Helen Christensen is an Industry Fellow at the UTS Institute for Public Policy and Governance (UTS:IPPG). She has recently completed her PhD at the institute which explored the practice and professionalisation of community engagement in Australian local government. Helen regularly lectures in the Master of Local Government progam.
In addition to her academic work, Helen is also a practitioner with over 15 years experience in public engagement, more specifically in: policy and strategy, participatory and deliberative process design, organisational improvement, facilitation, training and peer review.
She is the principal consultant at The Public Engagement Practice and she delivers training for the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) where is also the Chair of the Research Committee.
Helen has reviewed for the Australian Journal of Public Administration, Australian Journal of Political Science and Research in Ethical Issues in Organsiation amongst others.
- Public engagement
- Public administration
- Local government
Social Planning and Community Development
Public Engagement in Decision-Making
This book brings together the refereed proceedings of the 24th Annual
Conference of the Australian Association of Professional and Applied Ethics (AAPAE) 'Applied Ethics in the Fractured State', held at the Institute for Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology Sydney in June 2017. The book is eclectic, with chapters on health regulation in Australia, Eastern ethical theorising (Confucianism; Buddhism), euthanasia and community engagement, all of which are examined from the unique perspective that Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations affords its contributors.
Christensen, H 2020, 'Managing Divided Loyalties in the Emerging Profession of Community Engagement', Journal of Sociology.
Christensen, H & Grant, B 2020, 'Outsourcing local democracy? Evidence for and implications of the commercialisation of community engagement in Australian local government.', Australian Journal of Political Science, vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 20-37.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Participatory governance practices are enjoying popularity, not least in local government. Councils are encouraging communities to be involved in local decision-making on a multitude of issues. This popularity is driven by legislative environments that require local governments to undertake some of these processes, and also by communities and practitioners—parties that derive income from participatory governance. An industry is emerging: one characterised by the market imperatives of demand and supply, with frameworks, strategies and processes, staff, training courses and conferences. This industry warrants investigation so its impacts upon local democracy can be understood. Following a theorisation of local democracy and community engagement, the paper describes the community engagement industry, presenting evidence about council activities, providers and professional associations to establish that the commercialisation of engagement is a significant phenomenon in Australian local government. It then discusses the possible risks to local governance and local democracy.
Community engagement has assumed a more salient role in the operations of Australia's local governments. A vast number of legislative instruments and reporting requirements are imposed upon local governments by the states and the Northern Territory across Australia's seven local government jurisdictions. Consequently, a set of identifiable practices is solidifying as a core element of local government practice and state–local relations. However, while practices have recently proliferated, it is easy to forget that they are relatively new. This article examines the legislative frameworks of Australian local government systems by chronologically mapping the development of legislation and other reporting requirements. It is argued that community engagement now occupies a central place in local government, and that the jurisdictions use four different types of approaches, often simultaneously, which can fruitfully be described as 'prescriptive', 'aspirational', 'empowering' and 'hedging'. The discussion draws comparative observations and identifies key issues and challenges for the future of community engagement.
KeywordsCommunity engagement; Australia; local government; public participation; legislation
Christensen, H 2019, 'Participatory and Deliberative Practitioners in Australia: How Work Context Creates Different Types of Practitioners', Journal of Public Deliberation, vol. 15, no. 3.
Christensen, HE & McQuestion, D 2019, 'Community engagement in Australian local governments: A closer look and strategic implications', Local Government Studies, vol. 45, no. 4, pp. 453-480.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Public input into decision-making through participatory and deliberative democratic practices has become a widely accepted and legislated responsibility of Australian local governments. At any one time, councils are leading submission processes, workshops and online surveys on a multitude of projects, ranging from long-term community strategic plans to public art projects. The increase in these practices has been exponential, leaving little time for critical reflection. The lack of empirical data to illustrate how community engagement is understood and practised in different councils has hindered sector-wide reflection. This paper presents the findings of the 'Local Government Community Engagement Census', a survey of 175 councils – approximately half – from 4 of Australia's eastern states. This sectoral snapshot provides a picture of how councils understand, prioritise and practise community engagement, allowing critical reflection, an interpretation of implications and suggesting areas for future research.
Christensen, H 2018, 'Review of The Professionalization of Public Participation edited by Laurence Bherer, Mario Gauthier, and Louis Simard (New York: Routledge, 2017)', Journal of Public Deliberation, vol. 14, no. 1.
Christensen, HE 2018, 'Community Engagement and Professionalization: Emerging Tensions', Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations, vol. 20, no. Applied Ethics in the Fractured State, pp. 117-113.
Christensen, HE 2018, 'Prescribing, Aspiring, Empowering and Hedging: How Australia's state governments legislate community engagement at the local government level', Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance.
This volume of Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations (REIO) is an outcome of the Australian Association of Professional and Applied Ethics' (AAPAE) 24th Annual Conference "Applied Ethics in the Fractured State." The conference was held 21–23 June 2017 at the University of Technology Sydney and hosted by the Institute for Public Policy and Governance (IPPG). It was convened by Bligh Grant who was generously assisted throughout by fellow members of the Organizing Committee, Charmayne Highfield and Joseph Drew and the entire AAPAE Executive Committee, namely Hugh Breakey, Alan Tapper, Ian Gibson, Jo Namio, Kay Plumber, Michael Schwartz and Sunil Savur, with Sunil providing valuable experience drawn from his role as convener of the 2016 conference,
held at the University of Adelaide, and his co-editorship of Volume 17 of REIO (Savur & Sandhu, 2017).
In searching for a conference theme, the organizing committee was faced – as indeed most are – with the challenge of providing a topic that (a) was broad enough to be inclusive of the eclectic range of research and practice interests of the members and associates of AAPAE while (b) not being completely nebulous. Ultimately "Applied Ethics in the Fractured State" was agreed upon. Yet the decision was not merely expedient.
Christensen, H & Grant, BJ 2016, 'Participatory budgeting in Australian local government: An initial assessment and critical issues', Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol. 75, no. 4, pp. 457-475.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Participatory budgeting (PB), a process whereby governments seek direct input from citizens into financial decisions, is gaining a foothold in the community engagement practices of Australian local governments. Following questions of definition, we survey the theoretical terrain, locating PB within several components of local democracy. We then
provide details of six PB processes in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. We identify several questions for the future of PB in Australian local governments, including the role of deliberative practices as part of the broader work of councils; the issue of the adaptability of councils and leaders; the impacts upon state and local governments and the role of third parties. The article concludes by reflecting on how PB sits with democratic practices at the local level if it continues to be implemented.
Australian governments of all levels are increasingly familiar with two trends in public budgeting. Firstly, the pressure to deliver 'more with less' in public budgets; secondly, an increased realisation by communities that they have a democratic right to participate in public policy decisions. In local government, processes of participatory budgeting (PB) are emerging, designed to assist meeting the challenge of these trends.