The Economist recently labelled New Zealand as an ideal digital testing ground, populated with ‘isolated technophiles’ who are always up for a challenge. It’s also seen as a hotbed of innovation and after attending the 10th ALGIM Web & Digital Symposium in Christchurch, I couldn’t agree more!

Here are some of the highlights from this 2-day conference:

1. A “Hack’n Mash” day ran before the conference, with 5 groups working on real-world problems, from mapping zones of drinking bylaws (“Where can I drink?”), to automatically logging customer requests by scraping social media with

2. Amelia Loye had some great examples for Designing Digital Democracy, including the social principles of:

  • getting involved in y(our) community
  • playing the long game (this stuff lasts beyond the elected term), and
  • encouraging active citizenship

It’s our goal to reach beyond those ‘takeholders’ on the soapbox.

3. Residents of New Plymouth have a tool to see the impact of major options in the long term financial plan on their rates on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis. Clearly showing the relationship between services and cost, it resulted in a record 170 online submissions from an overall total of 240.

4. A mobile fire permit solution saved Auckland City Council $74k. Officers used to spend 7 hours on-site and 2 hours in the office for each manually written permit. An 8-week agile, usability-focused project gave their staff the ability to issue and print permits from their vehicles on-site. They can now also conduct real-time searches.

5. The NZ Human Rights Commission had a fragmented online presence when Shawn Moodie joined them. With his salary as his social media budget, he consolidated pages and meticulously measured everything, even which arrow shapes are more likely to make people click on a link. He saw a 1500% increase in reach, social referrals and sentiment (measured with His advice: it’s about people, so focus on how to BE social, not just on DOing it.

6. Nick Williamson showed how Agile project techniques helped turn a town planning consultation into an event: the ‘Kamo Place Race’. Public comments were analysed to help drive dialogue in the next sprint. The result was a better framed, more accurate conversation before entering the rigid statutory process. He suggested we get ready for a future of planning submissions via YouTube, superimposed Virtual Reality on proposals and social media posts on neighbourhood maps. Check out Nick’s inspiring TEDx talk and disrupt or be disrupted!

7. #askWCC – Wellington City Council hold virtual ward meetings, taking them to where their audience is and at the times when social media channels are busiest. They went from drawing an average of 24 residents at 7 physical monthly ward meetings, to over 5700 Facebook views and 87 engaged in conversations (on Twitter too). And remember, creating a Facebook event invites all ‘likes’ automatically.

8. Wellington City Council’s took a mobile-first approach, which actually provided a better experience on mobile. The plan was broken down into 28 ideas, like a longer runway, new convention centre, etc. The audience maturity was surprising – moderation wasn’t necessary. The result was 68% support for the plan, with 7568 visitors (previously 3296) and 54195 pageviews (previously 4154).

9. ‘Let’s Get Engaged’ campaign. With an $80 online tool and 3 staff, they created in-house animations with their own voiceovers (including the mayor). The rates calculator was used 2,700 times! The low-bandwidth site used lots of SVG and no login – just a compulsory email, removing barriers. They took it to the people with iPads at markets, libraries, schools, and cafes, resulting in 480 submissions and 1500 video views. The post-event survey found 77% of people thought the submission process was easy.

10. The rise of the mobile consumer has been embraced by Tourism New Zealand. radar. David Brem highlighted that their visitors on phone/tablet are eclipsing those on desktop. Tourism NZ spend 80% of budget online and. They are moving from ‘pages’ (a template based publishing system) to a component-based publishing model. They’re single-minded about a page’s role and configure it accordingly. They use to study open data performance and his quote of the conference: “Each notable site optimisation is like a tap from which consumers pour.”

There was so much more at this conference, including networking with some really clever folks. If you can make the journey across the ditch in 2016, you won’t regret it!

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