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7 smart digital moves by councils

7 SMART MOVES: Web & digital to the rescue featured image

How to boost biosecurity, recruit more cost-effectively, deliver news, consult more widely and build intranets that staff really want to use? Councils share the technologies and top-line learnings behind these and a host of other challenges. 
These handpicked award-winning digital projects were celebrated at the recent ALGIM Web and Digital Symposium in Wellington.



What problem were you trying to resolve?

Stopping the spread of the marine pest, the Mediterranean Fanworm, by inspecting boat hulls and educating boat owners.


We used technology to implement a two-part solution that streamlines and automates the business process for capturing survey data in the field and the reporting process when an infected vessel is found.


  • IRIS (our regional council regulatory system)
  • ArcGIS Collector 
• Sphere Mobile
  • iPads

External suppliers

Our internal GIS, IT and biosecurity teams worked together to configure the technology to make the solution work. We also worked closely with external dive contractors.


Contractors are saving on average two hours a day that was previously used to manually input data into a spreadsheet and send to us via a Dropbox upload. Our staff are also saving on average an additional two hours a day collating information and re-keying information into our regulatory system.


The amount of data collected was significant in influencing policies and procedures. The solution will be used for other monitoring and incident reporting projects.

Source: Carol Cottam, information services and technology manager, Northland Regional Council.



What problem were you trying to resolve?

Auckland Council was created five years ago with a view to making Auckland the world’s most liveable city. While council had gone a long way towards that goal, we wanted to step up even further to become a higher performing organisation.

Our existing performance management system was always intended to support high performance. However, evidence from employee engagement surveys, performance ratings and anecdotal feedback in late 2013 suggested it wasn’t effective.

The people and capability team set up the Performance, Recognition and Pay (PRP) programme to build a new framework, with the following anticipated outcomes:

  • A stronger focus on high performance behaviour;
  • A different perspective on reward, recognition and pay;
  • An enhanced focus on development; and
  • A simpler framework overall.

These outputs were expected to positively impact employee engagement and align to the cultural direction of the council.


Customer Centric Design (CCD) approach: To properly empower staff, it was critical to understand their needs. To do this, the project took a customer-centric design approach, getting to know users’ needs through one-on-one interviews, staff surveys and focus groups. After collating the results of these activities, we tested our findings with a new group of users to confirm we were on the right track.

When it came time to build the tool, we piloted a prototype first so we could monitor feedback and make improvements.

Project management and stakeholder communications: The project was delivered by a cross-functional team with representatives from many different departments, including the Public Service Association. This ensured the tool reflected the diverse range of viewpoints in our organisation, which was particularly important given the impact of the project on pay.


To manage the complexity of the project team, we used Microsoft OneNote to track activities and conversations. This allowed us to record meeting discussion points and decisions, approve and share each team’s activities, manage resourcing challenges and keep stakeholders informed.

External suppliers

The project was delivered entirely in-house.


We’ve seen the impact of the innovation since its launch in July 2015. In a survey five months after going live, 71 percent of staff and 84 percent of leaders reported already getting some sort of benefit from My Time. The feedback also indicated that employees are now significantly more likely (up 13 percent) to have frequent conversations with their manager.


Customer Centric Design (CCD) and collaboration: The CCD approach allows the project team to understand the end users’ needs, test our ideas and improve based on the feedback, and consequently ensure the outcome meets the requirements of users.

This approach also creates buy-in from users. People could see that their ideas and views were being acted on and they became champions of the programme within their own business areas.

The collaboration among multiple teams allows us to share ideas and activities, manage resources, and better inform key stakeholders. Most importantly, it ensures the project best utilises the knowledge and expertise in different teams, thereby producing a better quality product more efficiently, rather than relying on one or two people to do everything.

Source: Min Zeng, digital business analyst, Auckland Council’s digital services team.



What problem were you trying to resolve?

The main driver for the project was cost-saving, as we were previously paying an external agency over $7500 a year to manage our recruitment administration. While the systems they had in place worked, they could cause delays in the recruitment process and were coming at a cost. We launched ‘Recruitment Online’ in July 2015 – a system that allows us to manage our recruitment administration in one central location.


This project was implemented through our council’s project management framework, which involved developing a business case for approval by the executive team, establishing a project team (including the HR manager, HR officer, communications manager and online services developer), and developing a project plan.

We used Trello (a web-based tool) to manage the development tasks so team members could view what tasks needed to be completed and progress on the development.

The project team undertook initial testing, then advertised the new system to staff by inviting them to apply for positions as ‘Superman/woman’ or ‘The Flash’. This encouraged staff to test the new system and provide feedback in a fun and creative way.


We developed the system in-house. It is a custom-built PHP application, integrated with our CMS (Joomla).

