A day in the life of
Jennifer Charteris

Ever wondered how we roll out new infrastructure projects? Once we have completed the planning, engineering and feasibility assessment, we engage our stakeholder liaison advisor to work with the community to address concerns about possible impacts of our plans. We asked Jennifer Charteris what her job entails.

People often move to another country for love or for adventure. Stakeholder liaison advisor Jennifer Charteris returned to New Zealand for a wastewater tunnel. Originally from Taranaki, Jen had been in London for five years when a role calling for a stakeholder liaison for our Central Interceptor project came up.

"I was part of a huge wastewater project in London, coordinating corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives for the Thames Tideway Tunnel. So, the chance to be a part of New Zealand's largest wastewater tunnel was too good to resist."

Generally, infrastructure in the water industry is buried underground or deliberately designed to blend in, so communities tend to remember the disruption associated with their construction but not the ultimate benefits to the community.

A huge water supply pipe for the Hūnua 4 watermain project arrives by truck beside a trench where it's ready to be connected.

"At Tideway, we wanted to leave a legacy that the community would remember long after the project is over, through investment in the community, partnerships with local organisations and good outcomes like volunteering, mentoring of local youth and local jobs."

Jen has always been passionate about making a difference in the community. Armed with her master's degree and experience in social work, she was responsible for working with charity and sponsorship relationships and reporting on 52 legacy and social impact objectives as part of the Tideway Tunnel project.

Ready for the next challenge, she had a successful Skype interview with us in September 2017 while she was travelling in Germany and it has been an interesting few years since.

"I've learned a lot, moving from corporate responsibility strategy to a more stakeholder-focused role."

What does a community stakeholder liaison advisor do?

"The stakeholder engagement aspect is really interesting - we are working with residents, local communities, local boards and other interested groups to inform and consult with them to build trust."

Stakeholder liaison advisor, Jennifer Charteris shakes the hand of a resident at an open day. They share information and their interest in a local infrastructure project.

Typically, concerns from stakeholders relate to perceived or real effects on themselves, their property, or community. Jen's role is to assist us to engage with relevant stakeholders and identify their specific worries, providing them accurate and clear information on technical construction aspects and working with the wider project team to address those concerns before construction.

What does successful stakeholder engagement look like?

Successful stakeholder engagement is translating technical plans and projects into real 'quality of life' benefits for the community. Jen recalls the consenting process for the Grey Lynn Wastewater Tunnel as an example of genuine, successful engagement with stakeholders.

The 1.5km long, 4.5m-diameter Grey Lynn Wastewater Tunnel is part of the Central Interceptor project. "We were asked to help inform people in the community of our consent application to build the pipeline. After informing the community of our plans, we worked with the closest neighbours to address their concerns and as a result, we were successful in the resource consent without the need for a formal hearing.

"For me, it's about putting myself in their shoes. We worked with them to find some solutions that would make life easier while we were there constructing the project - that to me is true engagement."

Stakeholder liaison advisor, Jennifer Charteris fields questions and talks with interested stakeholders about an infrastructure project in their community.

One of the other projects that Jen was involved in was the chlorine gas alert testing drill in Ardmore, near our largest water treatment plant. This was a lot more complex than it seemed on the surface.

"We needed to keep the community informed and get buy-in for the safety drill, while at the same time be clear and not cause panic about the presence of chlorine. So we used various ways to engage with residents within a two-kilometre radius of the plant - they received letters, information pamphlets and fridge magnets, explaining why the exercise was being conducted and what to do if an actual incident involving chlorine gas was to occur."

Adverts were placed in local newspapers, posters were put up in the windows of dairies, and there were regular posts on social media. Immediate neighbours with livestock received personal visits.

And the exercise got excellent participation from the community.

There's never a dull moment

That's another thing Jen enjoys about her work - the variety.

"One day, we could be briefing the local boards on a project in their area, and the next day, cooking up sausages for a community open day to engage on a local project.

Stakeholder liaison advisor, Jennifer Charteris shares a toy truck and a moment, with a young resident at an infrastructure project information day.

"It's great to see progress on a project or take the local board to open a new pump station or watermain that you know it's going to continue to help us provide our communities with safe water to drink."

Even her off-the-job pursuits have a strong connection to community. Coming from a small rural neighbourhood in Taranaki, she's a keen sports player and always been involved with local rugby clubs and sports teams. And over the past year, Jen has been learning about te reo and tikanga Māori.

"Mana whenua is an important partner for Watercare. How can we work together without understanding and appreciating their values and culture? It's really opened my eyes to the Māori world view."

If you want to learn more about some of the infrastructure projects that we have planned for Auckland, you can see more here.

Stakeholder liaison advisor, Jennifer Charteris helps with regenerative planting events within the communities she liaises with on Watercare infrastructure projects.