Communication and Engagement Forum

This annual two day forum aims to bring those who work in the challenging field of local government communications and engagement together to share knowledge, recognise innovation and develop professional knowledge and skills. This year’s programme is a mix of sessions that focus on communications and engagement challenges for the sector and for local authorities, sessions that showcase some of the great stories in the sector, and table top discussions that provide an opportunity for sharing.

  • 13 Nov - 14 Nov
  • Rydges Hotel, Queenstown
  • 9.00 am - 5.00 pm
  • $805.00 excl. GST. for members
  • $925.00 excl. GST. for non-members
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This event is a ‘reimagining’ of the Communications Forum for an era when engagement is more statute-enabled than process-driven.

This year’s event begins with one of the biggest strategic challenges facing the sector, declining engagement in the local electoral process and a sector response. The session begins with a reflection on the lessons learned from the Vote 2016 campaign, and the experiences from Auckland Council’s ‘Love Auckland’ electoral engagement.

The increasing frequency and severity of adverse weather events is becoming a fact of life, and with them comes a greater frequency of emergencies. Michele Pool will talk about the swapping of hats that occurs as communities move from response to recovery.

There’s a strong engagement thread running through the Forum, with five great stories from across the engagement spectrum. Bay of Plenty Region will present on the opportunities and challenges of co-governance and the role of communications. The winner of the 2017 McGredy Winder SOLGM Excellence Awards (Waimakariri) will present their winning engagement on the Draft Residential Red Zone Recovery Plan. And we’ll hear other engaging stories (pardon the pun) from Waipa, Rotorua and Palmerston North.

Who should attend:

  • All local government communications and public affairs managers, advisors and officers
  • All local government managers and staff with responsibilities for conducting or supporting community engagement

Photo credit Cathy Batchelor.

Monday 13 November 2017

9.00 am Registration Tea, Coffee and Muffins available from this time

10.00 am Welcome and Icebreaker Raymond Horan, Manager Sector Improvement, SOLGM

10.15 am Vote 2016 Helen Mexted, Local Government New Zealand

By 13 November, election day 2019 will be 699 days away and Local Government New Zealand and SOLGM are thinking about the national programme of electoral engagement. To begin the Forum we start with the Vote 2016 campaign, its objectives, achievements and what’s been learnt for 2019.

11.00 am Love Auckland: The 2016 Auckland Council Election Engagement Karl Ferguson and Katie Watson, Auckland Council

Auckland Council had been experiencing a long-term decline in voter turnout. Auckland Council’s election team was asked to create an innovative and exciting campaign to turn this around. The campaign, evidence-based mix of building awareness, community engagement and strategies to make voting more accessible, has made a difference, particularly in its attracting younger voters.

11.45 am Table Top: Electoral Engagement At your tables

What awareness and engagement does your local authority undertake in the pre-election period?

As communications and engagement professionals, what advice would you give Local Government New Zealand and SOLGM as they prepare for the 2019 elections campaign?

12.15 pm Wander Outside and Look at the Remarkables Break (Lunch)

12.55 pm Show and tell time At your tables

To get you moving around in the post-lunch period please come prepared with a 2-3 minute anecdote of something you’re proud of, want to share or want to ask advice on. You’ll get time to share with your table buddies and with others.

Note: The Chair may pick one or two people at random to share with the audience as a whole.

1.25 pm Be informed, get involved: innovative community engagement Anthony Sidwell, Product Manager, Datacom Local Government Solutions

On a daily basis, people are swamped with information through social media, websites and electronic newsletters that may not be relevant to them. With a greater need to seek new ways to reach and engage with communities, this session looks at some strategies for tackling these challenges and how Datacom is helping councils to effectively inform and engage their communities through innovative solutions

1.55 pm Internal communication – from ghastly to great Elizabeth Hughes, Director, Strategy & Communication

Modern, innovative internal communication practice is as much about ‘processes’, as it is about ‘products’. This presentation provides insight into what successful organisations are doing to achieve great internal communication and includes case studies, practical tips and some quick wins. The role of the communication practitioner is also discussed.

