Communications and Community
Effective communication and engagement with communities post-disaster was critical. It helped SCIRT build trust and tolerance during the substantial disruption created while rebuilding the city.
11:45pm 1st November 2017
- Business Support Programme
Supporting businesses affected by SCIRT rebuild works was critical to help businesses continue to operate, and to maintain community confidence.
Rebuilding the crippled underground infrastructure in the earthquake-damaged Central Business District (CBD) put SCIRT under intense pressure. Government, developers and business owners needed SCIRT to complete its work first so they could follow on with the vertical rebuild work to get the city back on its feet as quickly as possible. Rebuilding the CBD was critical to support the city's recovery, along with maintaining investor and community confidence.
Government subsidies or compensation were not provided to businesses for loss of earnings due to rebuild work.
SCIRT's short but intense rebuild programme in the small central city area was highly disruptive for the businesses that remained in operation, their customers and suppliers, and commuters. Multiple roads and important business access ways were blocked. The noise, dust and vibrations from the many work sites in close proximity to each other made the CBD very challenging for people to get in to and through, and to keep supporting businesses.
The underlying focus was on infusing communication with empathy, and going the extra mile. SCIRT developed a range of initiatives to support business continuing to operate in the midst of the CBD underground infrastructure rebuild, including:
Staff training and co-ordination
- SCIRT staff received specialist training to understand and empathise with business needs and encourage them to adopt work practices, flexible working hours, traffic management, site set-up and communications that took business needs into account.
- A dedicated CBD Working Group ensured business needs were considered and objectives were met.
- Prioritised face-to-face contact with business operators.
- Established a single point of contact for each business.
- Engaged early with businesses to understand and develop work-arounds to address pressure points, such as peak hours and delivery windows.
- Maintained regular communication with businesses before, during and after each rebuild project.
- A "business support pack" was given to affected businesses.
- Used honest, timely and plain language in all communications so businesses could understand and plan for any rebuild impact.
- Were frank about the intensity and time frame for any project, and shared the "big picture" of the rebuild sequence.
- Provided regular progress updates to give businesses confidence the rebuild was on track.
- A Business Support programme encouraged a culture of community support for affected businesses through key messages in multiple communication channels.
- Issued regular traffic updates to the wider community that highlighted the "best way" to the city to encourage people to continue to support inner city businesses.
- Installed localised "Best way to ..." signage directing customers along the best routes to reach individual businesses.
- 32 large "Open for business" signs were placed on all the main routes into the CBD, signalling to the community that the area was still a destination for shopping, dining and other activities.
- These large signs eliminated the need for Advance Road Work signs at every individual work site, removing rebuild visual clutter from the CBD and saving an estimated $500,000 in costs from the programme.
- "Support local businesses" advertising.
- SCIRT teams encouraged to support local businesses. For example, teams were encouraged to buy their lunch and any crew catering from the nearby affected café.
- Making it our Business campaign.
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- Communicating Through Work Notices
SCIRT used many communications channels to maintain an open and honest dialogue with the community during its rebuild programme. These helped build tolerance and understanding around the disruptive nature of SCIRT's work. Regular community surveys showed SCIRT's most effective communication tool was the Work Notice.
Work Notices were cost-effective, printed, mostly one page overviews in simple language with easy to understand graphics of a particular work project. They were generally put in letter boxes at regular intervals in communities where SCIRT had a construction project under way. This included before a project started, updates with progress information during the project, and to thank the community for their patience when the project ended. For particularly disruptive work, the SCIRT Communications Team delivered the Work Notices face-to-face to residents and businesses as part of explaining the work and opening up discussions about any special needs. SCIRT regularly produced more than 120 Work Notices a month and delivered more than 1.7 million city-wide throughout the programme as part of ensuring communities were well informed about what was happening in their area. Households and businesses in areas where there was a lot of rebuild work could receive multiple notices from different construction teams. For that reason, strict guidelines ensured SCIRT Work Notices had a consistent look and feel, language and clear information that made them easily identifiable, and provided a uniform experience for the community that generated confidence in SCIRT as a professional, well-coordinated organisation.
