A Decade of Digital Engagement: Tweed Shire Council, New South Wales

Over the past decade, Tweed Shire Council has increasingly used EngagementHQ to help the organization partner with the community and build trust through Your Say Tweed.

When Council first signed on with EngagementHQ 10 years ago, online engagement was in its infancy, and the team initially used the platform on a project-by-project basis.

Council’s Manager of Communications and Customer Experience, Tiffany Stoddart, says Engagement HQ was one of the first digital engagement platforms on the market and offered a variety of tools that could be adapted to suit the needs of a project.

“The team at the time found it an affordable self-managed solution that didn’t require coding experience to manage content,” she says.

What started as a “toe in the water” test-and-learn approach grew in 2014, when Council expanded EngagementHQ into an enterprise solution to complement its digital strategies online customer solutions.

The Your Say Tweed platform was re-launched and has since seen a 67.5% increase in online engagement levels (compared to the first five years).

Divergent opinions increase engagement

A significant jump in online engagement occurred in 2015 during the Residential Bulk Waste Collection survey, which ultimately changed how Council delivers its bulk waste service to residential customers.

Tiffany says the topic sparked extensive debate and saw 823 survey contributions and 798 new registrations to Your Say Tweed.

“The potential widespread personal impacts of the project helped drive community participation and the divergent opinions made it even more important for individuals to add their voice to the consultation,” she says.

“As a result of feedback, Council changed its bulk waste collection from two scheduled household kerbside pick-ups a year to two annual pick-ups at a time that suits residents.”

Tiffany says the projects that tend to attract the highest levels of engagement are those that are hyper-local or attract divergent opinions. Hot topics over the years have included the introduction of signage at shire entrances denoting the area as “coal seam gas-free” and engagements involving parks and open space.

While digital engagement has increased, Council has also continued to offer a suite of traditional and face-to-face engagement options to ensure locals have the opportunity to have their say at a time and place that suits them.

Maximizing value through EngagementHQ tools

Council’s Program Lead Community Engagement and Special Projects, Shannon Carruth, says the most used features on the platform have been the forum tool, document library, engagement lifecycle and survey tool.

Digital engagement options have become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Council is continuing to respond to the challenge to find safe and effective ways to partner with the community.

“We’re increasingly making efforts to replicate all in-person engagements online,” Shannon says.

“We want to make sure that, no matter which way the community chooses to engage, they have equal opportunities to learn, understand what other members of the community are saying, and have their say.”

As such, there’s growing use of the mapping tool, video and photo widgets, ideas and story tools, and Council is considering introducing other tools such as participatory budgeting.

Meanwhile, Council is using auto-notifications to improve the user experience and is building community trust and awareness through more regular e-newsletters from the EngagementHQ platform.

Your Say Tweed branding has also improved in recent years. There are now project page templates and standard processes to support a consistent and polished user experience.

Data to support community-led decisions

Thanks to EngagementHQ’s reporting tools, data analysis has become more valuable than ever for Council.

“The data makes it easy for Council officers to review and make sense of feedback and input provided through Your Say Tweed. These insights are included in Council reports to ensure the community’s voice is formally heard in decision-making,” Shannon says.

Your Say Tweed

A dedicated engagement lead

As a dedicated engagement lead, Shannon is driving increased site registrations across an even broader range of community demographics. She’s stimulating engagement through formal and informal consultations and raising public awareness about the opportunities available through the digital engagement platform.

“We want Your Say Tweed to become a more universally recognized tool for how the community can influence decision-making at a time and place that suits them.

“Tweed Shire Council looks forward to the continuous improvement of the EngagementHQ platform so we can continue to add value to our engagement program and provide our community with meaningful ways to have their say.”

Shannon’s advice to new EngagementHQ Users

“It’s not a case of ‘build it and they will come’. It’s a value exchange.”

Shannon says you must always:

  • be proactive in driving traffic to your site
  • provide meaningful and engaging ways for the community to learn more and have their say when they are on the site
  • work on building a deeper relationship with participants by staying in regular contact
  • be responsive to questions and demonstrate how you are acting on their feedback.

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