“The power for this data to support high impact communication and storytelling is massive. We can pull out insights and visualise them, and tell a story in a way that we have previously not been able to do… It’s a completely different experience when you look at the place and its data together.”
– Jessica Noyes, Reimagining Campbelltown Lead, Campbelltown City Council
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Here we talk with Jessica Noyes, Reimagining Campbelltown Lead, Campbelltown City Council
BONNIE: Hi I’m Bonnie Shaw, Co-founder at Place Intelligence. Today I’m thrilled to be talking with Jess Noyes – one of our close collaborators at Campbelltown Council. Jess is leading a transformational program of work for one of Sydneys fastest growing LGAs.
Welcome Jess – can you introduce yourself and share a little of your background?
Jess: Hi my name is Jess Noyes. I’m the Reimagining Campbeltown Lead at Campbelltown City Council in Western Sydney. I worked as a social planner in a consulting firm for a number of years where I got a lot of exposure to a lot of different parts of city making. Particularly in how communities can be involved in shaping their places, and how cities can better serve the people that live in them.
From there, I found my way to state government at the Greater Sydney Commission where I worked on the Collaboration Areas Program. The collaboration area that I was leading was Campbelltown, and I worked really closely with a lot of the team at council as they were developing the Re-imagining Masterplan for the city centre.
When it was done, they were looking for someone to help coordinate and lead the implementation. So I applied and ended up in council leading delivery. Campbelltown has been a big part of my life for a good few years now!
BONNIE: What led you into the public sector?
JESS: I kind of always assumed I would work in the public sector, to be honest. It was more of a shock when I started out as a consultant.
Both my parents are public servants and are very strong values based people. Growing up we often had discussions about what was going on in the world, and what’s a worthwhile career. So I always assumed that I would be in some kind of public service role, but it took me a bit of a roundabout way to get here, I suppose.
BONNIE: So with that strong values base to your work – what would you say is your driving passion?
JESS: It really comes back to people. For me, with planning, it’s about what kind of opportunities that are available to people outside their front door? Or inside their home? What is their quality of life? And what determines those different things? What kind of opportunities do their kids have? What kind of recreational activities do they get to enjoy to support their wellbeing?
All of this stuff is so wrapped up in the places that you live and work and what you have access to. That’s really what I think and care about the most.
BONNIE: So you’re working with Place Intelligence now to support you to achieve those place outcomes. Can you describe a little bit about the work that’s underway?
JESS: Campbelltown has been really fortunate to be awarded a few grants from the NSW government to undertake a range of projects to activate our city centre. Reimagining Campbelltown (our city centre masterplan) identified tactical urbanism approaches as a way to test short term interventions to get to long term improvements so that set us up for success in our application..
When we were one of two councils across the state to receive $1mil funding from the NSW Government’s Streets as Shared Spaces program, there was a lot of excitement about what that investment could enable for our community. While projects were being planned my focus shifted to evaluation – every good evaluator knows that the evaluation approach really needs to be in place before you actually deliver the project.
So I focused on that piece and worked with the broader team to create some measures – what are the outcomes we’re really trying to deliver here? How do we codify those, and think about how we might measure them.
The brief we went to market with was a big long list of things that we wanted to do – we knew there were lots of advances in using big data but weren’t sure exactly what could be done so we kept it very outcomes focused. Through that process, we engaged Place Intelligence, and we’ve been working with you for the last year or so now to get all that data together to better understand and communicate the impact of our projects. With the grant as a catalyst, it gave us an opportunity to try something a bit different that perhaps we wouldn’t normally be able to do.
To be honest, this measurement space is not where my expertise is, and so I have really appreciated just how much of the information and insight that you’ve provided can be used in a really digestible way. This process has also allowed us to bring in different parts of Council to see what kind of information is available and what else we can use it for.
People make a lot of assumptions about what you can and can’t do with data. This process of working with Place Intelligence has really opened up a whole range of opportunities about what sort of information we can access, and how we can start to answer questions in a different way, or respond to community members in different ways.
