Paperless council – more or less transparent?

That’s the Xbillion dollar answer.

Do we want paper or nothing, or paper and online, or just plain paper printed with dollar signs to pay down debt.

Should plain old Councillors be more social media savvy and paperless!

In what form (plural) does the interested public want to receive information about DCC activities and decisions?

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr


Filed under Business, DCC, Design, Economics, Geography, Hot air, Media, People, Politics, Project management, Tourism, University of Otago, Urban design

39 responses to “Paperless council – more or less transparent?

  1. Elizabeth

    From the thread Accounting for a conference the discussion so far on the paperless council…

    kate 2010/08/03 at 6:36 pm
    Elizabeth the decisions this Council has made are a result of bad process as much as bad logic. Familiarity breeds contempt of process in my mind and we need a healthier friction between staff and Councillors and the public and more transparency to provide for that. Interestingly Chris Staynes brought up the possibility of a paperless Council at F&S yesterday and poor Mr Donut didnt get how he wouldn’t need to use his printer.

    Elizabeth 2010/08/03 at 6:48 pm
    We once had an impassioned office manager at the NZ Masters Games Office who lived for the thought of a paperless office. So long as someone is keeping the council record in a safe digital state, backed up to hell as is typical for a large ‘office’, then less paper is possible but not full deletion – since you guys are in the business of supplying information to those without access to laptops, desktops, mobiles, pads and printers for a very long time to come. But it starts small, Councillors don’t need papers for meetings. Nor do they need more donuts, leads to heart attack and stroke.

    Phil 2010/08/03 at 9:11 pm
    I’m going to put in my 2 cents on the paperless Council. Which is a great idea. This is how I recall it working. A paper document, such as a letter or an invoice, comes in to council. It then gets scanned and stored on an electronic database, with a copy emailed to the recipient within council. What is the first thing that person does ? They print it out so that they can read it. It’s a human nature thing, people like looking at paper. Then, more of then than not, a few days later the original paper document arrives on the recipient’s desk via the internal mail system. The result ? 2 paper copies instead of the original one. And a computer storage system demanding 400 Gigawatts of cooling a year.

    kate 2010/08/03 at 9:14 pm
    If reports are read and not questioned then they can be read online once – further if the reports include lots of photos it is cheaper to see online. Agendas could be paper but reports of which we all get copies could be online only – I am happy to read most online and take notes. Certainly would assist the housework around the mountains of papers!

    kate 2010/08/03 at 10:26 pm
    Elizabeth could we have a different thread about what DCC might look like with a paperless Council – along some of the lines in some of the threads here – maybe not as far as twittering all meetings – my view and Richard’s are different enough let alone what staff and media might say! But if people were in the gallery it would be interesting to hear what they hear – I do find that we as councillors and as audiences hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest – part lines from some song I think – apologies – I wonder why we are not allowed to be broadcast? Times are a changing (more lyrics) and we need to if that is the demand – would anyone really want to hear about questions on Karitane toilets at the reserve? Between twitter and blogs generally and traditional media what do people want = or is it more a matter of us being more transparent with our papers and what does that mean?

    Richard 2010/08/03 at 11:32 pm
    As I observed yesterday, ‘a paperless council agenda (et al)’ is now probably a practical reality for the first time in this computer age with the arrival of the “iPad”.

    And it is likely to revolutionise paperwork in many other working environments e.g. teaching in schools.

    As for the proposal by one GD Candidate who thinks he will have time to tweet from around the council/committee table … well, he is due for a shock … should he be elected!

    Oh yes: “an out-of-date aspirin in cold soup’, is apparently the diet meal of choice for those who immerse themselves in ‘The Culture of Complaint’.

  2. Richard, that Greater Dunedin candidate would be me! You seem to be confusing tweeting as frivolous with a giant step towards transparency and participation. And, despite your assertion, I see no reason why it should not be possible.