Each Work Notice included the key elements of:
- The "what, why, when, where, how, why" of the project
- Clear simple graphics
- Community impacts such as road and driveway closures, noise, night works, dust, disruption to rubbish pick-up etc
- Safety messages to remind people to take care of children and pets around work areas
- Thanked people for their patience
- Contact details for more information
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- Communication Team Role and Purpose
Effective stakeholder communication and engagement was critical to the success of SCIRT's rebuild programme. In a post-disaster environment, the community was already under considerable stress. About 150 SCIRT construction projects at any one time within a relatively small city (population approx. 360,000) could be highly disruptive to residents, businesses and commuters.
SCIRT rebuild work created noise, dust, vibrations, road closures and detours, often over many months. Recognising the importance of community well-being, and the need for public support to enable SCIRT to do its work, the SCIRT Board (see Governance) set specific objectives for communications:
- Maintain an open and honest dialogue with all residents over the rebuild effort
- Maintain high levels of customer service in the rebuild effort
- A team of five communication people in the Integrated Services Team (IST) who were responsible for overarching communication strategy, media management, escalated issues management, key stakeholder liaison and monitoring and reporting on performance.
- A team of up to ten communication people in each of the five delivery teams who carried out day-to-day communication with communities on their specific projects.
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- Door to Door Community Contact
One of SCIRT's objectives was to "be proactive and communicate face-to-face where possible". It also aimed to be "approachable". These objectives were regularly measured in community surveys.
Door-knocking was a successful way to meet these objectives and encourage positive contact between SCIRT and the community. It was particularly important in a post-disaster environment where people were coping with many stressors and their ability to process information was impaired. It was also important in communities where written communication was less effective.
While not necessary for all projects and communities, it was the preferred method of contact for high-impact projects, when, for example, arrangements for special access needed to be discussed.
The door-knocking procedure recommended the Communication Team work in pairs for safety, or be accompanied by an engineering/construction colleague to help with technical questions. Dressed in SCIRT-branded apparel, they visited residents, businesses, schools etc. This could be prior to the start of the project, to provide updates during the work or to advise when a project ended.
The benefits were:
- The affected community was provided with a real person's name and face, providing comfort and reassurance to build trust and acceptance.
- The Communication Team learnt more about the affected community and any particular needs, such as key delivery times for businesses or important medical issues requiring 24/7 access for residents.
- The community was given an opportunity to ask about the work to better understand it. This helped build tolerance and patience.
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- Fact Sheets about SCIRT
SCIRT created a range of fact sheets describing its role and work. These accessible, cost-effective tools were displayed in public places and taken to community meetings.
As part of its initial engagement with the community, it was important to introduce SCIRT so people understood what it would be doing, where and why. This was vital because the work would be widespread and disruptive.
Understandably, prior to the earthquakes, most people had given little thought to the importance of the horizontal infrastructure that kept the city functioning, and were now most interested in its operation and the repair programme.
Ten fact sheets describing SCIRT's work in plain language were created at the start of the programme. These pocket-sized brochures could be taken to meetings and displayed in purpose-built stands at council service centres, libraries and earthquake agency information centres etc. While primarily designed for print, the information was replicated on the SCIRT website.
They were a cost-effective way of providing information via a visual and accessible channel, particularly for those without easy web access. Each fact sheet focused on a core SCIRT element, including its commitment to the community, as described in the title:
- Who SCIRT was and what it was doing
- Keeping in touch
- Environmental management
- Repairing underground services
- Temporary traffic management
- Prioritising the rebuild
- Underground pipes
- Retaining walls
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- Independent Research Informs Communications and Engagement
Independent research underpinned SCIRT's communications programme, providing insights into the public's perception of its work and identifying areas for improvement. The research was used to measure and drive performance against ambitious targets for SCIRT's Customer Satisfaction Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). On average, SCIRT achieved satisfaction scores of 80 per cent, the highest of any rebuild organisation.
In November 2011, SCIRT established a research programme that would be used for the next five years to measure and guide its performance in the eyes of the community.
The Objectives of the SCIRT Alliance Agreement made a commitment to respecting Christchurch people's need for open, proactive communications and high levels of customer service.
SCIRT recognised the rebuild would involve extensive disruption to people's daily lives, and the public's support would be essential to its ability to get the job done.
The research programme consisted of:
- A telephone survey of a representative sample of the wider Christchurch community, conducted six monthly.
- A face-to-face survey of 400 - 600 residents and business owners in areas where SCIRT was working, conducted four monthly.
