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Tales from the Trenches with Anne Pattillo

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m the founder and co-director of pattillo, a team of specialised consultants working on organisation and community development, engagement and strategy.

With over 25 years’ facilitation and consulting experience, I also present as a webinar leader, masterclass host and conference speaker. I was delighted to work with Amanda Newbury and Michelle Feenan in the design of the current IAP2 Australasia contemporary engagement frameworks and training.

Tell us a bit about your organisation.

Pattillo is a consultancy working on organisation and community development, engagement and strategy in New Zealand, Australia and internationally.

What does your role involve?

Mostly my role is working with clients, working with the team and yep, doing a bit of the paperwork to keep our company legal and in business. But the best parts are planning and developing new approaches for our clients in terms of how to improve engagement across their whole organisation, from working with organisational leaders to practitioners.

What would be a typical day in your working life?

Typical is a hard measure for my days. One of the things I love about engagement is the variety in my day – from helping organisations improve their engagement practice, to planning engagement approaches to facilitating community deliberations.

Can you share some of the good and bad experiences you have encountered over your career and how they have helped you grow as an engagement professional and person?

I think some of the best learning I’ve ever done is when things go wrong. My worst experiences, and there have only been a few, is when I or my clients didn’t take the time to sound out what was happening in a community or check our approach with a community before we stepped out the front door to engage. It can very quickly leave you with a “if only” feeling.

If you are working on a project at the moment would you like to share the journey to date?

The project I’m working on at the moment that I’m loving is working with Auckland Council on an inclusion project. Auckland is one of the world’s most diverse fastest growing cities. The challenge is how does Auckland grow a city that includes everyone, a city where everyone feels welcomed, valued and respected.

What principles did you find most useful in carrying out this project?

In terms of core values the most important principle at this planning stage of the project is Core Value Five: “Public participation seeks input from participants in designing how they participate”. Given the focus of this project we won’t get too far without working with representatives of our diverse communities on how best to engage.

Did you come across any surprises on this project?

Well it always surprises me how good people in our clients work to get engagement right. Auckland Council has put engagement front and centre in their strategy so this project is at the forefront of that work.

What do you find is the most rewarding aspect of working in this field?

The people and the difference engagement can make to communities and organisations alike.

What do you see as the most challenging part of your role or working in engagement in general?

I see organisations are more and more embracing engagement in their work, I think our challenge is moving engagement from a “thing you do” to it changing how we work to create value from engaging early in the work to building the participation in communities and trust in our organisations.

What prompted you to enter engagement professionally?

It was an accident really – clients who had seen us do engagement work inside their organisation asked us to help out with the engagement of their stakeholders and communities. I said yes and then I discovered IAP2 and it felt like coming home. Here were people who facilitated and engagement with purpose and the rest is history!

What are the three biggest professional or personal lessons that you have learnt from working on this field?

  1. It’s always about engagement!
  2. That we are in a challenging time to try to integrate engagement into our work in a way that changes us and our organisations, not just changing how we engage
  3. That some of my best friends and colleagues are in this field, so engagement is not just professional its personal and sometimes I just need to take a chill pill and get along with things!

What advice would you give newbies entering engagement?

What would I say to newbies? Welcome, you have joined the engagement practice at a great time! My one advice is to remember that the biggest difference we can make to any project or programme is to be focussed on contributing an engagement focus to the project. I know when we are working in teams it is easy to be drawn into the work of the project or the views of the organisation. – our value is taking that outside-in view of a project and being centred on how we need to engage.