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City of Melbourne

Towards Smoke Free Melbourne

“I enjoyed the team work. Lots of brilliant ideas from different people!”

~Participant of deliberative panel

The Project

Conversation Co was engaged by the City of Melbourne to plan and deliver the engagement approach to seek feedback on the draft Towards Smoke-Free Melbourne 2025 policy – an unprecedented public health initiative within Victoria. The Policy describes the vision that “the City of Melbourne will become a smoke-free city by 2025 with smoking restricted in the majority of public spaces and events”. 

The engagement approach sought to understand the potential social impacts of this policy, the level of support the wider community had for the policy and engage community representatives in deliberating the scope of the policy and how it would be implemented.

For this project, a variety of targeted methods were adopted to reach diverse members of the community that live, work, visit or study in the City of Melbourne area. This consisted of both online and face-to-face techniques, including community pop-ups, online surveys and quick polls, a static installation, online targeted workshops, and a deliberative community panel. 


  • Attracting community interest in this project during the pandemic was particularly difficult due to the low rates of visitors to the CBD. Intermittent lockdowns saw community pop-up events canceled and rescheduled. Local businesses feeling the economic strain of the times were less ready to engage than ordinarily.
  • Engaging smokers in the conversation where they were required to identify as a smoker proved to be harder than anticipated. Smokers tended to participate in activities where they could remain anonymous, but were reluctant to join workshops or the deliberative panel, presumably due to the stigma associated with smoking.

Keys to Success

  • A custom-made pop-up display that featured bright colours, interactive activities, information about the project and an unusual design drew people in for face-to-face discussions. The wow-factor created by the presence of the display added to the growing community interest and prominence of the project. The pop-up display was then left in-situ at the Melbourne Town Hall to create further interest in the project over an extended period and encourage online participation.
  • Having a rigorous and distinctive engagement approach was a highlight of this project. Working together with the client to ensure that we met people where they were at, asked meaningful questions and provided a wide range of options to get involved in the project meant that we could speak to over 1,200 people.
  • The deliberative community panel were provided a framework to encourage critical thinking, including: collaborating with others in the group, acknowledging biases, ensuring majority consensus, being provided support to question assumptions, being provided with research and facts from a range of sources to make reasoned judgements, and allowing time for reflection and refinement as the project progressed.


  • 1,264 participants provided feedback on the draft policy
  • 77% of participants were in support of the City of Melbourne’s vision to move towards a smoke-free Melbourne
  • The engagement approach included: an online survey, online quick poll, 7 face-to-face community pop-up events, 3 targeted online workshops, a static installation and a community deliberative panel consisting of 23 participants that met over a total of 5 hours.
  • The final Smoke-free Melbourne Policy was endorsed by Council on 6 July 2021 with many of the panel’s recommendations taken onboard.

Reflections and key learnings

The deliberative panel were key in refining the policy and providing recommendations to the City of Melbourne to support implementation. They worked together to make sense of the findings from the first stage of the engagement period, had the opportunity to workshop strategies and provided valuable feedback for Council’s decision making.

Making a difference

  • This key driver to taking on this project was the innovative approach Council is taking to health promotion in our state’s capital. We are so proud to be part of this historic project that will be used as a benchmark for other local government areas around the world!
  • Overall, panel members reported having increased knowledge of what Council is and isn’t responsible for as well as greater trust in Council to make decisions on their behalf as a result of being involved in the workshops.
  • Council was proud of the community engagement approach used in this project and has provided the entire community engagement report (98 pages) to the community to ensure transparency and maintain trust with their community members.


Participants of deliberative panel: 

  • “I enjoyed the space to voice my opinion and learn from different perspectives”
  • “I liked the discussions both in breakout rooms and in the big room with all the innovative ideas”
  • “I enjoyed the team work. Lots of brilliant ideas from different people!”
  • “So good to have a chance for input in a formal path to Council”