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- Project 'Chocolate Fish'
- In response to driver frustration and to encourage patience and safe driving habits during traffic detours and delays, stationary drivers were given "chocolate fish" (iconic New Zealand sweets) wrapped in a message about the project. With much of the damaged horizontal infrastructure under the road corridor, SCIRT work often had a high impact on road users. While a lot of planning went into minimising traffic delays and detours, in some locations these were inevitable. They could last for many months and create pressure and delays along detour routes. The SCIRT Communication Team identified one particularly congested area which was affecting commuters through a major transport route during peak hour traffic. This was causing heightened driver frustration. It had the potential to create unsafe driver behaviour. In response, and to encourage driver patience and safe driving habits, SCIRT sought out locations to safely interact with motorists stopped in traffic because of SCIRT work. Dressed in full SCIRT-branded personal protective equipment, and monitored by safety personnel, the team handed out chocolate fish-shaped sweets, which are an iconic New Zealand confectionery, to stationary drivers at intersections. The fish were wrapped in an information flyer about the project to help drivers understand the delay and thank them for their patience and tolerance. The slogan on the flyer was: "Doing the right thing at roadworks is as Kiwi as ... a chocolate fish." SCIRT received excellent feedback for this initiative which was also encouraging safe driving behaviour. This low cost intervention, less than $1 per unit, was used at many locations to engage with people affected by traffic delays as a way of recognising and rewarding good driver behaviour. This also helped to build tolerance and understanding of necessary SCIRT works, and raised many smiles.
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- SCIRT's Awards
SCIRT was recognised nationally and internationally with awards for its achievements in several areas from civil engineering and construction to IT, planning and the environment, including winning the prestigious Brunel Medal in 2013.
The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) gathered an impressive array of awards over its brief five and a half year life.
Tasked with rebuilding Christchurch's publicly-owned roads and underground water and wastewater services, SCIRT was recognised internationally and nationally for its achievements and innovations in many disciplines from construction, civil engineering, public relations to IT, planning and the environment.
The sheer scale of the civil engineering undertaking was thrown into the international spotlight when SCIRT was awarded the prestigious Brunel Medal by the United Kingdom Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in October 2013 in recognition of excellence in civil engineering.
"This project highlights the scale of the task and the number of people involved, showing outstanding teamwork and collaboration," ICE said in awarding the coveted medal.
The competition is named after one of the engineering world's most ingenious nineteenth century engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, celebrated for his ground-breaking designs of railways, bridges, tunnels and steamships.
"This was a natural disaster of great magnitude and shows the dedication to a project of immense scale. It has placed civil engineering in the forefront of people's minds," ICE said.
SCIRT's Executive General Manager Duncan Gibb went on to be appointed a Fellow of the organisation and was asked to present the prestigious Brunel International Lecture through 2014 and 2015.
On the home front, in 2013 the Canterbury business community bestowed on SCIRT its highest praise, awarding it not only the Champion Canterbury Infrastructure Award but also the Champion Canterbury Supreme Award, medium to large enterprise category, for its contribution to the Canterbury Rebuild.
Again in 2016 the Canterbury business community acknowledged SCIRT's rebuild achievements awarding it a second time with the Champion Canterbury Infrastructure/Trades Award, medium to large enterprise category.
SCIRT excelled in other disciplines. In 2012 SCIRT and engineering consultancy Beca won the Resource Management Law Association's Project Award for SCIRT's multi-criteria assessment tool which helped teams select the rebuild options for Christchurch's earthquake-damaged infrastructure.
The RMLA judging committee called the tool "an innovative, pragmatic and practical solution, developed under extreme time and emotional pressure."
SCIRT construction teams rose to the challenges of preserving and strengthening Christchurch's precious heritage structures and in 2016 were recognised at the Canterbury Heritage Awards.
SCIRT was equal winner of the Public Realm Saved and Restored category, for the restoration and strengthening of the iconic war memorial, the Memorial Arch, standing tall and proud on the Bridge of Remembrance, highly commended for its repair of the historic Armagh Street Bridge in the central city in the Public Realm Saved and Restored category, and highly commended in the Seismic category for its work on the Memorial Arch.
SCIRT received a swag of other awards including from the New Zealand Planning Institute, the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors, the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand, Ministry for the Environment, National Association of Women in Construction, and the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA).
Please refer to the attachment for the record of awards won by SCIRT.
- ICE - Institution of Civil Engineers
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- School Visits
School visits were an important communications tool SCIRT used to promote to children how to keep safe around its work sites and to inform local people about its work.