Now that we’re on the journey, we’re exploring how we can use all this data and insight to evaluate the technical interventions that we’ve put in on Queen Street in particular. And to think about how we’re doing that next phase of planning to implement Reimagining Campbelltown more broadly.
We’ve got our vision and our high level projects that we’re working on, and we’re scoping to narrow down to deliver a whole range of specific initiatives. So the intelligence is going to be really helpful for us, not just the Streets are Shared Spaces project, but for a whole range of planning and other projects that we’ve got coming up.
BONNIE: That’s so good to hear. Particularly the piece around transferred value and how you’re applying the work both in the initial project, but now also in a wide range of other initiatives and strategic planning across council.
How are you seeing the data being used day to day?
JESS: We focused on two types of analytics – movement and activity analytics about how people are actually using public spaces, and then a focus on social listening to understand what people are saying about Campbeltown – because the perception of Campbelltown is a real challenge for us and doesn’t fairly reflect our city.
We’re in the early stages of using the activity and mobility data in the GeoData Studio for the City Centre Design Framework. Next we’re working on how to incorporate the insights into our planning looking at the relationship between transport and land use. Then the next phase will look at a detailed public domain plan to really land that spatial structure.
It’s going to be a really useful evidence base for us, as we unpack those next stages of the project. I think there are a whole bunch of business cases and other initiatives that are underway that will really benefit from this.
The social listening work has been really interesting for us as well – particularly sharing it with our engagement team to see how it aligns with their feedback. It’s a fascinating way to get another perspective on what people think about a place – rather than just asking someone a direct question and getting an answer. To see how that answer might be different if it’s community members posting it themselves. I think that’s something that we’ll probably revisit over time as part of our programming, engagement and evaluation.
BONNIE: So you mentioned that different groups in council are finding their own applications for the intelligence. Who’s using it now and what for?
JESS: The initial people I’ve been speaking with are our Research and Insights team obviously, because they do a lot of the number crunching for teams across the organisation. They have a good view of what’s going on and what kind of questions need to be answered. They’ll use this intelligence to contribute to things like business cases or assessment of places. I think it will be especially useful for projects related to commercial space, where in the past, numbers might have been estimated. And now we have a much more robust evidence base.
Our City Strategy Team will find a lot of value as they work through all the projects to ensure strategic alignment with Reimagining and translate it into more specific projects and planning controls.
The other area is our Partnerships Team, who I work really closely with, and are responsible for leading advocacy and representing Campbelltown in the various forums that we sit in like the Western Parklands City and the City Deal. We have a bunch of major projects that are going on in Campbelltown that we can provide insights to over time. It’s been interesting to think about what is coming up and what sort of insights we need to support them. For that advocacy piece, it’s also about what we’re asking for – and then what do we need to put in our business case when we make the ask?
Our Traffic and Transport Team have a lot of really interesting, really specific questions that they would like to use the data for. Our Operations Teams are looking at the data to start conversations about understanding patterns of use and how we might think about that in terms of city servicing.
I sit in the strategy space so that’s where most of the conversations have been had so far. But I think as we expand it out, we’ll start to see how we can use it even more.
Everyone I speak to has a different use case. They’re like: “Oh, I could use that for this and I’m like, sure! Go for it!”
BONNIE: What do you think some of the skills are that people need to be able to use this data well? Are they skills that most built environment professionals have? Or do you think there’s a gap that needs to be filled?
MARY: I think the most important thing is really knowing what the question is.
I do think there’s a challenge in getting bogged down in the minutiae of so much information – you can fall down a rabbit hole very quickly. But if you know the questions you’re trying to answer, you should be able to navigate fairly well.
But it really depends on what you do. I don’t have a GIS background, but I’m confident that I can use the GeoData Studio to do most of what I need to do.
As a non-GIS person, I feel confident that I can navigate the GeoData Studio, at least to try to get to where I want to go and visualise at least some of the trends that we want to look at. I feel like for the vast majority of people, the app will be adequate. Then there might be a few super users who will need to import the data into their own GIS or business intelligence software and manipulate it, but I think that will be a minority of cases for the most part.