External suppliers



As part of the long-term plan process Matamata-Piako District Council (MPDC) set a goal to ‘make business easier’ through delivering digital solutions – the online recruitment system delivers on this for both staff and customers.

The system allows our customers to view job listings, apply for jobs and subscribe for email alerts all via the MPDC website. Previously, applicants were redirected to a shared recruitment website to complete these tasks, which wasn’t always the best option for customers.

This was a small improvement in customer experience, but the project delivered major benefits for staff including:

  • Saving time and printing costs by processing all recruitment approvals electronically;
  • Making it easy for non office-based staff to request a replacement employee without needing to visit HR and fill in paper forms;
  • Giving managers instant access to applicant information, daily applicant summaries, and saving printing costs;
  • Providing the HR team with a central portal to manage the recruitment process right from requests for new employees, to advertising the position, to reviewing applicants; and
  • Saving time for HR staff by auto-responding to job applicants and notifying them of the next steps in the process.


The learnings for the web team for this project were mostly technical (around coding standards and component frameworks). These are learnings that we can apply to other projects, but probably aren’t that useful for other councils.

Our HR team provided the following list of learnings that they took from this project.

  • We can undertake recruitment a lot cheaper in-house than doing it externally.
  • We can work faster and smarter by adopting online systems and digital technology. Using the online system cuts down on time spent in lots of areas (such as liaising with managers, shortlisting applicants, filing etc). This has also encouraged us to look at other areas of our recruitment process and how we can update them to integrate with our online system.
  • We have learned that it is possible to undertake a recruitment process (which was previously very paper based) with minimal paper use. Using the online system means we can capture key information and actions without a literal paper trail.
  • When managers can see the progress of their job listing request through the system and view their applications in real time they are more understanding of the process and feel more involved in the recruitment process as a whole.

Feedback from staff

“I find the new system great. You can check the applicants each day instead of having to wait and go through all of them at once. I find the system really easy and like how it sends you a daily applicant summary.” – Aimee Davies, Te Aroha Mineral Spas manager.

Source: Jenni Cochrane, communications manager, Matamata-Piako District Council.



What problem were you trying to resolve?

It had been a number of years since Waikato Regional Council’s intranet had been fully reviewed and refreshed. It looked dated and usability was poor. There was also potential for the site to be a far more useful and engaging work and messaging tool.


Our online digital team carried out a scoping and review exercise in conjunction with wider staff. Together we looked at search and usability options, brainstormed ideas for new and useful functionality, and came up with new design ideas.


Our CMS platform is EpiServer. Our graphic designers use the Adobe Creative Suite.

External suppliers

None, it was all done in-house.


The process and the final product significantly increased the profile, usability and value of the intranet. • The functionality is clever and the site helps drive work efficiency. • The design is professional, vibrant and contemporary. The design and functionality are also easily transferrable to mobile platforms. • The site better promotes and reinforces Waikato Regional Council’s messages, culture and values. • Staff were engaged throughout the process, and really made the effort to provide feedback and ideas. And they love the way their site looks and works.


Bringing users into the design and build process can drive some great results. This project’s collaborative aspects allowed staff to be included in decisions about a site that they use, rather than being subject to unilateral decisions. It also gave staff valuable insight into the complexities and decisions involved in website creation and delivery. Conversely, that feedback provided the project team with really great feedback and information on user opinions, ideas and aptitude. This synergy is what provided the impetus for development and implementation of a fantastic design, and some really smart and creative functionality.

Source: Nicole Field, web editor, Waikato Regional Council.




What problem were you trying to resolve?

We believe there is a connection between a highly effective communications channel and trust and confidence in Auckland Council. We wanted to deliver relevant news to Aucklanders in a timely fashion, reach them directly and not be reliant on the media to tell our story. We wanted to be mobile first in our approach so we came up with a mobile responsive dedicated news and events website as our solution.


The project was managed by the council’s brand and channel team (within the communication and engagement department).

We worked from an early stage across council with our web and mobile team, digital services and information services to agree the platform for the site. We worked with our in-house design studio to create the design, which was implemented by our digital agency Goodfolk. Digital services and brand and channel then worked together to load the content for launch. Training sessions were run for the 40+ people who would be submitting content and we did plenty of stakeholder engagement around the value that the new channel would bring.

Daily stand-ups, Trello boards and a task wall were some of the tools we used to ensure people were up to date with what was expected each day in the weeks leading up to launch.

We also worked with the leadership team on a slim-line sign-off process to ensure quick turnarounds and support at a senior department level.


The website is built on the Umbraco platform. For project management we used Trello boards.


We used in-house resources where possible, including the design, but the website was built by our digital agency Goodfolk.


OurAuckland was delivered on time (within four months). 
Design and build was budgeted at $140,000 and came in at $130,000. It has offered cost savings over time, because internal and external contributors can submit their content directly to the CMS and we’re not always paying for promotion of our stories. Engagement with the site has been high with 390,000 unique external visitors viewing over a million pages since launch.


