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Tell us how you really feel – Watercare’s Voice of Community

Tell us how you really feel

With Danielle Hamilton.

Watercare’s Voice of Community programme measures the impact of infrastructure construction on the local community, along with providing insight on the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement for the project while making incremental changes while we work alongside the community.

Before moving into stakeholder and community engagement, I came from a background of marketing and communications. Many of the skills from my early roles in audience identification and targeting, advertising campaigns and public relations have been readily transferrable to a role more focussed on community and stakeholder engagement. One of the key parts of any marketer’s role is proving value and effectiveness. Each campaign and activity is scrutinised for the tangible and intangible value it provides, and market research of your customer base is your bread and butter. Surprisingly these experiences are the ones that are now allowing Watercare’s project teams to better understand the effectiveness of our stakeholder engagement as well as the impacts our projects have on the wider community.

The delivery of water and wastewater infrastructure can be highly disruptive, and once complete is often not visible to the public, who quickly lose sight of the value being invested beneath their feet. As one stakeholder told us “water and wastewater infrastructure is like Jesus. You can’t see it, but you know that it’s there”.

Voice of Community (VoC) has been rolled out for all Watercare infrastructure projects in construction, and measures community satisfaction, using Net Promoter Score (NPS) ratings, on impacts from traffic management, noise, keeping to schedule and crew behaviour. We also measure how people found out information about the project and their satisfaction with the communications and engagement. In addition to quantitative feedback, verbatim comments are analysed to provide qualitative feedback. Our insights team have collaborated with analysis provider, Thematic, to link our data to easy to understand dashboards which utilise AI to provide insights into key pain points as well as perceived benefits for our project teams.

NPS scores numerical responses as detractors (negative), neutral, or promoters (positive). The final score is worked out by taking the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters which gives us a score ranging from -100 to +100.  For FY22, we recorded a baseline score of +28, with a target of +35 for FY23, covering 16 projects. In just a year, our Voice of Community score has almost doubled from +28 last June to +52 in June 2023 for the end of financial year.

One project has had a particularly notable improvement. Our Huia 1 watermain upgrade has been ongoing for a number of years, and still has a number of years to go until completed. It is highly disruptive as it involves trenching in the road corridor through residential and commercial areas. Taking on board feedback about traffic management and communications, the Voice of Community score improved from +38 to +71 across the two financial years surveyed.

We began measuring Voice of Community for 13 projects as a trial in 2021. Since that initial trial we have learnt a lot about the process, and made improvements to how we engage with communities but also how we run the survey to get the most benefit.

Key learnings include:

Getting buy in from your internal stakeholders is key! When first launched this was seen as another layer of admin and the benefits were not clear. An internal education programme along with senior leadership support and regular updates on results helped gain this buy in. Now internal project managers and our construction partners have KPIs to meet for community engagement, a change to a more customer centric model.

Flexibility is important. Reviewing the questions we ask and how these are phrased and making tweaks to the survey layout is an ongoing process to ensure that we are asking the right questions in the right way to be relevant to our stakeholders.

Incentives, even small ones, make the difference between a complaints mechanism and a meaningful survey on community sentiment. One challenge we found is that even when proactively asking people to tell us how they feel and that all feedback helps us to improve, those most likely to respond we those with a complaint. We are now working on shifting community behaviours – instead of them only reaching out to us when there is an issue, we are wanting more holistic feedback – what are we doing well in addition to where can we improve; one of the ways we have found to increase the response rate is by offering an incentive to participate, like a chance to win a $100 Prezzy card if they put their feedback in.

Always on, continuous improvement. Initially projects were surveyed as they were completed. While there was some benefit to this, it made us realise that there were simple improvements we could have been making while the project was underway which would improve our impact and engagement with the community. We have since moved to a model of the survey being “always on” with a proactive invitation to registered stakeholders every three months.

Watercare has many “voices”, and these include our trust tracker, Voice of the City, measuring awareness, sentiment and water literacy; and our transactional Voice of the Customer measuring satisfaction with transactional interactions such as faults reporting and billing queries. Our insights team are able to do a deep dive and cross reference these results. One finding is that on average our trust scores are 20 points higher in suburbs where we have positive engagement results on infrastructure projects. Our project engagement is reaching wider and building greater awareness and positive sentiment in general as well as mitigating project impacts and concerns.

A stakeholder role is predominantly about listening, and Voice of Community allows us to actively listen to what the community are telling us and incorporate this into our project delivery.