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Behind Sport BoP and Tauranga City Council's great relationship

Sport Bay of Plenty (Sport BOP) and Tauranga City Council (TCC) enjoy one of the better RST–TA relationships in the country. We look at some of the reasons for their effective and mutually beneficial partnership.

Going back a while TCC quite happily played in the sport and rec space by itself, with in-house staff and resourcing. Then Tauranga's own big-bang occurred with an explosion in growth. TCC knew it had to change its operating model because it couldn't do everything itself. So it started to connect and deliver to the community by contracting external providers.

Shared goals through partnership

Sport BOP was seen as a priority partner because in order to achieve its vision for the city, TCC recognised that the RST was a critical player in enhancing the wellbeing and outlook of the region's residents. So while some other organisations that TCC deals with were treated as service providers, Sport BOP became a key partner to help TCC achieve its strategic goals.

Reflecting this more strategic relationship, a partnership agreement (DOC 230 KB) was developed. Both parties see this agreement as an important foundation to their strong relationship. One of its keys is that it binds the parties together through accountability and reporting. The shared goals of the organisations are mutually reported on and presented to the council chambers jointly.

The agreement, which is reviewed every three years, sits alongside a schedule of outcomes and measures (PDF 136 KB). This schedule is mutually developed and reviewed annually, with joint reporting done on a six-monthly basis (PDF 446 KB).

For you: If you're a TA and currently lump your local RST in with other service providers you contract, consider how more of a partnership model might look, and the benefits it could bring. Take a look at the documents linked to above, to help trigger your thinking.

Good governance and management

It's all well and good having a signed partnership agreement in the drawer, but ultimately it's about getting results. So from TCC's perspective, what does Sport BOP bring to the table?

Mayor Stuart Crosby boils it down to expertise, independence and a track record of performing, which is driven from the top-down.

Good governance and management is seen as vitally important given the political environment both parties operate in. Stuart Crosby, who has been TCC's Mayor for several terms, says Sport BOP's governance has really improved over the years.

"They (Sport BOP) are a good organisation and at the end of the day you need to be working with good organisations that deliver. Over a period of time they've developed a good governance model and certainly good management."

In addition, TCC rates Sport BOP as more politically savvy than some of the other stakeholders it deals with. Central to this is how Sport BOP management really get to know and build relationships with elected council members - knowing their passions, drivers etc. This has built trust and goodwill and led to open and honest conversations where the 'real' view on a matter can be freely expressed to councillors, rather than what some parties may simply want to hear.

For you: As a RST, how well connected are you with the councillors in your region? Do you really know them and what drives them? How much trust and confidence do they have in you/your RST?

Expertise

Talking to different people at TCC, a common theme quickly emerges - the respect they have for Sport BOP's expertise. "They really know their sector and they're constantly advising us, particularly through the 10-year plan - for example saying ‘your indoor facilities strategy isn't quite right because things have moved on, so review this element of it,'" says Mayor Crosby.

Sport BOP's knowledge is often called upon to help fill council and/or user group skill gaps. This might be developing a business case and running the numbers for a building, surface, or piece of equipment, or providing coaching around funding applications and associated presentations, to increase the likelihood of success.

Because TCC staff can't spend much time on the ground, they appreciate Sport BOP's knowledge around how an actual user experience might look, as opposed to the perspective of a staff member or organiser. How sports are evolving is another matter TCC gladly receives advice on - whether that's changing rules, field dimensions or variations of a game, such as fast-five netball compared to the traditional seven-player game. Sport BOP's input was seen as particularly helpful when TCC recently undertook a demand analysis exercise for sports fields and facilities.

TCC also values how Sport BOP goes about things. "They don't go ‘this is our plan, this is what we're going to do' – they actually take the time to understand the big picture and what's actually happening out there in our community," says Kiri Pope.

Naturally Sport BOP invests time and effort to stay ‘in the know' and TCC works with the RST in this regard too. For example TCC gets Sport BOP involved in policy development so they have a really clear picture of strategy through to policy, to on the ground delivery and issues, so they know how they all link up.

For you: Looking at your TA-RST relationship, how far does it extend to ensure there's mutual knowledge and understanding of the bigger picture? For example, do you work together at strategic and policy development level? What could you do to get a deeper understanding of each other's business and challenges?

Strong practices and processes

People are obviously key to relationships, and an indication that the partnership between TCC and Sport BOP runs much deeper than most, is the fact that things remain as strong as ever despite a lot of new faces sitting around the table. Sport BOP recently changed CE, while TCC has seven out of eleven new elected members, a newish CE and three new senior managers. What's allowed such an enduring partnership and relatively seamless transitions then?

