Local Government Magazine
Local Democracy

Award-winning community portal

Ruapehu District Council’s award-winning digital portal is enabling collaboration and agreement on action points, funding and targeting of resources to improve community well-being and prosperity. Story supplied.

Developed by Ruapehu District Council with data consultancy Dot Loves Data and financial support from the Ministry of Social development, the Living in Ruapehu portal Puwhenua ki Ruapehu brings together hard data with unique insights into community experiences to vastly improve the delivery of community services.

Paul Wheatcroft, the executive manager communications, says the big issues facing New Zealand are all experienced at a local level and the solutions require a local response built on local understanding.

 “Understanding how issues and policies are impacting at a community level is key to developing effective responses and the Living in Ruapehu portal Puwhenua ki Ruapehu gives us the insights we need to do this.

 “Significantly, the portal is enabling a collaborative approach that has often been difficult to achieve due to differences in policy, priority and funding decisions between providers underpinned by different understandings of the key issues and their drivers.

“We now have a tool to build a consensus with government and our partner organisations on community issues, agree action points, unlock funding, and better target resources to improve well-being and prosperity.” 

How it works

The portal provides statistical and summary data on a range of key Ruapehu metrics including; access to services, economy, education, employment, health, housing and social welfare via a Microsoft Power BI dashboard.

These are drawn from data sources such as; homes.co.nz data about rental and housing affordability, daily EFTPOS spending data, government data from a range of agencies including; MSD, MBIE and Kainga Ora (state housing), and others. “Puwhenua ki Ruapehu pulls all this together with personal narratives to provide insights into community well-being and the barriers to improving it at a district and township level,” says Paul. 

“We are able to compare the community narratives with the data and see whether there is a discrepancy and if we need more information or understanding to inform decision-making. 

“Together, the narratives and data decision-making tell a story of the community at the community level.”

Justin Lester, Government Director, Dot Loves Data, says the Living in Ruapehu portal is a first for New Zealand.

“I worked in local government for almost a decade and you were always basing things on guess work or intuition, or perhaps a bit of an estimate from what you could gauge from your local community, but you never actually knew for sure.

“Ruapehu District Council now has timely, accurate information about health, education, housing, access to services, crime, deprivation, business resilience, local spend and other insights from unique data sets that can be viewed from either a district, township or well-being perspective.” 

While other councils have data portals the combining of people’s lived experience in key well-being areas to validate and test the hard data is a NZ first, he adds.

“The narratives provide a ‘reality check’ on what the hard statistical data is telling us.” 

Gloria Campbell, Regional Commissioner Ministry of Social Development (MSD), Whanganui, Taranaki and King Country says the ministry supported Ruapehu District Council with the investment initially because it was looking at ways of building better outcomes for people who needed our help. 

 “This portal gives everyone working to improve community well-being the ability to make better data driven decisions including on where investments go that will have the most impact for people in the community,” she says.

“There is more intimate detail in this data that allows for a community response, which may be quite unique for this region in comparison to national policy, and that’s got to be a good thing if it gets better value for money for this community for that investment. “As a group I think it will help determine some different approaches to different issues we have been facing in this community for some time.”

 The Portal in action

In combining current data with community experience insights the portal is allowing the council to challenge perceptions and better understand community needs, aspirations and well-being and design tailored solutions to address these, says Paul Wheatcroft.

An example of this is how the portal has helped change perceptions of housing need in Ohakune and unlock $2.1 million in funding to deliver a pilot project of six new social housing units. “Due to the relative wealth in Ohakune, with over 60 percent of the housing stock owned by non-resident holiday home owners, the perception has been that there isn’t a widespread housing problem. 

“Underneath this however – the hard data and community narratives highlighted the lived experience with housing for many local families,” says Paul.

“The portal revealed a lack of warm, dry, affordable housing, a shortage of long-term rentals, competition with seasonal workers and key workers not being able to find housing.

 “The portal provided us with accurate insights into local rental and housing realities and combined with narratives of Ohakune residents’ experience with rental/housing issues allowed us to demonstrate the social housing need in Ohakune. 

 “Consequently, the council was able to gain government funding and deliver a successful pilot project of new social housing units which is opening the pathway to even larger housing developments,” says Paul.

 “The portal has enabled us to increase housing supply in Ohakune, housing that is warm and dry, economic to run, and helps keep their occupants healthy. And it was the richness of the narratives, alongside the hard data, that allowed us to demonstrate the social housing need in Ohakune. 

“In National Park Village the portal led us to understand that the direction of township revitalisation planning was skewered heavily towards infrastructure improvements which was masking more important well-being concerns and needs. 

“The community narratives highlighted the importance of ensuring that any growth is sustainable and that the village remains unique over a focus on basic infrastructural needs.”

 A ‘game changer’ for lifting trust and confidence in government

Pauline Welch, the council’s manager for Community and Economic Development, calls the portal a ‘game changer’ supporting a better way of making critical decisions and with it better governance and leadership. 

 “It has now been embedded into Council’s methodology for decision-making through new reporting templates specifically developed for Council and Community Boards. 

“It is providing a robustness to decision-making while building confidence with other stakeholders to work and invest with Council on resolving some of our most entrenched well-being issues,” she says.

“Significantly, as our community experiences improved well-being from decisions driven by the portal we are helping to lift trust and confidence in government.”

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