At Social Pinpoint we love to engage with our colleagues about the creative methods they are using to engage with their communities and stakeholders. Last week Jess caught up with Janita Klein from Lake Macquarie City Council (Council) to discuss all things engagement and some of the recent projects she has been involved in through her role as External Stakeholder Relations Officer at Council.
Janita is dedicated to creating honest engagement and participation in all of Lake Macquarie City Council’s projects. At all stages of engagement projects, Janita thinks about what people are going to get out of the process and tries to find innovative ways to engage with communities. She believes that everyone deserves to have their say and participate in the planning and development of their local area. Janita loves getting out and visiting each of the unique communities around Lake Macquarie and chatting to the people about their visions for the City.
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In her role as Stakeholder Relations Officer, Janita oversees all of the community and stakeholder engagement projects in the Lake Macquarie local government area. She works with Council’s project teams to help them decide what they want to achieve and develop innovative methods on how to achieve it. Janita talks about some of the most important tools she uses in the engagement projects she works on:
Council has worked with Social Pinpoint to create online Interactive Maps to complement a number of their community engagement projects. They used the online map on a recent City visioning project to encourage people to share their creative ideas and lodge their burning issues at the local level. Now they are developing an interactive map to show people what is planned for their local area in the coming year.
Council has also used Virtual Reality on a number of projects to educate, inform and inspire ‘big picture’ thinking. Virtual Reality technology was used to engage with the community about planning for future flood and coastal risks. The use of virtual reality for this project was great way to demonstrate predicted flood level rise over time and it was fun for kids and adults alike. Council also uses social media and SMS surveys to engage with community members. Have Your Say Lake Mac is Council’s website dedicated to engaging the community. This creates consistency for the Council’s engagement brand and allows the community to access information and easily participate in projects.
Lake Macquarie is a really interesting City made up of small, diverse communities surrounding the lake. Each of these communities and suburbs are very different from each other and should be engaged in different ways. Janita believes in the importance of marketing in engagement projects and ensuring that a wide range of people are involved in each project. In order to gather a range of community input, is it important to tailor engagement and marketing strategies to a number of various stakeholder groups. Janita works together with Council’s marketing and graphic design teams to create an engagement ‘brand’ for each project, ensuring people engage with, and recognise the project and understand what the project is aiming to achieve. Council market their engagement projects on their website, through social media as well as using traditional media such as newspapers, letter drops and postcards.
In her experience Janita has found using incentives such as free coffee, ice cream or entering a prize draw really work to encourage people to get involved and have their say. During the Our Future in Focus engagement campaign, incentives were used to gather community ideas and input into a new Community Strategic Plan and how to focus Lake Macquarie’s City Vision and Community Values. Those who answered the survey were placed in a prize draw to win a Go Pro camera. This incentive really helped to get a wide range of people involved and having their say. Incentives don’t have to be expensive or elaborate, but just something to let the community know you appreciate their input and their time.
When asked for her take on what the future of the engagement profession looks like, Janita’s first message was that engagement practitioners need to be flexible in the way they engage with the community. Engagement practitioners need to think about the importance of the first 10 minutes of engaging with the community, how are you going to appeal to them and allow them to get involved in whichever way is easiest to them. Janita acknowledges that people are busy and may not have time to participate in lengthy surveys, and incorporates a ‘just one question’ campaign on some engagement projects. This strategy involves the community by asking patrons a series of quick survey questions at Council touch points across the City such as libraries and pools. this has been an effective way to reach those who interact with Council, but may not usually participate in consultations. In a recent project, they received more than 1,200 responses using this method.
Janita also believes that the future of engagement will be to embrace new technology such as location-based engagement and virtual reality to complement face-to-face and traditional methods of engagement. Engagement teams should also focus on involving marketing and communications specialists to help come up with innovative engagement methods to catch the community’s attention and interest in participating. Janita is also looking into how Lake Macquarie City Council can be using social media such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat to engage with a wider audience more effectively.
Janita’s advice for new engagement practitioners is “don’t be scared to give something a go” – even if it doesn’t work out, move on. Remember that all engagement projects and communities are different and what might work for some, might not work for others.
It was a pleasure talking with Janita about her role and gain an insight into Lake Macquarie City Council’s approach to community engagement. Watch this space for more in-depth case studies of the Council’s engagement projects.