A Decade of Digital Engagement: Blue Mountains City Council

In the latest addition to its EngagementHQ platform, Blue Mountains City Council has created a dedicated space for young residents to have their say.

Kids Say launched in June as a permanent feature on Blue Mountains Have Your Say and is already proving popular on a platform that launched a decade ago.

Communications Officer Mikaela Sherlock says the request to formally include younger voices in decision-making arose when Council was planning its Kids Street Library project earlier this year.

“Council’s Children and Youth Team wanted a space where kids aged 5 to 12 years could have their say like adults and influence outcomes. They were keen for local kids to have the opportunity to have input into specific projects, as well as a space available to them year-round to share thoughts and opinions,” Mikaela says.

The Kids Street Library provided the first project-specific opportunity. The online engagement initiative used EngagementHQ’s mapping and survey tools, news feed, brainstormer, and forum.

“The kids submitted lots of ideas and drawings, and their input will now absolutely influence where street libraries are ultimately established.”

While the Kids Street Libraries engagement has closed (outcomes pending), a Conversation Corner has remained on the platform where children can share thoughts about things important to them in their community, whenever they want to.

“Kids Say has been well received by parents of young children who have a lot to share with us! Our staff members are also pleased with the outcome.”

To ensure children’s privacy is protected, participating children needed parental permission (via a “permission slip”), and while they use their first name to interact with the site, a parent or guardian’s email is submitted as contact details.

Council is now also looking at a similar space for kids aged 13 to 17.

Building on the Funbobulator

It’s not the first time Blue Mountains City Council has found fun and interesting ways to connect with young residents.

Earlier this year, Council borrowed a successful idea from Wagga Wagga City Council, which re-named EngagementHQ’s Budget Allocator the ‘Funbobulator’ and helped children use it to help make decisions about their favorite parks (along with their parents and other community members).

“We saw how well it worked for Wagga Wagga and were keen to try something similar with our own projects,” Mikaela says. “We’ve used it twice to select play equipment for major park projects and it has been a major hit.”

That first project, in Glenbrook District Park, received more than 600 responses. As a result, Council will later this year install a flying fox, built-in trampolines, a climbing tower, and monkey bars – all in response to community feedback.

For the Buttenshaw Park project, almost 500 children and adults used the Funbobulator to vote for equipment, resulting in proposed designs that feature a pump track, a one-of-a-kind climbing structure, a giant group swing, and a two-person spinner.

children playing in a park, community engagement

Changing the way the platform is used

Mikaela says the way Council has used EngagementHQ has changed and grown over the past few years.

“We’ve always used the more interactive options as they become available to us, like the Places Tool. We’ve used this for a number of highly successful projects, including two that are almost completely driven by our community.”

One of those is an initiative where locals can nominate to coordinate community-based compost hubs. These “Compost Champions” gather at least four other compost contributors and place a pin on a map where the hub will be located. They then receive a free compost bin, plus kitchen caddies for contributors. So far, almost 300 people have signed up.

Mikaela says Council’s most successful online engagement was this year’s Fauna Project, where residents were asked to record animal sightings through an interactive map on Blue Mountains Have Your Say. They were able to drop pins on the map and include details, photos, and videos. Ninety-four people took the opportunity to participate, placing more than 400 pins.

“Through the platform, more than 450 different species, including 51 threatened species, were recorded in the Blue Mountains local government area. This data is incredibly useful, now and into the future as we assess how we can continue to protect our unique biodiversity.”

‘Have Your Say’ has meaning in the community

After a decade of continuous online engagement, Mikaela says staff and the Blue Mountains community know the phrase “Have Your Say” means “our community engagement platform”.

Locals have embraced the platform over the years, with a strong interest in topics including green bins, dog off-leash areas, open space and recreation strategy, local environmental plan, and town master plans.

For Mikaela, the support provided by Bang The Table was a key factor in Blue Mountains choosing – and staying with – EngagementHQ.

“As well as the 24/7 moderation and support, Bang The Table offers a range of engagement tools and resources, as well as hosting on external servers and software upgrades, and the inclusion of new tools, resources, and functionality at no extra cost on a quarterly basis.”

“The journey has been incredible. I came on board in 2013 and have been managing the platform for Council since. I feel like every help request, suggestion etc. has been handled professionally and it’s been exciting to watch the platform grow as a result of feedback provided.”

A recent change has been the seamless integration of the corporate website header and footer into the Blue Mountains Have Your Say site, to help provide a more fluid user experience for the community and customers.

Looking forward

“Australians are deeply embracing evolving technologies,” Mikaela says. “Future advances in areas such as data, the internet of things, virtual reality, e-health, social engagement, automation, and smart cities will provide great opportunities for us.

“We’re working on our digitalization approach and implementing the right digital tools, so over the next 10 years we can remain responsive to an ever-changing world.”

Mikaela’s tip for councils embarking on the digital engagement journey?

“Do it. You won’t look back.”

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