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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
‘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.