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Good, Good Vibrations

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Get that good vibe feeling after a team briefing session

Don’t let those months of planning, meeting with stakeholders and developing research questions go to waste with an improper briefing session of your engagement staff and helpers.

Its engagement day. Everything has come together, your activity stations are set up, your Facebook posts are already drawing a crowd and you’re ready to go, but are your helpers? It can be tempting to skip the briefing and jump into it.

As tempting as it is, don’t be lured into opening shop early. Conversation Caravan puts the time in to making sure any helpers and staff are confident and comfortable in their role to create engaging conversations.

We all know how things run so much smoother when everyone knows what is expected of them and what to expect during the shift. There are various steps we put into place to ensure this is achieved.

Before the pop up begins

Provide written details on the project, providing staff time to learn about the project. When staff have background information on the project they feel more comfortable engaging and discussing it with the target group. This develops a staff member’s confidence within the project.

This might include:

  • Engagement Plan
  • Activity Plan
  • Details of the event.

We are only human and the more information provided such as parking and transport options makes it easier for staff to arrive relaxed and ready to begin on time. Dates, times, locations and uniform details should be provided leading up to the shift.

Directly before the shift

Move staff away from the pop up and the pressure of the public eye. You want to create an environment where people can get to know each other and ask any final questions.

  • Introduce your helpers to one another, providing some information about each member and any roles or information relevant to the project. This builds opportunities for further discussion between the project team and other helpers.
  • Provide basic details such as location of amenities and where they can store personal items. This allows staff to feel considered and part of the team.
  • Familiarise staff with activities or stations that are set up and explain key goals and desired information/data outcomes.
  • Seek clarification that everyone is up to date on the project. Provide opportunities for people to ask questions so they don’t feel rushed or unsure of the outcomes required.

Manage your own emotions

Accept and encourage input and maintain a positive attitude. It is important to draw on the experience of your staff, allow them to suggest ways in which a station or activity may run better or flow easier. Despite any challenges that may arise, maintain a positive ‘can do’ attitude and lead your staff to do the same.

Remember, with a structured briefing all staff can arrive prepared, on time, feeling confident and ready to get the most out of the target audience. It also provides a calm positive experience.

This blog post was written by Conversation Caravan’s Engagement Consultant Kate Wilby. Kate specialised in youth planning and engagement.

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Preparing Yourself for Work in the Community

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I believe you can find a profession tailored to your personality. I’m an interactive person who loves to hang out with other people and make new friends. With that mindset, I find professions that put me directly in the line of interaction with people to be enjoyable.

Dennis - Conversation Caravan

While workplace bullying and harassment is not acceptable, Dennis shares what he does to build rapport and maintain a calm environment in the face of anger and personal attack. For Dennis, leaving people professions isn’t an option, so he needed to find other ways to control the situation and adapt his style.

Dennis was born in Kenya and came to Australia as an international student. While he couldn’t find employment in his original field of study, he found employment as a disability support worker. This, coupled with experience from voluntary Sunday school and working as an educational support person, opened up his eyes and doors to working with people.

In addition to working as an educational support person, Dennis works as a conversation facilitator with Conversation Caravan. He enjoys both experiences because of the interaction with people and the difference he can make. Dennis speaks to us about why he loves doing what he does:

Professions come in all shapes and sizes

I believe you can find a profession tailored to your personality. I’m an interactive person who loves to hang out with other people and make new friends. With that mindset, I find professions that put me directly in the line of interaction with people to be enjoyable. When one works in a field like that long enough, however, a tough reality hits home eventually; human beings aren’t always nice.

I have had a few instances where insults, belittling comments and physical abuse were no longer the stories of my colleagues, but they became my reality. In Australia, 22% of workers have attested to getting insulted or harassed by clients. It’s not to say that the jobs with people are less rewarding, however one experience like this has the potential to not only ruin your whole day, or even a night, but it can have the potential to damage your self-esteem.

I enjoy working with people and the more I work in the field the more I’ve learnt to adapt. My training is in the field of statistics. I crunched numbers, letters and equations for four years during my undergraduate study. I did a couple of internships in the statistical field. However, outside of school, most of my jobs were people-oriented.

Having now found theses professions with people, I am not about to give up. Here are my tips (particularly for anyone that is not from Australia) to prepare yourself for a career with people.