2.45 pm Māori responsiveness - how are councils balancing legislative responsibilities? Kataraina O'Brien, Strategic Engagement Manager, & Fiona McTavish, General Manager Strategy and Science, Toi Moana Bay of Plenty Regional Council
This presentation will look at various engagement processes within a planning context. A range of case studies will be presented with a particular focus on Māori Engagement, including the dynamics of Treaty co-governance relationships and navigating Te Mana Whakahono a Rohe – Iwi Participation Agreements under the Resource Management Act.

3.30 pm Cellphone Clearance Break (Afternoon Tea)

3.50 pm Swapping Hats: The Swift Step from Council Communication to Public Information Management Before and After an Emergency. Michele Poole, Acting Director Stakeholder Engagement, Otago Regional Council

Trained or not, council communications staff automatically take on public information management (PIM) roles with civil defence during emergencies. PIM is more than just “the day job on steroids” so how can we do better?

4.40 pm Is Local Government Engagement Fit for the Future? Raymond Horan, Manager Sector Improvement, SOLGM

SOLGM’s been looking at some of the trends and forces shaping our communities and their implications for the way the sector engages with communities. Raymond will present an interactive road-testing both of the trends we’ve considered, where we think engagement is heading, and how that might compare with where we are now.

5.30 pm S umming Up and Close of Day One

5.35 pm Networking Drinks

Tuesday 14 November 2017

8.30 am Welcome to Day Two

8.31 am What SOLGM Can Do For You Jessica Hill, Senior Advisor Membership and Communications, SOLGM

An update on all of SOLGM’s good works including our upcoming programme of good practice resources, thought leadership, learning and development events and (of course) what the incoming Government’s priorities will be.

9.00 am Measuring Trust and Reputation – Auckland Council Karl Ferguson, Director Communications and Engagement, Auckland Council

Auckland Council has now been measuring and reporting on the residents' trust in council, and the council's overall reputation in the community for around 15 months. Trust and reputation are key elements of the council’s overall strategic direction. This session will set out how the council developed the measurement, how it fits into the council's overall direction and provides some practical advice for others who are considering going this way.

9.50 am What Does Success Look Like? Elizabeth Hughes, Director, Strategy & Communication

Following on from the example just provided, Elizabeth will provide examples of the ways a range of organisation measure communication success. This will include an ‘open floor’ question and answer session on measurement strategies

10.40 am Plan the Post-Conference Shopping Trip (Morning Tea)


11.00am The Draft Waimakariri Residential Red Zone Recovery Plan

Simon Markham , Manager Strategy and Engagement, Waimakariri District Council

The Red Zone Recovery Plan identifies how 100 hectares of residential red zoned land will be used. Developing a credible plan with community support was a mission critical task for the council. The council’s engagement with the community features a new approach to engaging that has applications for literally any planning or engagement process.

The Draft Waimakariri Red Zone Recovery Plan was the winner of the 2017 McGredy Winder Supreme Award for Excellence in Local Government Management and the winner of the Innovation in Council Community Relations Category.

11.30 am Yes You Can! Natalie Palmer, Communications Manager, Waipa District Council

Waipa District is progressively introducing an online focus to its business, as part of a strategy to encourage people to do business with council in a way that’s more on their terms. This isn’t a story about a one-off engagement, it’s a story of transformation to engaging on a daily basis.

12.00 Noon He Ara Kotahi – Palmerston North City Council
Ann-Marie Mori, Policy Analyst, Palmerston North City Council

He Ara Kotahi is a new off-road pathway and bridge that will connect Linton Military Base, Massey University and Food HQ to the city, This is a joint project between the Council, Horizons, Rangitane, Massey University, the Army and NZTA.

The engagement focussed on the selection of a preferred bridge site, but was also directed towards ensuring a strong likelihood of a successful consent process. A mix of traditional and innovative consultation and engagement techniques were used to guide the process to determine the preferred location of the bridge.

