4 Lessons From 1029 Pages Of Tauranga City Council Strategy

I love to read.

Lucky for me because early on in my research for becoming a Tauranga City Councillor I was told that councillors do a lot of reading.

So I started with the Long Term Plan, and next I took on 16 Tauranga City Council documents I found on the strategies page of the TCC website.

  • I stitched them together in a single pdf that was 1029 pages long
  • It took me 6 weeks to read it from cover to cover
  • It took me another 4 weeks to write my summaries
  • I got up at 5.15am every morning (including Saturdays and Sundays) and read for a 60 – 90 minutes before my 3 sons woke up
  • I loved it!
  • The documents were all well written, easy to read, good layout, lots of photos and diagrams and maps, lots of headings and bullet points

The 4 Lessons I Learnt From 1029 Pages Of Tauranga City Council Strategy

 

Lesson #1: Everything is connected

Making a change (or even planning a change) in one place, has ripple effects in many other places.

For example, if you want to add a tramway down the length of Cameron road (which is a very exciting idea) this is going to affect the Transportation strategy obviously, but it’s also going to impact:

  • City Centre Strategy (it would change the flow of cars, pedestrians into the city)
  • Disability Strategy (by default, trams are not easy to get into for disabled people)
  • Vegetation Strategy (you’d be removing a lot of trees down the centre of Cameron Rd, so you’d need to plan where to move them to, or where to plant new ones to offset the removal)
  • Urban Design Strategy (the placement of a tram system has an impact on the design of our urban spaces)

Lesson #2: why council seems to move so slowly

You and I can make decisions in our personal lives and professional lives today that we roll out this afternoon or tomorrow.

But for council there are so many moving parts that need to be coordinated and pointed in the same direction before the movement can begin and momentum can be built up.

And potentially 120,000 people that could be affected by the changes they make.

It’s like changing the direction of a stream.

The destiny of every stream is to get to the sea.

Eventually.

From the air it seems that they meander around quite a bit and take their sweet time.

If you and I were in charge we’d cut a straight line track for the most direct and efficient route to the sea, right?

This would be a disaster for the valleys we bypass.

What happens to the plants and animals in that valley that depended on that stream?

Is it just tough luck for them?

Do we tell them to harden-up and get-over-it?

Or do we have a bit of empathy for their situation and consider their stake before we take action?

Pausing to consider the impact will definitely slow things down, but we’ll get a more balanced and holistic result that way.

Lesson #3: The Elements Of A Successful strategy document

Many of these strategy documents are actually wishlists.

They paint a rosy picture of a possible future, but they don’t commit resources to each element (both financial and human resources) to ensure progress is made.

With that in mind, here are the 4 elements that I think successful strategy documents need:

  1. Vision: A unified vision of the future of the city that everyone can buy in to
  2. Connection: That is connected to other strategies
  3. Communication: That is communicated to the community so there are no surprises and the community feels involved in the process
  4. Resources: That is grounded in financial realities and people are assigned to delivery of the strategy

Lesson #4: Expect change

In most cases, strategy documents like these use the past to forecast the future.

But no-one knows what the future holds.

Some of these documents have material/maps/photos/ideas that date back to 2007 and forecast 10 or 20 years in the future.

Not many foresaw the The 2008/2009 Global Financial Crisis and the corresponding housing bust and boom.

And no-one knew the timing of the financial recovery, and population explosion either.

If one of these strategy documents takes 1 year to write, parts of it may already be 1 year out of date when it’s published.

Many times I’d be reading about an exciting project in these documents, but with a few Google searches find that the project was shut down, or hadn’t progressed at all (the Global Financial Crisis had a huge impact on project start/end dates).

My Summary Of Each Strategy Document

I’m now familiar with the whole range of council plans/strategy documents:

  • Annual Plan / Annual Report (1 year term)
  • Long Term Plan (10 year term)
  • and now these strategy documents (1 – 30 year term)

I now have a better appreciation for how the strategy, ideas and projects flow from one set of documents to the next.

Now, let’s take a look at each strategy one-by-one and my favourite parts of each:

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