Much has to do with effective processes that underpin how the parties work together. It's well known in sport that to have the best chance of success on game day, it's about working through a well-structured preparation process. The same applies here, where well-established processes that surround the likes of planning, reporting, discrete projects and communication, have all served to embed the partnership.

Taking a look at communication between the two organisations, there's a lot of it; formal and informal, and at both senior and operational levels. For example, TCC's Manager Recreation and Facilities, Kiri Pope meets with Sport BOP's Community Sport Advisor (CSA) every week. Interestingly, part of the funding Sport BOP receives from TCC is channelled to the CSA role. TCC is also included in the recruitment process whenever there's a key personnel change – just another way to ensure those linkages between the two are strong.

There's also weekly, if not more frequent, contact between Kiri and Sport BOP's Sport Manager, Megan Cleverley. Megan will also call Kiri if any issue arises that's likely to reach TCC, the media or the public, so that TCC is in the know asap - a sign of the high level of inclusiveness and trust between the organisations. And when Heidi Lichtwark recently took over from Wayne Werder as Sport BOP's CE, she organised a session with her staff, but also invited Kiri along because she's treated as one of the Sport BOP team.

In addition, regular contact occurs around annual planning and review cycles, the joint six-monthly reporting, the annual submissions process from the sport and rec sector to TCC, and around any other project of significance and/or strategy review. Outside of this, quarterly senior management level meetings are also slotted in to the communications mix.

Sport BOP has developed a very effective process to lead the annual submissions of sport and recreation clubs and RSOs to council.

Independence

Another reason why things hum along so well in the Bay, stems from the fact that by TCC not operating an in-house model, it can use Sport BOP's independence to help achieve better outcomes for all concerned.

To illustrate, Sport BOP has been working with TCC to help manage the expectations of a diverse range of stakeholders in relation to a sub-regional park. Users include motorsport, shooting and equestrian - all of which have quite different needs, as well as quite different opinions at times.

So Sport BOP has taken a leadership role to facilitate meetings for the stakeholders to better understand each other's positions, to share information and resources. The outcome has been more harmony and agreement, to the point where Sport BOP no longer needs to be involved, and six-weekly meetings have reduced to six-monthly.

Sport BOP performed a similar role when TCC proposed the new ASB Arena. The RST brought together user groups and helped get them over the line with respect to increasing user fees. It meant quite a change for people who had been used to stepping on court for as little as 10 cents per player.

This wasn't going to be sustainable for a new, state-of-the-art facility though and Sport BOP independently worked with the likes of basketball and netball to change their mindset. Sport BOP also acted as an intermediary around some of the technical sport specific requirements for the arena. For example, rather than TCC having to get involved with what sort of basketball stanchions to equip the arena with, Sport BOP helped by liaising with basketball to provide some options to consider.

Perhaps Kiri Pope sums it up best when she says, "the ASB Arena is definitely a better facility for the involvement of Sport Bay of Plenty and their dealings with key user groups, than if we had been more a like a typical council and just did it ourselves. It would have ended up quite differently and wouldn't work anywhere near as well as it does."

For you: As a TA, do you try to resolve any differences of opinion with local sport and rec organisations yourself? If so, could your local RST's leadership role be better utilised to help achieve win-win outcomes?

Monetising the relationship

The 10-year plan is reviewed on a 3-yearly basis where both parties work to agree on the desired outcomes and what elements Sport BOP will undertake. Negotiation then takes place to agree on annualised funding amounts that Sport BOP will receive from TCC. On top of this there are things that require extra resource or input from time-to-time. For example the Ports of Tauranga half iron man was under challenge from similar events in other regions. TCC helped Sport BOP fund some research on the event due to its importance to the region's economy. As a result of the research changes have been made to the event, such as when it's held.

Conclusion

Having previously performed sport and recreation functions itself, Tauranga City Council started to partner with Sport Bay of Plenty when the region's rapid growth forced a change in operating model. Now TCC says it wouldn't have it any other way, even if it did take some things back in-house.

That's because the two organisations have developed an excellent strategic alliance and a working relationship that gets the job done at operational level. Both parties value each other, respect each other, trust each other and simply "get" each other, and that results in quality outcomes for Tauranga City Council, Sport Bay of Plenty, local sport and recreation organisations and most importantly, the region's residents.

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