    I take it from recent threads that you take notes in Council meetings. I take notes in meetings too, I choose to do this digitally. Further, I choose (where appropriate) to make these notes public and timely. Hence I have been live blogging in meetings and conferences for several years. Many of the postings on my long running blog are of this nature ( and @samuelmann on twitter).

    I am not alone in the belief that eParticipation can and should transform how we see business and government. Look, for example, at the communication activities of MPs including from the house (Metiria Turei is a good example). From business, look at the tweeting activities of the leadership from Jade (Craig Richardson and John Ascroft).

  3. Peter

    You can communicate with whatever method at your disposal, but surely it is the credibility of the message, and the messenger, that ultimately counts.
    I am actually, believe it or not, with Richard on this one. I find it irritating being with people who ‘pull out their gear’, texting or tweeting to others on the outside, while others are speaking on the inside. It is rude. It also leads to the potential of miscommunication because you are not fully there – listening.

  4. Peter

    Another thought on communication. Isn’t it ironic that of all the main people who post here I am unaware of how many actually communicate with each other in the most important and direct way possible – speaking and listening. I speak directly to Calvin regularly, but that’s it for me. How about you others? Apprehension, or mistrust, or shyness, or time restrictions, or possibly dislike, all make it easier to ‘communicate’ facelessly.

  5. Phil

    I would expect that cellphones are required to be turned off during council meetings. Standard practice in business meetings. Not to mention the rudeness and disrespectful factors already noted. As long as anyone is accepting payment to sit on a committee or panel, those paying should be entitled to 100% of the time.

    As technology changes, our concept of time has changed with it. Suddenly it’s no longer acceptable to wait 5 minutes to make a phone call, or 30 minutes to report on a meeting. Is it really that urgent ? Usually not.

    I’m also with Richard. Mind on the job.

  6. Stu

    I may be slightly old-fashioned here, but this is my take on Council proceedings:

    – it would be inappropriate for any Councillor to tweet or broadcast updates via social media etc during proceedings. This would especially apply to portions with public excluded.

    – it would be appropriate for accredited media to tweet or broadcast updates. If we need to extend the definition of “accredited media” to bloggers, that is fine.

    – it would be appropriate (and should be the default) that audio and video coverage of all public meetings be broadcast and recorded.

    The latter is not necessarily a high-cost issue, but meets many of the requirements for community consultation and engagement. This would enable podcasting and also provide an archive resource to be consulted through the Dunedin Public library and other outlets, including Web pages, by anyone interested. Portions of meetings with public excluded or sections “in committee” would have recording off as standard practice.

    Doing the above is transparent in that it permits access to full coverage of what was said (and importantly for some Councillors, what was done and how they behave). It also fits the activity to the appropriate role (Councillors attend to business, media cover the events) and is compatible with good governance.

  7. kate

    The ideas I liked most from Sam’s submission was not the tweeter but the thought that reports are available on line and with blogs available so that people can interact with or without Councillors before a meeting and contribute their views in a timely fashion. Up to the Councillors if they listen but if we can engage residents that way it could be a very constructive process.

    I agree tweets by Councillors would not be best use of time – and notes should just be notes – it is the secretaries’ job to take the minutes and it would put unfair pressure on them to have views reported.

  8. Peter/Phil.

    I agree that cellphones are inappropriate where used frivolously and disrespectfully. I also agree with the “mind on the job”sentiment. Neither of these statements though contradict the premise that a more open and transparent communication is needed. As part of that – along with fully public accounts, collaborative policy development etc – I see potential for all participants in meetings to make use of information technology.

    I don’t see how reading material or taking notes on a tablet is any different from doing the same on paper and can easily be combined with the courtesy of attention to speakers (I agree though that a wall of laptop screens is often inappropriate).

    I have been on several boards where documentation is entirely digital. I’m an Associate Professor in Information Technology, so the groups I am involved in tend to be higher education and computing focused. Digital brings the same obligations as paper, some specific etiquette, but brings the massive advantage of promoting transparency and participation fulfilling the role as stewards for the City.

