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Tales from the Trenches with Jill Hannaford

Tell us a bit about yourself
I have qualifications in human geography and urban and regional planning and consider myself to be a social scientist. I found IAP2 by conducting some research in the mid-1990s and in particular there was a reference to IAP2 in the bibliography of one of Wendy Sarkissian’s books. I attended  the IAP2 Conference in Toronto, Canada in 1997 and presented on “Community Consultation Down Under”. Vivien Twyford and I left that Conference determined to establish an IAP2 group in Australia. I also attended the IAP2 Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, USA in 1998. In 1998, the Australian Chapter of IAP2 had been formed with 10 likeminded people excited by the prospect of a professional association to represent the work they did. We sat around the Board table at GHD and envisaged a large professional association that guided practitioners, provided training and hosted conferences and networking and most importantly shared best practice. I am delighted that our vision has been realised, 20 years on.

I am most importantly the mother of four children, with two in their final year of school in 2018, one in high school and one in primary school. I am passionate about community engagement, simple and effective communication, urban and regional planning issues and diversity and inclusion. I am on the Board of Bridge Housing and on the Henry Halloran Trust Advisory Board at the University of Sydney. And I love escaping Sydney to visit my parents in Mudgee, NSW.

Tell us a bit about your organisation
I work for GHD, which is a large multi-disciplinary professional services firm. We work in the area of infrastructure provision. We have 3500 employees in Australia and 9000 worldwide. Our purpose is to create lasting community benefit. I established the community engagement business at GHD in 1996.

What does your role involve?
My current role is Technical Services Leader, Australia. In this role, I look after the leaders of our 50 technical communities of practice. I guide them in collaboration, innovation, best practice and knowledge sharing. I work with my colleagues across the globe to ensure our technical people share knowledge and are recognised for the great technical solutions they develop for our clients –it requires all my engagement skills! I work on community and stakeholder engagement projects in an advisory role. I am also GHD’s Australian Leadership Team sponsor of our Reconciliation Action Plan and an active supporter of our partnerships with CareerTrackers, CareerSeekers and the GO Foundation.

What would be a typical day in your working life?
It starts with making sure every one has lunch packed  and their uniform ready to go. I am often on a call to North America early so my working days begins well before 7am. I spend a lot of time discussing our Technical Communities with the leaders and together we develop approaches to collaborate and share knowledge. GHD is currently finalising our second Reconciliation Action Plan so I regularly meet with our Indigenous Engagement Leader, Elle Davidson. I have a strong commitment to be home each evening for dinner where the five of us sit at our dining table and discuss the day. I cherish that time with my children. Some times I have work functions in the evening but the kids can all cook so they are able to hold the fort. After dinner, I am pulled in four directions as they each want to tell me something about their day, what is coming up at school etc (multiple stakeholders with varying interests but the same level ofinfluence!). I check emails and sometimes do a call with a colleague from the UK. I sleep well!

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?
There are too many to recount! But I can say that alcohol and community meetings don’t mix…..and that as engagement practitioners we must have more than one tool in our tool box to be effective.

Early in my career I learned a lot about respect and relationships from some Indigenous Women whose country was potentially impacted by a piece of infrastructure – they were balanced and respectful and very focussed on building a lasting relationship with the project team.

If you are working on a project at the moment would you like to share the journey to date?
I am currently providing strategic engagement advice to a large educational institution. They have been and want to be good neighbours and we were able to give some structure to their community engagement approach. I am also assisting them liaise with State and Local Government as they plan for the future. The provision of social infrastructure (schools, medical facilities, libraries, community centres etc) is an important area of work and the community needs to understand how these pieces of infrastructure are planned and developed.

What principles did you find most useful in carrying out this project?
The key principles of any engagement-planning, transparency, clear simple communication based on facts, opportunities for feedback, relationship building and monitoring and evaluation

Did you come across any surprises on this project?
A lack of understanding of the need to document and report on feedback. Initially there was a lack of documentation and monitoring. This meant that much of the feedback was anecdotal and not necessarily based on fact. It also meant that community members felt like they had to tell multiple people the same issue – over and over.

What do you find is the most rewarding aspect of working in this field?
Seeing community members understand more about a project or policy – they may not necessarily support it but they understand the process of its development and how they can be involved.

What do you see as the most challenging part of your role or working in engagement in general?
The lack of trust, cynicism, and the politicisation of the decision making process – regardless of the engagement outcome.

What prompted you to enter engagement professionally?
In the 1900s I could see that in the future community members would not be satisfied with a decisions made that they did not understand or have the opportunity to consider. I could see that  local people, the users of a future piece of infrastructure could in fact be well placed to make suggestions and improvements on the concept design.

What are the three biggest professional or personal lessons that you have learnt from working on this field?
1. Trust and respect are very powerful – they take time to build and can be quickly lost but if they remain they become enablers.
2. Keep it simple – messages need to be easily understood and further details given. This is not to say that communities are ‘simple’, they are in fact the opposite, but they do appreciate simple clear information that can be built on over time.
3. Be authentic and genuine – no one likes to feel like they are part of a tick a box exercise or that their input is not valued.

What advice would you give newbies entering engagement?
Have fun and enjoy the huge variety that this profession can provide. Be innovative and put your self in the community’s shoes: how would you like to be engaged? Don’t treat everyone the same and work on building relationships.