Looking back on New Zealand’s ten-year journey towards steady economic growth, the country’s infrastructure landscape has gone a long way when compared to how it started when it was still on the cusp of development.
Transformational projects like the Auckland City Rail Link demonstrate how important collaboration is in building the future of New Zealand. Having worked on New Zealand’s largest infrastructure projects over the last decade in stakeholder and planning roles, and now together as part of Aurecon’s global Advisory team, we have found that working with the community, and bringing diverse perspectives to a human-centred design approach are fundamental to success.
At Aurecon, we spend a lot of time building relationships, and we rely on those relationships to help us work smoothly throughout the lifespan of a project.
This is crucial, because the aim is to build infrastructure in collaboration with people, not just insert it into communities. It’s to work with people, not inflict change on them.
In New Zealand, the consultation process is often formalised through Community Liaison Groups. These CLGs grew out of larger projects in years past and are often now made part of our legally binding consent requirements.
The problems occur when people think the formal process is a magic solution to everything. A formal process can be a good idea at the beginning of a project, but naturally people in the community move on. After a while, the people you’ve connected to at the beginning may not be invested anymore.
Truly effective community engagement must be fit for purpose. We first identify key stakeholders, then find out what communication channels they rely on and use those channels to establish regular contact. This allows us to incorporate community input in the project design and delivery where it’s possible, and to be trusted when we have to tell people it isn’t. If we build up trust, we can identify issues and work together genuinely to resolve them.
The Auckland City Rail Link is an extraordinary engineering feat. Bringing the best and brightest minds to the table to solve its most wicked problems is both the challenge and the triumph of the project.
From navigating the alignment of government strategy and funding, to technical design and delivery – complex infrastructure can be delivered only by establishing effective relationships that drive towards a common goal. Partnerships are generally considered a requirement for major projects to share risk, but they also offer the opportunity to co-create ideas and solutions that you would never get to alone.
Making up the backbone of Aurecon is a diverse group of skilled and knowledgeable industry experts and practitioners. This colourful community – in technical, generational, cultural, and even socioeconomic aspects – is a key ingredient of our success. Karen Healy, one of our talented colleagues, explained the dynamics of our workforce best when she said, “We quite often see things from distinctly different viewpoints… it is in exactly this place of creative tension that our best ideas are born.”
New Zealand is a prime example of a nation that knows how to utilise its most important resource well – its people. They are living proof that we can set aside our differences to achieve a common goal; in their case, it’s to improve the quality of life of every New Zealander.
Carol is the NZ Lead for Communication and Stakeholder Engagement. With over 10 years of experience in New Zealand's biggest infrastructure projects, she shares her skills with Aurecon clients by providing support in managing and mitigating risks.
Helen is an Associate for Environment and Planning at Aurecon. Her role entails providing expert planning evidence in council hearings and in the Environment court. She is also a full member of the New Zealand Planning Institute.
This article is an adaptation of LinkedIn Pulse by Carol Greensmith and Helen McLean titled, “Engagement: helping to build the future of NZ”.