What’s The Story?
Using modern tech to explore the past and decide our future together

This project was announced as winner of the Best Digital Service award at the ALGIM Web & Digital and Customer Experience conference, 10 September 2018.

Waipa District Council’s budget for the 10-Year Plan was shaping up with a big spend on heritage, so we need to make sure our community could see the value of our past, and feel part of the journey into the future.

“What’s The Story?” is a question that can be answered by many voices, and it was important to show that Council was listening.

We devised a tagline to underpin our tactics… Having this theme gave us a framework which made it simpler to decide where to focus.

Talking about historical events might not seem like a natural fit for a council, but we discovered a huge appetite within our community. The “What’s The Story?” campaign slotted in nicely between national discussions about how to commemorate the New Zealand Wars, and the simple fact that everyone loves #throwback.

Our “pre-engagement” phase meant planning for 12 months of content. This long run-up gave us the ability to set the scene and have conversations about the complex opportunities faced by the district.

As well as traditional comms channels, utilising technology provided a flexible and robust platform of engagement, where local stories and the dreams of our people would be front and centre.

Ok let’s talk about some cool shit first!

Virtual reality is an amazing conversation starter, and any time we took the goggles to a public event, it was sure to draw a crowd.

We commissioned a production company to film 360 degree drone footage. They captured a bird’s eye view of the three significant maunga of our district, so that people could put on the goggles and fly above these beautiful natural heritage sites.

They also filmed one of the main streets and overlaid it with an artist’s impression to demonstrate our proposed changes to the urban area.

(It looks cooler when you’re using the goggles.)

Being this high-tech did mean a steep learning curve for our team. Fortunately when you do hit technical difficulties, the old trick of “turn it off and on again” works a treat!

As well as the fancy hardware, we sourced low-cost cardboard goggles and used these as giveaways so our residents could access virtual reality at home, just with their smartphone. Check out our 360 videos here!

We built a standalone website as the central hub of our campaign. Every call to action pushed people to visit futurewaipa.co.nz. Everything in our hardcopy consultation document was on the site — plus all our video content, and more. The consultation phase of the website’s evolution is no longer live, but please get in touch if you’d like access.

On the website, you could use the rates calculator to see the impact on your rates bill. This functionality was a real talking-point and was accessed by 3,022 people.

You could see a real-time display of submissions so far…

And check out the direction that votes are swinging…

You could give your feedback with a quick react-button…

And, of course, write a full submission on any or all of the proposed projects!

The site was designed to be as user-friendly as possible, and to look gorgeous on any kind of device. It had more than 10,500 visits, and three-quarters of traffic was from a phone or tablet.

As well as the 360 footage, more conventional video was a huge component of our campaign. This 15-second teaser video gave an overview of the 10-Year Plan’s proposed projects and was used on social media channels and as a pre-roll ad on TVNZ’s on-demand video content.

“Who” and “where” were the biggest considerations when making videos. Who are we trying to reach and where are we going to find them.

To star in our videos, we shoulder-tapped a variety of local people, from a church minister to a barista, from a primary school to a rest home. For the first time, we created a bilingual video which used both English and Te Reo Māori. Diverse representation helped to show that Council’s future planning is relevant to anyone who calls Waipā home.

Figuring out “where” was much simpler… it had to be Facebook. Facebook is New Zealand’s most popular — well, pretty much anything!

The popularity of online video has grown hugely in recent years, and we made sure to take note of Facebook trends when creating our content:

Our audience uses their phone more than anything else, they don’t have the sound switched on, and they’ll scroll past in a flash if you don’t catch their attention.

We kept that small screen size at top of mind when editing, made sure there was plenty of on-screen text, and got straight to the point with no opening credits or intro logos.

We also used video to complement and expand what we were doing offline.

Our free heritage bus tours booked out in a flash, but we didn’t have resource to keeping running more of them. So we increased accessibility by filming the drive, using elements from the hosts’ script, and putting it up on our website for anyone to enjoy.

Another key learning was subtitles. If you’ve got voiceover audio, YouTube and Facebook will automatically put subtitles on and, thanks to the Kiwi accent, their subtitles will be wrong. It was a very awkward moment when I realised “Waipā” was being auto-transcribed as “white power”.

Video wasn’t the only thing happening on Facebook, we also did your run-of-the-mill posts, created listings for our community events, did polls, photos, and anything else we had time to share. Facebook gave us exceptional reach into our community without incurring the costs of traditional channels.

That said, as well as our organic content, we did also run an extensive advertising campaign on Facebook. We used geo-targeting and ‘lookalike’ profiling to focus on people who weren’t fans of our page, but are located in our area and would be affected by the decisions in the 10-Year Plan.

The flipside of pushing all this out there, is that people then want to talk back to you! It was the busiest and most engaged period for our page in its history, reaching more people than ever before with close to 11,000 interactions during consultation.

Our Comms team monitors the Council’s Facebook pages constantly, including evenings and weekends, and we made a huge effort to answer each and every question.

We made sure that other teams in Council realised we expected quick response from their subject matter experts, and got really good at saving pre-prepared responses for those questions that kept cropping up again and again.

So how effective was all this digital tomfoolery?

Pretty damn effective.

Council received more submissions than ever before. There were 820 written submissions — a 72% increase from the previous 10-Year Plan consultation. Nearly 80% of submissions were made online, demonstrating the value of the website.

We also collated 530 Facebook comments about our proposed projects or the budget for the 10-Year Plan. They were all supplied to Councillors for their consideration, along with the formal submissions.

It was encouraging to hear from staff that the submissions were of a high quality (well, most of them anyway!), providing informed feedback on the issues.

Most satisfying of all, each one of the six Council proposals 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. The 10-Year Plan document was signed off by Council with few changes from the draft version we’d consulted on.

So, that’s my story! To finish off, here’s another bit of behind-the-scenes action…