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All wrapped up | 2021 IAP2A Conference recap

IAP2 Australasia Conference 2021 Changing Landscapes All Wrapped Up Conference recap image banner

Day 1 – The World is Changing. Are We?

What a strong start to the 2021 IAP2A Virtual Conference – Changing Landscapes. The theme of day one was The World is Changing. Are We? and looked at how, in a changing landscape, can the engagement profession adapt and respond to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are a part of how we design, plan and evaluate engagement.

Thank you to Clarence Slockee for his Acknowledgement of Country and Ancestors, and to Chris Mene for leading us in with a Karakia blessing. Thank you Tasneem Chopra for an incredibly insightful keynote address and for sharing “Ubuntu – I am because we are”. And to all our other speakers who imparted their knowledge and wisdom today.

IAP2A conference day graphic

Here are some of the key learnings of the day, as shared by our attendees and participants:

  • “remember to be versatile and adapt to your community constantly”
  • “the importance of asking people how they want to be engaged”
  • “I’m bummed that I only registered for Day 1! Today was brilliant!”
  • “accessibility practice becoming mainstream practice – not splitting them up”
  • “perspective – the idea of going to someone else’s table rather than being an engager at the table”
  • “the importance of understanding the value of networks and communities and the valuable role they can play in shifting behaviours and attitudes”
  • “the importance of trust in relationships, real trust not just a transactional relationship”
  • “good engagement practice is so much more than a process and swanky tools and resources but rather the value of people centred requirements is so important”

Some of day one’s “aha” moments

  • “give people plenty of time/space to respond for more thoughtful answers. Being comfortable with silence as a way to generate those more thoughtful responses”
  • “the need to work on our relatability in our community engagements to support the participation of diverse stakeholders”
  • “the importance of embedding good evaluation into practice”
  • “it’s okay to take one step at a time as a way to improve what we do. Pause and appreciate the value of that one step”
  • “given our reliance on them – remuneration levels of key advocacy groups”
  • “love the theme throughout today – getting to know people, their backgrounds and the value of this”

Some new things our attendees will try after today:

  • “take a cuppa to an online engagement (more personal and to reduce an (overly) formal style of digi-engagement”
  • “work with representatives of different sectors of community to increase connection with diverse stakeholders for example Youth Council”
  •  “not being afraid to just giving it a go”

Plus, IAP2A announced the launch of Nurture Engagement – our partnership program with small not-for-profits.

Day 2 – Power and Polarisation

Day 2 of the IAP2A Virtual Conference saw us discuss some pretty big issues – starting with guest speaker Zoe Daniel who spoke about a topic very much on the engager’s radar: the trust gap and community engagement in an era of information manipulation. 

Day 2 conference graphic

Thank you to all our speakers today who shared their experience with deliberation theory and practice; legislation and frustration; the role of the community and the role of the engager; and collaborating with key stakeholders. Plus everyone who jumped into roundtables and the end of day workshop to share their own experience or reflections.

Here are some of the key learnings that participants shared with us today:

  • Democracy is very fragile – engagement is even more important.
  • Don’t discount the silent majority while seeking out the hard-to-find.
  • Many observations of parallels with Zoe’s US experience and with local media in Australia.
  • The ongoing struggle with getting the communities attention.
  • Lots of reminders of the importance of embedding engagement with early communication right from the beginning.
  • People are more active, more alert and more outraged than they have ever been.
  • Work with the media – choose the type of media and the journalist and invest time and effort to promote understanding.
  • Loving hearing about the “screw-ups” as speakers generously share the good, the bad and the ugly at the conference – such important learnings for all of us.

Also, IAP2A launched the Advanced Mentoring Program – a group coaching program for engagement mastery.

Day 3 – Being together…while apart

Today’s sessions were all about bringing communities together, despite COVID and other challenges. (As well, maybe it feels like this week has also been about bringing the IAP2A family together – thank you to everyone who is joining us live and contributing to the rich discussions in the chat.)

IAP2A Conference graphic of day 3

We are still wiping away the tears from our guest presenter Candy Chang’s touching presentation – Emotional Infrastructure for the 21st Century. Earning a virtual standing ovation, Candy left us feeling moved and inspired.

Candy reminded us that people are coming to any public engagement process with a lifetime of experiences and deep emotional histories which shapes their fears, their opinions, their thoughts…understanding these experiences and approaching with empathy is key. She spoke about creating “infrastructure for the soul” and shared her projects which involved very tangible and human opportunities to engage. And overall she advised us to “be scrappy and roll with the punches”.

Other key things we took away from the day were:

  • COVID has meant that we have had the opportunity share learnings across borders, like never before.
  • The onus is on us, as engagers, to provide a variety of ways to participate, and be as inclusive as possible.
  • Public engagement provides a rare opportunity where we come together and connect as a community to help us understand each other in a more complex light.
  • The city of tomorrow needs more public engagement.
  • How might we design engagement that is built on deep empathy for the people we serve?
  • The need to be agile and pop up in communities when the opportunity presents
  • When we get engagement right, it can be a healing process.
  • Take a fearlessness of failure into hybrid engagement. If we don’t fail, we don’t learn! Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. Be upfront that you are learning as you go.