    In practice, I find that taking notes in a form suitable for blogging or tweeting improves my critical perception of material. I also find drawing system diagrams very useful in understanding complex issues. For me, these structured note-taking approaches work in a similar way to highlighting and annotating works for some, or mind-mapping for others. In your words, this is mind on the job, 100% of the time – but with considerable added leverage.

    • Elizabeth

      Despite everyone’s different access and abilities with the technologies available, I tend to think a lot of the current technology is a distraction from good old face reading, talking and listening around the table at a concentrated level as business is done. I like what Stu is saying and can’t ‘write off’ (no iPhone, iPad or tablet here) where Sam is heading either.

      Having been on deck with the Dunedin Courthouse redevelopment and the stumble Courts and court processes took to introduce screens, to cut down paper shuffling and coordinate presentation of evidence and court documents, I summarise by noting the practical leap of faith it entailed for all.

      Where would contemporary court users be without the further advances. Lots of ethical and professional dilemmas, and the setting of protocols and procedures to go with the changes, lots of questions and debate about the role of media and suppression, more than a gavel of good sense required – nothing’s solved but the process flies by negotiation and sanction. Hmmm.

      So what’s a little media between friends inside and outside Dunedin City Council.

  9. kate

    One of the reasons I at no time suggested that I would report fully on the F&S meeting is that I hear what I want to hear, note what I think is important and will by my nature convey it one way while Richard would and has conveyed it another – they become views. The formal record is important and it is unfair to pressure the recorders official role. But will go off and check out Northland – think we might be talking at cross purposes.

    Maybe when Council adopts standing orders at the start of the Triennium it should widen the scope for recording of meetings amongst other things that need to be done to them.

  10. kate

    In context just had to share this joke:

    Got my son an iPhone for his birthday the other week and recently got my daughter an iPod for hers.

    I was dead chuffed when the family clubbed together and bought me an iPad for Father’s day.

    Got my wife an iRon for her birthday. It was around then the fight started…….

    Hope everyone gets it! or is that I.T.

  11. kate

    Good example yesterday in parliament when the online petition for neurosurgery was not considered acceptable – keeping rules up to date with people’s innovative use of technology will always stretch those that enjoy the comfort and protection of those rules – oddly the same people that usually make them. It would certainly challenge some of the current Council rules and processes.

  12. Peter

    Those with power, and those supporting special interests, never consider any voluminous opposition as significant when it doesn’t suit their agenda. They down play it.

  13. They also objected to Pete’s printout of our facebook page (

    10,931 people have joined so far. The demographics are interesting: 81% female. 69% aged 35+. Clearly this is the demographic one would expect to get behind a health campaign, but DCC can take note that social media is working for that group. 10,949

    Yesterday I combined all the comments into a pdf. Came to 108 pages. I am working on an analysis to feed into the panel process. There is a mix of personal stories, argument from medical people and the community alike. Most posts are a sentence or two, perhaps 25% would count as a paragraph.
    Only one negative comment “go private”, and only two comments off topic. Postings are heartfelt and rational. Many have made me very proud of my fellow humans.

    Another point to note is that much like this site, the facebook group is a conversation, not a one-shot media release. With the massive uptake, Richard (Thomson) and I have had to to work very hard to maintain that flow. In the last few days people from the community have been taking up that facilitation role (one young woman from Gore has been amazing). We’ve also had many clinicians giving people detailed feedback on their questions. Again, I think we can learn from this for the DCC. This new way of consulting is really about collaboration. It works best when everyone is part of the conversation. 10,961.

  14. Peter

    It helps, with this issue, when everyone can see the ramifications and there aren’t powerful political and media interests who cover up the implications of a major funding decision. This is an easy issue to support.

  15. Peter, you’re right that it is easy to get behind this one, it is a perfect example of communities rallying in response to an external threat. I think though, that there are in fact powerful forces against us here. It has taken a month of intensive action and almost continual contact to get the Auckland-based national media to take notice (meanwhile a bit of shoplifting from Otago Museum gets national coverage).

