One year on from when COVID-19 first hit, the City of Canada Bay in New South Wales takes us through some of the ways they adapted to the pandemic to maintain access to community services and keep citizens connected and supported through the last 12 challenging months.
This article is part of a week of reflection on the past year and what it has meant for individuals, communities and local government. Unlocked: local stories from a global pandemic.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Canada Bay (like everyone) stayed home. Despite this, Council’s team got to work! Social isolation, access to important services and localised support were addressed head on through cross-departmental collaboration, agile strategic thinking and new technology.
A Continuity Management Team as well as a Community Engagement Working Group from across Council were formed quickly to manage the stages of the pandemic, sprouting such initiatives as an outbound call centre for vulnerable people, ramping up our home library service, and a digital community centre that would change the way we worked together and with our community forever.
We developed Canada Bay Connects, a multi-faceted program that centred on repurposing our community engagement platform, Collaborate Canada Bay, into a dynamic portal of information, interactive programs, and community sharing. Previously used to gather feedback from our community for project planning, our organisation hacked together use of the site’s many participation tools to meet the challenges of lockdown head on.
Hosted by Harvest Digital, the focal points of Canada Bay Connects were two microsites, the Community Space and Business Hub that housed tailored information, and repurposed the many interactive tools that Harvest Digital provides in its platform. For the first time, we used their “consultation” tools as “social sharing and engaging” tools and with great success. In fact, Harvest Digital showcased our work on their blog as a new innovative way to use their platform: you can read the blog here.
Our overarching vision was to maintain connection with our community. This would be done in many different ways, but with a consistent strategic approach: be nimble, easy to understand, smart, and real. We needed to overhaul some of our ways of working to come up with new approaches to complex problems. This meant understanding all our stakeholders – the vulnerable, elderly, disabled, CALD, young, old, and everyone in between. Considering what they needed, how they needed to receive it and how we could update and/or revolutionise how we’ve worked in the past in order to meet their needs.
We identified four key ways to meet our community where they were (at home):
- Move in-person programs and services online, making them available to a wider audience
- Move in-person programs to phone calls for seniors, vulnerable people and our all abilities communities
- Update our approach to service delivery by creating a digital one-stop-shop for people seeking up-to-date information and resources
- Ramp up our collaboration with our business community via a tailored space for them as well as on the ground support.
From April to December 2020, the Community Hub was visited over 25,000 times 2020 and received over 1000 contributions from the community. Likewise, the Business Hub received over 6,000 visits and 300 contributions.
Some of our most successful efforts were those that sought out the community’s input and support. The Canada Bay Connects microsites flipped the established consultation technology on its head to provide services that are normally hosted in person, online, including:
Local Legends used the platform’s multimedia upload tool to encourage people to give shout outs about great people doing great things in their area during the pandemic. 25 submissions share local stories of business owners giving away toilet paper to needy customers, pharmacies banding together to ensure their customers have access to medicine, and individuals offering their services to drive seniors to do their shopping. It is a heart-warming display of acts of kindness and initiative that the community visited more than 1,000 times in 2020.
Love Local Map
The Love Local Map – an interactive map for local businesses to upload key information about their offerings and how to reach them during lockdown. This map (duplicated across both microsites – so business can promote themselves and as a directory for the community) now boasts over 131 businesses in our LGA from across 10 industries. The page was viewed 4,000 times in 2020.
The Business Hub asked businesses to sign up to receive ongoing email updates to keep them across Government support programs, various fee waivers from Council, and gather interest for the Mayor’s Business Recovery Taskforce. We currently have 88 “hubsters” who receive ongoing support from us as we build back better. We also used the platform to run a Christmas window dressing competition which received 36 submissions from across the LGA, with the community voting 600 times for their favourite using the up-voting tool.
- 59 libraries and sustainability programs delivered online
- Expansion of the home library service
- Print newsletter for seniors bus trips participants
- Proactive call centre for vulnerable people – a total of 1,066 calls were made during 2020
- Business Hub monthly newsletter delivered to thousands of local businesses
- Business Recovery Taskforce chaired by Mayor Angelo Tsirekas (planning stages only, 2021 delivery)
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