In the work we’re doing with Place Intelligence, I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to be the main contact with the team. So I’ve been able to talk through all the work in quite a lot of detail. For people coming to it fresh, they need a bit more support to understand what it is, how it works, and how to apply it. Access to fact sheets and training – that kind of stuff.
BONNIE: Yes absolutely – and that’s why we’re so committed to investing in our global community of data practitioners and collaborators – bringing them together to participate in training, coaching, and best practice seminars from leading experts in the field, and also to share their own case studies from across local government and professional practice.
After many years leading tech driven org change in government, corporate, and non-profits we know the time and focus required to build literacy in new data practices and tools. We’re determined to bring that hard won experience to this work to ensure that the good people we work with are building the right skills needed to wield this data effectively for real change. Skillset is a big focus for us. And so is mindset – or culture.
What sort of culture do you think an organisation needs to be able to respond to the insights that come out of this work?
JESS: Well to start with, you’ve got to have a commitment to evidence based decision making as the first principle. Reimagining Campbelltown is very strong on that point.
We’ve put ourselves out there and said that making evidence based decisions is what it means to be a smart city in Campbelltown. It’s not about sensors or tech or the things that people often think of in the smart cities world. It’s just about how you engage with data and are committed to evidence. That’s the first step.
Next, I think there has to be a bit of a willingness to move away from business as usual. There’s a whole world of new things out there that are available now, that you never would have been able to do before. And if you’re to get the benefit of that, you need to have some willingness to potentially discard previous practices or at least take them with a grain of salt. For example – if you had a particular evidence base in the past, and now you have access to new types of data, what is the most appropriate to use for the specific situation?
It’s interesting thinking about Sydney and all various projects and all the various places, and sometimes things get done really well and they’re really successful and sometimes they don’t. But there’s always something that you can learn from those projects, and I think these kinds of tools expand the world that you can learn from what makes a successful project and then what is not.
You need to think flexibly about what the different dimensions or characteristics of success for each project may be. That’s kind of challenging for Reimagining Campbelltown because the City Centre Masterplan contains such a diversity of individual projects, which could be as different as an upgrade to a public domain, or the creation of a whole new precinct, or even a policy change. They will all need to be evaluated in their own way, so having the Place Intelligence data as part of that evaluation kit is so valuable. It’s all about putting it in context. It’s not trying to use it for everything, but it’s trying to actually get the most out of it and rethink the way we’ve done things before.
Using evidence to understand what has happened in our place over time, combined with a willingness to learn about our mistakes as well as our successes. I think that is the real key.
BONNIE:What kind of role do you think communication and storytelling plays in the success of this work?
JESS: Council does so much and serves the whole community. And people really care about where they’re from. So much of our work is dependent on community feedback and support to maintain that success. I’ve done a lot of community engagement – in a wide range of forums, different conversations with a wide range of people, across a lot of different places. Having the right tools to communicate in those settings is critical.
The power for this data to support high impact communication and storytelling is massive. You can pull out insights and visualise them, and tell a story in a way that you have previously not been able to do.
The first thing I did when I started at council was to review all of that community engagement reports (especially for Reimagining Campbelltown) but also the Community Strategic Plan and a range of other projects. Because it’s really important to understand what the community cares about, and how they speak and think, and what they value.
The opportunity to visualise actual data and bring data driven storytelling into the community engagement process is huge. And to transform that engagement from these one off individual projects into a long term, ongoing program like Reimagining Campbelltown is such a massive opportunity. It’s very front of mind for me at the moment, and I think the Place Intelligence data will give us a lot to build on.
The urban renewal process is a change management process. People love the places that they live in. People love Campbelltown, they absolutely love it. They acknowledge that there are things that they want to change, but they also don’t want things to change too much, or too quickly. Which is why, again, the tactical urbanism work is so powerful for revitalising a main street. You can test things and – if you’re appropriately measuring their impact – learn from them.