    In addition to the arguments of increased cost (financial and personal), David Parker points to this being the last straw for Dunedin, and that other places are revelling in it. At the public forum yesterday Parker pointed out that we are capital of education in NZ, but not much else. Removing neurosurgery from Dunedin will badly damage the Medical School, that will give more impetus to Canterbury and Wellington to have their own Med Schools, and that would decimate the OU health sciences and massively benefit AU. Accepting an argument that a two person service is not viable opens the gates to us losing many other services. This, Parker argues, could be the tipping point for the city.

    Bizarrely, it appears that a truly full costing of the proposal to centralise neurosurgery in Christchurch was never done.

    (btw here’s my live tweeting from the public forum last night – might be a couple of pages down if you’re reading late).

    • Elizabeth

      ### ODT Online Fri, 6 Aug 2010
      We speak with one voice
      By Elspeth McLean
      In what several speakers described as an unprecedented display of southern unity, Otago and Southland local body representatives joined about 1000 people in the Dunedin Town Hall last night to demand neurosurgery services be retained in Dunedin.
      Read more

      Other ODT stories:

      * Up to 10,000 in neurosurgery march

      * Students join the march

      * Ryall questioned; gives hint at decision

      * More pictures of the town hall meeting

      * View a slideshow of photos from the march

      * More on the neurosurgery debate…

      • Elizabeth

        ### August 6, 2010 – 7:18pm
        Thousands participate in march to protest against possible loss of neurosurgery
        At midday today, thousands from the community here took part in a march from the Octagon to the Hospital to protest against the possible loss of neurosurgery from the city. The crowd then surrounded Dunedin hospital, where participants linked hands to show united support for the life saving service.
        Video (02:59)

        ### Fri, 06 Aug 2010 6:12p.m.
        Thousands protest neuro unit closure
        By Annabelle Jackman
        As many as 10,000 people have marched through Dunedin to protest against the possible closure of the region’s brain surgery unit at Dunedin Hospital. The marchers had a clear message for the Government: drop any idea of moving the neuro-surgery unit to Christchurch. Dunedin’s main street became a sea of faces at lunchtime as thousands from all over Otago and Southland put aside tomorrow’s Ranfurly Shield rivalry to protest.
        Read more + Video

        ### Updated 18:22 Published: 12:08PM Friday August 06, 2010
        Thousands protest loss of neurosurgery
        Source: ONE News/Newstalk ZB
        A march through the streets of Dunedin is underway as locals voice their opposition to plans to remove neurological services in the region
        Video (01:51)

  16. Stu

    From Digital Strategy steering group meeting today – as many laptops and iPads as paper!
    Getting there.
    Good meeting, by the way. Very excited about what is coming.

    • Elizabeth

      This sounds fun Stu, hey sing out if you want a clean thread on digital strategy to carry any news/thoughts in future. Here is taking a major little side journey for the common good :) but can always stretch back to whence it came, something about brains, connections and paper and IT and …

  17. kate

    There is a connection with our built environment though. I spent yesterday with community groups looking at some work that was happening with schools and inter agency services in the Tasman Marlborough area. The afternoon was the digital strategy. Both meetings have schools as key assets – the first as a community base, the second as key points of delivery that the government values.

    With changes in demographics and previous (shortsighted) school closures eg Patearoa and Dunback then certain areas could get little support in the future if their schools close eg Paerau. Is the story any different in Dunedin. There are changes happening in school roles that may be temporary, or reflect an interesting dynamic and the answer is always closure. The community loses long term with less facilities and the access to digital technology and fibre is reduced or delayed. Why can’t schools be like neurosurgery, one service two sites. One Principal, merged Boards and less admin. The problem is I think that the Ministry are so hands off they never look at other solutions for communities and assist them happening. They let the roles reduce without intervention and the inevitable happens.

    I appreciate that this is slightly off course but if we want computer clubs, want computer literacy and all communities to have access to fast broadband, closure of schools has to be of concern.

