Reflections | Innovation in Community Engagement Conference and Workshop

The Innovation in Community Engagement Conference and Workshop has come and gone, but it has left quite a legacy for those who participated. The Conference was lively, interactive and stimulating. We were treated to a recent history of activisim, momentum and social change by Paul Schmitz, CEO, Leading Inside Out (USA). He introduced us to tools to put community engagement at the centre of your work, and about the power of authentic collaboration.

Liz Skelton took us through the latest version of the Collaborative Change Cycle. Participants considered their challenges engaging communities applying the Collaborative Change Cycle, and drew on each other’s experience and expertise to tackle those challenges.

Max Hardy and Danielle Annells introduced examples of innovative practice, and David Lilley revealed ‘warts and all’ insights about the challenges the system has in trusting the community to lead.

Kristin Gabriel gave us a thrilling presentation about Resilient Sydney, and how, with limited resources, she was able to engage a cross section of Sydneysiders in a deliberative process to shed light on what needs to be done to prepare for, avoid, and mitigate catastrophic events.

Day Two – the vast majority of people who attended day one stayed on for the workshop facilitated by Max Hardy and Danielle Annells. It was all about designing a deliberative process, and covered key principles, the variables to consider, adapting well known models, and a practical exercise to apply the content shared. The day also included an inspiring talk by Kerry Graham about Bourke; and the dramatic positive outcomes being achieved due to ‘engaging for systems change’.

There was plenty of energy throughout the day, but by the end, we were all quite exhausted (in a satisfied sort of way).

Over the two days there were some powerful key messages. Here are some of them.

  • Gaining commitment among service providers/organisations is critical to engaging authentically. It takes a lot of work It is scary for people with positions of authority to share power, and there is a lot at stake for them personally. There is no point engaging communities and if we don’t engage these people.
  • There is no single formula to guarantee success for engaging communities – there are important principles that are critically important, and that have a great deal of support and resonance.
  • There are different challenges involved with engaging communities at different stages of the collaborative change cycle.
  • Change is not neat, linear, or predictable. Get used to it.
  • Communities rise to the occasion, given the opportunity and appropriate support.
  • Change that occurs due to interventions, or top down implementation rarely lead to lasting change.
  • Sometimes it is really important to go slow in the early stages to build trust. Once trust is established things can change fast. The deadlines and political cycles can make it difficult to take the necessary time to build trust and community ownership. Without it, it is just more of the same, and systemic change is unlikely.
  • Deliberative processes can offer a really useful way to converge, to reach a decision or recommendation, when things are stuck. It is not the answer for everything. Practitioners and communities are constantly experimenting to navigate new pathways where we can go broadly, and deeply. There is much to learn from each other’s experimenting in this regard.

“All presenters were fantastic. I think Danielle and Max did a great job as facilitators and lead the example on collaboration. ​David Lilley’s presentation was really insightful and honest about how collaborative processes work​. ​Great day with lots of learning​, ​​hopefully ​like me, ​everyone in the room left with knowledge and understanding that will last – that will enable them to shift the perception re community engagement – not just the importance of it but the true meaning of engaging community”


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