And as Anne Patillo reminded us “keep twitching and pivoting [in your practice] – cause we’ve gotten good at it.”

Thank you to all our speakers, and thank you to Tiffany Tang who took us outside to share our communities!

Staying on theme, IAP2A also launched our revitalised Local Area Network events framework, to connect you with engagers in your local area.

Day 4 – Engaging for our Planet

Day 4 and the momentum and energy continues to build as we also draw together the threads emerging from the previous days. We started today with guest presenter Dr Rebecca Huntley reflecting with us on how Australians are engaging with the issues around climate change as we concurrently go through social and economic upheaval.

IAP2A conference day 4 graphic

A special thank you to Tamsyn McGrouther from Schools Strike 4 Climate for sharing an authentic perspective of a young person, introducing us to Solar Punk art – and the Activist’s Stretch! #bemorelikeTamsyn

Huge appreciation to all our speakers and everyone who participated in the chat today, there were some terrific discussions and sharing of resources.

Here are some of the key take-aways from the sessions as shared by delegates:

  • People can handle and think about more than one crisis at the same time.
  • If you help one part of an ecosystem, you support other parts of the ecosystem.
  • Connect climate change with the values of people, for greater impact.
  • The importance of thinking beyond the immediate.
  • We have to care. There is hope.
  • Well-facilitated gamification can be a great tool to help understand or communicate climate change – and that there are low-cost, non-digital ways to do it.
  • Refreshing to hear how others have achieved a genuine connection with community.
  • Ensuring that young people perspective is deliberatively captured in engagement process. The high value in including youth panels…as so much of what we do is for the future. And we may lose opportunities if we don’t.
  • An “aha” moment: “need to engage my internal stakeholders and create a culture shift to ensure we all come to the engagement table with empathy, humility and allow participants the space to share their whole stories.”
  • A reminder of the importance of varied methodologies to connect with everyone and reduce barriers to participation.

And another great quote from Anne Pattillo today: “ask first, listen always, keep your promise, reach out, enable action

Speaking of varied methodologies, today’s special announcement was the launch of the online Engagement Methods Tool. Yes, the incredibly useful IAP2A Engagement Methods Matrix is being brought to life as an online searchable tool. View the announcement.

Day 5 – Hope

Well, that’s a wrap! It has been a week of looking at some hefty issues, so today was about tying all we have learnt together with hope and optimism for a future of authentic engagement, everyday.

Guest presenter Ngahihi Bidois inspired us with how to reach for hope and connection through storytelling, and reminded us that everyone we support, is looking for connection as well.

IAP2A conference day 5 graphic

This was followed by the announcement of the Core Values Awards winners. Congratulations to all.

We then broke into sessions looking at why we can be optimistic about the future of engagement; how one Council is engaging authentically; examining the power of stories and establishing connection, fast.

Our delegates shared their key learnings:

  • The importance of knowing your safe space to know connection, hope and opportunities.
  • Remembering to seize opportunities.
  • Ask yourself, what is the one most important thing I will do today to connect?.
  • The continuum of citizen and government interaction is evolving.
  • The power of growth mindset and shifting perspectives.
  • If you are thinking of entering the Core Values Awards….”just do it!”.
  • For the community to trust you, you also need to trust in your community.
  • The value and power of genuinely wanting to succeed, and having everyone behind it.
  • Engagement practitioners are very much needed…now and into the future.
  • Strategic questioning can be powerful to overcome cynicism and disillusionment with democracy when we’re engaging.
  • Culture creates community.
  • The power of the six word story.
  • Always make time to connect, before you collaborate.
  • Community makes community, not facilities.
  • Take it a step at a time.
  • The power of handwriting.
  • The importance of having the internal team on board.
  • Engagement is essentially about creating hope.

Thank you to all participants who engaged, shared, discussed, commented and added their sparkle and insight to our first virtual event. Giant appreciation to all our speakers for so generously sharing their knowledge. And thank you to our sponsors: Silver sponsors, Arup and Articulous and thanks to our Bronze sponsors, Borealis and Social Pinpoint, and exhibitor Harvest Digital Planning.

Let’s give a huge virtual round of applause to our Conference MC, Amy Hubbard and our session facilitators Joel Levin, Penny Townley, Marion Lawie, Nicola Mendleson and Nathan Connors for supporting some GREAT conversations. And thank you to our Brains Trust for their ideas towards the conference program: Amy Hubbard, Marion Lawie, Anne Pattillo, Leisa Prowse and Nathan Connors.

You were all rockstars.

That’s it. The 2021 IAP2A Conference has concluded. We hope to see you in person in Melbourne in October 2022.