  18. Russell Garbutt

    I recall reading the letters of support in Cr Guest’s application for re-instatement. Can anyone remind me which current Councillors gave such letters of support?

  19. Phil

    I remember those letters. Most of them were either irrelevant or designed to misrepresent. Many were written by DCC staff members, using DCC letterheads, but had nothing to do with the DCC. One example which came to mind was a DCC letterhead letter which commented how Mr Guest had helped out at the author’s children’s kindergarden’s BBQ. Likewise from the CEO and about half a dozen councillors. Absolutely nothing to do with his suitability for the position. Fortunately, the way they were dismissed so quickly implied that the panel saw them for the smokescreen they were.

    • Elizabeth

      The 90 letters were bundled and indexed – and were available on the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal website.

      Russell asked “Can anyone remind me which current Councillors gave such letters of support?”

      The index and bundle show:

      Mr Peter Chin – Mayor of Dunedin
      Mr Sydney Brown – Deputy Mayor of Dunedin
      Mr Richard Walls QSO JP – Councillor, Former Mayor of Dunedin
      Mr John Bezett – Councillor, Former Deputy Mayor
      Mr Bill Acklin – Dunedin City Councillor
      Mr Colin Weatherall – Dunedin City Councillor
      Mr Anderw Noone – Dunedin City Councillor

      Amongst other leading citizens on the list are:

      Mr Jim Harland – CEO Dunedin City

      Mr Malcolm Farry – Dentist, Chair Otago Stadium Trust

      Mr Maurice Prendergast – Former Deputy Mayor Dunedin

      Mr Michael Deaker – Otago Regional Council, Former Deputy Mayor, Invercargill

  20. Russell Garbutt

    I seem to remember our esteeemed Mayor, Peter Chin, being very supportive of the reinstatement of Cr Michael Guest despite Guest’s actions.

    Surely such a luminary wouldn’t have supported a person that had been found to have acted improperly?

    Isn’t there a document that shows the whole list of supporters of Guest along with a letter that Guest wrote to the Law Society to try and stop some damaging information becoming public?

    Remind me again – isn’t Michael Guest seeking to represent our ratepayers again?

  21. Russell Garbutt

    Thanks for that Elizabeth.

    It makes me really wonder about the judgement of people like Chin, Brown, Walls, Bezett, Acklin, Weatherall and Noone. Probably not a surprise to see CEO Harland in there based on his performance to date, and of course Farry has a number of strong reasons to support Guest – about 350 million and counting.

    But it seems that if these people’s judgements are misplaced about Cr Guest, then I wonder if their judgements are misplaced about other things.

    • Elizabeth

      I look at it this way – most don’t enjoy adversity, most would wish a colleague well in applying for reinstatement, and most would not have done their homework on the person, or know what the legal / ethical rigour is for reinstatement, or consider letters of support as something to dash out as a good citizen (like the old days of refereeing, how many UNsuitable employees can a person hire without doing the full checks)… I don’t blame them, they’re the same people that gifted us the stadium, they know no better possibly than that ink dries.

      Said with extreme irony.

      We all make mistakes.

      • Elizabeth

        Last week at What if? we experienced our highest total weekly views for 2010.
        This week (with what time remains to midnight, and one more day to run) we have surpassed last week’s total by 275…

  22. Elizabeth

    Attending ‘virtual’ Taupo District Council meetings proves popular

    6 September 2010

    In addition to the live webcasting of Council meetings, viewers can now access the on-demand, archived footage of the Council meetings at a time convenient for them via council’s website.

    The live webcast is already proving popular with plans to webcast the Council meeting on Wednesday 8th September at which Council will review the changes to the draft Taupo Urban and Commercial Structure Plan.

    Communications Manager Suzanne Takiwa says Council were offered free trials by two prospective providers and were able to compare the viewer experience, cost and value added services before making a decision to accept the offer from Tandem Studios. She said there was a steady stream of live feedback during the broadcast both locally and right around the country with very positive comments.

