“Are we there yet?” Symposium report by Jo Wilkins

There’s so much good stuff happening in the engagement world at the moment.

I’m fresh from taking part in an Open Government Partnership workshop; then there was the launch of the Pitch for the Practice; the NZ Symposium; and I’m seeing a growing momentum for the Year of Engagement.

Here are my musings of how the NZ symposium played out:

Cissy Rock from Community Think was wonderfully honest in telling the room about her biggest success and failure all rolled into one. She identified that taking interested people along the whole journey, getting them involving in the meaning making (theming feedback) and then presenting to the decision makers really does have an impact, on both the individuals involved, but also on the project outcomes. Her aim is about giving people really positive felt experiences through the engagement processes. She also reminded us that we should look to provide participants with a meeting fee or at least offer to remunerate them for their time, and she was quite creative about what remuneration looked like (such as the opportunity to report to elected members).

Our second keynote speaker was Manurewa’s Local Board Chair, Angela Dalton – answering the question: Who are the silent voices? Angela shared some of the great work happening in communities with very little. There’s lots of this good work happening in local areas around the country – we should shout about it more.

Then it was the time for breakout sessions on allsorts from consultation fatigue and creative ways to engage digitally to engagement and the Resource Management Act and using systems thinking to scope complex problems. These sessions offered an in-depth look at certain topics and the opportunity for more interaction and discussion.

The afternoon was made up of sharing case studies; interesting panel discussions; and pondering the future of our profession. We heard from Catherine Williams, Deputy Commissioner, State Services Commission who is in charge of the Open Government Partnership work for New Zealand. Catherine referred to herself as an indecisive generalist, I’m pretty sure I’m one of those too! She acknowledged that authentic participation can be chaotic – managing through chaos is a skill, not a deficiency (we can all relate to that).

Good symposiums and conferences don’t happen without the support of the organising committee (shout outs to Caroline Lim, Carolyn Wylie, Julie Boucher, Kate Woodruffe and Ray Tye) and the event sponsors – StantecGHDand Bang the Table.

Some of my take-away learnings:

  • The cross-cultural nature of storytelling and connecting with papatuanuku (mother nature) is powerful to all
  • Think ‘Interaction’ not ‘Transaction’
  • Always have a plan B (and plan C, and plan D)
  • Use a mixture of high tech and high touch tools
  • Print out the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) and pop them up in the office
  • Take the opportunity to put project people within newsletters
  • Remember the importance of listening
  • Processes are organic
  • Don’t be faceless on social media
  • Community is a pakeha term.

The symposium ended on a call for action and I’ll end on the same call for action: sign up for and share the call for an International Year of Engagement! www.yearofengagement.com

You can follow me on Twitter @JoRaeWilkins or connect with me on LinkedIn.