Local Government Magazine
LG Magazine

Embracing innovation at a local level

By Lindsay Pica-Alfano, founder of Govlaunch a free resource for local governments to share and discover innovative projects and tools.
The secret to innovation is you don’t have to start from scratch and councils across New Zealand are implementing novel technology and uncovering best practices to make a real difference in the communities they serve.

Now’s the time for other local governments to build on what they’ve started, and in turn lay the groundwork for future innovation.

Start Small. It can be tempting to roll out a massive new initiative at once. Go big or go home, right? But often starting with a smaller test or more focused initiative ends up leading to a greater impact. Using a pilot project cuts down on costs in the long run and can also speed up the approval process and deliver a more strategic and seamless rollout.

Take the Thames-Coromandel District Council, for example. The area has limited phone connectivity, which prevents 40 percent of local households from receiving national emergency text messages. This poses a big public safety risk, so the council set out to find a solution. After extensive research and surveys, 300 local households were selected to pilot the council’s new approach. Each household received an indoor altering device (IAD), which uses FM radio signals to communicate civil emergency alerts. If the pilot is deemed successful, it could lead to widespread enhancements, such as IADs replacing tsunami sirens (which cost $6000 yearly to maintain) over a 10-year period.

Leverage outside expertise

Local governments don’t have to tackle everything alone — in fact, they shouldn’t. Partnering with the private sector, a non-profit organisation or an educational institution can be mutually beneficial and turn projects that wouldn’t have gotten off the ground into reality. That is exactly what happened when Southland Regional Council partnered with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) to address poor air quality.

To get a clearer picture of local air quality, Southland Regional Council and NIWA installed 25 Outdoor Dust Information Nodes. These sensors collect data on smoke patterns to identify hot spots for poor air quality and provide NIWA with nearly real-time data visualizations every morning. The partnership gives NIWA scientists access to better data, while residents gain a better understanding of their local environmental factors and any associated risks.

New Plymouth District Council and EnviroNZ, Road Science and Downer took a similar approach in order to find a zero-waste alternative for road resurfacing. The partnership was formed to trial a new material Plas Mix, which is made of recycled plastic waste and asphalt. It’s expected to be stronger and more cost-effective than traditional asphalt. The trial is using residential recycled plastic for local road resurfacing — a great use of waste locally, and a win for the environment.

Adapt quickly

While we hope that the pandemic is a once in a lifetime event, it highlighted the need to be nimble, adjust quickly, and prepare for the unexpected. To keep industries that typically relied on in-person interactions running, local governments found ways to go virtual. Auckland Council, for example, conducted virtual building inspections via an app during lockdown. The Artisan app allows building inspectors to remotely review photographs of critical build elements.

Find the right technology partner

We recently saw Auckland Council fully migrate its applications and datasets to an optimised hybrid cloud architecture, which allows the council to consolidate its systems and scale for the future, and reduces its dependence on suppliers and hardware maintenance.

The first place to start when innovating is to identify what isn’t working in your own community. Listen to your colleagues, and most importantly, your citizens. Then take a cue from other local governments; there’s no need to develop something new when someone else’s approach may work for your government as well.

It doesn’t take a mountain of resources or a large team to implement change. By starting small, bringing in the right partners, and remaining adaptable, local governments of all sizes can implement innovative solutions that lead to better communities.



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