Creativity might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of the local government sector, but it is becoming increasingly important. As noted in NZTA's practice note ‘Innovation and Creativity in Business Case Development’, yesterday’s solutions won’t solve today’s problems, let alone the ones we’ll face tomorrow. While the NZTA is focused on transport, this is equally true for most of the big issues local government will be tackling in future.
The practice note identifies five steps of creativity: preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation and elaboration. The first two are divergent (seeking as many ideas as possible), the second two are convergent (making choices in order to finalise an idea) and elaboration is about explaining the idea so that it can become a reality.
While thinking about this topic I have been reflecting on personality types and how this influences my (and other people’s) approaches to ideas generation and selection. As an ISTJ (in the Meyers-Briggs system) my focus tends to be on arriving at a practical solution … but I can see the benefit in staying longer in the divergence phase and taking more time to gather a wider range of ideas. On the other hand, people who prefer the ideas generation phase are likely to benefit from greater focus on narrowing down to a preferred solution and its implementation.
My personality type also explains why vision-related workshops make me want to gnaw my hand! I understand the importance of this process in the hierarchy of council planning documents but I do feel the tension of wanting to know what’s actually going to happen at the end of all the talk about themes and values. (Any other ISTJs out there with bite marks on their hands?)
However, in the spirit of open-mindedness to the divergence stage, I recently discovered a way to generate more ideas than you might think of on your own. I took part in a mini workshop offered by Jennifer Lund in which we practised having creative conversations. First, we worked independently to ‘brain dump’ all our current issues on to the page, categorised them, then chose the one question we most wanted to work on. Then we paired up with strangers to explain our question and listen with an open mind to their responses. Then we listened to the question the other person wanted to work on and gave them suggestions. I found this to be a fantastic way to have a really interesting conversation, to see my question from new angles and gain new ideas, with the added bonus of enjoying coming up with ideas related to other people’s questions.
I can imagine this working really well in a council environment where people of different life experience and job titles could provide genuine insight to colleagues in other departments, and learn about projects and issues they might not otherwise hear about.
This is the stage in which critical thinking comes to the fore, as an essential part of the creative process. The following checklist from NZTA's practice note Critical Thinking and the Importance of Asking Questions provides this guidance on what to consider at this stage.
The NZTA creativity practice note says elaboration is about clearly explaining the new idea in terms of concepts that are already known and understood. An article on the Creativate website takes this further, discussing the elaboration stage as moving from idea into reality. “Within an organisation, this is the stage where the creative idea must become an innovative presentation that is 'bought into' by other members, to help make it a reality.”
Here are some suggestions for expanding on your current process for writing a business case, report or any other council document.
A couple of months ago I published a blog about how my friend Melanie approaches giving a workshop. She mulls on the topic, does some research but writes nothing down. She then launches herself into the live event without even a few bullet points to help her, and trusts that the right words will come. Anything more formalised feels too static for her.
Around that time I received an email asking if I’d like to co-present a workshop on my favourite topic — writing and editing. I said yes and set about coming up with lots of ideas on what to include. I was in my happy place writing up the handouts and the powerpoint slides. As I had a nice lead-in time for these workshops I gave myself two weeks to ignore the fact that I would have to actually stand up and deliver this workshop. I settled back into my usual work life of writing and editing.
Then began two weeks of being pretty terrified. I realised my biggest fear was becoming frozen and not being able to extrapolate from bare bullet points. During this time I received some great advice from others (including Summer Turner), and through trial and error I also figured out a series of small steps that enabled me to move towards getting up in front of an audience.
So, for all of you who just get up and do it, read no further! You don’t need this advice. This is for nervous presenters only, for those of us who have reason to fear the words won’t just magically arrive when we stand up to give a workshop or a presentation.
1. Write it all out
The first thing I had to do was accept that the approach of the natural speakers (the mullers and the bullet pointers) was not going to work for me. In order to know what I wanted to say I had to write out the whole thing. This is the biggest lesson I learnt through this process.
The good news is that even if you are not a natural speaker, there are other ways to achieve the goal of getting up in front of an audience. It takes longer, but it can be done.
I wrote my notes by looking at each slide and then imagining what I would like to say when talking to it. However, it doesn’t pay to get hung up on perfecting these written words, as the content changes as you practise it.
2. Read it out loud
As you read out your full notes associated with each slide, you will hear what jars, or is too cumbersome when spoken out loud. Slash those bits and add the other things you find yourself saying off the cuff.
3. Record yourself speaking to each powerpoint slide
Record yourself speaking to each slide. To do this open your powerpoint presentation on your computer, select ‘Slideshow’ in the menu, then ‘record slide show’. (I just worked on one slide at a time at this stage.)
Look at the slide while speaking, with the aim of reducing the amount of time you are looking at your notes. Listen to that recording, then do it again as an improved version while still having your notes at hand to glance at.
I found this really useful. In all cases the second version was much better.
4. Record yourself speaking to all of the workshop slides
Download the app ‘Easy Voice Recorder’ (or similar) on your Tablet or Smartphone, and speak to all the slides in one go. Again, you can have your notes in front of you, but mostly look at the slides so you are practising saying your message rather than reading it. It will come out slightly differently each time, and that’s fine.
5. Listen to the recording
Listen to the whole recording several times, with your eyes closed. When I did this I was surprised to find I liked what I was saying. (Also that I say ‘um’ a lot!)
6. Listen to the recording again
Listen to the recording an hour or two before your workshop or presentation. This takes less energy than rehearsing it live, but still reminds you of your content.
7. Start small
Start with a small and friendly audience if possible. I was fortunate enough to be able to do a run through with an audience of four people who already cared about the topic.
It has been a pleasure to highlight innovations and collaborations occurring in the local government sector through a series of LinkedIn posts. As I have been sharing them I have been wondering how these ideas came about. Was it one person having a flash of intuition on a better way to do something, and successfully socialising that idea in their organisation? Or was the idea born in a brainstorming session, a one to one discussion or through the positive reception of a public submission?
Were these ideas arrived at using critical thinking (such as asking ‘why’ five times, to really get to grips with the true source of a problem) or was it a flash of insight? Both pathways to innovation are viable — and can be complementary as outlined in the NZ Transport Agency’s excellent practice note on Innovation and Creativity in Business Case Development.
The practice note discusses the value of beginning with divergent thinking where the aim is to think as widely and imaginatively about the problem as possible, followed by convergent thinking, where the aim is to think much more analytically, using critical thinking skills to evaluate ideas and focus on the best option.
Innovation can occur in a number of different ways. I know my best ideas arrive as a consequence of doing three pages of writing every morning. New ideas can also spark into life when people with different perspectives and talents come together in a workshop setting.
The NZ Transport Agency’s practice note says “there is strong evidence to suggest that genuinely new creative insights are associated with situations where people are more relaxed and can give thoughts a chance to incubate”.
Here are my questions for the local government sector.
