With the new Dunedin Hospital being built in the central city the city has a unique opportunity to look at options to revamp the existing transport system. Article written and supplied by Boffa Miskell.
Connecting Dunedin is a partnership between the Transport Agency, Dunedin City Council and the Otago Regional Council that has been working on the Shaping Future Dunedin Transport project to review what those revamped city transport options might look like.
An online community engagement web-based platform called Social Pinpoint was customised to provide an easy and accessible way for the community to get involved and be part of a city-wide conversation and is proving to be one of the most effective ways for sharing ideas.
A series of interactive maps and visuals were developed and included in the platform to make it easy for anyone to present ideas in a visually engaging way through a click-and-drag locator pin to add comments and relate feedback, ideas and concerns.
This website is the main channel for public engagement while traditional communication methods such as flyers and brochures, print and digital news channels, radio advertising, press releases and social media, have been used to direct users there.
It’s almost like a 24/7 town hall meeting but, instead of oversized maps and sticky-notes, interactive digital maps takes that idea one step further, and the community can access and interact with maps and information at a time that’s convenient for them. There’s no need to attend a scheduled public engagement session.
Easy-to-understand visuals and intuitive actions are essential in online public engagement and a short video on the Shaping Future Dunedin Transport Social Pinpoint site explains how to use the program and demonstrates the process for adding new comments, rating and responding to comments left by others.
“We have been very impressed by the nature of the feedback we have received and the quality of the discussions which take place”, says Nick Sargent, Transportation Strategy manager for Dunedin City Council and one of the joint client leads for the project.
“Being able to see the comments of others and react to them seems to be a real benefit and appreciated by those who participate.”
Consultants from Boffa Miskell developed 2D maps and plans that have been used at workshops with Connecting Dunedin stakeholders in late 2019 and turned them into a 3D view for the purposes of public engagement.
These 3D maps included buildings and features of central Dunedin drawn to scale, which made the city’s streetscape ‘come alive’ and offer viewers a more accurate perspective that makes information easier to understand.
“Social Pinpoint is normally based around 2D Google maps,” says landscape architect Emma Taylor.
“But the team agreed that a 3D map would give a better representation of the street-level view for users. We worked hard to figure out a way to make that happen. The process included about six different graphic and mapping programs, but the result is well worth it.”
Along with being interactive, online engagement means the community can access the information at a time and place that suits them.
“The response so far has been great with more than 3000 people visiting the Shaping Future Dunedin Transport website and over 500 people have already provided feedback,” says Jim Harland, director of regional relationships at the NZTA.
“It’s encouraging to see so much interest, underlining how passionate people are about Dunedin and its CBD transport network.”
In fact, the immediacy of data enabled the team to release a graphic summary of the first half of the engagement period (15-30 June) including the Top Five best-rated comments, analysis of the most-frequently-used keywords, and an age breakdown of the unique respondents.
Urban designer and engagement specialist Rachael Eaton from Boffa Miskell says the real-time nature of the site makes the engagement process more meaningful and transparent for users.
‘’Traditionally, people don’t often get to hear other people’s views and ideas until the end of an engagement period when the conversations are over.
“But this makes it really easy for people to share their own ideas, it enables them to read other people’s comments and opinions, engage in a ‘live’ discussion, or simply respond to ideas using a thumbs-up or thumbs-down reaction.”
Evaluating responses and communicating results is crucial to effective public engagement, and use of an online tool helps here, too. A series of appropriate tags and keywords can be used to filter and sort responses, allowing councils and consultants to see key themes emerging in real-time.
“Inputting and analysing the results of engagement is often a time-consuming part of the process,” says Rachael.
“But with a digital engagement tool, it’s practically immediate. Also, online engagement is a great equaliser.
“Online, someone who is more reserved about putting their opinion forward in a public forum has a chance to have their say and be listened to.
“And that transparency gives project teams and clients a clearer view of community response.”
With decades of experience in public engagement and community consultation, Rachael says that adding engagement options such as Social Pinpoint into the traditional suite of communications will likely increase the number of people who engage with a project and enhances the quality of feedback received; helping local councils gauge a representative response.
“The premise with face-to-face engagement sessions is often that ‘if the community feels this is important, they’ll take the time to go to public meeting or come to an open day’ – but people have busy lives.
“A meeting on a weekday night, or a weekend afternoon doesn’t work for a great many residents – usually those residents who are out living their lives on the very streets and public spaces that the people sitting in the public meeting are discussing.
“But if online tools and advances in technology can be leveraged to give more people a voice in the way their city is going to look, and feel, and work in the future; then surely that’s what community engagement is all about.”