WasteMINZ: Combining digital hui and EngagementHQ

Elliot Sim, Business Development and Practice Lead – New Zealand, examines how WasteMINZ conducted national hui in a purely digital fashion after plans to host in-person meetings were thwarted by COVID-19.

The numbers at a glance

  • 67+ stakeholders
  • 27 individual phone interviews with contractors and processors
  • 11 regional hui with 67 councils invited, their contractors, and elected councilors

Project performance

  • Engagement success: 139 attended the 11 online hui (meetings)
  • 80% of councils were represented
  • EngagementHQ private project page had 120 participants with 110 (92%) engaging in articles and discussions and 58% actively participating in discussions or contributing ideas
  • Survey (via EngagementHQ project page) was sent to all councils throughout New Zealand and completed by 37 local authorities (55% of councils), representing 76% of the population
survey

Initially planning a series of in-person regional hui (meetings) throughout New Zealand, WasteMINZ changed its approach to a purely digital one in the face of a global pandemic.

WasteMINZ is the largest representative body of the waste, resource recovery, and contaminated land management sectors in New Zealand. The membership-based organization has over 1,500 members—from small operators through to councils and large companies.

WasteMINZ works closely and collaboratively with industry partners, the Ministry for the Environment, other government agencies, and local governments on advancing waste and contaminated land management issues.

As the authoritative voice on waste, resource recovery, and contaminated land in New Zealand, it was responsible for a project initiated by the Ministry for the Environment and which built upon some work already completed by the organization. The Standardising Kerbside Collection in Aotearoa project sought to get agreement on what kinds of recycling should be collected at the nation’s kerbsides.

The recommendations provided in WasteMINZ’s final report would be broadly divided into two: recommendations for the standardization of materials collected through domestic kerbside recycling, and recommendations for best practice collection systems to reduce residual waste to landfills and improve recyclable material quality.

Engaging stakeholders during a time of uncertainty 

The three-month project had only a six-week window for consultation and, of course, project planning was in full swing at the moment that the Covid-19 pandemic began to restrict movements—a national lockdown was inevitable.

“Some councils were already having restrictions placed on them and we realised that even if we had had face-to-face meetings we needed another tool to allow for discussion and input beyond each regional meeting. This became even more important when we moved the hui to an online format,” WasteMINZ sector projects manager Sarah Pritchett says.

“I think that, in a way, Covid-19 was on our side because it meant that people were working from home and some of them had more time than usual.” 

Both Sarah and project partner, environmental consultant Sunshine Yates, found success and increased participation through using EngagementHQ as the project’s engagement site. Sarah says the Covid-19 pandemic was not the reason but a catalyst for the realization that a digital platform provides a holistic engagement approach, regardless of whether face-to-face interactions are possible.

Sarah found the setup of the private project page to be “really intuitive.”

“The team at Bang the Table was really responsive to all of my queries and the setup was very smooth.”

Inter-regional conversations in a digital setting 

WasteMINZ needed to engage with the 67 Councils, their contractors, and on-shore processes with just over two weeks to conduct the regional hui in 11 regions.

The hui or meetings had several different purposes and levels of engagement. Some aspects were merely presenting decisions which had been made such as agreement on bin lid colors to differentiate between recycling, rubbish and organics, and signage. For the standardization of recycling materials, WasteMINZ was presenting what the recyclers had agreed to and getting feedback from the councils with the aim of reaching agreement from them.

For a  more “controversial proposition” about collection systems, WasteMINZ aimed to get the pros and cons of each system while identifying through its own desktop research and conversations with processes, which system produces the best quality recyclate and the least amount of contamination.  

Sarah says it would have been really difficult to have physically held each regional hui because that involved traversing the length and width of the country in a 2.5 week period. 

“With the travel time between each one, it would have been nearly impossible to try and digest the information we were getting and actually do something useful with it.”

Regional hui were set up on Zoom and promoted on WasteMINZ’s EngagementHQ private project page. An existing database was uploaded to WasteMINZ’s database (within the platform), with automatic invites going to hui attendees who would first complete their registration to sign up for the project.

At each hui, both Sarah and Sunshine introduced the participants to the project page and explained clearly how it would feature throughout the discussion. Each hui was three hours long, which Sarah says felt quite short considering the complexity of the topic they were all trying to tackle.

“At various parts throughout the hui, we would introduce a new EngagementHQ tool that we wanted participants to use. They would post stories of successful things happening in their respective areas, and we would post news items as they evolved and developed more thinking around the project. People would also share an idea using the Ideas tool,” Sarah says. 

Participant adoption of digital hui

Sarah says the response to the digital hui was varied, with some diving straight into providing feedback via EngagementHQ and others taking a few days to reflect after the hui. 

“Some people would respond to one of our many newsletters which alerted people [in the EngagementHQ database] to what was new on the project site.” 

“What was great was some people who were not able to make the hui, were quite active on our project page—they hadn’t been part of discussions but were able to participate using one of the tools.”

Participants who could not attend the hui had access to a wealth of information and video recordings of discussions as well as additional uploaded documents. Sarah believes this was a real strength of digital engagement during an uncertain time.

“It’s always difficult to engage with 67 different councils who have got really heavy workloads and they’ve got their own local issues that they’re dealing with,” Sarah says. 

Gathering community input with an online platform

The Forums tool, deployed to unpack key project themes and straw man options, proved to be “A really useful tool that led to a lot of discussion between different regions,” Sarah says.

forum

This allowed for an open and transparent cross-regional conversation about collection systems. The forums highlighted how regional collection systems varied due to topography, weather conditions, and transport routes. 

“We originally planned for the project page to be clean for each hui, but then we realisedorganization that it was actually useful to have the conversations and carry those conversations on, across regions and for an extended period,” Sarah says.

“Some participants were really active, others read things and some would ask a lot of questions or share their opinions. Some preferred to talk…In the end, we fed into the survey some of the discussion points that came up in the forums.”

If there was an interesting point made by participants in the forums which generated a lot of discussions, the project team would do some more research on that issue and explore the idea. 

This meant WasteMINZ would sometimes alter the original list of recycling materials with additional research backing up the change.

Polls were also deployed to test certain propositions, entice people to contribute, and stoke rigorous debate.

Making sense of qualitative feedback and the final report

The final report to the Environment Minister was informed by a previous literature review and the successful regional hui conducted by WasteMINZ.  

The qualitative data (written feedback) was used to assess the straw man options that had been presented at the hui and see whether the options were viable.

“It [the data] showed that people preferred their own systems. But it’s good to know the pros and cons of the crate-based system and wheelie bins,” Sarah says.

“We were able to tweak the standardized list of recycling materials by using some of the forum qualitative data that had created a lot of discussion. What was especially helpful was to screenshot everything for the final report and refer to it as we couldn’t always take notes.”

The organization made it clear from the beginning of the process that it was not telling all councils that they must have a particular collection system. And it was also obvious that if there was a particular system that created the best quality recyclate and least amount of contamination, it wasn’t going to suit every council. 

“And we heard that really strongly. We thought if we came out with the recommendation for a specific collection method there would be a lot of backlash and we didn’t want it to be an antagonistic process. 

“We wanted everyone to know that we listened to them, while still highlighting which system produced the best quality recyclate, but acknowledging that there are other issues that need to be taken into account that we didn’t know at the beginning of the process,” Sarah says.

A report was presented to the Minister for the Environment in May 2020 and is publicly available online.

“It was received really well by the Minister and she (at the time of the project) was keen to progress all of the topics that were raised in it,” Sarah says. 

Since a change of government and the minister holding the portfolio, the recommendations in the final report have been put on hold.

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