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Temporary projects need special attention to communication and engagement because involvement and buy-in from a range of stakeholders are critical to their success.

Innovating Street projects should go beyond what is typical – aiming to be more proactive, inclusive, collaborative, and purposeful in their engagement with communities.

The role of communication and engagement

Children's hands placing item on a model village display.

Innovating Streets projects should be actively designed with the community. Workshop at the Auckland Co-design Lab.

It’s crucial in temporary projects to establish community needs before design begins – actively designing with the community as much as possible. This contrasts with the typical approach of seeking community feedback on a proposed design after it has been developed by a group of experts. Meaningfully engaging with a community from the outset helps increase the likelihood the interventions trialled are fit-for-purpose and can greatly improve buy-in over the duration of the project.

One reason to choose temporary techniques over normal project processes is that they enable ‘experiential’ engagement and consultation. Rather than just testing designs on paper, communities can interact with proposed street changes in real life in a low-stakes context that can be adapted.

This in-world testing of Innovating Streets projects places them in front of street users, helping address the challenges of generating awareness and response typically associated with engaging with communities on street design. This can lead to more diverse (and larger numbers) of people having an informed say – a key benefit as the diversity of people in silent majorities can be greater than in the groups who typically tend to speak up and be heard. Giving a platform to less-heard voices not only helps the more vocal and engaged sectors of the community appreciate the demographic diversity of local people who actually use streets, it ultimately enables councils to meet more of the local population’s needs.

What makes for effective communication and engagement?

Man writing on a blackboad

Actively inviting, enabling and supporting people to speak up will ensure your project is exposed to a wider range of perspectives. Credit: Palmerston North City Council.

A specific, well-thought-out communication and engagement plan for your project will ensure you talk to the right people at the right time. This planning should be done at the earliest stages of the project but, in the same way interventions on the street might be adapted during a trial, the plan for communication and engagement should allow for flexibility and adaptability over the course of the project.

Planning for communication and engagement on an Innovating Streets project should consider the following:

  • Ensure the voice of the project’s intended beneficiaries is heard from the beginning. Rather than the typical approach of consulting with a community on a proposed design after it has been developed, Innovating Streets projects should involve a reference group of community members from the outset. Innovating Streets projects aim to design with a community, not for
  • Make clear for everyone the outcomes the project seeks to deliver. An important part of your communication and engagement plan is stating upfront a broad vision articulating what your project seeks to achieve.
  • Explain how the changing streetscape is part of something bigger. Keep the public discourse focused on how your town or city will change the street to help achieve bigger goals such as reduced emissions, safety for kids, healthier families, more resilient local economy etc – rather than whether the street should change.
  • Set aspirations with communities, who are of course comprised of many different people with different points of view. For parts of our communities, it’s not obvious how enhancing streets as vibrant public spaces can help improve social connection, accessibility and generally support a better quality of life. This can especially be the case with speed reductions or the removal of parking spaces.
  • Be clear with communities what part they play in the wider process and how their input will be taken into consideration. It may even be beneficial to involve key community members in planning the engagement process itself – seeking their input into when and how their community can most meaningfully contribute and collaborate.
  • Plan for communication throughout the project. Community stakeholders will be more likely to maintain their engagement in a project if your communication and engagement plan is designed to maximise responsiveness throughout the project (eg providing regular updates by email), not just in the initial consultation phase.

Finally, when assembling your project team it is important to consider who will lead communication and engagement activity. This is a specialist area, not only in the planning phase but also throughout the project as messaging is carefully crafted and delivered to communicate the project’s innovations, experiments and outcomes. Having people on the team who can do this well helps to boost acceptance of the project and a wider appetite for change.

How can the Innovating Streets programme help my project?

Waka Kotahi is actively developing a support toolkit for project teams to assist them in delivering Innovating Streets projects. We understand not all project teams or organisations have the full breadth of expertise or resources to deliver all of the elements listed above, and intend to work with applicants to the Innovating Streets programme to identify what support would be most useful for them over the lifetime of their project.

How Waka Kotahi can support your project

Relevant case studies

Wharf Street dining precinct (Tauranga)

New outdoor dining spaces along Wharf Street

New outdoor dining spaces along Wharf Street. Credit: Tauranga City Council.

Tauranga Downtown Mainstreet (TDM), the local business association, and Wharf Street businesses, with support from Tauranga City Council (TCC), conducted a 12-month trial to convert Wharf Street into an outdoor dining precinct. The team wanted to increase the number of people visiting the area and transform Wharf Street from a typical, car-dominated street into a key connection to the waterfront with a pedestrian focus. The project was funded by business and property owners, TDM, and corporate sponsors, together with contributions from TCC. Regular meetings were held to keep Wharf Street businesses and property owners up to date, with other city centre businesses informed through weekly newsletters. A six-week launch programme was scheduled to engage the public and demonstrate how the street could be used as a pedestrian-friendly zone.

Pt Chevalier Play Street, Auckland

Children walking their bikes across a pedestrian crossing

‘Here comes the sun’ was a one-day ‘play street’ event held on Te Rā Road, outside the gate of Pt. Chevalier’s school. As well as delivering a community event, organisers used the closure to highlight problematic traffic behaviour and encourage the community to envision – and use – the road in new ways. Key success factors identified by organisers in the delivery of the event included strategic marketing and promotion, communication, local community engagement, and ability to leverage transport agency support. Feedback from event attendees showed that many felt they had experienced a highly significant and remarkable event.