Set your own personal boundaries:

One thing that I’ve grappled with is the amount of freedom students in Australia get to express themselves. In my country, the teacher was king. Everyone jumped at their command. Even parents rarely questioned their direction. In Australia, most students know there are rules to follow. However, teachers are much more relatable compared to mine in my country. As a result, students will talk to them like they’re friends. In higher needs schools the freedom also extended to rudeness and physical assault.

Boundaries are not a call to be rigid with people. They’re what stopped me from being a doormat. I’ve found people to be more inclined to respect boundaries that I set and I don’t have to suffer avoidable uncomfortable situations at work. Consider what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable to you. Make sure you express this when working with people and tell them respectfully when/if they cross one of your boundaries. Consistency with boundaries, I’ve found, works well.

Don’t rely on your good looks or charm:

When I started my job as an educational support, I (wrongly) assumed that personality was all that was needed to work with people. However just like statistics, there’s a lot to learn and a lot of variation. After a particularly bad day at school, I needed to learn how to calm down an enraged student; and learn how to motivate students to do their school work. This experience taught me to respect the skills and experience needed to work with people. Now, rather than relying on my personality, I ensure I have a full understanding of the situation, shadow other experienced staff, ask lots of questions and do lots of research in my own time.

Take time to meet the people and assess the situation:

In statistics there’s no such thing as too much data. When I go to schools, teachers regularly have class notes for casual staff that I use to orient myself with the class. I also ask the students I am working with how they would like to work with me, within the allowable constraints. Taking the time to get to know people will make your life smoother. It also makes them feel valued and helps to build relations with them.

Be a lifelong learner:

I’m always looking for opportunities to learn and I’ll be happy to receive any other useful tips. I enjoy reading blogs, watching other people’s styles and learning through on-the-job training. Learning is about more than just reading books. It’s about getting out there and giving it your best shot. It’s not always a smooth day, but working with people can be very rewarding. With the right attitude and preparation, it’s almost like getting paid to have a hobby.

Making Social Media More Effective?

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Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Engage2Act UnConference held in Melbourne. In true Community Engagement style, as delegates we set our own agenda for the day. Over 30 people submitted ideas and nominated themselves to run a session, we voted and selected the sessions we wanted to attend. (If you did this at any other conference, I’m sure all you would hear is crickets but let’s not forget the theme was ‘highly engaged’).

I participated in a really interesting session about social media’s use as an engagement tool. Social media has traditionally been used as a way to drive engagement into more structured channels so I was interested to hear more about its use as a tool.

City of Melbourne commissioned a small study as a result of being overwhelmed with comments on Facebook regarding one of their draft strategies. The huge level of interest was deemed engagement on the strategy (by some) as being hugely successful. Others involved in the project were not as convinced in the value or usefulness of the comments.

The study compared input from their online engagement platform (Participate Melbourne) with the comments made on Facebook posts. The study found the Facebook comments, while huge in number, were not as valuable as the online platform (see photo of summary).

Having worked in Local Government, this was not a great surprise when thinking about the most common social media comments received. Most social media posts are outwardly focused, or directed at other social media users rather than a contribution to the topic at hand. There is also no simple way of gaining demographic or other data about those people making the comments.

A statement that stood out to me was someone in the session likening Facebook comments to people that walk past a pop-up session, don’t necessarily want to participate in formal engagement channels yet yell things at you (“My rates are too high!” or “Stop wasting my money!”). You could almost call it drive-by engagement.

The challenge for engagement practitioners is how to harness the interest gained (and people wanting to make a quick comment) via social media in a more meaningful way. I know I would love to be engaged more via social media, it would be a welcome break from watching videos about pandas.  What are your thoughts and idea?

Thanking your participants and closing the loop

Close the Loop its only good manners

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What a great consultation! People were engaged, interested and gave great feedback. So what happens next? Well like a good dinner party you thank your guests and close the loop!

To build on the momentum created by your project, the Conversation Caravan team recommends taking the following actions to close the loop:

Thank participants and those interested in the project: issue a statement thanking participants for participating in the project. Remind them of their commitment to working collaboratively. Release some of the fantastic ideas to keep the conversation going.

Keep participants informed: in engagement this is called ‘closing the loop’ the information loop is currently open. Participants have shared their ideas and their feedback with you and are waiting for what happens next. Tell them, share timeframes for decision making and keep them informed with new projects and programs that are emerging as a result of their feedback.

Using the data: not all data can be used. That is okay, sometimes data collected relates to other parts of your organisation. If it doesn’t relate to your project, find a place for it within your organisation. Use what information you can, share data across your organisations as much of the data will relate to another part of your service. Consider ways to bring the data to life consider hosting an information session at lunchtime and invite project managers from other departments to come along.

