Hello America…..This Is Australia Calling

Posted on July 21, 2014

ELGL green icon

Perhaps we should add an “I” in front of ELGL as we have gone international with new correspondents Andrew Coulson and Ashleigh Weeden (Canada). Andrew introduces you to……..himself and highlights six important news articles in the first entry in his new ELGL column. A Vegemite cheers to Andrew’s debut!

Our Man Down Under


by Andrew Coulson, July 21, 2013

Connect: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest

Hello America, Come in America… This is Australia Calling.

In true ELGL style, it gives me great pleasure to bring you the first local government update from Australia (more commonly known as the “Land Down Under”, and I don’t mean your unmentionables area). Also, in ELGL style, I will avoid the serious news stories and the mundane policy updates, in favor of news stories that you will actual read and learn from.  You know the tear inducing WTFs! and guffaw inducing OMGs… That’s how ELGL does right… am I right!?

Now Australia, as we have seen from the ‘Round the World’ feature, is a land of stereotypes so its fitting that your author is not a blond dread-locked, overly-tanned surf dude nor a beer swilling, singlet wearing sheep shearer but a mild mannered, tea drinking Pom (Limey to you Americans) with a penchant for disruptive and innovative community engagement.

More this….


Less that…….


That’s a long-winded way as saying my name is Andrew E. Coulson and I’m a chocoholic…

My background? I have 12 years’ experience in Community Engagement across local government, social housing and charity in both the UK and Australia. (No I don’t know the Queen, and yes we do have electricity). I currently work for a large local council 25kms north of the city of Adelaide in South Australia. The council area has a population of just over 130,000 people (2% aboriginal) with a wide demographic spread of young and old, religions, languages and nationalities. The area has a low socio-economic background, is favoured by new migrants to the area due to cheap housing and is currently suffering a big blow after the announcement that Australia’s only home grown car manufacturer, Holden, will close its factory in the area in the next two years. As a council we have a reputation for being innovative due to our forward thinking water recycling business, wetland maintenance and increasingly good community engagement practice being one of the first councils in the world to use Pinterest and, though I don’t wish to blow my own trumpet, winning four local and national awards in the last year for our work on engaging the community in our projects.

Enough about my work, let’s get on to the fun, here are six news stories that are trending in Australia.

1. Air Brakes: Council Halts Trolley Gone Walkabout

Now ‘gone walkabout’ is such an Australian term and here ‘The Queensland Times’ has used it to describe the plight of missing shopping trolleys (again I’m aware of the mainly American audience so Shopping Trolley = Shopping Cart/Kart).

1The story covers how one council in Queensland has had enough of ‘the eyesore of abandoned shopping trolleys’ and has enacted legislation to introduce laws that require retailers to fit an automatic wheel locks on all its shopping trolleys. Thus, once a thief with a fetish for trolleys passes a certain point, trolley wheels will lock and the thief will be unable to take it no further and the crime thwarted.  This means no more abandoned trolleys in rivers or  residential streets. The council has also included a fine for retailers who don’t comply and is also encouraging all other local councils across Australia to follow suit after setting a precedent.

A sad day for Australian Johnny Knoxville’s looking to pull an airborne 360 in a borrowed trolley and end up a star on YouTube.

2. It’s the End of the World as We Know It

A story from June but worth highlighting as it may have implications in councils ability to prepare for disasters.

Each year Australia rides the waves (no pun intended) of natural disasters much like parts of America. Instead of tornadoes and hurricanes, Australia faces bush fires, and  bloody big bush fires. Save the Children Australia is encouraging schools to help children prepare for a range of possible natural disasters including earthquakes, bush fire and floods. A staff member said “When children actually know what to do and are prepared, they actually cope better when bad things happen”, which to be honest is true with anyone and anything.

The lingering question is “what should local government’s role be in being disaster preparedness?” Early warnings systems, communication before and after the event are major responsibilities for the local level. Communication is  important because as a council you have the data on every residential address in your area. This is especially helpful in contacting the inhabitants and planning for a safe evacuation.

