Applying active stakeholder engagement to the thorny question of daylight-saving time in Queensland.
Every October, seventeen million Australians send their clocks forward one hour. For those living across New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and South Australia, daylight saving time is a way of life, an annual signal that summer has arrived.
However, in Queensland, standard time reigns supreme all year round. What’s more, any mention of changing the clocks is sure to get passions running high. For 50 years, the sunshine state has been a hotbed of strongly held views. The South-East corner typically favours daylight-saving, while those in the North and West of the state are firmly against its introduction.
Since the second world war, Queensland has had two stints of daylight saving. The first in the early seventies and then again from 1989 to 1992. In February 1992, Queenslanders rejected daylight saving at a referendum. Since then, risk-averse politicians have generally dismissed calls for the re-introduction of summer time.
Now, nearly thirty years since the 1992 referendum, daylight-saving time is once again back on the agenda for Queenslanders. Recently, the Mayor of Brisbane has come out strongly in favour of daylight saving, declaring its re-introduction: ‘inevitable’. However, strong opposition remains, particularly from the regions.
So, the question arises: What’s the best way to address the delicate question of daylight saving in a way that doesn’t get half the state off-side? In some ways, you can’t. Pleasing five million Queenslanders all at once is an impossible task, especially when you have a binary question.
However, what you can do is ensure the decision-making process doesn’t leave people feeling disenfranchised. And, if leaders dare to once again look at whether to introduce daylight saving time, it would serve them well to undertake active stakeholder engagement.
This process emphasises active participation rather than consultation and consciously seeks out a diversity of thought and opinion. Unfortunately, much of the daylight-saving debate to date has been far from constructive. Both sides have been adversarial, belittling their opponents’ arguments rather than engaging in a serious conversation.
For any decision-making process to successfully proceed, people will need to believe the outcome is not pre-determined.
The challenge will be to find meaningful ways to engage people beyond traditional consultation methods. But before anything can happen, leaders will need to outline a clear, conscious and transparent decision-making process that includes their key stakeholders in a way that matters to them.
The first question they should ask is, who are the stakeholders? Specifically, who are those people ‘in’ (the ones making) and ‘of’ (the ones impacted by) the decision.
With that in mind, here are some key recommendations:
- Broaden the ‘in’ group
To overcome concerns about a pre-determined result, those running the decision-making process need to be a representative sample of the population. There is a range of firmly held views about daylight saving time in Queensland, and no one of these should dominate the ‘in’ group.
- Don’t start with yes/no only
One of the mistakes Queensland politicians make when discussing daylight saving is to quickly rule out any talk of it being anything other than a yes or no question. Of course, there could be good reasons to avoid complicating an already difficult question. However, stakeholders will feel less disenfranchised about the outcome if leaders take the time to discuss and address potential compromises.
For instance, Queenslanders might consider and discuss issues about:
- Geography – could daylight saving apply to a specific region such as South-East Queensland only?
- Duration – could daylight saving time be introduced for a shorter number of months than Southern states or at a different time of year?
- Adjustment – could areas of the state concerned about introducing daylight-saving time do things differently to mitigate its impact? For instance, could schools in the state’s North open and close at different times to the South?
- Get clear on what stakeholders value
While there is no doubt that people have differing views on whether or not to introduce daylight savings in Queensland, there is likely more commonality in why they hold that view than you might think. Asking stakeholders what matters to them in the context of daylight savings will yield an understanding of the value that the choice provides to their work, family, community, wellbeing, social interactions and more. Developing a set of comprehensive decision criteria based on an alignment of this value across stakeholders will go a long way to generating a decision that meets the public’s expectations.
No matter which consultation methods decision-makers employ, transparency will be paramount. With such a contentious topic, you’re never going to please everyone, but people are far more likely to accept a decision if they can see it is fair and their voices heard.
The primary benefit of an active stakeholder engagement process is to increase confidence in a final decision being implemented and supported. No matter the outcome of the Queensland daylight-saving question, a robust and effective engagement process will reduce feelings of resentment and ensure the result enjoys a greater chance of long-term support.