Thank the champions: if you had participants that went above and beyond, they helped to promote the project, recorded their ideas through a vox pop or recorded their ideas, opinions and personal actions. Thank these champions and share their message with others onsite.

Consider releasing an engagement report here is one we released for the City of Melbourne.

Five community engagement lessons from Hurricane Katrina

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In August 2015, Hurricane Katrina hit the coast of New Orleans with devastating effects. The damage and the forced displacement of people was unlike any disaster in the recent history of the United States, triggering a state of emergency that would require an unprecedented scale of emergency response. Although many residents returned within a few days of the disaster to assess their properties, many residents were prohibited from returning for several weeks as they waited for flood waters to recede from low lying areas and for clean up crews to finish removing debris.

The local government had an enormous task ahead. The mayor quickly established the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, a panel of active citizens from New Orleans to help inform, plan and rebuild the city. The commission worked quickly to address pressing issues and in just four months, the infamous Green Dot plan was revealed.

The Commission proposed that the physical footprint of the city should shrink due to the number of residents who were unlikely to return to New Orleans after the disaster. The recovery plan therefore outlined how communities located on higher ground, would have access to building and planning experts and financial support immediately, while communities in lower lying areas (which were hit hardest by the storm), would need to put together a business case justifying why they should be rebuilt. The plan earmarked these areas (such as the lower ninth district) to become green space, with a buyback scheme proposed to compensate home owners.

In terms of mitigating future damage and protecting its residents, the Green Dot plan was well considered and yet, it was received with overwhelming community disapproval.

So what went wrong?

Here are the five key community engagement lessons we can take from Hurricane Katrina:

Make your advisory group representative
While the Commission was representative of the population in terms of race (equal numbers in African-American and Caucasian group members, along with one Hispanic member), the lack of further community consultation beyond the panel, particularly with lower socio-economic demographics meant that many voices from the areas marked for redevelopment went unheard. Upon unveiling, a resident was heard remarking, “How many people from my backyard are up there?” – which is exactly what you don’t want to hear.

Creating an advisory group is just one of many ways to gain community participation in a planning process, and can be combined with range of other methods such as surveys, interviews, pop ups and meetings to get a more in-depth understanding of community needs.

Inequalities don’t disappear when disaster strikes
Real estate developer, Joseph Canizaro who spearheaded the plan on behalf of the Bring New Orleans Commission understood its controversial nature even before the plan was released. “Unfortunately, a lot of poor African-Americans had everything they owned destroyed here,” he said. “So we have to be careful about dictating what’s going to happen, especially me as a white man.”

Discriminatory lending policies that existed before Hurricane Katrina meant that African-American homeowners had no choice but to buy into less expensive lower lying areas of New Orleans. This resulted in around 80 percent of the African-American population having their homes earmarked for redevelopment.

Don’t turn recovery into a competition
Recovery shouldn’t be achieved through a competitive process. The structure of the Green Dot plan meant that communities that were hardest hit by loss of life and property damage, faced significant delays and had to work twice as hard to access financial support to rebuild. While the municipality provided access to a range of experts to support communities to write their business case to prove their viability, it created an unfair competition in which the communities with the least ability to self-organise were required to do so in a very short period of time.

People power is a beautiful thing
“I’m ready to rebuild and I’m not letting you take mine. I’m going to fight, whatever it takes, to rebuild my property…. I’m going to suit up like I’m going to Iraq and fight this.”

That is what a lower ninth resident said upon the release of the Green Dot plan. Often in disaster there is a tendency to view affected communities as victims, but often in reality, many get on with rebuilding their lives well before the official government emergency response agencies kick into gear.

Similarly, when faced with the prospect of writing the business case for the Broadmoor community, Broadmoor Improvement Association President, LaToya Cantrel said, “l wasn’t about to go down without a fight.” Cantrel mobilised a revitalisation committee that partnered with private university planning programs for training and assistance, and a convened a ‘repopulation committee’ that assigned block captains to track down missing neighbours and to find out whether they intended on returning. Cantrell stated, “If you don’t know where your people are, or what their needs are, how can you really plan?”

It’s voices like LaToya’s that The Bring New Orleans Back Commission so desperately needed to hear.

Social change requires a journey owned by the people
Drastic changes can’t be implemented over night, which is why community preparedness is key. Having conversations early about potential changes to the city that will impact residents in the future, will give communities the chance to provide input and take ownership over those changes, reducing conflict when the time for change arises.

