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Most of us are accustomed to living and working in streets which are car focussed and where walkability, bikeability, accessibility and amenity have historically featured less.

This means that parts of our communities may not readily understand how streets as vibrant public spaces can help with social connections, access and support a better quality of life. This can especially be the case with the removal of parking spaces or speed reductions.

So the way we communicate our innovations and experiments, and undertake engagement, is vital. Messages need to be carefully crafted and delivered accurately by everyone involved with the project, to help boost acceptance and appetite for change.

Temporary projects have different needs and focuses when it comes to communication and engagement, especially during delivery as the project’s time period will likely be short.

A few pieces of communications advice to consider:

  • Explain how your changing streetscape is part of something bigger, and what the vision of your project is. Tying it to ongoing innovative changes across your city or suburb will help to give it context (and if it’s a relatively low-cost project, this could put its cost in perspective). Keep the public discourse focused on how your town or city will change the street to help achieve its bigger goal – reduced emissions, safer children, healthier families, more resilient local economy etc – rather than whether the street will change.
  • Clearly own the fact that it’s a live (but considered) experiment. Communicate about results, in real time as much as possible. This helps to:
    • reduce the number of people who confuse perception and reality (e.g. ‘no one’s using it!(external link)’)
    • emphasise the fact that this is a live experiment, with data coming in from many sources about the dynamic and complex environment of a street
    • increase the sense of participation and thereby ownership: ‘I was part of the development of this’ (even just by seeing data or reports from an activation event that they attended)

In the conception and design stages of your project, seek input from a range of people rather than just those you know are likely to have opinions, or who would normally be deemed ‘affected’. Consider creating a formal structure (which can be light, like a basic Memorandum of Understanding) for the partnership with stakeholders or partner groups representing your intended beneficiaries. This will carry over into the delivery and evaluation phases. Communicate regularly about the fact that this wider range of people is involved and giving input.

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Engaging on Innovating Streets projects

One of the main benefits of using temporary techniques in streetscape change is the opportunity for quality community engagement which helps to boost social licence for street changes.

Temporary techniques enable people to experience the changes in real life, but in a low-stakes context that can be adapted. This means:

  • members of the public who are worried about how the innovation will work for their particular location (eg a driveway) don’t feel they need to hold out until a perfect design is agreed pre-installation
  • technical specialists (eg urban designers) can get rich information on how an innovation works in practice before recommending or committing to it
  • both council and community members can discuss and consider tweaks to the installation in a transparent way, in the context of others’ reactions to the installation
  • communities’ have time to reflect on their initial reactions to any changes before making a decision on whether it’s ‘working’ or not

Small tweaks that do no harm and provide some improvement can be addressed quickly in a low-fuss way without becoming bigger issues than they deserve. There are many different ways to use temporary techniques in a project; they needn’t be the core of the whole undertaking.

Below are some points specifically related to engaging with the public on temporary and innovating street projects. Some of these may be business as usual for your organisation but should be considered in the context of this different type of project.

  • For the delivery organisation, being seen to be learning and responding is an important complementary element to the actual learning your organisation does
    • For everything other than very short (eg 24-hour) pop-ups, consider a dedicated project phone number and person to troubleshoot the installation with rapid-response tweaks where appropriate
    • Record both the requests that didn’t result in an installation change, and those that did. Both are important to communicate
    • Where possible, report findings as they happen (eg reduced vehicle speeds or increased pedestrian numbers). This allows a direct connection between the people using the site, the project, and the change you’re trying to achieve
  • A useful way to diversify feedback is by getting the stakeholder or partner groups with whom you designed the project (eg those representing your intended beneficiaries) to go out through their networks to get more people experiencing and giving feedback
  • Activation events are a great way to get lots of different parts of a community experiencing a street change, and seeing how it works for them, and giving feedback. All the while, seeing lots of others doing the same, and seeing the project receiving that feedback. Read more on activation events.
  • Bring in the community and use non-council voices to support your work as much as possible. This could be community groups, retailers, schools, playgroups, local elder people’s groups etc. Actively encourage and support them to speak out about how the innovation is changing things for them, what they would like, or at least that they support the intent and the approach of the innovation. This can allow you to share information:
    • that while the tested installation itself may be a ‘failure’, there is support for the intention to improve the street and tolerance of the disruption involved with finding the right improvements
    • to appreciate the demographic diversity of people who actually use streets (or deserve to), versus the demographics of those who traditionally give feedback
    • to see a wider range of perspectives on a street change to be aired than is normally the case, because people from the ‘silent majorities’ are being actively invited and supported to speak up.

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Case studies of good communications

We are developing a set of illustrative case studies demonstrating good communication for temporary projects.

If you have insights to contribute, or you’d like to talk to someone further about the communications for your innovation, please email us at innovatingstreets@nzta.govt.nz and someone will be in touch.

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