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Co-designing and delivering tailor-made storytelling short course for Waka Kotahi teams

Waka Kotahi recognised challenges and internal gaps around power skills that were hindering career development.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) is the national transport agency of New Zealand whose work spans everything from influencing development of the national transport system to promoting road safety, managing the state highway, and licensing drivers and vehicles. 

In recent years, Waka Kotahi recognised internal challenges around skill gaps hindering career development, a lack of support in technical expertise development, as well as ‘power skills’ and increasing staff turnover rates. To address this, NZTA established Te Kura o te Waka Kotahi | Waka Kotahi School. The school offers micro-credentials to provide career development, attraction, retention, and new learning opportunities for employees. 

RMIT Online was brought on via tender to develop a storytelling short course that was delivered 100% online through a mix of asynchronous, self-directed activities, peer learning and support, coaching, mentoring, and facilitated sessions by an industry mentor to cater to 50 NZTA staff with a diverse cohort of age, professional domain, cultural background, accessibility, and location. 

The course was required to focused on verbal communication skills applicable to the Waka Kotahi workplace, transferable to other roles and integrated aspects of Te Ao Māori and Nga Uarame Ngā Mātāpono in the learning design to align with Te Ara Kotahi (Māori Strategy). 

four people sitting around a meeting table

What was the solution? 

A 'Communicating with Storytelling' short course made up of 4 modules delivered over 6 weeks, in partnership with Merkle.   


  • Focuses on verbal communication skills that can be applied to the context of the wider Waka Kotahi workforce. Underpinned by key Māori cultural capabilities & concepts to communicate internally and externally with stakeholders. 
  • Leads to co-branded RMIT University accredited digital badge.  
  • Designed by RMIT Online using its robust learning design system, and written by a subject matter expert in workplace communication, several Te Ao Māori cultural advisors and industry expertise from both Waka Kotahi and Merkle New Zealand.

Course Learning Outcomes: 

  • Apply the skills of actively listening to others’ stories with respect and empathy | ngākau aroha  
  • Demonstrate and apply the components of strengths-based storytelling to communicate, collaborate and engage with others with compassion and respect | manaakitanga  
  • Use stories to strategically translate workplace objectives into meaningful action to develop team relationships and engagement | whanaungatanga  
  • Demonstrate the ability to tell stories effectively and impactfully to build partnerships and understanding with the wider community | kotahitanga   

After the first pilot in October 2022, 16 out of the 25 staff enrolments completed the program, within one month, 64% of learners stated that they felt confident they could apply what they learned in their work, and most respondents stating that they are applying active listening and questioning skills to their work. 

An independent evaluation was conducted by Learning Uncut to understand the enablers and barriers to skill application, alongside overall effectiveness and value of the micro-credential. 


  • Relevance of program content to their work 
  • Personal motivation - both a belief in the value of the skills and commitment to learning 
  • Support of their People Leader 
  • Additional support provided by the L&D team e.g. participant connection sessions after the end of the micro-credential, nudging via emails and the reflection (encouraged by the evaluation process itself). 


  • Time/higher priorities (unsurprisingly) 
  • Perception (generated in part by the assessment task) that stories need to be 'big' and highly crafted rather than smaller everyday stories. 



Murray Shaw, Compliance Manager 

  • Murray has crafted audience-specific messages and used stories effectively in his daily work, resulting in increased team participation in surveys, improved collaboration and values, and strengthened relationships with commercial transport operators. 
  • The course has also helped him address issues raised through surveys and effectively communicate the new operating model for commercial transport safety.  
  • Murray believes that completing the course will enable his team to have more effective communication and positively impact compliance and road safety.   
Quote from learner: "I feel a lot more connected to the team. I get a lot more conversation and communication back from them. Storytelling has helped me to connect with people more emotionally and link to something relatable that others can connect with.” 

Kate Duggan, Contact Centre Trainer 

  • The course has increased Kate’s confidence, knowledge acquisition, and enthusiasm for training. 
  • Kate experienced significant improvements in her connection with trainees. 
  • Kate felt more comfortable sharing personal stories to emphasise the importance of customer trust and listening, resulting in better classroom connections and accelerated learning. 
“The skills from this course are really improving my connection with the people that I’m training. They’re more comfortable in the environment, more knowledge comes in, and they’re excited to come back and see me for training. One group is going through an accelerated learning path, and they are lot less anxious about it because of our connection.” 
Kate Duggan, Contact Centre Trainer

Simon Lourie, Organisational Design Consultant 

  • Currently developing an organisational capability framework and has engaged colleagues in the People function to shape a narrative that aligns with the Te Ao Māori lens introduced in the course. 
  • Simon is creating a shared story that will contribute to a unified vision within Waka Kotahi.  
Quote from learner: "I saw the value in sharing my ideas for the capability narrative early with colleagues and iterating.” 

Trent Maulder, Manager - Organisational Learning at Waka Kotahi

Working with RMIT Online has been a true partnership on design, delivery and impact. As we aimed to tackle our workforce's skill gaps, technical expertise, and staff turnover, we sought out various institutions, but it was with RMIT Online that we found adaptive partners who built an engaging and best practice solution around our specific workforce and intercultural context. They delivered ahead of schedule and the strong results on skill acquisition (70% successfully completed assessment) and skill application (64-74%) has made the pilot high value for us.
Trent Maulder, Manager - Organisational Learning at Waka Kotahi

Sophie Beckett, Learning & Development Consultant 

  • Enabled Sophie to enhance her presentation skills.  
  • Embraced personal stories to bring life to a PowerPoint presentation about the Waka Kotahi learning strategy at a LinkedIn partner event.  
  • Provided confidence and the ability to recognise opportunities to incorporate storytelling in her work, like creating character-driven themes and using personal anecdotes in future programs.  
  • This newfound confidence has improved her self-assurance and ability to connect with stakeholders, supporting the execution of the learning strategy and fostering partnerships.   
Quote from learner: “It was very outside of my comfort zone. The storytelling micro-credential gave me the confidence just to go with it. The strategy is a story in itself. That made me feel at ease because if I forgot something, all I needed to do is remember the story. It made me feel a lot calmer." 
This article was originally published on 25 September 2023