I booked a flight to Wellington and a Masterton motel. Next minute my smart phone was wishing me a great visit to the Wairarapa … it’s a little unnerving, but companies are not the only ones making increasingly smart use of technology.
Wellington City Council initiatives
Wellington City Council is also embracing technical innovation for the benefit of its citizens. Projects include:
Innovation Officer Sean Audain says these initiatives change the Council’s relationship with citizens and businesses. Good data allows Council to engage more continuously with communities and be more proactive, rather than responding to issues. There are also much greater opportunities for the public to access information collected by the Council, promoting more informed and equal dialogue between members of the community and the Council.
The Council is already collaborating with a number of other agencies. Sean says there are opportunities for the councils in the Wellington region to work together on any really good problem. Examples of collaborations occurring with other agencies include:
The future of council work
What does this emphasis on automation mean for the future of work in a council? It’s highly likely there will be fewer jobs involving manual collection and management of data, as data is handled increasingly efficiently by machines rather than people.
Future council jobs are likely to have a much greater focus on responding to the data. Here are some examples.
Resilience to natural hazards
Wellington’s Smart City approach was a significant advantage when responding to natural hazards such as the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 14 November 2016. As Sean Audain wrote in his 17 May 2017 article, “the following days involved the assessment of over 1600 multilevel commercial and residential buildings, the cordoning of streets, the evacuation of residents from affected properties and the demolition of the more severely damaged buildings”.
The use of 3D technology enabled staff to show decision makers that the cordoning and closure of the entire central business district wasn’t necessary, saving disruption to lives and loss of economic activity. It also enabled high quality information to be provided to the public across council boundaries. Over the longer term, this technology has enabled the recovery team to understand the patterns of earthquake damage.
Thanks to Wellington City Council Innovation Officer Sean Audain for discussing these initiatives with me. For more information about Wellington’s smart city work please contact Sean at email@example.com
Giving presentations and running workshops are essential elements of many local government roles. Here’s some advice from Melanie Stanton (www.redribbon.nz) who designs and implement workshops and training programmes for businesses and organisations.
What’s the difference between a presentation and a workshop? Do you have a preference?
A presentation involves conveying information, with a question and answer time.
A workshop is interactive. People do stuff, have experiences and talk to their neighbours. I like workshops most because they challenge me. I am interacting on the spot, live, and I don’t know what’s coming. People could be arguing my points. If they do, I give them a high five for courage.
People are their own experts, so it’s good for them to express what they know.
How do you know when a presentation or workshop is going well?
I can sense the level of participation in the room — I can sense when I’ve lost people so I change tack.
Yawning is normally the biggest giveaway, especially when talking about legislation on a Friday afternoon!
What are some of the things people can do to give their presentation or workshop a good chance of being successful?
Know who their audience is and cater for that specific audience.
The best thing to do at the start of a workshop is to have an icebreaker, for example, ask the participants to tell you what they do, and follow up on the response.
In a presentation you need to create a relationship. In a bigger group talk about yourself a bit, and why you are speaking to this group in particular. Show you know who they are – research them so it’s sincere. And talk about the things that really light you up, genuinely.
Do you have any suggestions for someone who is inexperienced with making presentations or running workshops?
Start small, and be generous to yourself by considering how to manage the focus being on you.
Powerpoint can be a good option because people will look at the screen. In a workshop, get the participants to do stuff. This also takes the spotlight off you, so you can have a breather. You can relax and interact with the group.
I do these tricks myself — I like being up there but it is uncomfortable, you are being seen. You can’t pause — it’s happening.
Two key things to remember:
I do lots of preparation. I think about the topic and I read books.
I occasionally go online, but I don’t do this first. There is too much information, it’s overwhelming, and you can feel like everyone’s already said everything about the topic. It is useful for filling gaps.
I think about how I want to present the topic and what I’m passionate about, while taking the audience into account.
It’s about finding your message, what you want to say and how do you want to say it —then the rest just falls into place.
Do you get nervous before a presentation? If so, how do you manage that?
I get nervous, but not anxious. The very first one I did, I put a vase on my presentation desk, with fragrant jasmine. I gave myself a whole lot of treats, to be kind to myself.
I also got there really early, to give myself time to set up, and to feel in control.
What sort of notes do you take with you?
I write a list of bullet points beforehand. But I don’t take it with me.
Notes are not helpful to me, and because it’s what I want to say, I don’t forget it. Some people do take bullet points into a presentation.
In a workshop situation, I provide workbooks, with the powerpoint slides printed out and space to write notes alongside.
Any comments about ‘death by powerpoint’? Is powerpoint a bad option or a valuable aid?
A bad powerpoint presentation is when you write everything up on that and read off it.
It’s even worse if you read it, and then put the same words up for the audience to read.
Only put topics on the powerpoint, not details. For example, in my legislation presentation, I put up snippets of the legislation in a powerpoint to highlight key points, but I didn’t read them out.
Powerpoint should not be the presentation, it is an aid for you.
Any suggestions on using visuals or other techniques to make a presentation interesting?
YouTube clips are great — you can push play and walk away. They are popular.
Microbreaks are a good idea. Give people two minutes to talk to the person next to them or to write down any notes. This also provides a breather for the presenter.
Groups of three where people can talk about their experience work well. People love that because they have lots to say. Give times for these break out discussions. You can adjust it later if everyone is fully engaged.
You can ask other people to contribute but that’s slightly unpredictable.
Physical visuals are also useful. For example, I have used a jug of water and cups to talk about balancing what you are giving out and what you are getting back.
Do you have any other suggestions of ways to build up confidence with presenting?
Talk about your real experiences. People aren’t so much wanting to hear what books say – they want to hear from you.
This type of presentation has a different quality. It’s about bringing stuff to life, and relating it specifically to them. When I’m speaking in this way I’m loving it, because it’s what I want to say.
In a spa pool overlooking Kaiteriteri beach my sister and I pondered the question … where do we want to be in five years’ time? She immediately came up with all sorts of ideas, but I was at a bit of a loss.
The five year horizon is quite blurry to me as I have more of a ‘here and now’ mindset. I find weekly goals easier to arrive at than five year ones. Over the past year I have found it incredibly valuable to ask myself these four questions on a weekly basis.
During the weekly Mastermind conference calls we each responded to the four questions listed above. I found that accountability process really powerful and since then have used the questions as the basis for my own weekly review of progress.
In a council situation they could also be valuable questions to ask in weekly meetings between a manager and a staff member. However, one of the benefits of writing down these responses is the trace it leaves.
Last week I read over my review notes for the past year. I really enjoyed reading the ‘wins’ because it’s human nature to remember the problems and to quickly integrate (and pay far less attention to) the things that work out surprisingly well. (Here’s a podcast on the value of noticing your wins.)
The problems faced and potential solutions section was also an interesting read — to see what I agonised over during the year, and also how clearly stating a problem can prompt the arrival of innovative solutions I would not otherwise have thought of.
