What do you get when 100 local government communication professionals come together to exchange ideas, share war stories and be inspired?
You get New Zealand’s first unconference for the public sector, Talk It Up – Unleashing the Future for Local Government.
Earlier this month, communications and community engagement practitioners from the far north to the deep south converged on the University of Waikato for this one-day event. Most were unfamiliar with the concept of an unconference, but that didn’t stifle their enthusiasm.
At an unconference, there’s no set agenda. Instead, topics for discussion are pitched by attendees, who then choose the sessions they want to attend.
At Talk It Up, there was no shortage of ideas. There were four break-out rooms, each hosting five sessions during the day.
Chosen topics included how to reach and engage with tangata whenua and young people, how to drive sustainability efforts and behaviour change, use of participatory democracy and community-led solutions, and measuring the true impact of communication and engagement.
Talk It Up was organised by four communications professionals – Matamata-Piako District Council Communications Manager Jenni Cochrane, Gore District Council GM Communications/Customer Support Sonia Gerken, Central Otago District Council Communications Advisor Maria De Cort, and Communications/Community Engagement Contractor Anna McLoughlin.
Jenni said they were all blown away by the willingness of attendees to step out of their comfort zones, enthusiastically pitch ideas and then be part of the discussions.
“We were worried people would be reluctant to contribute, but it was the opposite.
“The energy throughout the day confirmed the public service is full of passionate people who want to make a difference for their communities.”
Local government was facing its most significant reforms since 1989. People’s expectations of local government are changing, which means it also needs to change.
“That’s why our tag line for Talk It Up was ‘Unleashing the future for local government’,” said Jenni.
Sonia recalls the idea for Talk It Up came out of a casual conversion at an ALGIM conference.
“We saw the need for an open forum where liked minded people could be inspired and learn from each other.
“We wanted something where people were talking to each other, not just being talked at.”
She acknowledged the support of Talk It Up’s sponsors, the University of Waikato, Datacom, Bang the Table, OrbViz, Granicus and Business Lab – “they believed in us and the concept, and for that, we are extremely grateful”.
Talk It Up was also supported by industry bodies Taituarā, LGNZ and ALGIM.