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Regulatory Enforced Engagement Lights Up SA Power Networks State-Wide Consultation

South Australia, Australia

At a Glance

SA Power Networks, the sole electricity distributor in South Australia, serves the energy needs of around 900,000 customers over a vast and diverse region. 'Talking Power' was born from the need to connect with this diverse community, build capacity, and seek input from a broad range of customers across the state.

Problem Addressed

REGULATIONS:

Being a monopoly business, SA Power Networks is required to engage with customers as per the regulators in the sector. Regulatory expectations for engagement underline the need for service providers to address the shifting currents around customers in the sector and region. Driven by new technologies and changing patterns of energy usage and generation, customer expectations around energy in South Australia continue to evolve.

GATHERING FEEDBACK:

Conversations through various channels were already in place. But extending these conversations into a comprehensive engagement program unearthed new value for customers, stakeholders and business alike.

SA Power Networks’ 2020 Reset Customer Engagement Program, initiated in 2017, took a progressive, phased route to activating and sustaining dialogue with 'Talking Power,' the dedicated online engagement space for the program.

REACHING COMMUNITY AND STAKEHOLDERS:

One of the challenges for SA Power Networks was getting people interested in talking about electricity distribution when a lot of the community didn’t quite understand how the industry worked or the role that SA Power Networks played in the space. But this became an opportunity to help customers to get to know the business, and in doing so, enabling the business to get to know their customer community and stakeholders.

Sending out surveys is one simple way to gather public feedback, however, SA Power Networks wanted tools to build trusting relationships with their stakeholders and community members and provide a clearer mutual understanding of issues vs. priorities.

Even as offline engagement activities generated an array of insights, the comprehensive program aimed for broad engagement with the customer community. In addition, there was also the untapped potential of deepening engagement with specialist stakeholders.

SA Power Networks used/is using EngagementHQ to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

Talking Power, the dedicated online engagement space for the program, continues to play a vital role in connecting a broad set of stakeholder and customer communities to talk about planning and managing the state’s electricity network for the 2020-2025 period.

In addition to speaking to regulatory requirements, engagement planners at SA Power Networks recognized how community engagement could help ensure that the business’ plans for the future were in alignment with the needs of the community and stakeholders in the space. Beyond compliance, community engagement spoke to good business practice.

REACHING COMMUNITY:

For the community, engagement meant being able to connect with their service provider and the broader network of customers across the region. In being seen and heard, business, community, and stakeholders could equip themselves and each other with the information and insights that could add a new dimension to their relationship. Given how communication is vital to fostering trust, community engagement offered a way to give and receive information for a clearer mutual understanding of the priorities and issues at hand.

REACHING STAKEHOLDERS AND SPECIALIST GROUPS:

SA Power Networks’ vast and distributed customer and stakeholder community compelled a mix of offline and online engagement activities. Workshops and interactions with a Customer Consultative Panel and reference groups continue to include consumer and customer advocates from a wide range of specialist stakeholder interests.

PROVIDING SECURE INFORMATION SHARING AND INTERACTIVE ENGAGEMENT:

Digital engagement provided unique opportunities for the use of video and interactive capabilities. Information could be reimagined and repackaged to be more accessible and digestible, rather than limit itself to the traditional blocks of text typical of information resources.

As the go-to online space for the program, the site served offline participants in deepening their engagement and, as a dedicated online space for participation, took the dialogue out to the wider community. Reference group members could, for instance, log in to a private page created for them, and join a forum for in-group discussions. They could access workshop materials, project resources and confidential materials, for instance, and contribute further online.

For online participants, Talking Power tapped into polls, maps, surveys, public forums, and newsletters. The themes reflected offline engagement, and topics were kept consistent to help maintain continuity. Engagement planners note that the feedback captured across offline and online engagement tended to be aligned.

In closing the loop, engagement planners published program reports and related resources to bring transparency to the process.

Outcomes

  1. EngagementHQ - digital engagement - provided a comprehensive informational and interactive platform to break through participation barriers and generate state-wide engagement.
  2. Talking Power connected SA Power Networks with this diverse community to build capacity and seek input from a broad range of customers across the state.
  3. Reporting and Analysis dashboards allowed decision-makers to easily measure feedback and understand KPI's - supporting their decisions with real data.
  4. EngagementHQ Newsletter feature allowed SA Power Networks to close the loop, informing workshop participants & specialist groups when post-workshop reports were available on Talking Power.
  5. With an expansive set of digital engagement tools available, staff were able to select the most effective pairings for their project data needs and time limitations.

Lessons Learned

  1. One of the key lessons for the engagement team was around community and stakeholder expectations and delineating the scope of engagement in our "instant-gratification" world.
  2. "Set very clear expectations at the onset of the program; where we are engaging on the IAP2 spectrum as a guide and what is in & out of scope for the project" - Jessica V, SA Power Networks
  3. "Large projects like this should be viewed by staff as a marathon, not a sprint. Celebrate your successes and evaluate your progress throughout the process." - Tonya S., SA Power Networks

Something Unique

Specialist groups were launched to focus on different areas of planning. Each group was given a private page with unique logins, allowing them to engage more deeply and add value to their interactions.

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Who Should Consider?

Any government organization that wants to effectively execute citizen engagement efforts for better project planning, to build trust within their community, and to communicate progress to stakeholders.

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