We learnt that the team could come together to deliver a project in a very short timeframe. We’ve also seen that a simple CMS and sign-off process leads to great buy-in from the department because it’s easy for them to submit stories. The website traffic is continuing to grow, media are picking up our stories and we’ve been approached by other government agencies that want to create a similar website so we’re confident that we’ve achieved what we set out to.

Other comments

We’ve really noticed the impact of social media in bringing people into the OurAuckland site. Since the website launched on October 1 2015, we have got better at utilising social media as an effective content distribution channel. We’re now reaching audiences in their channel of choice, developing content for each social media platform, and in doing so reaching different communities with stories which are tailored to what they’re interested in hearing about or engaging with.

Source: Debbie Lowe, head of brand & channel, communications & engagement department, Auckland Council.


What problem were you trying to resolve?

Biosecurity month is an annual campaign run by the New Zealand Biosecurity Institute aiming to highlight biosecurity risks, the science behind them and the roles the different sectors and legislation play. In line with this, we used Biosecurity Month 2015 to highlight Northland’s specific biosecurity threats as well as celebrate some of the work being done in Northland to address these issues. We wanted to prompt Northlanders to take action against the pests they encounter.


Council’s biosecurity team approached the online services team, keen to get involved with biosecurity month. Together, the two teams figured out what needed to be done, and the biosecurity team was trained in formulating engaging Facebook posts and what content works.



 for content scheduling.


A 300 percent increase in engagement compared to previous months, new and deeper relationships with the community and community groups, new in-house work methods (non-online / communications staff providing content, and using MavSocial to plan campaigns).


Allowing biosecurity team members to create and post their own content was a great approach, one that we have permanently adopted. Their expertise and enthusiasm is invaluable. Creating engaging content works; we’ve had some excellent in-depth conversations and feedback from the general public prompted by these posts.

Source: Northland Regional Council online services manager Tracey Morris.



What problem were you trying to resolve?

We were running a consultation on Porirua’s Outdoor Recreation Park and wanted to engage the most people possible, to ensure wide and effective consultation.

A number of groups use Porirua’s beautiful western hills, all with very different and often competing interests. So it was important for us to consult widely and to reach out to as much of the community as possible to empower them to have their say.

In our changing society it can be challenging to get people to read lengthy documents or come to meetings or send a submission in the mail. This is why we decided to drive the consultation through social media – a new approach for council.


We created a series of seven videos for social media and shared them through our Facebook page.

Video enabled us to tell the stories of the people who enjoy using the space and to encourage those with similar interests to engage. We wanted people to think about all the different uses of the space and then let us know whether our proposals for the area were balanced or should be changed.

We staggered the posts and videos, releasing them gradually over the period of a month, with a link to the consultation page on our website.

We thought about who we wanted to reach and concluded that social media was the right place to use this form of consultation as 
83 percent of our Facebook followers are aged 18-54 which matches the age group most likely to use the hills.


  • Video and Facebook.
  • Capturing video – Canon EOS 600D DSLR Camera.
  • Microphone – RODE Microphone with Apple iPhone App.
  • Editing Video – MacBook Pro.
  • Editing Software – Final Cut Pro X.

We were able to deliver the end result using a very limited budget, as it was important for us to keep costs low. 
Which external suppliers did you work with?

 for the drone work and editing of the fly-over video.


This was a very successful campaign.  We got a much higher number of submissions than expected. We expected to get around 200 but received 348, which is a great result for this type of work.

There were 357 sessions and 663 consultation page views on our website as a direct referral from our social media posts.

But we reached a much wider audience than that, with the seven videos watched 13,698 times across Facebook and YouTube. Our eight posts (one without a video) reached 44,071 people on Facebook.

The benefits went much further than just a successful consultation, however. The videos gave us the chance to tell a really positive story about Porirua and celebrate and market it as a great place to live, work and raise a family. Having this kind of message running alongside a practical consultation process has great value.

We learned that in this day and age technology and social media are a great way to engage with our people. It is unrealistic to expect busy people who rely on technology to source information to come to public meetings, read consultation documents and mail in submissions. Those avenues are still there for those who are interested but having an easy and effective way to engage people in the first instance is key.

We achieved this through social media.

The easier we make it for people to engage with council the more likely they are to do it.

Because of the success of this project we will look at using a similar approach to drive future consultations and continue using social media to engage with our citizens and ratepayers.

Any other comments?

We think this was a great example of where innovation can be used to match the way society is heading.  Embracing technology helps us do our job effectively as a council by engaging with our ratepayers, and is another avenue available to give our citizens a voice.

Source: Karl Tily, social media coordinator, Porirua City Council.

This article was first published in the July 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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