In early 2014, during its shut down period for Christmas, Redland City Council faced this disaster test with its biggest bushfire in 30 years. What happened next can be seen in this presentation. Being prepared with an established communications plan highlighted the effectiveness of social media  in evacuating more than 1,000 residents and tourists.

3. #WinterCoatAdl – A Fun and Interest Coat…..Who Knew?

Believe it or not, Australia does get cold in winter, and right now, it is winter. Though not as cold as parts of the northern hemisphere, you can feel pretty chilly after months of not being able to sleep because its 30 degrees at 1:00 a.m.

3The Adelaide City Council this year decided to add a little fun into the winter months by launching a competition/charity drive called #WinterCoatAdl or Winter Coat Adelaide. Winter Coat Adelaide encouraged people visiting the city to take a selfie of them wearing their winter coat in a city location using a smart phone and share it via numerous social media platforms using the hashtag. Numerous prizeslinked to local retailers in the city were available each week for the best photo throughout June and most of July with the overall winner getting a night’s luxury stay in the city centre with a $1000 shopping spree.

BrbUTljIAAAVgc_As well as the competition and in partnership with a local charity the council also asked that whilst visiting the city people donated their old coats to benefit someone less well off. Placing special collection bins at certain points throughout the city the council encouraged shoppers buying new winter togs to donate their old ones and help keep someone else warm in the process. Though the promotion has now closed Adelaide City Council managed to collect 1000’s of old coats which are now destined to help keep those less fortunate warm in the colder winter months. Bravo Adelaide.

(Photo courtesy of Adelaide City Council)

4. If It’s Lunchtime, It Must Be Game Time

4Numerous organisations and councils across Australia are following the trend of gamifing that seems to be sweeping the world. By taking mandane, but important city news, councils are designing games to make council blurrrgggh more council YAY!, and in turn help people to understand complex tasks or rules it would like its residents/service users to follow.

This month’s offering comes from the Brisbane City Council which has designed games for you to learn about recycling, rain gardens, and worm farms. Yes, worm farms.

5. How Would You Spend $6 Billion?

tumblr_lq55t6IXLl1qfjko2o1_r1_500Next, we move to Melbourne in Victoria where the City is asking residents, “How should we spend our money?”

According news reports,  ‘a panel of 43 “everyday” Melbournians will advise council on how it should spend its money for the next 10 years. The randomly selected group will be given unprecedented access to the municipality’s financial books and experts’.

Wow I hear you say… wow indeed. This is one of two people’s panels happening in the city which residents and business owners will advise councilors on budgets totaling $6 billion! The project is costing more than $150,00 and includes paying citizens $500 for up to 100 hours work. Those who are not selected for the panel can join in through the online participatory budget tool.

6. Govhack and Govcamp Australian Style

July has given us Govhack and Govcamp — two weekend gathering opportunities for like-minded people to make government better.

GovHack saw teams use a wide range of available government data (including some local government) to make the world a better place usually in the form of an app. Bringing together coders, data analyst and digital gurus, GovHack led to a rather impressive array of team projects right across Australia. All projects can be viewed and explored here.

7GovCamp was a slightly different by bringing  together those interested in government (you didn’t have to work in government) to discuss issues and develop innovative solutions. Transcending six Australian cities and using live link ups with key note speakers, such as Dominic Campbell of FutureGov (UK), the group of disrupters listened to theories of ‘burn it down and start again’ collaboration to how “hot desking” can  change a culture by breaking down those annoying silo walls.

Using an unconference approach, a Twitter hashtag #gcAu and hackpad cities shared conversations on the best ways forward. I went to the Adelaide event with 22 others where the best stories of the day were how a local bank has revolutionized its main office functions to allow more cross department working and how the local power network has used an internal ‘ideasbank’ where staff can access. The process saves thousands of dollars on everyday processes. I don’t think anything we achieved any first time breakthroughs, discussions were started and new networks built.

Bye For Now

89So that’s July from Down Under. A story to watch for the remainder of July is councils around Australia participating in a National Day of Tweeting to answer the question – What do our councils do for us? Watch and join in as councils across the country tweet from sun up to sun down using #MPMC.

Australia over and out!

Supplemental Reading

Close window