Setting goals for the week ahead, knowing that in a week you will be checking which ones were actually completed, provides awesome accountability. It also helps me to set realistic goals, and to appreciate the fact of their completion. (Sometimes my goals include giving myself a break, like not making any progress on a new project until something more urgent is finished.)
If, like me, your year can pass by in a blur, you may also find this a useful way to appreciate all that you do get done, and the breakthroughs you make along the way.
Four Anzac Days ago I climbed Mount Arthur. I had hoped we were just going some of the way, or that maybe I could read a book at the Flora Hut while the rest of the walking party went to the top and back. As it turned out, we were all in it for the long haul to the summit.
I was a lot slower and way less fit than anyone else on the trip. And towards the top, where there are some uneven rocks to navigate, my legs refused to cooperate. I remember looking at where I needed to put my next foot, but nothing happened. It was a really frightening paralysis, and I wouldn’t have been able to continue if my friend hadn’t talked me through every single move.
The benefits of chocolate
Surprisingly, my brain kicked back into gear really quickly after eating chocolate at the summit. Coming down that mountain was even nicer — it’s a magical tussocky environment. I also know I will never do it again (I promised myself that while lying prone on the couch the next day).
That paralysis can also happen in a work situation. Last week I was asked to write a document on something important which I knew almost zero about. I could feel my brain going into a really uncomfortable overload mode. If there hadn’t been such a tight deadline I would have been tempted to jump away from it and get on with something easier (or go and eat chocolate).
In the midst of that project I did feel a bit like a mountaineer clinging to a rock face, stabbing my pick axe into one crevice at a time, figuring out what to do. The thing that really helped was printing off my own step by step process for ‘writing a document using multiple sources of information’.
I found where I was up to in that list of steps, and carried on, only looking one step ahead at a time, and as the great Sir Edmund Hillary would say, “we knocked the bastard off”.
When new topics come your way
If you work at a council, it’s likely you’ll end up writing about something you know very little about at some stage in the not too distant future. Climate change, new legislation and a multitude of other challenges are likely to be coming your way, let alone the changes in topics you’ll face if you take on a new role.
When asked to write a report or a plan you may initially feel like me on that mountain, with paralysis coming on and unable to take the next step forward. This is where knowing what your process has been in the past can really help you.
Promapp won’t help
This kind of creative process doesn’t turn up in Promapp or any other business mapping tool, from my experience. The information about actually writing the documents tends to be thin on the ground. And maybe that’s how it has to be, because everyone will have their own way of creating something new.
How others do it
However, once you hit on a process that works for you, it’s likely that you can apply a very similar process across multiple topic areas. David Usher talks about this in his book ‘Let the Elephants Run’ in terms of the process he follows to create songs and develop new business ideas.
Independent Hearing Commissioner David McMahon also has a process he follows when resolving complex planning issues, which he generously describes here.
The reason I’m writing about this now is that hundreds if not thousands of people around the country have recently completed large complex documents as part of the Long Term Plan process — which may have been a development contributions policy, an asset management plan, infrastructure strategy, financial policy, or a series of reports to assist a long term plan committee with its decision making process.
First of all, congratulations on getting your document over the finish line! Before it fades from memory, I highly recommend that you think back over the process you followed to go from nothing to something. Writing down the steps you took to make that document a reality will give you insights into the process that works for you — and it will give you a structure for making progress on the next gnarly writing project that comes your way.
Speed up your writing process
Here’s a link to access the document which outlines my steps for writing a document using multiple sources of information. I hope you find this useful as a starting point for defining your own writing process.
In my early twenties I belonged to two different writing groups. One was organised by an elderly South African man called Ernst who was a published short story writer. These Hamilton meetings were genteel occasions, where copies of novel chapters, short stories and poetry were pre-circulated and seriously critiqued while sipping from tiny glasses of sherry.
The other was a more casual group at Waihi Beach, with meetings held in a bach with no electricity, where the flatmates lived on mussels and flat bread cooked over a chippie stove. Half an hour before the writing group was due to start one of the flatmates would head into the sand dunes to come up with song lyrics to share that night. A friend’s mother joined our group and memorably recited a poem about poisoning her husband with her scones.
I took the same short stories and poems along to each of these groups. In those days I didn’t think as much about what different readers might be interested in.
These days this is my first consideration when writing documents for councils. For most of this year I have been focused on asset management plans but recently helped to write a long term plan (LTP) consultation document.
The LTP consultation document encourages feedback from a broad range of people, most of whom are not being paid to read that document, and will be squeezing in time to read it. While I don’t want to make too many assumptions, most of the target audience probably don’t have a pressing need to know how long the pipes are or the age of the pump station down the road, just as long as it’s still working.
That means every word that’s not paying its way needs to be cut, as in a poem or short story. In contrast, an asset management plan is more like a novel. There’s time to set the scene and get to know the challenges facing our protagonists, even if they are pumps and pipes!
The people reading your asset management plans are likely to be more interested in the subject (and to be paid for their reading time). You will be forgiven for a few boring bits, and can afford to include more background information without losing the interest of your audience.
One of the main challenges I have been grappling with while working on asset management plans is the huge amount of detail that could be included, and what can be taken out to enhance the narrative flow without affecting the overall integrity of the plan.
When structuring and writing an asset management plan, it’s worth considering the different subsets of asset management plan readers (including executive team members, councillors, staff involved in service delivery and Audit NZ).
The International Infrastructure Management Manual (IMMM) 2015 provides this advice:
The example structure in the IMMM is very helpful, but the manual clearly states this is an example rather than a structure which needs to be followed slavishly. It’s worth looking at how different councils structure their asset management plans. For example, Tasman District Council’s 2015 asset management plans place a significant amount of information in appendices rather than in the body of the document.
It’s a fact there will be fewer people lining up to read an asset management plan than a LTP consultation document. However, as noted in the IMMM 2015, the developing or revising of an asset management plan is “a process involving strategic and tactical thinking and decision making, not just a technical writing process.”
In other words, while making improvements to the style and structure of your document will help your readers, the decisions you make through the process of developing or revising an asset management plan will continue to be the most important contributor to the success of your document.
Councils have a lot on their plates right now.
They have to respond to the increasing intensity of weather events, organising civil defence responses then fixing damaged infrastructure. At the same time, they need to make a plan to help their communities adapt to the effects of rising sea levels and increasing coastal hazards.
That’s why I have prepared a summary (10 pages) of the 'Coastal Hazards and Climate Change' guidance for local government, which was published by the Ministry for the Environment in December 2017.
I hope this summary helps you to quickly get to grips with the core advice being provided by the Ministry for the Environment, and to consider how you can apply this framework to your area of responsibility.
The MfE guidance will be welcomed at a regional level, to support the development of overarching plans by regional and unitary council as it will encourage nationally consistent approaches to climate change adaptation.
