • Identify negotiable and non-negotiable elements.


1.0 Worksheet – Project description and background

1.1 Guide: pitfalls to effective engagement

2. Develop your approach to engagement

The council’s approach to engagement with community and other stakeholders should be tailored to meet the specific circumstances of the project.

The council needs to consider who to engage, what information will be provided and what input will be sought, what decisions the community can influence, and how the council proposes to engage.


2.0 Worksheet – Developing your approach to Engagement Worksheet

3. Who to engage: understanding your stakeholders, their interests and levels of influence

A council should identify who it proposes to engage with, based on a community and other stakeholders likely to be impacted by, or who have an interest in, the proposed project.


3.0 Worksheet – How to identify stakeholders and community members

3.1 Checklist – for stakeholder understanding

3.2  Checklist – for identifying stakeholder needs

3.3 Table - Stakeholder prioritisation table

3.4 Chart - Stakeholder ability to influence outcomes

4. How to engage: developing an engagement strategy

All engagement strategies should align with the commitments made in the council's community participation plan.

A council should consider how it proposes to engage with community and other stakeholders, to make information about the proposed project available and to obtain the perspectives of the community and other stakeholders.

Community engagement enables a council to listen to the community and other stakeholders and incorporate their input, allowing the council to refine the project and assess and mitigate the project’s impacts.

The council should develop a Community and Stakeholder Engagement Plan (CSEP) to set out how the approach to engagement will be implemented. 

The council must provide:

  • Information as early as possible to the community and other stakeholders on how and when they can provide input. 
  • Information on the project, including updates as the project planning and design progresses and any changes that result.
  • Contact details for the council to enable any member of the public to ask questions and request further information.

This information should be available via a project website and through notifications directly to impacted and interested stakeholders.

The council should keep records of its engagement, including information it has provided to the community and other stakeholders, responses and input received and how it responded to or addressed this input.


4.0 Toolkit – techniques and activities

4.1 Template – DPIE Communication strategy guidelines

4.2 Chart – aligning community engagement to stakeholder impact levels

4.3 Flowchart – decision-making flowchart to align community engagement to impact levels

5. Implementing your community engagement strategy

It is rare that a plan will not change along the way, so it needs to remain fluid. For example, extra activities may need to be added, or may need to be amended or removed altogether.

Tracking and documenting the progress of the engagement project will also be necessary, so you should consider a system to collate and assist you to analyse community input.


5.0 Guide to encouraging participation for all community members

6. Evaluating engagement

The council should evaluate the effectiveness of the engagement in meeting the participation objectives and, to demonstrate how the objectives have been met.


6.0 Guide to evaluating effectiveness of the engagement in meeting objectives

6.1 Checklist for following up after engagement and preparing a report

This package of documents is for council staff, which may include planners, community engagement professionals or other relevant staff. It includes a range of worksheets and information guides from which to choose to assist in the preparation and documentation of community engagement projects.