He Ara Kotahi was winner of the Best Practice Consultation and Participation Strategies or Processes at the 2017 New Zealand Planning Institute Awards.

12.30pm Te Arawa Partnership Programme Jean-Paul Gaston, Group Manager Strategy, Rotorua Lakes Council

The Te Arawa Partnership is an innovative, strategic and enduring partnership between Te Arawa (the predominant iwi confederation within the Rotorua District) and Rotorua Lakes Council. The partnership goes beyond environmental planning and is being woven into everything the council does.

Te Arawa Partnership Programme won a highly commended citation at the 2016 McGredy Winder SOLGM Excellence Awards ® and the initiatives taken to infuse the relationships into the council’s values and ways of operating won a highly commended citation at the 2017 McGredy Winder SOLGM Excellence Awards ®.

1.00pm Summing Up and Announcement of the 2018 Venue

1.05pm Event concludes (lunch available for those who don’t have to rush off)


  • Raymond Horan

    Manager, Sector Improvement, SOLGM

    Raymond re-joined SOLGM in June 2014 taking on a new role, Sector Improvement Manager. He has spent most of the last 20 years in local government related roles, most recently with the Department of Internal Affairs.

    He describes his job as two-thirds, providing assistance to the local government sector and one-third providing advice to central government on local government matters. His ambition is to help develop a Local Government Act that doesn’t require changes every 18 months. He asks that you wish him well with this task.

  • Jessica Hill

    Senior Advisor, Membership & Communications, SOLGM

    Jessica joined SOLGM in 2017. She oversees all communications with members and potential members.

    Jessica has over 10 years of experience in marketing and communications. Her career focus has been finding interesting problems to solve in the private and public sectors. She previously worked for another membership organisation – the Institute of Directors in New Zealand. Jessica has a master’s degree in marketing and a bachelor’s degree in public relations.

  • Karl Ferguson

    Communication and Engagement Director, Auckland Council

    Karl is the Communication and Engagement Director for Auckland Council.
    He is responsible for managing the council’s internal and external communications.
    This includes:
    * online content and channel strategy
    * brand and print design services
    * research, consultation and engagement
    * communications support to the Governing Body, Local Boards and non-self-sufficient CCOs.

    Previously, he was Group Manager Communications for the Ministry of Education. From 2009 to 2011 Karl was National Manager, Strategic Engagement and Communications for the New Zealand Transport Agency. While in this role he was seconded to the Ministry of Civil Defence as part of the response team to the February earthquakes, and latterly to CERA as the interim Group Manager, Communications and Engagement.

  • Natalie Palmer

    Communication and Engagement Manager, Waipa District Council

    Natalie Palmer is the Communication and Engagement Manager at Waipa District Council where she is responsible for communications (including digital communications), community engagement and events. She has garnered a national reputation for her innovative and creative approach to engagement and continues to forge new ways to positively work with communities.

    In 2017 Natalie was a finalist in the Brookfields Emerging Leader of the Year Award based on a proven track record of developing and delivering campaigns with identifiable community impact.

    In 2015 she was a member of the team which won the Fulton Hogan LGNZ Excellence Award for Community Impact for a feisty engagement campaign that set a new bar in local government engagement.

    Natalie holds a Bachelor of Communication Studies as well as the internationally recognised APR certification (Accreditation in Public Relations). In 2013 she was the recipient of the Ted Zorn Waikato Alumni Award in Management Communication from the University of Waikato.

  • Mr Jean-Paul Gaston

    Group Manager Strategy, Rotorua Lakes Council

    Jean-Paul is the Group Manager Strategy at Rotorua Lakes Council and has more than 20 years’ experience in senior roles providing policy and strategy advice and operational leadership in local government. His current role focuses on ensuring an integrated approach to strategy development, communication and engagement with the community, and governance support.

    Before joining Rotorua Lakes Council in July 2007, Jean-Paul has worked in three other New Zealand councils and for the Audit Commission in the UK.

    Jean-Paul has a master’s degree in Public Policy and a bachelor of science with honours.