During its six-year work programme SCIRT's communications team conducted 170 school visits in Christchurch.
Talking to pupils, students and teachers about how to keep safe when there were SCIRT work sites in their neighbourhood was a key objective of the visits, and part of SCIRT's commitment to proactive, open, clear and timely communications with the Christchurch community.
Like other communications channels, school visits helped to prepare neighbourhoods for the intensity and disruption of some of SCIRT's projects and to build goodwill and patience with those works.
Where SCIRT projects were close to schools, SCIRT asked the school whether it would like a visit from the SCIRT project team to talk about the work it was doing.
The key objectives of school visits were:
- To talk about what SCIRT was and why it needed to do the work it was doing.
- To talk to pupils and students about how to keep safe around worksites in their neighbourhood.
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- Site Visit Information Days
Work site information days were a positive way to build relationships with the local community. The public was invited to visit the site on a set day and meet the people working there.
Work in residential, commercial and businesses areas invariably happened "behind the fences" for safety reasons. Site visit information days were proven to be an effective way for the local community to get up close to see the work and speak to the people undertaking the repairs.
They provided an extremely effective tool to build and maintain community support. These information days proved invaluable in encouraging open dialogue and interaction between SCIRT and the local communities. Outcomes typically included:
- Providing the affected community with face-to-face interaction with real people which helped build reassurance, trust, understanding, tolerance and acceptance.
- Allowing the SCIRT Communication Team to learn more about the local community and their concerns about the project. They could then assess how to address the concerns.
- Generating a greater understanding of the work could give the community a sense of "ownership".
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- Stakeholder Management Plan
- A suite of 31 management plans were developed under the Interim Alliance Agreement prior to the start of SCIRT, to intentionally guide the organisation. These plans were reviewed annually and updated as required. This Stakeholder Management Plan was one of these management plans, and it outlined the scope, approach and key deliverables for communications and stakeholder engagement for SCIRT's horizontal rebuild programme. It set out the Operational Framework that ensured aligned, coordinated and consistent levels of communications and engagement across all channels. The plan provided an overview of the core communications tools and messages that drove the heart of SCIRT's communications, and set a standard for levels of communication and engagement with the community about SCIRT's work.
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- The Lonely Cone Recall
- For six long years, about 100,000 cones served the people of Christchurch, creating protective barriers, signalling dangers and guiding pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Lost: A lonely cone. Found: A lonely cone, plus 3999 clones. For six long years, about 100,000 cones served the people of Christchurch, creating protective barriers, signalling dangers and guiding pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Many "wild" cones also multiplied across Christchurch amid the wave of earthquakes. Standing guard over the twisted infrastructure, the bright orange cones became a symbol of the rebuild. Battered and bent, the cones held their solitary posts, staying strong despite pulsating rain, turbulent winds and errant motorists. Finally, the call went out: "Bring those cones home." Conemobile gears up In November 2016, SCIRT launched a massive recall campaign, spearheaded by the Conemobile - a requisitioned Mitsubishi sedan adorned with signature cones and a flashing orange light - and a splash of publicity. Utilising Facebook and media, both locally and nationally, SCIRT appealed to city residents to aid their quest and help save those wayward cones. Media took up the cause, urging residents to play their part and help find those cones. Suddenly, the spotlight was on those modest sentinels. Following 800 tip-offs to the cone line, via email or on Facebook, the Conemobile - complete with distinctive road cone Mohawk - took to Christchurch streets to collect those courageous cones. Some cones even made their own way home, tumbling into the yard, slumped and faded, ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with their clones. Despite sleeping rough for six years, their support never wavered in the hard-hit red zones of eastern Christchurch where liquefaction wreaked havoc on homes and streets. In the green zones, where horizontal infrastructure suffered varying degrees of damage, the cones stood their ground, springing back into action despite tremors and traffic. Cones at home in Riccarton The cones were most at home in suburban Riccarton - the centre of Christchurch's student community - where 500 continued their roadside beat or gazed down from leafy perches. The month-long rescue mission was a huge success. Within weeks, 4000 cones were safely stacked in the SCIRT yard and ready for their next assignment or a retirement home. The foot soldiers of the rebuild were finally home. Cone campaign video (YouTube): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgTeqbRzdFY RNZ media coverage (YouTube): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDZdLOpP6N0
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