Who are they and how do you reach them?

In my last blog post I talked about how our proposed service design event for the community of Te Karaka was not a good fit for the people of the town. We decided that we needed to better understand how the community presently functioned, and the best way to get them involved in creating a growth strategy for their town.

On 22 May 2016 we met with Tu Ake Te Karaka Community Committee to co-design a human-centred design event, project, or strategy to suit the Te Karaka Community. …


Whangarei Town Basin (Credit: Nick Williamson)

Your elected members are there to represent your interests. But to do that, they need to show up at meetings.

Let me start with a full disclosure. From February 2009 until May 2014 I was a staff member at Whangarei District Council. As the person responsible for preparing the town plan for the district, I needed to attend a lot of council meetings.

These meetings are important, because this is the opportunity for elected councillors to provide direction to staff. They are also the forum in which all decisions are made, based on the information they are presented with. This decision-making authority is what you — the voters — have given your elected members.

Councillors make decisions that affect you…


Photo credit: Nick Williamson @mashmatix

How we’re looking after the participants at GovHack Whangarei

Free food is just one of the reasons to head along to your nearest #GovHackNZ event next month. Although it may be free, the saying “you get what you pay for” definitely doesn’t apply! At GovHack Whangarei we are going out of our way to source only the best food that the district has to offer, and we are using open data to do it.

Going on a data hunt

District councils are responsible for inspecting premises that prepare and sell food to the public. In the Whangarei district the council has passed a by-law that requires operators to display their food grade certificate on…


Litter. I’m neither enjoying, nor lovin’ it.

Litter really annoys me. It’s not just that it is environmentally damaging and a horrible eyesore. It’s not because it also highlights the presence of socially irresponsible people in my community. It annoys me because I’m constantly having to pick up other people’s litter from my lawn.

McDonald’s packaging, drink bottles, ice block sticks, and pie wrappers are the most prevalent. I began stockpiling the items I picked up to see how much litter was finding its way onto my lawn over the course of a month. I gave up after filling a 10 litre bucket full in just over…


Many town planners speak like they’re from another planet.

Dropping the jargon from my planning evidence on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan

There has been ongoing coverage on the topic of housing supply in Auckland and the effect of this on housing affordability. The government has recently announced a new National Policy Statement on Urban Housing Capacity in response to the growing concerns expressed by commentators and many an aspiring property owner.

While most town planning professionals have a view on what the solutions might be, their voices are seldom heard in mainstream media coverage on the topic. I know this causes much frustration in professional circles, but I believe that the professionals need to look at the way they communicate generally.

Say it how you mean it


Community resource mapping in Te Karaka

A story about problem definition

It’s been several months since writing my last blog on the Place-as-a-Service project, but a lot has happened during that time. Here’s a recap.

The local community group Tu Ake Te Karaka Community Committee had done a lot of work to develop a Community Plan for Te Karaka. Published in 2013, this plan reflected the community priorities for change over the next 10 years.

The Committee felt that it needed an economic development plan to set out ways in which the community may grow and prosper, so sought proposals for the development of such a plan. …


The zoning map from Whangarei District Council’s GIS viewer

My journey through the underworld of planning regulations

A few of my clients are specialist property professionals. They are either property developers, investors, agents, or brokers that spend a lot of their time trawling through town planning documents and property reports. By “a lot of their time”, I mean they do this practically every day. They are power users of the local council’s land information data. I was one of them, until I got totally pissed off with dealing with some of the more pedantic members of the planning industry. Since then I have spent most of my time interpreting local government data and communicating it to my…


In the third week of February 2014, I did something that has never before been attempted in local government anywhere in the world. Using the Google Ventures design sprint format, and a hyper-transparent approach to service design, we drafted a regulatory town plan in just five days. The whole event unfolded on Facebook, and you can still check out the page for the Kamo Place Race to see how it went.

What you are not able to see on that page is what the experience was like for the small council team that was heading into the complete unknown. I have shown this story to a few other local government innovators before, and every one of them has said this was exactly their experience as well.

Meet Rick, the city planning manager


My presentation to IPENZ Transport Conference, Auckland 2016

I have it on good authority that the average transport engineering conference is, … well, … fairly average. When I was first contacted by one of the IPENZ Transportation Group’s conference organisers (and former work colleague who shall remain nameless), he confessed that there were only so many presentations on roads and bridges that one could stand over two days of conferencing. My brief, should I choose to accept it, was to show transport engineers how the world is changing using shock and awe …

Hacking defined

I have spent a lot of time explaining the concept of ‘hacking’ to people who…


State Highway 2, somewhere between Gisborne & Opotiki

“Um, right, okay, cool. Have you been there yet?”

That was often the first reaction of people who had been to Te Karaka, immediately after telling them about this awesome project I am doing with this amazing community.

I won’t lie. That response was a little disconcerting as far as first reactions go. The matching expression on their face was usually a curious bemusement rather than indignation, which gave me the impression they thought I was a bit crazy. But that’s fine with me, because I probably am — in a good way.

I’ve also been to Las Vegas. Not just during the night time, which is what you…

Nick Williamson

Slightly mad #localgov innovator who likes going fast. Now reforming others with @GovHackNZ @GovWorksNZ #opengov #servicedesign #CivicTech #localgov #PlacEaaS

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