  • Anthony Sidwell

    Product Manager, Datacom Local Government Solutions

    Anthony Sidwell is a Product Manager at Datacom, creating innovative technology products to help Local Government better serve its communities. Anthony focuses on discovering and defining “problems that are worth solving”, then applying creativity, strategy, business, and technology skills to create unique solutions.

    Anthony has over 20 years’ career experience in information technology, including a combined 10 years working with Local Government. He is currently leading the creation of Datacom’s new community engagement product, Antenno; previous roles include managing Datacom’s multi-year delivery of IRIS, a broad-scope software solution for a collaborative group of six (now seven) NZ regional councils.

  • Michele Poole

    Acting Director Stakeholder Engagement, Otago Regional Council

    Michele Poole has been working on the fringes of emergency management in NZ for longer than she cares to remember, mostly as an add-on to her career in local government communications.

    She has been involved in a range of emergency responses from fires to oil spills, earthquakes to floods. In the past 12 months she has been deployed to the Kaikoura earthquake and the Port Hills fires in Christchurch as public information manager, and led the Otago CDEM Group PIM team during the July floods across coastal Otago.

    Since August Michele has been working in emergency management full time in the newly created role of Public Information and Education Manager for Emergency Management Otago based in Dunedin.

  • Helen Mexted

    Director - Advocacy, LGNZ

    Helen is Deputy Chief Executive Advocacy at Local Government New Zealand the peak member body for New Zealand's 78 councils.

    Helen has an extensive background in marketing, communications and leadership, developed in the private sector across telecommunications, energy, consumer goods and financial services sectors, and most recently in government. Over recent years Helen has held executive roles in organisations undergoing rapid growth and change. In her current role, Helen leads the strategic policy direction and advocacy for New Zealand’s councils, delivering on a vision for strong local democracy and vibrant, prosperous communities. Most recently, Helen and her team have led local government's reputation work in New Zealand, including the establishment of the “We are. LGNZ.” brand and the new CouncilMARK™ performance excellence programme. Helen is a Chartered Member of the NZ Institute of Directors, has governance interests and holds a Commerce degree in marketing and an MBA.

  • Kataraina O'Brien

    Strategic Engagement Manager, Bay of Plenty Regional Council

    Ko Pūtauaki te Maunga
    Ko Rangitāiki te Awa
    Ko Mataatua te Waka
    Ko Ngāti Awa te Iwi
    Ko Ngai Tamawera te Hapū
    Ko Uiraroa te Marae
    Ko Kataraina O’Brien toku ingoa

    Kataraina O’Brien works for Toi Moana (BOP Regional Council) as the Strategic Engagement Manager. She manages two teams; Māori Policy and Community Engagement. Both teams advise, lead and support engagement, Treaty implementation and Māori Policy. They also provide strategic support to Komiti Māori (Councils Māori standing committee) and Councils three Māori Constituent Councillors. She has a Master of Environmental Planning from the University of Waikato.

  • Mr Simon Markham

    Manager, Strategy & Engagement Waimakariri District Council

    Simon has a background in social science and urban planning. He has held a range of policy, planning and management roles in and consulting to local and central government in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

    He is currently a member of the Waimakariri District Council's Executive Team and is responsible for business units spanning District and Council policy and planning, communications & engagement, customer services and economic development.

    The Waimakariri District at 58,000 population forms the northern part of the 450,000 population greater Christchurch urban area which experienced New Zealand’s greatest natural disaster through the 2010-12 Canterbury earthquake sequence.

    From 4 September 2010 when the first quake struck until 2015 he was Recovery Manager for the Waimakariri District Council. In 2015-16 he was the Council Manager responsible for the preparation of a future use plan for 100 hectares of former residential land subject to planned retreat due to earthquake damage.

  • Elizabeth Hughes

    Director - Strategy & Communication

    Elizabeth is passionate about local democracy, and the accessibility, transparency and relevance of councils within the communities they serve.

