Our MBIE Endeavour Fund Smart Ideas project consists of two parts:

Engaging with communities

Understanding current practices and experiences of public engagement, including what’s working and what’s not working for communities

The Watercare project

Trialling a deliberative process and learning from our experiences

Engaging with communities

Understanding current practices and
experiences of public engagement

In the first part of the project, from late 2020 onwards, we are conducting interviews and focus groups with engagement professionals working in Auckland’s public organizations and government bodies as well as community members.

We are asking what they think about current forms of citizen engagement: what works? What does not? How can we ensure that all of the voices are heard? Should we tailor forms of engagement to suit different groups? How can we diagnose different kinds of barriers that prevent individuals and groups from participation? Can engagements exist if they’re not based on longstanding relationships?

Here are the kinds of things we hear from our project participants:

“There are things that people would say to our faces that they probably would not say on Facebook feedback. (…) my preference is that people try and locate me and have a conversation with me. Or if I see a comment where I think, gee, that’s a really interesting view, that’s different from everyone else, I might send them a private message just to say, Hey, you got five minutes? Can I give you a call? Or can you elaborate on what you’re thinking.”
- Local politician

“If you know what we know, in local government, government in general, we can argue over $8,000 for two hours, and we pass billion-dollar budgets without batting an eyelid because there is really little concept of what a billion dollars is. You know, everyone knows what $8,000 is. So, when we put out a draft of the long-term plan, that’s over 100 pages long. And to expect people to digest something like that, to read it, to understand it, and these are mostly non-technical folks, and ask them to engage is not, you know, it’s not practical, it’s not pragmatic, and it’s not going to happen. So, it’s about how do we get the message, right?”
- Engagement professional

Our work with Watercare

Complex conversations about the future
of Auckland’s precious water supply

The problem

Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland is a thriving city with a diverse and growing population. Its unique geography and natural environment make it a desirable place to live and work. But this also creates challenges for further growth and infrastructure development.

Climate change is affecting how we live, and how we think about the future. Auckland’s recent drought and water shortage have made it clear that we need resilient water and wastewater systems. This is especially important as the city continues to grow. How do we make decisions on which path to take and which investments to make so that we can secure a vibrant future for all Aucklanders?

Watercare is owned by Aucklanders and must make long-term decisions on everyone’s behalf. We need to decide what our next source of water should be. With water, people often believe the solutions are simple. But each different option is complex and there are trade-offs that we need to understand. If a wide variety of Aucklanders get good information, understand each other, and come together around a shared decision, Watercare would be wise to take this advice.

We want to solve this difficult problem together.

Our approach

In July and August 2021, we held four workshops across Auckland: in West, Central and South Auckland, and the North Shore. Using Watercare customer database we invited several thousand citizens to participate. Out of the several hundred who expressed their interest, we selected four groups of 30-35 whose demographic composition mirrored the makeup of our city. We did not expect participants to have a lot of knowledge about the water system. Instead, we looked for a range of lived experiences.
Over the course of a morning, the groups learnt together about the pressures on the urban water supply, the future scenarios, other people’s experiences and viewpoints on Auckland’s water. They heard about the four main options that the Watercare identified as environmentally, technically and economically possible. To hear more about how the workshops went and what we want to do next, listen to this podcast.

If you would like the full details outlining how these workshops were designed and conducted, we welcome you to contact us for a copy of the report.

Decision-makers can’t help but hear from the loudest people who insist on being heard. And that’s good. Yet Watercare belongs to all the people of Auckland, and we are trusted to make decisions on behalf of everybody.
We’ve always cared deeply about our customers, but I believe this process will help us getting even closer by engaging with Aucklanders, the loud ones and the not so loud ones, in a way that allows them to directly influence decisions on our city’s water future.

- Amanda Singleton, Watercare Executive

About Koi Tū

Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures is an independent, transdisciplinary think tank and research centre at the University of Auckland.

We generate knowledge and analysis to address critical long-term national and global issues challenging our future.



Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures
The University of Auckland
Level 7, Building 804, 18 Waterloo Quadrant, Auckland Central 1010
Newsletter: Subscribe here
Twitter: @InformedFutures


Future transport email:
Future water email:

Phone: 027 271 9907