Northland Councils scoop Local Government awards

Published on 07 May 2021

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A fresh, new, tikanga-based approach to organisational change, a new strategy designed to overcome the digital divide, and two examples of outstanding personal leadership have helped Northland councils scoop four awards available to local government managers.

Attending 2021 Taituarā — Local Government Professionals Aotearoa Awards in Wellington last night, Kaipara District Council award recipient and Chief Executive Louise Miller said Northland’s “awesome councils” were “absolutely rocking it” and Whangarei District Council Chief Executive Rob Forlong said he didn’t have the words to express his gratitude to his team or describe how their work had changed his role as a chief executive.

The two leadership awards went to Kaipara District Council, with Chief Executive Louise Miller winning the AskYourTeam Melbourne Business School Leadership Scholarship, and General Manager of Transformation and Engagement Jason Marris winning the Civic Financial Services Overseas Manager Exchange to the United States.

The judges said Louise Miller clearly exemplified what it means to be a leader in local government. They applauded her experience across the sector and her contribution to intersectorial networks and voluntary initiatives. An active member of Taituarā, she is the current Chair of the Workforce Committee and has recently been a panel member at the Marsh Taituarā Risk Management Forum.

The judges said Louise articulated her story clearly – sharing insights from early stages of her career and how these influenced her to become a trust-based and authentic leader, and sharing how her ongoing learning had influenced her leadership style further. Louise had a plan for today, tomorrow and the future, and leading the local government sector to enable change was a big part of it.

The Judges said Jason Marris clearly articulated and demonstrated how he would be an ambassador for his Council, region, and Aotearoa New Zealand. He was clear on the reciprocal nature of the Overseas Exchange, with specific examples of how he would undertake the cultural exchange element in particular. His considerable experience in local government, as well as significant contribution to Taituarā, made his application stand out. Jason’s application and the support from his Council, demonstrated that he would continue to grow his leadership across local government into the future

Far North District Council won the Martin Jenkins Award for Better Policy and Regulation for its digital strategy Nothing But Net, a purpose-built strategy focussed on finding a solution to the digital divide. It has since been accepted by all Northland councils as a foundation document for the region as a whole to build on.

The Judges commended the Far North for its application of a sound co-design methodology and a new (to NZ) online engagement tool. They recognised the council’s willingness to walk the talk and change its own internal service offerings, particularly realising that digital connectivity is of only limited value if the communities being served have insufficient levels of digital literacy to take best advantage of the opportunity.

Far North District Council CEO Shaun Clarke said the Nothing But Net campaign capitalised on years of advocacy work undertaken with other councils to improve the region’s digital infrastructure. Mapping mobile phone black spots and the annual Broadband Speed Test Survey provided excellent data for advocacy, but the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown exposed just how challenging the ‘digital divide’ could be for many residents.

Nothing But Net used the lockdown as an opportunity to ask what needs to be done to help the district become digitally-enabled. Using a slick graphic presentation, video interviews and innovative video survey technology, the campaign ran over two weeks from 1 May 2020 and attracted over 1000 individual responses. 

“Nothing But Net asked how digital technology could better connect people, grow the economy and increase opportunities for everyone. It also demonstrated how the smart use of digital technology could be transformative.

“This campaign was built rapidly in response to the lockdown, by staff and elected members, but special credit must go to Ana Mules and the Community Development & Investment team. Their vision and tenacity have driven the Council’s digital strategy and their work is having a very real, positive impact on the Far North,” said Mr Clarke.

Whangarei District Council won The Capability Group Award for Excellence in Organisation and People Development, which recognises approaches that build an exceptional organisational culture or capability through the application of transformational leadership involving organisational redesign, human resource management, leadership development or other means of building organisational or staff capability.

The judges commended Whangarei District Council’s Organisational Strategy as a ground-up development to build a more inclusive, cohesive and effective organisation. The strategy had been driven by a cross-functional team from all tiers of the organisation, and could be a model for other organisations.

The judges said the success of any organisational strategy project lies in embedding it in the day-to-day operation of councils, and getting staff to drive strategy development is an innovative means of generating buy-in.

“The four tikanga our team created have completely changed the way that I think about how we work and they guide my decisions on a daily basis,” said Chief Executive Rob Forlong.

“When we were in lockdown Whanaungatanga in particular, guided our approach to both staff and ratepayers and that made a huge difference for people. I don’t have the words to express my gratitude for the work our team did on this project or to express how it has changed the way that I see my role and the role of our organisation.”