Nadia Webster, Manager Data & Insights, Wellington City Council, New Zealand

By Ming En Liew

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation. 

In my role as Manager Data and Insights at the Wellington City Council (New Zealand), I am part of a dedicated senior leadership team that’s driving change in the way the Council delivers its services and engages the Wellington community to shape the capital city.

We aim to make this city an inclusive, sustainable, and creative capital. This means designing services that support what people want to achieve, when, where and how they want to do so, and enabling them to participate in shaping the city and the Council’s services.

The last couple of years has taught us all that public service is no longer just about being ‘efficient and effective’. The rolling emergencies and wicked problems we now face means that we need to help people understand the complicated, recognise the complex, and help them to make well-informed decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities.

We’re using digital technologies to help people overcome barriers by helping them understand some of the complexity inherent in regulatory processes and empowering them to make their own choices.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?  

Like legislation, city planning rules are typically written by experts, for experts. They are therefore almost unusable by the average person. Just like legislation, there is inherent decision logic in planning rules that makes them suitable to be expressed as machine actionable software code.

At Wellington City Council, we wanted to help people find out if they needed to apply for resource (planning) consent for a proposed residential development. Our Resource Consent Check tool uses Rules as Code District Plan rules and plain language to guide people through the process. This is only the first of many applications of this approach.

This project won a New Zealand Planning Institute Best Practice Award in March 2021 as it took a customer-centric and innovative approach to solving a problem that affects both our customers and our staff.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021?  

Providing people with facts and figures is not enough. If you want people to act on good advice, there first needs to be trust. Next, they need to have the opportunity to understand and apply their understanding in their own context. It is the responsibility of local and central governments to have a deep understanding of the various contexts of the people they serve and to continuously work on building trust with them.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year? 

One of my favourite memories is when I joined my senior leadership team at Wellington City Council and discovered that each member of the team is equally passionate and driven to do the best for our customers. We’re all on the same page, have the same vision, and have a lot of fun together.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022? 

How we can help people to understand the past, present and future of Wellington through digital twin technologies using the data and information we and others hold. I’m excited by the potential to enable people to weave together their own stories and plans for Wellington using new visualisation technologies.

What are your priorities for 2022?  

Transforming the Council’s and public’s access to the data and information we hold, and building a new Data Intelligence Team to help the organisation answer big policy questions facing Wellington City.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?  

Pia Andrews because she inspires people every day to work towards optimistic futures. “We made this. We can re-make it.”

Indy Johar because he makes you re-examine everything you thought you knew about governance and democracy.

Jared Diamond who showed that the trajectory of different human societies has nothing to do with superiority of race and everything to do with guns, germs and steel.

Carl Sagan because of his infectious passion for the universe and everything yet unknown about it.

What gets you up in the morning? 

The opportunity to learn more about yesterday and today, and experiment with making a better tomorrow.