Man and woman looking at house that is getting built

Local solutions improve planning approvals across Victoria

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In Australia, Victoria’s Department of Transport and Planning oversees planning approvals in the state.

Disjointed local planning processes were frustrating Victorians and slowing the system

From setting up a factory to extending a family home, planning regulations have a big impact on the lives of citizens. The Victorian Government found that the planning system was not running as well as it could.

In Victoria, application processes were often complicated, time-consuming and inconsistent. This was creating avoidable frustrations for applicants and council planners, who were burdened with onerous processes to share information, check the status of applications and coordinate efforts with other departments involved in any single application.

Through the design process, we solved local and system-wide challenges

Victoria has 79 local councils, each with its own structure, system and way of working. With this level of complexity, we knew co-design would be essential in meeting each council’s needs, gaining local buy-in and addressing system-wide challenges.

We started by making sure we understood the regulations, issues and opportunities at a system level before moving into co-design with councils and broader implementation.

Over 18 months, we workshopped solutions with applicants and councils, prototyped tools, developed templates and tested solutions that were iterated and validated by hundreds of participants across diverse local government contexts and a range of permit types.

Through this intensive process, we designed local solutions in each council area. Collectively, this solution suite is part of Victoria’s Better Planning Approvals Project (BPAP), an element of the Victorian Government’s reform agenda.

Infographic showing the stages of the project
Infographic showing the stages of the project

Our award-winning design is improving Victoria’s planning system

The Better Planning Approvals solution suite has already been rolled out by more than 30 councils and is now available online for all Victorian councils to download and implement. There are 37 solutions in the suite, of which Nous led the design of 31. Nous worked with 19 of the local councils who participated in the BPAP.

As each council takes part in the project, it improves the user experience, processing times and general efficiency at a local level. At the same time, the lessons, implementation strategies and updated solutions developed by each council are added to the solution suite and therefore shared with other councils. This unique program architecture is driving continuous improvement, greater consistency and expanded capacity in the Victorian planning system.

The project represents a significant innovation in how local councils across Victoria approach problem-solving to improve services. It has been recognised in the prestigious Good Design Awards 2023 for service design in public sector services.

Good Design Award Winner Logo
Good Design Award Winner Logo

What you can learn from this project

Not all users (applicants and planners) are the same, so solution design and access needs to be nuanced for the local community context and user needs. However, there is sufficient overlap and similarities in experience and user needs that tools and templates can be developed sufficiently.

When it comes to speed and ease of implementation, feasibility (including system integration, approvals, compliance) and viability (cost and long-term sustainability) are equally important for a design to be successful. The best solution is the one that is implemented and provides additional value above the current state.