by QLDC Infrastructure Operations Manager Erin Moogan

Three months on from the roll out of its new kerbside collection service and the team at Queenstown Lakes District Council are breathing a sigh of relief. For anyone who’s ever played a part in changing the way their community manages its rubbish and recycling they’ll appreciate the challenge.

Infrastructure Operations Manager Erin Moogan remarks that for QLDC adapting the way the district’s waste is managed has been a long process.

“When we started working on our waste contracts 4 years ago we had 11 different contracts across the district. Bringing all those contracts together with a common expiry date was the key first step so that we could start with a clean slate for how to address our escalating waste volumes over the next 10-15 years,” she said.

Ms Moogan said that work started in earnest two and a half years out from the contracts ending.  So while the team gave themselves plenty of time, there were some key learnings taken from the process:

Identify objectives and critical success factors…

…and use a thorough business case process to truly test and evaluate the best model of delivery.  “What we thought was right for us at the beginning of the process was quite different to where we got to. There have been many times since the start of the contracts that I’ve felt like we had a lucky escape by not going with an alternate approach.”

Data is critical

”For us and many councils around the country, our rating data is up to date once a year. We worked closely with our rates team for 10 months prior to new services commencing. That meant our data was about 95% accurate when the new collection routes and timetables were created. However that remaining 5% meant that we added over 1000 additional properties to the list for our contractors to service whilst they were already underway with rolling out 50,000 new bins across the district. I’m surprised they didn’t quit on the spot.”

Get your executive team and councillors on board from the beginning…

… and set clear expectations. “Developing and tendering long term operational contracts is hard. Changing community behaviour when you’re changing how you collect and manage their waste is really hard.. There’s a reason most Councils only do this once a decade. I was given anecdotes of Councils who still hadn’t fully embedded a new service a year down the track. So make sure you set the expectations early that even if things go really well, it’s still going to be a rough process.”

Good comms is critical

”Something that got off to a flying start was writing a waste education responsibility into our new contract model. This means there was a team within the contract dedicated to getting the message out to the community on what was changing, why it was changing and how to use the new services. This meant that the contract managers were freed up to deal with the operational issues and the comms component happened pretty seamlessly.”

Resource your customer services team

“When things go well for 95% of the community, that still leaves 5% who are wanting to know what’s happening for them and many of them are pretty cranky that their rates funded service isn’t servicing them the way it should. This put a lot of pressure on our customer services team who were the public interface for community members. There were several times where customers couldn’t get through to anyone due to the volume of bin related phone traffic. If I had my time again I’d look to get the contractor to bring on their customer services people early and have our council refuse team and the contracting team co-located through the final weeks before and after the new services kicked off.”

Look after your people

“his will be a long and at times pretty thankless task for your Contract/Project Manager so make sure you have a network of resource you can pull from when things get crazy to help spread the workload and share the stress.”

So for anyone out there about to embark on the journey, good luck and drop us a line at QLDC if you want to touch base, Ms Moogan said.