However, the guidance also notes “some plans which focus on a particular issue may be a subset to the overall strategy or plan, contributing to asset and reserves management plans”.
That means individual staff members in district and unitary councils who need to plan for climate change adaptation related to stormwater, flood risk, land drainage and other issues can also use this framework. This will ensure more localised and issue-specific plans will integrate well with the larger scale regional plans, when these are completed.
The MfE guidance offers a range of options for creating a plan — so people working on smaller scale plans could choose to adopt the lower cost approaches to coastal hazard assessments (such as reviews of existing reports and problems, and discussions with experienced staff), and less resource-intensive options for community engagement (such as interviews with key people).
The guidance differs from previous versions, and from current coastal hazard management practice, with regard to the treatment of uncertainty (building in flexibility) and the central role of community engagement in the decision-making process.
Here are some of the highlights from the guidance (which are included in the summary):
Our vulnerability to higher sea levels and coastal storm events has never been clearer. It’s timely that guidance for local government on ‘Preparing for Coastal Change’ was released in December 2017 which outlines 10 steps for councils to follow in establishing a plan for adapting to coastal hazards and climate change.
The following summary is based on the more detailed information provided in ‘Preparing for Coastal Change’ and ‘Coastal Hazards and Climate Change — Guidance for Local Government’.
Step 1 — Preparation and context
Set up a multi-disciplinary team, recognising a wide set of expertise, skills and knowledge is needed; make connections with potentially affected communities; and establish (and resource) a work programme.
Step 2 — Hazard and sea-level rise assessments
Identify the extent and magnitude of the hazards, including the effects of rising sea levels on coastal inundation and coastal erosion.
Step 3 — Values and objectives
Identify what and where private property, businesses, local infrastructure and community spaces will potentially be affected by coastal hazards and sea-level rise, and the people who will be affected by these changes.
Use this information to develop objectives to guide the Council’s decision making processes.
Step 4 – Vulnerability and risk
Undertake two different assessments:
Engage with the community to consider the options for adapting to the coastal hazards and sea level rise, including:
Evaluate the options against criteria such as: flexibility, feasibility, ability to meet community values and provide co-benefits, value for money, and environmental impacts.
Step 7 — Adaptive planning strategy (with triggers)
Agree on triggers to be monitored, which will provide early signals that a change in approach is required. Examples of coastal signals that can be useful early alerts include:
Step 8 — Implementation plan
Prepare a plan which sets out the agreed approach, and the trigger points at which new decisions will be required.
Reflect this in all relevant council plans and strategies, including resource management plans, asset management plans and the long term plan (which will need to identify how implementation of the plan will be financed).
Step 9 — Monitoring
Develop new monitoring systems (at a regional rather than a district level) which focus on the impacts on coastal areas. Monitoring of the effectiveness of the climate change adaptation plan will also be required.
Step 10 — Review and adjust
Regularly review the plan to reflect both changing risk levels and any new tools for managing hazard risk.
Ever tried to explain a diagram in a council plan showing the relationship between the Resource Management Act and Local Government Act? If so, you will know the relationship between these Acts is more like distant cousins scratching around for things in common than that of close siblings.
It’s not surprising that staff writing either resource or asset management plans within a unitary council (or asset management plans in a district council and resource management plans in a regional council) have the power to trip each other up.
Having begun my career in local government on the resource management side of the ledger, I have been caught out by the weight of opposition to draft freshwater rules by asset managers.
However, over the past year I’ve been sitting on the other side of the fence, writing infrastructure strategies for several different councils. There’s plenty of potential for tension about plan rules with major implications for the cost-effective delivery of infrastructure services.
This tension has the potential to be worked through in infrastructure strategies. A good thing about these strategies is they provide an opportunity to take a systematic look at the provisions in resource management plans.
This involves serious consideration of the potential implications for the delivery of transport, stormwater, flood protection, water supply and wastewater services — and identifying the practical options for achieving the required outcomes, as well as the costs of the different options.
Upcoming discussions with communities increasingly affected by climate change are another area where a combined approach by resource and asset management planners will be beneficial, to enable us to consider the full range of options available to local government.
Can you just write an executive summary?
If you’ve just finished your asset management plan or infrastructure strategy this request may not exactly be music to your ears!
That’s because executive summaries for asset management plans and any other large council document are not necessarily something we have ever been formally taught how to do. Despite this, it’s a satisfying document to write because it’s about cutting through the details to what really matters — the guts of the larger document. And at least you know the executive summary will be reasonably widely read, which may not always the case for your larger documents.
The purpose of a summary
It’s fair to assume that a reasonable proportion of your readers won’t read your whole asset management plan or infrastructure strategy or other long council document. Councillors have more than enough reading material provided with every agenda, and interested members of the community need to fit writing their submission (or informal feedback) into a short amount of time around work and/or family obligations.
Writing a high quality executive summary can give the gift of time to people who need to know the key points about your plan or strategy.
So what do decision makers and members of the public really need to know? I asked several people who read a lot of these types of documents for feedback on what makes a good executive summary.
One asset manager said too often large portions of text are copied and pasted into the executive summary. Instead, the executive summary has to distil the content without repeating the detail.
How long should an executive summary be?
Chris Pearce (Senior Advisor, Project and Portfolio Management at Kāpiti Coast District Council) says if an executive summary is any more than four pages it can seem like you’re reading the whole document, not the summary.
Similarly Wikihow’s advice on executive summaries is to aim for a document 5% the size of the source document, and it shouldn’t be more than 10%. So for a 60 page infrastructure strategy, that gives you a target of three pages and a maximum of six pages. Given the size of the canvas you’ve got to work with, what must be included?
David Hammond, who is Nelson City Council’s Acting Chief Executive, provided me with this succinct, useful list for writing the executive summaries of asset management plans:
In terms of the structure, one of the recommendations was that the executive summary should mirror the sections in the main body of the document so the reader can easily reference the details if they want to know more about something mentioned in the summary.
One way to compose an executive summary is to start with the conclusion of each section and include only as much information as is needed to explain the conclusion.
This is where the ABT structure I have mentioned in previous articles can come in handy. For each section, it's worthwhile trying to apply the story structure of … and …, but …, therefore ...
This approach will also help you to break out of copying paragraphs directly from the body of the document. More on using story structure when writing infrastructure strategies is available here.
This structure isn't always a good fit — it worked really well for a waste assessment executive summary I wrote earlier this year, but I haven't been able to use it in the two executive summaries I wrote over the past month.
Chris Pearce says the summary needs to accurately reflect the tone and conclusions in the plan or strategy, which is not always the case in summaries he has read. This is why it’s important to write the executive summary after writing the full document, rather than beforehand, once you fully understand what the full document is saying. It's also why writing an executive summary is more difficult than most people think.
The asset manager who provided feedback for this article also said a good executive summary is extremely difficult to compile and is consequently quite a rare item.
Step by step process
I have found the fact that it's difficult to do an executive summary well can lead to dancing around it, rather than jumping in and getting a draft on the page. That's why I developed an eight step process to help me overcome this resistance.
