Social Planning Tool

The social planning process follows four steps:

Social Planning Principles

This step-by-step process is underpinned by a set of principles for effective community building:

  • Building strong partnerships across all levels of government, community service providers, developers and residents, and ensuring they can sustain over the time a community develops.
  • Taking a place based approach through resourcing a dedicated place maker to build and maintain the partnership and keep a 'bird's eye view' over the work.
  • Putting the community's needs and aspirations at the centre, which means involving residents as early as possible in planning, and focusing on prevention so issues do not become entrenched, and difficult and costly to reverse.
  • Adopting innovative local solutions to increasing participation, recognising participation is the key to great communities, but that no two communities are the same and will change over time.
  • Evaluating activities to ensure community benefits are being generated and to help pivot planning if needed.

The Social Planning Process

The steps below can help you navigate the complex challenges of community building.

Anyone who needs to navigate the process of social planning can use this tool.

Establish governance

The first step in the process, and the key to your success, is establishing effective project governance within your council. This includes:

  1. Creating internal processes
  2. Building a partnership
Community building will require collaboration across all areas of your council. You will therefore need structures to allow this to happen.

You will need to:

  1. Create an authorising environment by securing executive endorsement within council. The Tool should be adopted as the official methodology for social planning.
  2. Create a project co-ordinator role to set up a process to apply the Tool. They must be skilled in:
    • Project management
    • Communication, networking, facilitation and negotiation
    • Knowledge of the workings of state and local government
    • Community knowledge and some leadership standing
    • Accepted as independent by all partners
    • Enthusiasm!
  1. Establish an internal council coordination group, led by the project coordinator, and comprised of representatives from relevant areas including:
    • Strategic planning
    • Social planning
    • Family and children’s services
    • Aged and disability
    • Recreation and leisure
    • Library services
    • Community infrastructure.
    • any other relevant area not listed here.

    The coordination group will:

    • Review research and community engagement evidence to identify community needs and establish council priorities
    • Build partnerships and engage stakeholders and align council’s vision with other stakeholders’ objectives
    • Plan and activate community building responses
    • Evaluate and expand community building over time.

Partnerships are agreements organisations with similar goals, that believe they could do more together, than can be achieved by a single organisation operating alone. Partnerships create efficiencies and innovation through collaboration, shared resources, reduced duplication, and advocacy.

You will need to build strong partnerships across all levels of government, community service providers, developers and residents.

Bringing relevant parties together is not an easy task. It takes time and effort to build relationships and trust across parties that may have different processes and systems and different priorities. The key is to find common ground and a common goal.

To build a partnership you will need to:

  1. Find and engage partners by mapping all stakeholders that have levers for the future well-being of your community. Stakeholders to be considered include:
    • State government agencies
    • Developers and major landholders
    • Local–regional level health and community service providers already operating in the area
    • Non-government and community organisations and social enterprises
    • Community members and groups from the area or surrounds
    • Education providers
    • Other local governments sharing your borders.

Partnerships need the right decision-makers at the table. Make sure the people you choose:

    • hold information about how to solve the problem (have expertise and ideas)
    • are willing to invest time/personnel/materials (resources)
    • have the authority to make decisions
    • are willing to accept responsibility for, and take ownership of, the partnership.
  1. Create a governance structure for the partnership that provides clear ways for different partners and stakeholders to be involved, and that outlines decision-making processes. A governance structure might include:
    • a steering committee of partners to make decisions
    • working groups that may include a broader range of stakeholders
    • a community advisory group or mechanism, and
    • a communications mechanism for those that want to stay informed and only be bought in as required.

Each partnership may require different governance and needs, and partners may change over time. Partnerships should therefore review their governance regularly. Once the governance structure, and roles and responsibilities within it, are clear, document them in a partnership agreement or MOU.


  1. Create a vision together. The OECD has identified the biggest risk to a partnership is that partners interests and expectations are not aligned. Early work on a vision and shared purpose is vital.
  1. Check you have the success factors for effective partnerships:
    • a good broker/facilitator to build relationships
    • the right decision-makers at the table with a commitment to contribute
    • a clear vision and objectives that are strategically aligned to the community’s needs and aspirations
    • good process for running meetings, creating work plans, and documenting activities
    • ongoing motivation through champions and evaluation.

