It’s a wrap for the 2019 Conference: Engagement Unlocked

Nathan Connors shares his reflections from the 2019 IAP2 Australasia Conference

The 2019 IAP2 Australasia Conference delivered more than just a stellar program of workshops, break-out sessions and keynotes, instead, it provided yet another opportunity to observe a mature and professional community-of-practice in action.

Focusing on the theme of unlocking engagement to build trust, connection and potential, this year’s conference for me, told the story of growth.

Growth of a sector and profession, growth in individuals skills and capabilities, growth in the competitiveness of project teams and, the arrival of community engagement as a critical practice for functioning 21st Century democracies.

If you weren’t able to attend, some notable highlights included sessions on ‘Indigenous and Cultural Diversity’ and ‘Cross-Cultural Engagement’; an introduction to a new ‘Infrastructure Engagement Excellence Framework’; an exploration and soul searching on why young people ‘don’t give a sh!t’ and what to do about it; as well workshops on everything from how to use ‘digital engagement to build trust and transparency’ to ‘planning for future engagement techniques.’

But beyond the conference program itself, it was the story of growth which summarised the overall success of the event.

Wearing my hat as a new IAP2 board member, I thought I would briefly touch on three key areas which I believe highlight the success of this year’s conference and supports this story of growth.

Young and Emerging

Firstly, it’s hard to ignore the success and amazing turnout at the Young and Emerging Professionals Mixer.

It seems as though word has got out about our exciting industry and the attendance at this year’s mixer highlighted just how successful we are at attracting new faces and the brightest minds to our profession.

Fostering this emerging practitioner community is essential to the growth of the profession and it was absolutely fantastic to see this new wave of professionals seeking to learn from those whose careers have helped shape the industry.

It is this fostering of a community-of-practice which is heartening to see and if we are to continue to embed community engagement as a fundamental pillar of our societies then it is the young and emerging workforce who will drive the future of the profession.

Great to see so many new faces, as well as the willingness and openness of seasoned professionals to help drive and support new career professionals.

It’s like sport out there

When you look at the quality of projects being delivered by teams, it feels much more like a sport than it does community engagement.

In fact, I would argue that this competitive drive within our industry and amongst peers is having a massive impact on the success of projects.

With so many good examples of best-practice community engagement now being delivered, each and every project finds itself elevating to the competitive challenges of thorough and thoughtful project delivery.

This is evidenced by the quality of this year’s award winners!

A big congratulations to all Core Value Awards Winners, in particular, Queensland Urban Utilities for taking out the Australasian Organisation of the Year award and Brisbane City Council and Articulous for winning the Australasian Project of the Year.

My sense of things is, if we all keep looking over the fence, continue to borrow and learn from each other’s playbooks and keep up with the rapid changes to practice and community expectations, then community engagement as a sport will become even more exhilarating to participate in both as a practitioner and also as a valued stakeholder and member of the public.

Australasia is leading the charge

After attending my first board meeting as a new board member, I can safely report that IAP2 Australasia is leading the charge globally in growing the community engagement and public participation sector.

As members of IAP2, it’s useful to remind ourselves that behind the scenes there are many initiatives underway to help strengthen and grow our industry.

Whether it’s executing the International Change Initiative, developing best-practice industry trainers, engaging with partners to explore new areas of practice and strengthening our marketplace, investing funds into research or helping to establish IAP2 International, I think we can all feel reassured that IAP2 Australasia is working tirelessly to support its members.

It’s an absolute privilege to be on the board of an organisation which values its members so much and I feel the continued growth of the sector and profession is in the very safe hands of our CEO Marion Short and all the staff at IAP2.

A big thank you to departing board members Helen Christensen, Kate Henderson and Donna Marshall for their contributions and I look forward to working with the new Board under the Chair of Tony Clark to continue to drive the organisation to deliver for its members.

On a final note, the program and the people who attended this year’s conference, all helped to showcase just how far public participation has come as an industry.

I get the sense that our work has never before been taken so seriously by industry, government and the community.

Our practice and sector is a fundamental underpinning of successful 21st Century democracy and society and we should all be applauded for driving the agenda and growing a fantastic community of practice along the way.