You are welcome to access my step by step process for writing an executive summary here.
I’ve been writing about the ageing population a lot lately, in terms of:
While all of these factors are valid points to include in infrastructure strategies, it paints a rather drab picture of what it will be like when we inevitably become part of that group of ‘65 years and older’ … even though we probably won’t feel much different on the inside than we did in our thirties, forties and fifties. (I’m speculating, and hoping, here!)
I recently went along to a presentation on longevity, presented by Geoff Pearman of Partners in Change and hosted by Nelson City Council. Geoff made some really interesting points of particular relevance to councils and economic development agencies.
Reimagining the shape of our lives
Now that we are living longer, we have the opportunity to reimagine what a life course might look like. When three score years and 10 was the normal life span, it made sense to spend 20 years learning, 40 years working hard and 10 years putting our feet up.
Now that we are likely to live 20 years longer, the structure of a life could look quite different. It might involve a gap year in our thirties, or a stint at university in our forties to prepare for a new career that we continue to enjoy into our seventies.
A chance to rebalance the role of paid work in your life
New Zealand doesn’t have a retirement age. That means there’s no requirement to leave work at 65. But (at least at this stage) that’s the point at which you get a weekly cash injection, perhaps freeing you to work less hours, or choose a job you like more but pays less, or a job which allows you to take time off for an extended period of travel … in summary, being 65 and over could be an opportunity to rebalance the role of paid work in your life.
At this stage, 25% of people over 65 are still engaged in paid work in New Zealand.
Self-employment becomes less risky
Moving into self-employment also becomes an increasingly viable option. It will feel a lot safer to take this sort of risk when you know there’ll be no week with absolutely no money coming your way! Earnings through self-employment for people 65 years and older are predicted to increase significantly in New Zealand, generating $1.7 billion in 2031 and rising to $2.6 billion by 2051.
A challenge for councils — losing experienced engineers, planners and project managers
People with regular super coming into their bank account have more choices than others about whether to work or not. This is a challenge for councils who have a large number of older staff with specialist knowledge, including engineers, planners and project managers.
They are more likely to stay, and to pass on their specialist knowledge to younger staff, if they feel valued. Several negative stereotypes need to be addressed in order for older people to feel good about their work and their workplace, and therefore continue to contribute their knowledge, skills and judgment (which get better with age).
Negative stereotypes about older people
Myth 1: People become less productive as they become older. This isn’t true. Productivity is directly related to levels of engagement, not age.
Myth 2: Older people will cost more in sick leave. The laggards in this regard are actually people aged between 30 and 45 — they are the greatest beneficiaries of paid sick leave.
Myth 3: Older people will struggle to adapt to new technology because they’re not digital natives. Geoff pointed out that we have been adapting to new technology throughout our lives. However, employers may need to think about how new technology is ‘unpacked’ for older people who may prefer 1:1 learning, rather than a group situation.
Councils are competing for young people
Councils and economic development agencies throughout New Zealand are competing with each other to attract more young people. It may be smarter for councils and other employers to spend a larger proportion of time and energy engaging and retaining older workers.
The Long Game
Thanks to Nelson City Council for hosting a series of events designed to inspire a community conversation about what an ageing demographic means for the region and for each of us individually. Interviews and speakers' presentations are available here.
In this article Rob and Jan Fryer, of FuturEcology, provide practical advice on choosing the best plants for riparian margins and on establishing a weed control regime.
This is part two of a two part series of articles to be published on this website. Part one discusses the reasons why landowners resist riparian planting and how councils can help to resolve these issues. Click here to access the first article.
What types of plants do you recommend being used for riparian planting?
Each site is different so a range of factors need to be considered, such as the questions listed here.
We have found people want to plant a "forest". You don’t get that in a five metre wide riparian margin. Diverse plantings are a nice idea but they are not successful in this context. For example, in Murchison, we planted a riparian margin with 5000 plants, of which 3000 were Carex secta. These are short but wide plants. They provide one metre of shade over a small waterway and will fold down in a flood. We included some taller species amongst them to provide aesthetic appeal. It’s very much "horses for courses".
In another Murchison project we talked with the Department of Conservation about opportunities to add biodiversity value. The native plant Malecitis flexova is scrubby looking so farmers tend to get rid of it, but it provides great habitat for lizards and fern birds.
The benefits need to be highlighted to the landowner, who can then demonstrate to their community what they’re doing to contribute to New Zealand’s environment.
A riparian planting can be a great opportunity to increase local biodiversity, for example by including threatened species, and by including plants that are naturally occurring in an area. In Nelson, we refer to the Living Heritage planting guide, and are currently involved in a project to return two vanished plant species in the Maitai catchment — it’s simple to grow them and get them back in there as part of riparian planting.
We also plant species which are good for birds where appropriate.
Farmers and other landowners can benefit from a conversation about:
Flood flows also need to be factored in, and this includes keeping flax out and having plants that fold down flat. Hoheria augustifolia is a great riparian species.
What weed control regime do you recommend for landowners?
A rock solid plan and budget for maintenance in the year following planting is vital to the successful establishment of riparian planting. Plant less and look after it better is our motto. There is absolutely no point in committing to planting hundreds or thousands of plants, investing time and money, only to have them swamped by pasture grass in the first spring.
Generally on farms, grass is king. Grass is what makes money, so landowners invest in strong grass species and fertilisers to optimise their growth. These vigorous grass species can easily smother riparian plantings.
That’s why having a clear methodology for the planting is so important. Here’s what we recommend.
At the very least we recommend allowing for follow up maintenance in the spring and summer of no less than three visits from a competent contractor, timed to prevent domination of grass.
The timing of the first visit is critical. This must be done before the first flush of grass in the spring.
In many places we find that our native plants appear to grow strongly at two times of the year — spring and autumn — with little growth over summer and winter. This means we need to time our maintenance regime to ensure plants are unchecked by grass and weeds at these growing times.
With good maintenance in that first year, follow up maintenance is reduced. However, if there is an existing perennial weed problem (with weeds such as blackberry, old man’s beard, gorse or broom) then the site will require ongoing maintenance.
We also note that the farming industry and even councils tend to under-estimate the skills, knowledge and experience needed to complete successful riparian plantings. Although landowners have a close connection with their land and experience in planting various trees and crops, this may not necessarily be helpful with riparian planting.
We recommend that landowners:
Politicians are focusing on water quality issues ahead of this year’s election, recognising this is a major concern for New Zealanders. There has been a lot of talk about planting more riparian margins, but very little discussion about the time and cost involved in the ongoing weed control and maintenance of these margins. I asked Rob and Jan Fryer, of FuturEcology, about the reasons why landowners resist riparian planting and how councils can help to resolve these issues.
This is part one of a two part series of articles to be published on this website. The second article provides practical advice on choosing the best plants for your site and establishing a weed control regime. Click here to access the second article.