    Elizabeth’s career spans 20 years as a senior manager for Hamilton City, Tauranga City and Waikato Regional councils. She also spent six years as communication and strategy leader for Local Government New Zealand. Her qualifications include a degree in resource management and a post- graduate diploma in communication.

    For the past three years Elizabeth has run her own business working with elected members and council managers as a facilitator and consultant advisor around strategic change, engagement, customer service, internal/external and crisis communication and media. She is also a columnist for the LG News magazine - providing fresh insights and/or practical advice on local government issues.

  • Te Taru White

    Chair, Te Tatau o Te Arawa Board

    Te Taru is of Te Arawa, Tainui and Ngati Porou tribal descent. He has over 30 years senior executive experience across a range of sectors including Science, Human Resource management, indigenous socio-economic and cultural development fields nationally and internationally.

    He began his professional career as an Engineerng Geologist, has held senior portfolios within the Ministry of Maori Developments Regional and Economic development portfolios and has been the Co-leader of the National Museum of New Zealand,Te Papa and the CEO of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, Te Puia based in his hometown of Rotorua.

    He has maintained active roles for over 20 years as a Chairman and Trustee on a number of Maori land-based Trusts and Incorporations particularly in farming and forestry and has established strong relationships with First Nations in Canada over this period with a focus on complimentary development opportunities.

    Te Taru has worked as a free-lance Consultant and has held a number of Board directorships. He is currently a member of the Distribution Committee for Lotteries, Environment, Culture, Heritage and World War 1 commemorations, a Director on the Board of Totiu Te Waonui Limited and is an honorary Board Director on Eagle Spirit Energy limited based in Vancouver, Canada.

    More recently Te Taru was appointed as the Programme Director for the BOPRC Lake Rotorua Incentives Board responsible for incentivising landuse change to reduce nitrogen discharge levels into regional groundwater systems. He was also apppointed as the Chairperson for Te Tatau o Te Arawa which is a mandated organisation representing Te Arawa Iwi in a partnership agreement with the Rotorua lakes Council

    He holds a BSC (Hons), MBA and a Certificate in Company Directorship from the NZ Institute of Directors.

  • Ann-Marie Mori

    Policy Analyst, Palmerston North City Council

    With a background in planning and policy, Ann-Marie was the lead consultation and engagement practitioner for the He Ara Kotahi Pedestrian/Cycle Bridge project when employed as a senior planning consultant for Opus International Consultants. She has recently returned for a second stint at Palmerston North City Council as a policy analyst after 13 years consulting. Her 25 year career has involved roles at the Department of Conservation, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, the Council and Opus, all based in the Manawatū-Whanganui region. Her key professional interests are recreation planning and community engagement.

    She has a Bachelor of Regional Planning and certification from the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2).

  • Katie Watson

    Senior Advisor Voter Participation, Auckland Council

    Katie is Auckland Council’s Senior Advisor Voter Participation based within Democracy Services. Her role includes a long-term focus on breaking down barriers and increasing participation from groups who are less likely to vote in local body elections.

    Katie is a community engagement specialist with previous experience working for the London Metropolitan Police Service, the Blind Foundation and more recently within Auckland Council’s Communications and Engagement department.

    Katie is an accessibility champion with a special interest in equality of opportunity and diverse communities

  • Ms Fiona McTavish

    General Manager Strategy and Science, Toi Moana Bay of Plenty Regional Council

    Fiona McTavish has worked for Toi Moana for the last 5 years as a General Manager. Her responsibilities include Maori Policy and Kotahitanga, RMA policy, Science, Regional Economic Development as well as Regional Transport Planning and Public Transport delivery. Prior to local government, Fiona spent 20 years in and around central government in Wellington including General Manager roles in education and health. She has also worked in the private sector as an international consultant and GM for the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants.

    Fiona’s favourite past community engagement experience was chairing a community group that progressed and implemented a new Kapiti health centre that included the local Iwi health provider, birthing centre, mental health services, hospital clinics outpatient as well as a being built to accommodate a future GP afters hours service. All the art, landscaping and soft furnishings were donated by Iwi and other local community entities and individuals.