Gather evidence

Once the partnership is in place it can start the planning process by examining information about:

  • the profile of the (future) community
  • its needs (outcomes) and service demand
  • its aspirations and interests, and
  • the plans of partners for delivering projects in the area and region.

As communities move in, more information (including from your evaluation), will become available.

 You can gather the above evidence from:

  1. research
  2. community consultation
  3. environmental scan (strategy)
  4. community experts.

Council departments in your coordination group are well placed to provide the kind of detailed information you need for your evidence base. This will include:


  1. Demographic and social outcomes data. Most councils research units now collate demographic and outcomes data into one source and many have undertaken work projecting populations and outcomes over the next few decades. You can also use developer data on sales/target markets or comparable communities can provide insight into the likely social profile of an area.
  2. Service planning data. Council service planning areas will also be able to provide assessments of the community’s regional service access, service capacity, gaps and unmet demand as the community grows. They may be collating service data from a range of providers or the partnership can trigger this.
  3. Qualitative research and evaluation.There are major qualitative studies of growth area communities can provide a deeper understanding the issues residents face in growth areas. Evaluation studies in community development can also shed light on the likelihood of certain activities working in your context.

It is important that activities are planned around the unique needs, interests and aspirations of residents. These can be ascertained from:

  1. Community consultations. Councils have units that can help conduct engagement, and developers may also collect resident’s views. Residents should be included as a partners in the decision-making process. This does not mean they have to sit in meetings. It might instead mean running specific events to gather their feedback across the process.
  2. Council visions. Councils long term visions for their broader areas – developed through extensive community consultation – should be examined (for example, Whittlesea 2040).

The coordination group will be able to give the partnership an understanding of what is being considered for the area or region to help the partnership plan and sequence activity.

This might include, for example:

  • the pipeline of priority projects recommended by Infrastructure Victoria and Infrastructure Australia
  • Victorian Government regional plans, priorities and policy directions
  • Council plans
  • forward planning by service providers
  • service benchmarks such as those outlined in The Victorian community infrastructure standards for growth areas that have been developed by growth area councils with the Metropolitan Planning Authority or the City of Greater Dandenong’s Social Services Benchmarking Tool quantifies local demand for key social services.

A final source of knowledge that should be included in creating solutions is the knowledge of community experts. This might include practitioners, business leaders, innovators, or other experts in the community. They can be brought into the design process.

Community activation

Once the partnership understands the community, it can begin to explore ways to activate the specific activities, events, programs, services, facilities, etc. that will meet the communities needs, interests and aspirations.


Four types of activites have been shown as important for sucessfully building communities.

  1. Incubating activities and enterprises
  2. Co-designing prevention programs
  3. Developing shared community
  4. Civic involvement in planning and decision-making

Incubating highly accessible and inclusive sharing activities that connect people.

Examples of incubation initiatives include:

    • the social enterprise Sprout Hub, which has set up cafes in new communities, from which community groups can meet, and that create community grants for activities the community votes on
    • Every one, Every day which provides incubators in high street shopfronts, where residents design practical neighbourhood projects from festivals to gaming lounges. 

Incubating community businesses, social enterprises, co-operatives and hybrid ventures that create work and other types of social value.

These activities help people get needs meet, whilst still connecting people, and include cooperative health or childcare, farmers markets, or local renewable energy initiatives. These should also be generated by the community, but the partnership can provide support to incubate and connect them.

Examples of the incubation of larger community ventures include:

    • a partnership in Lambeth put in twenty projects to build a participatory culture backed up by an incubator to evolve larger projects such as an urban childcare cooperatives, makers spaces and an urban farm
    • Totally Renewable Yakandandah is a community volunteer group that is helping the town switch to renewable energy through bulk solar buys. They are aiming for energy sovereignty by 2022 and are working out how to become an energy retailer, which will provide resources for the community to do other things.

Co-designing prevention programs and services with residents to create better services.

Co-design (or co-creation) brings users, their families, practitioners, community experts and other stakeholders together to design new services and systems. Better services and efficiencies are created when everyone understands others needs and experience of service interactions. The partnership can provide facilitation to help this process happen.