Stock exclusion is now becoming a legislative requirement, with staged dates for when it takes effect for different stock types. What are the implications for land owners, both in terms of time and money?
Farmers and other landowners benefit from seeing riparian management (including fencing, planting and weed control) as a business expense that can be outsourced if they lack the time to do it themselves.
Particularly in the dairy industry, time to do the work is a big factor. Often it’s not a problem to carry out planting in winter, but maintenance is needed in the spring and autumn. This job is likely to drop well down the priority list when calving and milking are underway.
It’s really important not to underestimate the work required because fencing off land without maintaining riparian margins is a bad idea — leading to creeks overgrown with blackberry and old man’s beard.
Of the landowners you work with, what are their concerns about planted riparian margins?
There is resistance. Landowners ask why would I fence off this area and have to do all this weed control, especially when they can point to local examples of weed infestation. It’s a hard sell!
One of the biggest issues with stock exclusion or regeneration of riparian margins is the transition of “clean” country to weed corridors. No landowner likes to be a party to this, especially if they have worked hard to keep their property clean of damaging weeds. There could be some shading from exotic weeds along the margins. However, a margin dominated by a small number of exotic weeds will actually reduce biodiversity and do little in terms of filtration of sediments compared to a well-constructed and well maintained riparian planting.
Other concerns are around fencing and flooding issues, for rivers and streams that flood frequently. These are quite valid concerns, although they are not insurmountable if the right approach is taken.
Forestry and subdivision in headwaters are causing silt build up. In a more natural environment you wouldn’t get that level of silt. This means downstream river beds are getting shallower, and therefore flooding more.
To manage this issue, people need advice on the right shrubs to plant and the right fence to use (eg a two wire electric fence).
How can councils help to address these concerns?
In some districts, councils have assisted through the provision of plants or contributions towards plant costs for riparian plantings. More focus on the numbers of plants that have survived after three years (rather than the number initially planted) would be helpful. This could involve assistance with maintenance in the first year because this is the critical time.
How big a threat are weeds for New Zealand’s biodiversity?
Not enough public money is being put into managing weed threats to our biodiversity. New Zealand’s Predator Free 2050 goal really needs to include weeds.
It’s a massive problem that decision makers have to think hard about. For example, QEII covenants are great, but slow destruction can occur over the long term, as no weed control leads to exotic weeds infestation.
We believe that councils in particular are either unaware or ignoring the issues of riparian maintenance that are becoming more of a problem year by year. A handful of weeds get the headlines such as wilding conifers in our iconic high country yet all around us is the ticking time bomb of exotic species (including Sycamore) that have the potential to totally dominate our ecosystems.
I recently took part in a nine week mastermind programme to enhance my business. One of the outcomes was a one page business plan.
The first vision statement I wrote for my business was ‘helping councils to share their stories’. But then I wimped out and changed it to ‘helping councils to share their information in ways that people can understand and use’. I knew the change was a bit lame but the word ‘stories’ felt too fanciful.
I went to the Aspire conference last week (run by the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce) which had a theme of resilience. I was expecting a worthy but not necessarily entertaining day. So it was quite a surprise when the first speaker, Kyle Mulinder of Bare Kiwi, talked about the value of story in the videos he creates, and the importance of conveying emotion in his work.
The second speaker was John Palmer, who is the Chair of the Nelson Regional Development Agency. He talked about the work the agency is doing to build a clever, distinctive and high value regional identity that attracts visitors, investment and new residents so that Nelson doesn’t become “a large retirement village”.
Creating a vision, and stating what really makes us different from similar businesses, councils or regions is hard, as anyone who has been involved in crafting vision statements for their council will know! It’s something we all struggle with, but John talked about the practical value of doing this.
The third speaker was Jimmy Walsh, who is the International Growth Director at Beca. He talked about natural hazards and risk, and he made this topic into a memorable story by simplifying his message to three key risk factors (hazards, exposure and vulnerability) and asking questions that directly related this issue to the business audience.
I’ve come home and changed my vision back to ‘helping councils to share their stories’.
It might be hard to give yourself permission to think about your infrastructure strategies, financial strategies, long term plans and other documents as stories … but there’s real value in taking this risk so that people in our communities can relate to what we’re talking about.
As the scientist-turned-filmmaker Randy Olson says in Houston We Have a Narrative, "people can listen to a few facts but not many. After a while their narrative need kicks in. You can give a lecture that is pure information with no narrative structure, and a non-technical audience might be able to endure a half-hour or so before walking out, but that same audience will listen to hours and hours of good stories."
I’ve had to break through a fair bit of resistance lately, to create a video and write a magazine article. Both of these are good things to do to communicate with my current and potential clients, but I felt a HUGE amount of resistance to doing both of them.
The thing that helped me break through and get these jobs ticked off my list was a really simple structure outlined in ‘Houston We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story’, by Randy Olson.
I wanted to record a video about my work with asset managers … I had a script that worked in written form but when I tried recording it I realised it was way too detailed. I reduced it to its core using the ‘and, but, therefore’ (ABT) story structure recommended by Randy Olson and suddenly I could say what I needed to say, and even ad lib from the base content. You can see the difference between the written and verbal forms of the same message here.
AND the magazine article
Co-authoring a conference paper led to an opportunity to write an article for a magazine. It was a great opportunity so of course I said yes, but then it weighed heavily on my mind. I wanted to do it well, but I had no idea how.
I knew I was at high risk of getting lost in the details, and of boring anyone who wasn’t deeply interested in the potential conflicts between a number of New Zealand’s national policy statements in relation to stormwater management. Hmm!
Reducing screeds of information into a core message ended up being much easier than I expected, using the ABT structure.
This isn’t something just for writers, or just for people trying to promote their business.
Randy Olson wrote the book for scientists who need to share their complex information with lay audiences, and who are often frustrated by their audiences’ lack of comprehension and even boredom with the important findings they need to share.
Have you ever needed to introduce a report to your councillors, and struggled to give that summary in a concise, compelling way? I sure have. Sometimes it’s really hard to get inside the content and wrestle it into the shape of a story that people both relate to and remember.
Next time you need to engage with an audience about some aspect of your council work, try to create a simple message using the ABT structure.
Another great advantage of this structure is it seems to speed up the writing process, allowing you to tick that presentation or written document off your list far more quickly than you might imagine.
Let’s face it … infrastructure is a topic where people’s eyes tend to glaze over. And yet these can be really expensive things like a new water treatment plant or upgrades to the wastewater network, that they will have to pay for.
And around the council table, have you noticed that sometimes a tiny decision that is easy to understand gets more attention than a big one? I think this happens because it can be harder to understand the more technical information you deal with — and it can lead to big decisions being made without much informed debate.
Sharing complex information is difficult
Two of the reasons why plans can be difficult to communicate are:
How I can help you
I write documents in collaboration with my clients, combining your technical knowledge with my writing skills and environmental policy background. (You’ll still have to provide all the graphs and the financial info, because that’s definitely not my strength.)