We can have a conversation with the community. Measure the outcomes and come back with some data. Show them how people are using it, how it’s performing economically. Then go back to the community with our next round of updates and say: “Okay, so this is what you told us, and this is what’s actually happening. This is what we’ve done in response. What do you think? What should we do now?” Engaging is this way can take away some of the trauma that happens when there are really big changes to a precinct or place.
It will be interesting to see how we’re able to communicate change over time for the whole Campbelltown city centre, and for individual projects as well. Now that we’ve got activity data for the whole city centre, we have an evidence base to do that.
The other thing I think this data will be really important for is unpacking all those counterintuitive things in city building like induced demand for transport. Who would think that adding another lane to reduce traffic will actually increase it? Or the common refrain that we need more car parking. I’m excited for us to bring this evidence base to our communications in these types of conversations. As we get better at using the data and practising with it on projects and how we go back to the community – I think it’ll improve over time. They’re just such massive opportunities for us. Because at the end of the day we have to bring the community along this journey with us.
So the storytelling is very powerful for us.
BONNIE: Jess you’re really making me miss my time in council! We used to talk about how the community gave us the licence to do the work. We needed their authorisation and trust that we knew what we were doing and were going to do it well. That generally meant that we had to build literacy in the community about the changes that we were responding to. We had to work up to some of the bigger projects over time and prove that what we were doing was working to be trusted to do more.
JESS: Totally. Trust is a big challenge for all levels of government these days. But the thing that gives me lots of hope is that we’ve got so many different specialists from different areas, who each bring their own angle.
If you can bring them together into that shared vision/bigger picture, then it’s a process of two way capacity building. It’s a big ongoing process of developing trust with the community, and with fellow colleagues to try to reach for that shared vision together.
BONNIE:Looking to the near future, what do you think some of the big challenges are for Campbelltown (or cities more generally)?
JESS: For Campbelltown in particular, vehicle dependence is crippling. It’s the cause of (and solution to) so many of our problems, from parking, to busy main roads, to the type of greenfield development underway, the type of public transport offered to access to services.
It’s a huge issue for us to unpack, and it’s not going to be solved by any one thing. We really need to think about a package of responses – whether it’s policy change, capital projects, behaviour change initiatives – how do we layer all those things to develop within a staged way to manage the transition away from cars? Because we really need to do that. But it’s extremely politically difficult because we’re located on the edge of the city metro area and people rely on cars to get around because they aren’t good alternatives.
Added to that, the type of development that reinforces that dependence on cars is pretty desirable post-pandemic. People want to have more space, and a home office, and bigger backyard for the kids, and all of that kind of stuff. So it’s going to be hard to unpack those things. And then what’s that behaviour change piece that you need to do? I don’t know how that will go. It’s a big challenge for us.
The other issue I’m really interested in is the future of big shopping centres. What does that look like? Because the future of retail is unclear. And so many centres in other parts of the world are transitioning to other functions – lifestyle and wellness uses, community facilities, office space, etc. We have several large centres in Campbelltown, and we now know – thanks to your data – that they have the highest levels of activity from across the LGA.
After such rapid change these last few years, there are a lot of questions that are up in the air from a planning perspective. Years of work had seen us build a shared understanding with people identifying a preference for smaller homes, fewer cars, etc. But all that has shifted a lot with Covid. How do we all get back on the same page about what our shared future looks like? How do we have those conversations? How do we set ourselves up for success?
BONNIE:So my follow up question to that is always, how do you think good data can support better solutions to those challenges?
Jess: Well at its core, good data gives us an evidence base to lead these conversations from a local place perspective. The Place Intelligence data gives us a whole range of evidence that we have not had before, and a strong visual way to communicate.
Rather than reading a sentence that says “five percent of something” or a table that has rows and rows of numbers, you can actually see the data represented in place. It’s a completely different experience when you look at the place and its data together.
For me at least, it really kicks off a whole bunch of new questions or interpretations that I might have for the data in a way that I rarely get from just looking at a table or a sentence with it all written out. That’s a real power of these analytics.
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