Examples of successful co-designed services include:

    • The Brisbane North Public Health Network, which engaged more than 100 community agencies, health care services, consumers and carers to create a better service model for mental health. Twenty-two organisations run it, and 90% of clients have experienced a reduction in unmet need
    • The Compassionate Frome Project involved a partnership creating a system for GPs to connect patients to community activity using a directory of community activity and “community connectors”. GPs could suggest anything from debt or housing assistance, to joining choirs, lunch clubs, exercise groups, writing workshops or men’s sheds and evaluation has shown it has had significant health outcomes and reduced social isolation.

Developing shared community facilities to create “one-stop” service hubs and to maximize the use of infrastructure.

Communities can benefit from the co-location and integration of programs and services in local hubs. More services can also be provided in growth communities by using existing infrastructure for more purposes, for example, using schools at night for adult education or sports. The partnership can facilitate joint planning.

Examples of better use of community facilities have been published by Wyndham City and include:

    • A partnership of agencies and the Aboriginal community, has designed an unique centre to meet children and family’s needs in Wyndham. The Wunggurrwil Dhurrung Centre (“strong heart”) integrated separately planned ‘Family’, ‘Neighbourhood Community’, and ‘Aboriginal Community’ Centres into one hub, with a single reception and shared office spaces. It gives families easy access a range of services, increases service responsiveness, and creates efficiencies for organisations
    • A partnership between Leisure Networks and Wyndham City has activated sporting pavilions that were standing empty during the day. Disability agencies now use the spaces for delivery of National Disability Insurance Scheme Supported Activity Groups for cooking, art/craft, physical activity, etc. Other groups, also use the spaces for indoor fitness classes, playgroups, youth groups, and conferences.

Ensuring civic involvement in planning and decision-making.

Research has shown there are many residents in communities – including many with technical skills and expertise – that would like to be involved in decision-making and collective action but would rather not sit on committees.

Examples of novel ways of involving communities in planning include:

    • The Yangara project was created by a Council led partnership in South Australia, to redevelop a local reserve in an area of high unemployment. They created a local leader’s group who designed a series events to involve the community, including BBQs, carols, art festivals, youth events and tree planting. At these events locals, including the indigenous Kaurna people of the area, and young people and children from the schools, designed the redevelopment, forming links with each other and local groups and agencies along the way.
    • Laboratorio Para la Ciudad (Laboratory for the City) set up by Mexico city council recognised many citizens are capable of helping solve complex problems. On the top of a downtown municipal building, they created a garden for citizen led design activities, for example, they famously used citizens and their mobile phones to map the chaotic bus system to coordinate it better.


Evaluation is important to continuously improve your planning. It ensures the initiatives are effective and benefit the community. It also can improve your efficiency by improving performance. Evaluation also provides examples of success to motivate and inspire the partnership and others

Start with writing an evaluation plan. It sets out the information that you’ll need to determine if the partnership’s objectives have been met. An evaluation plan is written in a table of four columns. The first two should be completed by the partnership (they are the strategic questions). The plan can then be handed over to an evaluator to complete the measurement aspects.


  • Column 1. What are the partnership’s objectives? The overall purpose of evaluation is to test whether the community building initiative has met its objectives (for example, increased participation). Write your objectives in column 1.
  • Column 2. What questions do we need answered? Brainstorm all the questions you would need to answer to demonstrate your objectives were met. Consider questions related to both outcomes (did participation increase?) and performance (was this the best way to deliver this? What savings or efficiencies were generated?).
  • Column 3. What data/ information will we need to answer the questions?
  • Column 4. What data sources will we need to create?

Once you have a plan you can determine your timelines, budget and staff requirements.

It is useful for the partnership to keep an achievement audit on the agenda of its regular meetings. It will be helpful to keep track of achievements (delivery, events, activities, media) that may otherwise be forgotten over time or with staff changes.

A guide to planning an evaluation, including templates, can be found here.

Looking for additional resources?

Best Practice Guides

Case studies and best practice guides to assist in the planning process.

Useful Documents

Useful documentation and links to publications and frameworks.