Shaping our Future - a summary of our history, our process and our success

4 April 2018

Creating social infrastructure for Community led Development in the Queenstown Lakes District    

By Steve Henry and Alexa Forbes


Executive Summary

A process of community engagement was established in the Queenstown Lakes District as essentially a student project for learners in the Graduate Programmes in Sustainable Practice.  Programme manager Steve Henry was committed to learners working on real projects that would develop individual and collective capability within system constraints while building real transitions towards sustainability. Shaping Our Future emerged as a model that continues to improve seven years after conception and that has engaged community and agencies such as the local council and the national transport agency. Shaping Our Future still has connections with the Graduate Programme as students occasionally offer internship services, but it has been fully independent since 2013. Shaping Our Future today is a thriving incorporated society that offers real benefits to the communities of the Queenstown Lakes District through following a proven process of strategic sustainable development. There are 10 ‘live’ forums considering an agenda ranging from the visioning of small communities through to energy use across the district, transportation issues and the district’s economic futures.[1]  Its processes have proved robust throughout many challenges and it has successfully maintained its ‘arm’s length’ position from the local council while gaining trust within the community. The organisation is held in high regard by both the community and the agencies that serve it, as evidenced by report inclusions in planning processes, demand for ‘forums’ and attendance at events.  Shaping Our Future wasn’t invented in Queenstown, it’s a model from Whistler, Canada, based on a model developed in Sweden, but its flexibility and robust processes mean it has relevance for any community anywhere that desires strong lines of communication between the community and its agencies.    



History and establishment

In November 2010, Alexa Forbes and Steve Henry began conversations with newly elected Queenstown Lakes District Mayor, Vanessa Van Uden, about harnessing the wisdom of locals in decision-making.   Vanessa had campaigned on questioning the quantum of ratepayer money spent on external consultants given those who lived locally had the knowledge and the passion to guide their own future.


Along with Senior Planner Scott Figenshow, Steve and Alexa proposed a methodology to develop a new community-led decision making process which defined the Council a partner, not the partner. This process was based on an example, Whistler community[2] in West Canada, which faced growth and tourism challenges similar to Queenstown. Whistler had used the Natural Step’s Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development[3]to guide its process and Steve, Vanessa, Scott and Alexa were keen to do the same.  Queenstown already had a relationship with Whistler through a local developer, Alastair Porter, so it was a good fit for the town and relatively known.


The project was presented to the learners in Otago Polytechnic’s Graduate Diploma in Sustainable Practice[4] in 2011.  Several of the learners picked up the challenge developed a process to bring the project to life.  The goal was to inspire future thinking conversations in the Queenstown Lakes District.  Mayor Van Uden insisted the “S” word, (sustainability) was not to be used in the process, so the name Shaping Our Future was eventually assigned to the programme.   A Mayoral Task Force was appointed and it endorsed a plan for public meetings in the district’s 12 community centres.  The meetings were facilitated and the goal was for each community to articulate its own high level vision of success. Funding was secured through the Council for professional facilitation and collation. Figure 1 is an excerpt from an Otago Daily Times story published May 12, 2011.


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The Queenstown Lakes District is a unique area facing unique challenges.  Many agencies and individuals are focused on the problems of today. Without knowing where we want to go, how can we move in the right direction? 

Shaping our Future was formed to put communities at the forefront of shaping tomorrows future today.  We invite you to support us in creating a better future for our children, grandchildren and beyond.  We look to the long term - where do we want to be in 30, 40, 50 years?  Our process is designed to put in place actions to achieving our vision.

If we don't, who will?


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