Embedding innovation with Yarra Ranges Council

The Yarra Ranges Council (YRC) covers the largest area of any metropolitan council in Melbourne, with more than 55 suburbs, townships, small communities and rural areas in the Yarra Ranges.

After attending a hack-day run by REA Group and supported by DiUS in 2017, the Council’s innovation team decided to organise and run their own hack-day to not only see if they could solve some of the problems being faced by the Council, but to also start to build a culture of innovation and explore new ways of engagement, as well as be recognised as leaders and innovators within the organisation.

The hack-day outcomes saw a number of problems and ideas presented, including ideas related to the Councils planning processes, specifically the issue of residential planning objections.

With such a large area and community to cover, the demand on the council’s planning department for housing and development permits was high, with the council receiving over 1,600 planning applications each year - and dealing with approximately 600 objections from residents.  The Council had observed that the planning process wasn’t communicating the proposed vision and intent to the community to allay fears and misconceptions, resulting in misinformed objections, increasing planning process timelines, cost and workload.

To overcome these problems, Council management wanted to explore new ways and technology to help inform and communicate the planning vision and intent to the community. The Council contacted DiUS to help them take the ideas from the hackday, and work with them through the innovation and product development process. Impressed by the work DiUS had completed with the REA Group on their realestate VR product, YRC wanted to explore whether 3D modelling and augmented reality technology could help alleviate community objections to proposed property developments and enhance community engagement.

Starting with the problem

Once onboard with a small team of specialists, DiUS went about leading the YRC team which consisted of innovation and planning staff through the process of understanding and digging into the problems that had been identified as key to solve during the YRC hackday.

With only twelve weeks to lead the team through the process, the DiUS team focussed on quickly establishing a problem statement, and sketching ideas to solve it.

The team utilised a number of innovation tools to help them rank and prioritise features and after some discovery and design thinking workshop sessions the concepts to be prototyped and tested were defined.

The team also conducted some stakeholder and customer mapping exercises, along with  impact and value mapping exercises to understand how best to bring the idea to life and determine the most feasible and desirable features for the minimum viable product.

These tools along with several others were all part of the outputs provided to the YRC team - helping them build their own capability and equipping them with the skills and tools to manage the innovation process beyond the initial engagement.

DiUS then worked with to develop an initial prototype of a 3D / AR solution to test, and understand the role of user testing and feedback in developing the MVP - it also ensured that the technology could be appropriately spiked and assessed against the user needs - to ensure that whatever was being developed was actually feasible.

The final version of the prototyped solution was able to be tested onsite at a real development location, linking up the mapping, GIS and developers plans to present a real time AR rendering of the site, including elevations, shading from the buildings, vegetation and set-back.

Proof of concept and proof of value

After the five week engagement, DiUS was been able to demonstrate that conceptually, AR and 3D modelling techniques had the potential to provide value to the council in terms of increasing community engagement around the planning process, as well as reducing the costs and resources required to manage objections in the planning process. It has also opened up the opportunity for YRC to explore how AR /VR could be be used to solve a range of other problems and leverage opportunity across other departments.

The final outputs for the project included the prototype, code base and documentation for the solution, but more importantly it provided YRC with a range of tools, resources and practical exposure to the innovation process of getting ideas into tangible products.

In taking the YRC team through a real life, end-end-end digital product development exercise, not only have we been able to deliver a viable solution to a very real problem, but we’ve also been able to able to impart the knowledge and tools into the YRC team enabling them to manage and run this activity in the future.  This has helped them on their way to achieve their goal of being able to follow-through on innovation and explore new ways of engagement, and be recognised as leaders and innovators, living the culture of the Council, and demonstrate lean/agile approach and focus on learning.

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