Carolyn Lambert is Conversation Caravan’s Conversation Facilitator specialising in Arts and Culture and Community Resilience. She’s a member of the Creative Recovery Network and is currently a participant in the Master of Disaster, Design and Development Program (MoDDD) at RMIT.

Get personal on complex problems

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Help me I don’t know what to think

With the average person exposed to 600* messages daily, we’re reaching overload. Desensitising and aware of fake news, what do we believe and where do we direct our attention or energy? Community engagement projects are not removed from this problem, we are competing for air time and brain space. How do we breakthrough the constant chatter? We get personal.

We look to what the fundraising industry has been doing for years to get people to listen and part with hard earned money. They get personal on on complex problems and find a way to connect it to their belief system. They ground it.

How is what I do going to make a difference?

When presenting complex projects to the community, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the size of the problem or the volume of strategies and structures put in place to deliver solutions. Engaging individuals  on a personal level means that we can present projects in a way that is meaningful and facilitate authentic engagement with the project.

Engaging with the public on a climate change mitigation project for the City of Melbourne it became clear that many individuals are greatly concerned about the consequences of climate change but feel disconnected when it comes to taking meaningful action to tackle the problem.

Sponsoring one problem at a time

Helping behaviour is often guided by whether or not people feel that they have the ability or the expertise to assist. It’s often avoided when people feel that someone else is more qualified or better suited to do it instead. Engaging individuals one on one, rather than presenting the project or strategy from a distance allows a natural exchange of ideas to occur, thus presenting the opportunity to establish a personal connection to the project. In the case of climate change, it also means that people become of aware of small, manageable actions that they can take in order to create change.

Use the Law of Consistency 

The fundraising industry uses this technique well, rather than communicating the end goal or the problem it grounds it into the everyday. They focus campaigns on what people have already told them they care about – raising healthy children, drinking water, bullying at school. These issues are well defined and most can relate this experience to a personal one. As compared to historically when these fundraising issues focused on the collective impact.

Often, we get lost in global themes or the bigger picture, getting personal provides the chance to create grounding and perspective on a larger issue at a micro level. Reflecting on personal experience and individual action allows tangible links to be formed between individuals and the project.

For example, to understand perceptions of climate change we started a conversation around  household strategies for reducing their carbon footprint. This provided the opportunity to gain valuable insight into what people in the community are already doing; what their sentiment towards the project was; and the identification of barriers to further reduce household emissions. All valuable data that can be linked back to project strategies and goals.

Why face-to-face is our preference 

Complex projects lack a single cohesive solution. Combine this with the motivations of a large number of stakeholders and the needs of individuals and families within the community and you have a vast spectrum of ideas, opinions and emotions. Engaging in direct, personal interactions with members of the community allows the development of an authentic account of how people really feel about projects. It’s human nature to want to be heard and there is so much value in a face to face interaction. Conversations at the caravan were often passionate, thoughtful interactions that provided valuable feedback on the strategies selected by the City of Melbourne.

The feedback is instantaneous, we can ask direct question we can delve deeper and we can build rapport. The crucial key to unlocking values and beliefs.

Co-Authored by Cindy Plowman, Founder and Jess Fischmann  Conversation Caravan’s expert in community engagement on topics of behaviour change and social responsibility. She is passionate about global citizenship and sustainability and encourages individuals to engage with a range of  issues in the world around them.

For more information Laws of Influence – check out our summer read recommendation.



Photo used in this Blog was taken by Leroy_Skalstad once homeless, he uses his photos to help the community – purchased through Pixabay

Mornington Arts and Culture Meeting

Community engagement, is your program inclusive?

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Hands up those of you that can already predict who your community engagement program is going to attract? Before you awkwardly raise your hand with a fed-up sigh, read on.

In asking ourselves if our community engagement program is truly inclusive, we need to start unpacking some really big issues. Issues of power, values, education, access, culture and privilege make our work so complex. It’s not easy to tackle these head-on, but by considering these five simple tips we can chip away at some institutional assumptions and build more inclusive practices.

1. Identify all your stakeholders
It’s really tempting to forgot the ‘hard to reach’ cohort; those with diverse and complex needs that often face inequalities and barriers to participation (culturally diverse, homeless, time poor families, young people – to name just a few). I’ve recently heard ‘hard to reach’ being replaced with ‘easy to ignore’. Sadly, this description feels more accurate than it should. Let’s start by simply identifying such groups and acknowledging barriers to participation.