An example of the service I provide is writing support for the completion of infrastructure strategies. This involves:
Free up your time
I can free up your time and enable you to deliver quality documents that your councillors and community understand.
If you would like to work together to deliver any of your plans or strategies, please feel welcome to phone or email me. My contact details are available here.
Alternatively, if it’s not something you need right now, but would like to keep this in mind for future reference, you may like to receive my email newsletter called 'Wading In'. You can either send me an email or sign up right here (see side bar).
One thing I miss about working in a council is being able to call the helpdesk whenever anything goes wrong with my computer. So when my Internet failed recently it took me a while to move from frustration to calm consideration of how I could apply resilience concepts to the situation.
I had been talking with a friend abut resilience just a few days beforehand. She gives presentations on this topic and one of her recommendations is to change your perspective.
“Learn to try the ‘180 game’. If you catch yourself labelling something as a ‘problem’, try to swing 180 degrees in the other direction and instead call it a ‘solution’, then really live from that solution perspective for a couple of days.”
Another friend talks about resilience as seeing the opportunities in constraints.
So, the Internet was down, and it was uncomfortable because this is an essential part of how I connect with my clients and the outside world generally. It felt quite isolating, even apart from worrying how I was going to email work to a client the next day.
The opportunity in this constraint turned out to be having absolutely no distractions from the work at hand. By the time I had a new modem, my urgent work was finished.
The Government’s NPS on Resilience (for managing significant risks from natural hazards) is due out at the end of next year. Here’s a link to the initial scoping report prepared by Tonkin + Taylor.
In the meantime, infrastructure strategies are being developed around the country and resilience to climate change and natural hazards is sure to be a key theme in almost all of them.
There’s a lot at stake when considering the future resilience of infrastructure assets, including public health, economic functioning of communities, environmental impacts, and the financial investment in existing assets. This makes it much harder to identify realistic opportunities to respond to future constraints associated with climate change and natural hazards.
However, infrastructure strategies are a great opportunity to play the ‘180 game’ and to seriously explore potential alternatives to the status quo.
Every Easter my mother sends us woolly socks for the South Island winter. In the past we have used them once or twice and then they somehow disappeared into the ecosystem of our house. I knew we had a lot of socks somewhere, but could never find any (especially pairs). So I would just keep buying more, and they would mysteriously go missing too.
Finally I bought a hamper just for socks, with a strict rule that only pairs can go in there. One week into the new regime it’s still full of paired socks that are easy to find. Long may this last!
Infrastructure strategies also need a good internal structure which clearly identifies the most important challenges facing a region over the next 30 years, paired with the proposed solutions (or options) for responding to them.
These strategies need to be easy to find by all council departments, as well as everyone else who has a role in commenting on, aligning with or implementing the proposed approaches. Otherwise there is a risk that a council’s infrastructure strategy will founder like an odd sock at the back of some dusty cupboard, only to be rediscovered every three years when a review is required.
From my personal experience of working on a couple of infrastructure strategies, I know that a huge amount of work goes into creating a coherent, forward thinking, strategy. It seems a real shame to waste that investment in long term thinking by forgetting about it in between reviews.
The Office of the Auditor-General said: “We continue to support the requirement for infrastructure strategies. As a means to focus on the areas where local authorities spend the most, we see infrastructure strategies as an integral part of LTPs. Strong infrastructure strategies give a credible and believable long term view of the issues and opportunities the local authority faces.”
Both the Office of the Auditor-General and the Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM) place a lot of emphasis on telling a story within the strategy.
“An infrastructure strategy (and financial strategy) are more than collections of information. It is the overall synthesis of the information into an overall story that provides the value for the reader.”
As a writer who helps councils to share their information, I wholeheartedly agree with this approach. But for all the people who are expressing their best ideas on how to tackle challenges such as increasing flood risk, ageing populations and networks, affordability, earthquakes, and investment in new infrastructure, I think it would help them to know their infrastructure strategy is going to be central to consequent work by the council and their consultants – whether that is in resource management plans, economic development strategies or asset management plans.
Unfortunately, the 2015 versions of these big picture infrastructure strategies tend to be buried at the back of Long Term Plans which can run to hundreds of pages, or published in the back alleys of websites, only findable if someone knows what they’re looking for.
If we are going to spend time thinking about these big challenges in an integrated way (which we have to do under the LGA 2002), why not make more of an effort to share what we come up with in a more upfront manner by actively promoting the complete infrastructure strategies — and not just the biggest issues that carry through to the LTP consultation document?
 Office of the Auditor-General, Matters Arising from the 2015-25 Local Authority Long Term Plans, page 47
 SOLGM, Dollars and Sense 2018, page 33.
Meetings are not everyone’s cup of tea … especially when you’re not being paid to be there! So what does this mean for the collaborative governance processes which are now an important part of freshwater planning around New Zealand?
There are people like my father who just want to plant the plants, weed, and trap pests. He doesn’t want to have to organise volunteer days, go to meetings, or fill out funding applications. Luckily he has an ex-school teacher friend who does all that for him.
Then there are people like me — self-employed and interested in environmental issues, who would like to contribute but can’t afford a lot of time away from their business to attend meetings.
The people who can, and want to, attend meetings are either paid to be there, have a personal stake in the outcome, or have the time available to meet. At the moment, these tend to be the only people involved in freshwater collaborative governance groups.
I recognise that face to face, kanohi ki te kanohi, discussions are really important for building trust and relationships and working through problematic issues. But I wonder if there is scope to broaden the invitation for involvement to other interested people in a catchment and wider community.
One way to do this would be to use a Facebook group. I recently participated in a Facebook challenge which included these potentially transferable elements:
The 'OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: New Zealand 2017' recognises the value of collaborative processes for securing support for reforms, raising awareness about water risks and costs, and increasing users' willingness to pay and to handle conflicts. However, the report (from pages 191-192) also states:
“… there are concerns that the New Zealand collaborative governance approach in some cases may minimise, or at least delay, change for the following reasons:
I lived in Hamilton for six years (four at university and two working as a journalist at the Hamilton Press) and I loved my time there. At first I missed the sea (after growing up near Waihi Beach), but I came to appreciate the Waikato River, the Hamilton Gardens and how easy it was to get around on a bike (no hills and much less wind than Waihi!)
The Waikato is rapidly growing in response to Auckland's population pressures and its proximity to that market place. A plan to set the region's course over the next 30 years has recently been released, and is open for submissions until 10 April.
Draft Waikato Plan
The Draft Waikato Plan is a collaboration between local government, Iwi/Maori, central government, the private and community sectors and the Waikato people.
On first glance, it looks like it should create significant efficiencies for councillors and staff in each of the participating councils, and save a lot of time for Iwi, central government agencies and other stakeholders who won't need to make submissions on similar issues in a whole lot of different plans.
