Local Government Magazine
Information Technology

Wowing Waipa

Virtual reality goggles play their part

Waipa District Council made innovative use of technology in engaging with its community on its ten-year plan. The project won the Best Digital Service Award at ALGIM’s recent Spring Conference.

The issue

But wait, there’s more

Waipa District Council has won three other national awards for this project:
• The LGNZ Fulton Hogan Excellence Award for Community Engagement;
• ALGIM’s Best Digital Service Award: and
• Waipa was one of three councils to receive a highly commended award from SOLGM for its consultation document.

Waipa District Council’s 10-Year Plan budget was shaping up as our biggest ever spend, with proposed multi-million-dollar projects as well as the usual infrastructure plans. Specifically, council was looking to invest in some major heritage projects but needed to gauge what level of support there was (or wasn’t) from the community.

While council already had an outstanding track record in community engagement, we sought to generate more, and better quality, submissions from a well-informed community. Our “What’s the Story?” campaign was built on a broad range of tactics, including cutting-edge technology, to drive a major district-wide consultation programme.

The timeframe

The initial phases of the campaign kicked off a year before consultation which was scheduled for Thursday March 15 through to Friday April 20, 2018. This long run-up provided an opportunity to set the scene and talk about the complex issues facing the district.

We planned 12 months of content for digital and traditional channels which focused on the district’s history, sharing local stories, and looking ahead to what Waipa could be in the future.

How did you go about it?

We devised a tagline to underpin our tactics: To know where we’re going, we’ve got to know where we’ve come from. This theme helped to link Waipa’s past to its future through our 10-Year Plan. Talking about historical events might not be a natural fit for a council, but we discovered a huge appetite for this in our community.

Technology used

Technology was central to this campaign and provided a flexible and robust platform of engagement, where the dreams of our people were put front and centre. We were able to reach more of our community at considerably less cost than through traditional media channels.

We built a standalone website as the central hub of our campaign. Every call to action pushed people to visit futurewaipa.co.nz. Everything from our hardcopy consultation document was on the site – plus more, such as video content, an interactive rates calculator, an online submission form and real-time displays of submissions.

We also took the leap to try using virtual reality goggles, hoping to portray council’s vision in a captivating way. These were used at community events or information sessions and were a very effective hook to draw people in. We also gave away low-cost cardboard goggles so people could access the 360-degree drone footage at home using their smartphone. Incorporating VR into our campaign was a novelty with tangible benefits and also clearly demonstrated council’s position as a forward-looking organisation.

“What’s the Story” was all over social media, as we shared a mix of content across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Video was a real winner for spreading the message, as we tailored our posts based on insights gleaned from our audience behaviour (mobile-friendly, silent timeline, short attention span, etc.). We also utilised targeted advertising with optimised imagery which was particularly effective for reaching locals who weren’t fans of the Waipa District Council page but will be affected by the decisions council makes.

To explain the complexities of council finances, we created a series called Making Cents of Council Dollars which was deployed as both illustrated spreads in local newspapers and an animated video playlist.

We also used technology to increase accessibility and take experiences to a bigger audience. Our free bus tours exploring Waipa’s history booked out in a flash, so we filmed the route and adapted the host’s script so the videos could be enjoyed by people who couldn’t make it in person.

Offline, we also strove to be imaginative in everything we did. The hard-copy consultation document was colourful and clearly laid-out, while still providing the depth of information required. We created all sorts of branded merch, from hacky sacks and tote bags to an enormous three-metre-wide colouring-in wall with buckets of crayons so people could come up
and doodle.

We showed up in person everywhere and anywhere, making sure our information stall was staffed by elected members and subject matter experts – all wearing What’s the Story tee shirts. From a hot air balloon night glow attended by thousands of people to a farmers’ market held in a village on Sunday mornings, we were there to answer questions, hear opinions and find out what people thought about council’s plans.

External suppliers

We used a design agency (Onyx) to develop the visual brand for the campaign, and a web developer (Haricot) to build the stand-alone website.

For our video content, we partnered with several external suppliers. For our 10-Year Plan projects, Nimbus Media filmed the scripts we wrote, which were edited to include animated elements of the visual brand. They also created the animated Making Cents of Council Dollars series.

Taktix Films captured and edited footage from our bus tours, and a specialist production company, Immersify, was commissioned to film the drone footage and create the 360-degree video files used for our virtual reality offering.

We also created animations and social media content in-house using a browser-based platform called Vyond (formerly GoAnimate).

End results

We had a record-breaking number of written submissions: 820 in total. This was a 72 percent increase from the previous 10-Year Plan consultation, and they were largely of a high quality, providing informed feedback to our staff and elected members.

Nearly 80 percent of submissions were made online, demonstrating the value of the website for facilitating greater and broader feedback than previous consultations.

As well as those formal submissions, we also collated 530 Facebook comments about our proposed projects or the budget. They were all supplied to councillors for their consideration along with the formal submissions.

Each one of the six projects outlined as part of our 10-Year Plan received significant community support. This included proposals to spend millions of dollars on ‘non-core services’ – as well as the usual suite of infrastructure and maintenance projects. The 10-Year Plan document was signed off by council with relatively few changes from the draft version we’d consulted on.

Learnings

That it takes a lot of planning and a dedicated team to deliver a complex project. Early and ongoing engagement meant that we developed a deep understanding of our community’s views and how that aligned with council’s vision for the future of the district. 

• The overall strategy was driven by former communication and engagement manager Natalie Palmer and the campaign was deployed by team members including Nicole Nooyen (senior communication advisor, now acting communication and engagement manager), Simone van Asbeck (communication advisor), Annabel Henderson Morrell (digital communication specialist), Nicola Jefferies (communication and engagement coordinator) and Amber Diprose (event and marketing advisor).


This article was first published in the November 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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