2. Invite people to participate
Make sure you reach out via appropriate avenues for your target group. Connecting with organisations that have cultural ties or provide services to target communities can provide valuable insights and opportunities. Do you have links to the local youth groups, footy teams, multicultural groups or seniors’ clubs? Do you have the people-power (or budget) to do letterbox drops, use translation services or conduct online marketing campaigns? It may seem like exhausting work, but extra effort from the outset can mean the difference between hearing those relevant voices or not.

3. Test your community engagement program to detect barriers
A focus on enabling participation is not enough. There may be multiple barriers even once they’ve managed to gain access. These may include: language, time of day, location, childcare, levels of education, dominant participants, or access to technology. Additional support, whilst resource intensive, can help community feel less overwhelmed and more willing to taking part. Similarly, incentives or financial compensation can open engagement up to a wider demographic. Helping to lower barriers to participation for those at a disadvantage.

4. Provide a range of methods in your engagement program
Good practice is going out and meeting people where they are, using a range of techniques that are best suited to them. Be creative and the methods could be endless; chats in a local hall; video blogs; games in the playground; online forums; citizen’s juries. Thinking about your audience and how they would best contribute is no longer an option, it’s essential. Always replicate what you do in person online, so shift workers, families can participate in the project from the comfort of their own couch.

5. Ensure transparency and accountability
A lack of trust in policy makers and processes can be a huge deterrent in taking part. Community can be understandably suspicious about getting involved when they have seen few results for their efforts. Effective engagement requires open and transparent two-way information with specific focus on opportunities, constraints and outcomes. The challenge is to enable individuals to shape spaces for engagement themselves, decide how they wish to participate, and understand decision-making processes.

Get in contact we’d be happy to talk to you more about this. For more information about inclusive community engagement check out IAP2.

Online Engagement

Using online engagement to complement your face-to-face engagement

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We at Conversation Caravan believe nothing can replace a face-to-face conversation, however we recognise the many benefits of using online technology to support your consultation program. Online engagement can capture the momentum and visibility generated by in-person engagement; it can reach more people therefore bring more people into conversations; and it can support those with limited access to have their say and engage on the project being discussed.

Here are some tips to using online engagement to complement your face-to-face engagement:

• Replicate your questions
Create a plan and align your offline and online engagement tools. This means clearly identifying stakeholders, tools to be used and questions to be asked. Ensure you are ask the same questions both online and offline. When it comes to analysing data, meaningful information can be drawn more easily from online and face-to-face engagement when they are easily compared.

• Avoid misunderstandings
Getting identical information to a lot of people quickly and at a low cost is a key benefit of using online tools. This is especially handy when it comes to detailed projects, or projects that are delivered across a long timeframe where visibility across the project stages is important. Consider ways to share information in an accessible way that minimises misunderstandings or confusion. This could include a short video explaining the project or the opportunity for a participant to submit and ask the project team a question to clarify their understanding.

• Remove the barriers to entry
Online engagement is great for reaching people who might not otherwise attend face-to-face engagement (though we’d argue we can make face-to-face activities easy and fun to participate). This could include time poor families, people who work shift work or those that might feel intimidated by traditional in-person methods. Remove any barriers to participating online this includes lengthy intro questions that ask everything from what they ate for breakfast to their annual income. Consider what demographic questions are absolutely needed to understand the data collected. Consider how to make information accessible and legible to those with a visual impairment.

• Choose the right tools for the information required
Data on opinions and reactions can be collected and evaluated easily using online methods, highly emotive content can sometimes be challenging to negotiate online. Whilst there may be opportunities for anonymous feedback, it lacks that personal connection of face-to-face discussions where empathy can be established and people can listen to varying opinions. Decide what information you’d like to gather in full public view as opposed to submitted privately is key to success in this area. It is also important to think about how the information is collected – forums, polls, questionnaires, social media… They all serve different purposes and should be considered along with their strengths and challenges.

Holiday Read: Laws of Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

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Need a holiday read?

Laws of Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini


Much of the thinking in this book can be connected to real life experiences and is useful in understanding why people behave the way they do. This thinking can of course be applied to our work in community engagement.

We recommend you read the entire book, however two key takeaways from this book that we use in our work every day at Conversation Caravan are detailed below.

Commitment and Consistency
• This works by using people’s desire to act and be consistent with what they believe about themselves and what they have done, written or said (both privately and publicly).
• Small commitments can be used to influence the person’s image of themselves which can then allow for bigger requests that are consistent with the new self-image.
• The more public the decision, the more we are reluctant to not follow through.
• The more effort that goes into a commitment, the greater its influence is on the person making that commitment. It is also valued more highly then when obtained with minimum effort.