Priorities and actions
The Waikato Plan includes these priorities and actions.
Priority 1: Planning for population change
1. Collaborate on a regional development strategy.
2. Identify the regional priorities for service and technical infrastructure.
3. Identify how central government services can be provided to match community need.
Priority 2: Connecting our communities through targeted investment
4. Advocate on behalf of regional transport priorities.
5. Integrate Auckland and Waikato transport networks.
6. Encourage development of a nationally significant cycling and walking experience.
7. Establish a freight and logistics action group.
Priority 3: Partnering with Iwi/Māori
8. Work collaboratively to develop and encourage enduring partnerships that enable Iwi/Māori aspirations to be achieved.
Priority 4: Addressing water allocation and quality
9. Develop the Waikato as a Waters Centre of Excellence.
Priority 5: Advancing regional and economic development
10. Assist in implementing the Waikato Economic Development Strategy (Waikato Means Business).
A Waikato Plan Leadership Group will be responsible for overseeing implementation of the 10 actions listed above. The Group will consist of representatives from:
An Independent Chair will either be appointed from the business/community members or as a separate appointment outside of any committee membership.
Waikato Regional Council will be the administration agency for the initial three-year implementation period. The implementation advice arrangements, contracts and budget administration will be run through Waikato Local Authority Shared Services Ltd, which is a council-controlled organisation.
Who wants to be the person to front up and tell Mr Bloggs he can't divert a stream that’s undermining his bridge, build a high fence for which he has already bought the timber, or put in a fireplace to heat his cold house? Not me.
I’m not suited to it — I avoid conflict situations wherever possible. But we all need the people who are prepared to deliver the unpalatable but important messages, and to take action against people who ignore environmental standards.
In ‘Last Line of Defence’ Marie Brown identifies a number of issues related to compliance, monitoring and enforcement in New Zealand, including the work carried out by councils. Here are nine issues councils face, and some potential solutions.
1. Different powers that apply under different legislation (bylaws are one example I have come across, where the enforcement powers are hugely variable). Here's a link to my earlier blog about how bylaw enforcement powers vary from strict to toothless.
2. Most environmental legislation does not provide councils with the ability to impose instant fines for lower level offences.
3. There is often no feedback loop between compliance monitoring and consent processes. Marie Brown’s suggestions include:
- incentivising compliance by reducing the number of ongoing site visits required where compliance is occurring
- being able to cancel resource consents (or refuse further consent applications) where non-compliance is serious or ongoing.
4. More than 40 councils have one or fewer than one FTE staff member to carry out their compliance, monitoring and enforcement responsibilities. Lack of time and resources for this work can result in lower quality investigations, and failed enforcement actions that waste time and ratepayer money. Marie Brown recommends:
- an accreditation system for compliance, monitoring and enforcement, similar to New Zealand’s building consent accreditation process
- access to a national or regional pool of expertise, for complex investigations.
5. Many councils don’t have a clear policy on how decisions about enforcement will be made, which can lead to an inconsistent approach. Marie Brown recommends that all local government agencies produce, and make publicly available, clear and up-to-date policies on environmental enforcement. She refers to Waikato Regional Council’s enforcement policy as a good example.
6. Councils are significant resource users on behalf of their communities, for example taking water for water supply services, and discharging stormwater into freshwater and coastal waters. They also carry out instream works for flood protection purposes. Where councils also have responsibility for monitoring and enforcing compliance of their own activities there is potential for perceived or actual conflicts of interest.
7. Limited information about enforcement actions is made available to the public, other than by local news agencies. Marie Brown suggests that “instances of public offending, particularly successful cases against offenders, can build valuable public support for the role of environmental enforcement agencies.”
8. IT infrastructure for tracking what enforcement action has been taken is essential. It is especially needed if the offender was only given a warning — to track whether compliance occurred in response to the warning. Small councils with limited resources can benefit from collaborating with other councils to commission the IT systems they need.
9. More independent auditing (for example by the Office of the Auditor-General) is needed, in the same way as occurs for other council functions such as the development of Long Term Plans. Marie Brown concludes with the following statement:
“What is abundantly clear is that CME [compliance, monitoring and enforcement] is the poor cousin of other stages of the policy and planning cycle, despite its vital importance to achieving the aspirations of law and policy. If law and policy is about behaviour change, then it must be recognised that the on-the-ground efforts of agencies to procure that behaviour change deserve greater focus and priority.”
I love the beginning of the year when everything seems possible. It feels like a clean slate to do things so much better than during that messy, overly busy year that's just finished!
Back in 2014, councils had to scramble to get their first ever 30 year infrastructure strategies together. There was very little time between the Government adopting the legislative requirement in August 2014 and the main points having to be ready for inclusion in the 2015 LTP consultation documents.
Councils were perfectly justified in deciding to take a ‘compliance only’ approach, given the tight time frames. In many cases the focus needed to be on getting the strategies over the line by ticking all the boxes of section 101B of the Local Government Act 2002, with a plan to do a much better job by 2018.
This was especially the case for the long-term strategic issues and assumptions included in the strategies. So, now it's time to pick up those 2015 documents and decide how to go about updating and rewriting these strategies, to meet that commitment.
Feedback from the Office of the Auditor-General
Sarah Lineman (Acting Assistant Auditor-General, Local Government) made the following comments in the January 2017 Perspectives magazine (page 14):
“Expect to see our auditors focusing slightly differently than they did in 2015, with an increased emphasis on the quality of, and explanation for, the assumptions used to build your strategies and forecasts. We will expect that highly uncertain assumptions — and their implications — will be clearly explained to your communities.
“We encourage councils to also think carefully this year about what you’ve learnt from previous LTP cycles and bring all these learnings to the 2018 round. We hope to see a real consolidation and improvement in key areas, such as financial and infrastructure strategies, and the presentation of consultation documents.”
Here are some suggestions for your review process.
At first glance, councils and Facebook may not seem like a happy mix. That was certainly the view of the Taxpayers' Union, which recently criticised councils for their spending on Facebook and Linkedin advertising.
So, is Facebook something to leave to family and friends, and small businesses? I don’t think so. There are lots of council topics that are very appealing to people.
Here are some great examples of council Facebook pages from around the country.
Auckland Council spends the most on social media advertising, at $187,870.
The Local Government Magazine (September 2016) reported they “developed a unique and humorous approach that delivered education and entertainment as well as official warnings and significantly increased its social media presence.”
At the time of the award the following for its Facebook page had grown from 800 to 13,400. It now has 18,858 fans! Here’s a link to this page - https://www.facebook.com/WaikatoCivilDefence/
There are lots of videos on the Southland Facebook page profiling the 2016 Southland Community Environment Awards nominees. The most prominent one has 1,700 views, and many of the others have between 2000 and 5000 views.
Here’s a link to the videos section of the Southland page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/environmentsouthland/videos
Types of posts that work well on Facebook
Some of the things that appeal to people on Facebook are: