How submissions are analysed is generally linked to the scheduling of hearings for submissions (i.e. how and when submissions are heard). Therefore, it is useful to establish the schedule (and the logic behind the schedule) at an early stage as part of determining how submissions are to be analysed.
There are two approaches to analysing submissions:
By submission: where each submission is analysed and decided on as a whole, no matter how wide the range of issues and provisions it covers. This approach is more submitter-friendly, allowing submitters to present their case only once before the hearing committee. This approach may be appropriate when there are small numbers of submissions involved.
By issue: where submissions are broken up and analysed according to the issues/provisions they address. This is the more common approach, and is usually best practice, as it provides a more logical evaluative approach and consistency in analysis and decision-making.
The by-issue approach can result in the 'disintegration of submissions'. This is where the break-up of submissions for analysis, hearing and decision-making purposes creates a complex and potentially inconsistent process. Methods to overcome the problems that this approach creates for submitters include the following:
Group the issues sensibly and logically (this links back to the original coding of submissions).
Ensure that submitters have been assigned time to speak to all points raised in their submissions - it can be easy to miss points;
Index all reports/decisions, so submitters can readily find all references to their submission.
Use pre-hearing techniques to resolve concerns before hearings, and allow submitters to focus on areas of unresolved dispute (for example, submitters may send in statements in response to reports).
Work with the submitters, to ensure that they are all assigned a reasonable amount of time to speak to their submission (and record accurately in the database when they were heard).
Be flexible and not captured by the process; if appropriate, allow submitters to cover their entire submission at once, especially if they have travelled far and/or do not need much time. (Note that some submitters may be happy to come back and speak several times, as they may think multiple appearances would be better received.) However, it is important that the hearing process is managed well; this may include issuing clear directions about appearances and time limits.
When preparing reports on submissions, balance specificity with practicality. Council's decisions do not have to address each submission individually (clause 10 of Schedule 1). Analyse submissions according to themes or issues, so overlaps and interrelationships are managed as a whole. Cover generic issues at one time, and refer back to the generic analysis as required when analysing individual submissions. When reporting on specific submissions, include enough analysis to make the reasoning logical and transparent, even on relatively minor or seemingly trivial points. However, avoid 'overloading' reports and thereby submitters and decision-makers as well.
KISS: 'keep it simple stupid' is a critical principle in analysing submissions. Don't break down the analysis process too much but keep it at the highest level possible. For example, it is preferable that submissions on the rules on heritage should be analysed together, and not according to each specific rule on heritage.
Use peer review for quality control in analysing submissions, to ensure consistency and thoroughness in evaluation.
Submission evaluation and report preparation is a real skill. Experience is valuable, as are training courses in report writing. Someone skilled in good report writing should manage the process. For example, such a person could set up templates for reports and have a role in quality control.
Some local authorities send out draft reports, particularly to major submitters and/or on complex submissions/issues. These may help resolve technical matters, raise consequential matters that were not thought of, or obtain buy-in for methods for resolving concerns. Pre-hearing meetings can also assist in this process, as can direct enquiries with submitters or their advisors. However, care must be taken that such approaches are not used as opportunities for submitters or council staff to change the original submissions.