Select Page

Tales from the Trenches with Bohdana Szydlik

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name’s Bohdana, I have a community development and engagement background and currently work in Canberra for the ACT Government.

Before this, I was in Sydney at Auburn City Council (now Cumberland Council) in the community development team where I worked on a range of initiatives to address employment barriers, build community capacity and support the growth of small and emerging community organisations.

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and International Development and worked for a few years as a breakfast radio producer, and then with UNICEF Australia both in Sydney and Indonesia.

When I’m not working I enjoy making; I’m an avid sewer, knitter and general fabric-hoarder.

Tell us a bit about your organisation.

I work in a small community engagement team in the ACT Government. Our team is responsible for delivering community engagement processes for government urban renewal and land development projects in Canberra.

What does your role involve?

I work with project staff across the agency to develop and deliver community engagement processes. For example, earlier this year we were looking at creating a master plan for renewal of a large local city park that is used and claimed as a space by a diverse range of people. I coordinated with the project manager to design an engagement process for this project and then source budget, resources and deliver with the project manager. At any one time I might be working across up to ten different projects, depending on their engagement complexities.

What would be a typical day in your working life?

Where to start, I’m sure like every job each day is a little bit different. Most of my days are spent in the office, in front of my computer. Each day has a mixture of:

· reviewing or writing a community engagement strategy for an upcoming project
· attending project meetings
· developing engagement content – that might be setting up an online site, preparing communication materials, or organising a workshop.

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?

The Refugee Camp in my Neighbourhood project I was involved with at Auburn Council stands out as a career highlight for me. I was lucky enough to work with two incredibly passionate women, who lived and breathed engagement and community development principles. With this project, we collaborated with local residents from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds to design a simulated refugee camp tour. What resulted was a camp that reflected the personal stories and images as told by members of Auburn’s diverse refugee community. This experience taught me about empowering people to tell their own stories and the power of collaborative decision-making.

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

a. What principles did you find most useful in carrying out this project?
b. Did you come across any surprises on this project?

Most recently I’ve been part of a project team to create a master plan for a heritage-listed park in the heart of Canberra’s city centre which, at the moment, is underused and is perceived as unsafe. We wanted to start the conversation with a blank slate, to understand what people felt about this park and the opportunities to make it more usable.

We designed a multiple-stage engagement approach, and have used a mixture of face-to-face and online methods including Social Pinpoint.

I find it useful to consistently reflect on the IAP2 core values as each project is designed and progresses, but in this case, I have often reflected on Value 2 “Public participation includes the promise that the public’s contribution will influence the decision’. The biggest challenge sometimes is ensuring that internal government processes allow for and are committed to genuine public participation.

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

The most rewarding aspect of this field is feeling the sense of community ownership over a project or decision. I always feel inspired knowing that I helped to facilitate people’s ability to participate.

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

The biggest challenge is internal engagement. I need to challenge the view that engagement is this tick-a-box exercise, and shift that towards genuine engagement that can truly benefit a project and is a considered, thoughtful process.

What prompted you to enter engagement professionally?

I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to enter engagement; I just ended up here as part of my career journey. I’ve always enjoyed working with people and I like facilitating ways for people to participate in government decisions. I think the philosophies and principles in the engagement practice align closely with my personal beliefs and that’s what motivates me to keep going in this field.

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

1. Trust the process. It’s really important to have confidence in the engagement process; it is just that, a process. There will be good experiences and bad experiences but if your engagement process was planned, scoped and considered you can relax a bit more.

2. Keep learning. Every engagement process is a learning opportunity and no process is perfect.

3. Don’t be afraid to take risks. It sounds cliché but be open to trying something different, and convincing others to try a different approach.

What advice would you give newbies entering engagement?

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice – every engagement professional I’ve come across has always been so open to sharing their knowledge and experiences. It feels like we are all constantly learning and it can never hurt to reach out to ask others for their advice or knowledge.