“Looking after around 860,000 customers across the state, we needed a way to touch those people and connect with them, and this provided us with an opportunity to do so.” Jessica Vonthehoff, Manager Stakeholder Engagement & Communications, SA Power Networks
SA Power Networks, the sole electricity distributor in South Australia, serves the energy needs of around 900,000 customers over a vast and diverse region. Being a monopoly business, SA Power Networks is required to engage with customers as per the regulators in the sector. Conversations through various channels were already in place. But extending these conversations into a comprehensive engagement program unearthed new value for customers, stakeholders and business alike.
SA Power Networks’ 2020 Reset Customer Engagement Program, initiated in 2017, took a progressive, phased route to activating and sustaining dialogue. Talking Power, the dedicated online engagement space for the program, continues to play a vital role in connecting a broad set of stakeholder and customer communities to talk about planning and managing the state’s electricity network for the 2020-2025 period.
Sparking Vital Conversations Through Engagement
Regulatory expectations for engagement underline the need for service providers to address the shifting currents around customers in the sector and region. Driven by new technologies and changing patterns of energy usage and generation, customer expectations around energy in South Australia continue to evolve.
In addition to speaking to regulatory requirements, engagement planners at SA Power Networks recognized how community engagement could help ensure that the business’ plans for the future were in alignment with the needs of the community and stakeholders in the space. Beyond compliance, community engagement spoke to good business practice.
For instance, one of the challenges for SA Power Networks was getting people interested in talking about electricity distribution when a lot of the community didn’t quite understand how the industry worked or the role that SA Power Networks played in the space. But this became an opportunity to help customers to get to know the business, and in doing so, enabling the business to get to know their customer community and stakeholders.
For the community, engagement meant being able to connect with their service provider and the broader network of customers across the region. In being seen and heard, business, community, and stakeholders could equip themselves and each other with the information and insights that could add a new dimension to their relationship. Given how communication is vital to fostering trust, community engagement offered a way to give and receive information for a clearer mutual understanding of the priorities and issues at hand.
SA Power Networks’ vast and distributed customer and stakeholder community compelled a mix of offline and online engagement activities. Workshops and interactions with a Customer Consultative Panel and reference groups continue to include consumer and customer advocates from a wide range of specialist stakeholder interests. The renewables group, for instance, looked at the integration of solar energy, batteries, and related technologies. The arborists reference group addresses issues on vegetation around power lines, and so on.
Even as offline engagement activities generated an array of insights, the comprehensive program aimed for broad engagement with the customer community. In addition, there was also the untapped potential of deepening engagement with specialist stakeholders. Digital engagement provided a way to break through barriers and generate state-wide engagement. Talking Power was born from the need to connect with this diverse community and build capacity and seek input from a broad range of customers across the state.
How Did Talking Power Unlock Value?
As a one-stop hub for the sizeable volume of reference materials that were created for the engagement, Talking Power became a centralized point of information for offline and online participants. Digital engagement provided unique opportunities for the use of video and interactive capabilities. Information could be reimagined and repackaged to be more accessible and digestible, rather than limit itself to the traditional blocks of text typical of information resources.
As the go-to online space for the program, the site served offline participants in deepening their engagement and, as a dedicated online space for participation, took the dialogue out to the wider community. Reference group members could, for instance, log in to a private page created for them, and join a forum for in-group discussions. They could access workshop materials, project resources and confidential materials, for instance, and contribute further online.
For online participants, Talking Power tapped into polls, maps, surveys, public forums, and newsletters. The themes reflected offline engagement, and topics were kept consistent to help maintain continuity. Engagement planners note that the feedback captured across offline and online engagement tended to be aligned.
In closing the loop, engagement planners published program reports and related resources to bring transparency to the process.
One of the key lessons for the engagement team was around community and stakeholder expectations and delineating the scope of engagement. Participant expectations compelled some flexibility and adaptability for planners, but these extensions, even as they were enabled by the team’s responsiveness, pointed to the need to have scopes outlined at the onset.
Tune in to find out how SA Power Networks took the community and the business on a journey together.