    Ms Takiwa says, “Tandem not only provided a seamless viewer experience but are also offering extra services such as editing and archiving at less cost. After undergoing a steep learning curve implementing the webcasts, we now believe the ability to access the footage on-demand is critical.”

    Google analytics tracked around 275 visits during the three hours the meeting was being broadcast with another 80 or so visits during the rest of the day.

    “Given we have 42% ratepayers out of the district, the ability for people near or far to attend ‘virtual’ Council meetings at their convenience is especially relevant. The reality is we very rarely get anyone coming along in person so we are thrilled to be able to open up the business of Council to our ratepayers and residents,” said Ms Takiwa. “It will be interesting to see how many more people make use of the on-demand service over time.”

    Those wanting to watch the meeting can access the link via Council’s website here and viewers are encouraged to provide feedback via the Taupo District Council Facebook page.

    “There is a link on both websites to our facebook page and we will announce upcoming meetings, as well as other information of interest via facebook as well as the usual channels,” said Ms Takiwa.


  23. Stu

    This is a good thing. I am firmly of the opinion that public portions of local Government meetings should be broadcast as widely as possible. The technology exists to do this at low cost.

    Regarding paperless, there is a debate going on with regard to iPads for some local authority members in the UK. I expect that debate to be repeated here, very soon.

    This was discussed briefly yesterday in Digital Strategy steering group; while the Strategy doesn’t mandate “paperless” as a goal, it does try to provide a framework in which that goal could be achieved successfully (there’s more to it than just moving paper onto a digital platform, there are infrastructure and process costs involved).

    My take on it is that individuals will lead the process and this can be seen already where Council members and staff are using iPads and laptops to facilitate working. More widespread wi-fi and secure portals will help with access to information, etc. In the past, many of these initiatives have failed as the analysis didn’t reveal any benefit because the overall system cost was too high. Given an environment now where we are building a wide framework to support many providers building and integrating things, that cost can be much reduced.

    On the transparency side, doing your business in public is the way to go. It allows the public to make up their own mind about who is fit to govern and a recording on proceedings creates a _document_ of what happened.

    • Elizabeth

      The strategy included 10 projects to develop a “digital Dunedin”, including a wireless service across the central city and outlying suburbs, a Dunedin city portal to integrate information in a single entity, and a computer club house to provide digital access for those without it.

      ### ODT Online Thu, 17 Mar 2011
      Approval for ‘Dunedin digital office’
      By David Loughrey
      A “Dunedin digital office” approved this week is expected to cost the city up to $325,000 and add two staff members to the council’s books. But Mayor Dave Cull has argued the cost must be borne to make sure other New Zealand cities did not get “way ahead of us” in digital development.
      Read more

  24. Stu

    To add to the above:

    iPads, iPhones and laptops in Russian parliament.

    With this stuff, coherency rather than designed integration is the path to efficiency.

  25. peter

    What is a computer club house? How is this different than just going to an internet shop? Is it free?
    I understand the councillors who are pushing this have been told by relevant council employees that there are sufficient skill levels currently available in this area within the council. What is the point of appointing two new people to the payroll, especially given the financial pickle we are in?
    Is it correct that the Otago Polytechnic has been ‘expanding their empire’ to be part of this initiative – with the approval of councillors whose ears have been bended to agree to their participation?

    {See Dunedin Digital Strategy – Dunedin City Council at this page. -Eds}

    • Elizabeth

      Councillors were told last week it was becoming difficult to find more areas where savings could be made, but they approved the creation of a “digital office”, costing as much as $325,000 every year.

      ### ODT Online Tue, 22 Mar 2011
      Editorial: Deciding on service priorities
      Dunedin City Council staff have been instructed by councillors to search for savings in costs at every level – yet again – and it is to be wondered what degree of effort has been applied in achieving progress, given the repetitive nature of the order. Ratepayers may be forgiven for feeling a strong sense of déjà vu.
      Read more

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