Application in community engagement: Useful in projects requiring a behaviour change.
Conversation Caravan used it recently with the Alfred Research Alliance – publicly asking participants to commit to a task to foster collaboration.

Social Proof
• One of the ways we use to determine what is correct or appropriate is by observing what others are doing. The more people are doing it, the more it must be right. – If others are doing it, so must I.
• Observing many people do something (whether live or in media) can actually be used to alleviate fears, motivate people into action, etc. – If others can do it, so can I.
• Social proofing works best when we are observing people who are like us (similar to liking) – If my friends do it, so should I.

Application in community engagement: Useful in encouraging participation at the start of a consultation program.
We used this with the City of Melbourne, where we took short videos (Vox Pops) showing public responses to our questions. Seeing others who are similar to us participate and have a say, is as good as a personal invite.

Pop down to your local library and pick up a hard copy, purchase it from your favourite retailer or surprisingly, you can read it online here via the Baku State University Library.

Town Hall Meetings

Let’s talk about town hall meetings and what makes them so scary

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People like me attend town hall meetings and community workshops. I am engaged and interested in the subject matter, and if I make the time to attend a workshop at dinner time then you know you’ve got my attention. Not only that, but I also remind my neighbours, I drop flyers in their letterbox and remind them on the day of the workshop. Or in the case of this workshop pictured above, I even drove my neighbours to the meeting.

There is an awful lot of good will in community from people who are willing to contribute time and energy into hearing councils plans, and working with them to improve the place they live. It’s important for the outcomes of the plan being put forward and for communities themselves, that these consultative meetings are run with thought and purpose.

Let’s look at what happened prior to the meeting to create so much interest.
Nothing officially. But it’s important to remember that as a community we live with the experience of the issue that council is trying to fix every day. We catch up for dinner, meet each other in the street and talk about the issue as we put our bins out. We discuss what Council might, should or could do about the problem, but we never know for sure and suddenly the community has amassed five years of in depth thinking about the issue just as much experience living with it.

Then there is the opportunity. The opportunity to do something about the issue that we have been thinking about for so long and we now have a place to direct this. We get excited, our conversations in the street turn to the points we need to raise at the meeting and possible solutions that we have thought of. We fill in the survey, we put the flyer on our fridge and we wait. We wait for the date to arrive.

As the local council representative in charge of the community consultation, what happens next is up to you. On contentious issues, this is the moment where things could all go very wrong, but with a little thought and fore-planning, you can reduce the risk of your night turning into an angry town hall meeting considerably. Here is how to do it.

Hire a facilitator, don’t let the technical consultants facilitate and don’t facilitate yourself.
As the project lead, you need to remain neutral and you are too close to the project. You will start to defend your work, without realising you are doing it. Be the technical expert which is what you are. Take a step back and fill the role of welcoming committee, sign people in, get to know the people attending, make them a cup of tea and thank them for coming.

Make a genuine effort to fill the room.
The workshop I attended put a letter in everyone’s letterbox, and it was the right approach for this project as it was for local traffic management. Publicise and promote it, with ample lead time.

Take RSVPS and send a reminder.
It’s good for you as you know how much catering to order, and how many staff you’ll need. Then send a reminder to come a day or two before, it shows you are genuinely interested in us coming along.

Hydrate us.
A cup of tea and a bite of something should be the minimum. It may not make us stay longer, we have families and priorities to juggle outside of this meeting, but it will ensure we are not hangry, and therefore more easily frustrated by the issue at hand.

Consider your presentation.
In my case, the community had five years of thinking to release. Don’t squash it with an overly detailed presentation of the work and what you are going to do about it. If the problem has been under consideration for a while, then tell us where the council is at with it, provide a brief overview of what you know, present the options and let us get into the work.

Make sure your table facilitators are facilitators.
I know it doesn’t look like the people facilitating on tables do very much. They write notes, nod and make noises that reassure people they are listening. It doesn’t sound difficult but it’s important. I like to think of table facilitators as ground controllers at an airport, they don’t wear fancy hats or travel to exotic places, but you’d definitely notice the difference if they weren’t there waving their large glow sticks around.

In summary, a well-structured meeting with experienced meeting facilitators can drastically improve the types of responses you get to your proposal. While a town hall meeting can be scary, when it’s done right, it’s one of the most powerful engagement activities at your disposal, and it’s a great way to build trust and strengthen relationships between council and community members.