26th July 2023

Future of local government bubbling in Christchurch

Cover Image for Future of local government bubbling in Christchurch

The 2023 Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) SuperLocal Conference in Christchurch next week will shine the spotlight on a national hot potato: local power.

Local agency and rate payer engagement – or the lack thereof – is a problem Christchurch tech company OrbViz seeks to solve for councils across New Zealand and Australia.

OrbViz CEO and co-founder Vanessa O’Brien said it was not a transparency issue as some thought: local authorities spent hundreds of thousands of ratepayer dollars on annual and long-term reports, plans and budgets. Instead, it was an accessibility issue.

“The information is there alright, but it’s in a 300-page PDF document that few can understand and even fewer have the time or will power to read.

“When the data is inaccessible like this, people won’t engage with decision making. That’s something that everyone wants to see change.”

The He piki turanga, he piki kotuku Future of Local Government report released earlier this month recommended that local government and councils develop and invest in democratic innovations, including participatory and deliberative democracy processes, to increase local participation in decision making.

OrbViz’ flagship product OrbViz Bubbles was created as response to this need by local authorities. It changes how reports are presented by transforming static information into dynamic, interactive experiences that captivate audiences, boost comprehension, facilitate meaningful stakeholder response and benchmark engagement.

Christchurch City Council is a finalist for the SuperEngaged award at the LGNZ conference, following its use of OrbViz to translate its complicated budget of portfolios, programmes and projects into a highly interactive, simple visualisation of bubbles. Smart Christchurch manager Michael Healy said it contributed to a 60% increase in engagement during its 2023/24 annual plan consultation period.

“It’s a game changer. Anyone from a three-year-old to an 83-year-old, can tap on a bubble and see what the bubble relates to. Then you can deep-dive into a project of particular interest.”  

Michael said it provided a way for everyone to interact with highly complex data without having to understand the complexity behind it.

“I think we like to talk about active citizenship, where it’s a two-way conversation, it’s not just one way. And this is one of the ways that we think we’re making it more of an active relationship and a two-way dialog, and that’s really important.” 

OrbViz works with more than 10% of New Zealand’s local governments, and recently commenced a proof of concept with Australia’s third largest local authority, Moreton Bay Regional Council, as well as Sunshine Coast Council.

“While local government is just one of the use cases OrbViz is put to,” Vanessa said, “It is one of the most publicly visible and has delivered some exceptional results.” 

OrbViz worked with a variety of organisations, including electricity distributors and universities, on diverse use-cases. A key focus was helping organisations tell the story of their sustainability data in an accessible way.

“The problems we solve are global and growing,” Vanessa said. “We have a range of meetings scheduled with prospects in Europe over the coming months and we’re continuing to grow our Australian footprint. We’d love to add to the great global tech stories that have originated in Christchurch.” 

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