Holly Love, National Director, Communications & Engagement, says, “Every year, Global Community Engagement Day reminds us of the importance to create the time and space to allow people to have their say on the issues that matter to them. It’s one of the most important components of our system of government, overall decision-making, and part of what makes Australia the wonderful country it is.”
We asked our specialists to reflect on the projects that have impacted them the most:
Ned Anson, Consultant, Communications & Engagement, is currently seconded in Central West NSW and said his work on the flood recovery has been physically and mentally tough but left him feeling inspired.
“I walked into a town decimated by what the residents (and the Prime Minister) referred to as an ‘inland tsunami’, and I’ve witnessed such a range of different human experiences, behaviours, and spirits. At one end of the spectrum, residents who had lost their homes began cooking meals for their community at their evacuation centre. These people had nothing left and yet they still found something to give. And sadly, at the other end of the spectrum, thieves and looters exploited people in their most vulnerable days. Thankfully the good has far outweighed the bad, and I’m genuinely inspired every day I go to work out here.”
Tara Venturini, Associate, Communications & Engagement, said supporting the NSW Government in their flood recovery efforts in the Northern Rivers for almost two years has been extremely eye-opening.
“What impacted me was people’s ability to pick up and move forward, the spirit of the local community to assist in the clean-up, and the genuine way in which we were able to communicate. In some cases, I was the first person to show up and get something done.
For Rachel Buchanan, Director Communications & Engagement QLD, her current work on a project to help flood-affected homeowners access a range of government assistance measures in order to build flood resilience has been particularly impactful.
“The lingering devastation of floods on these communities remains evident as we approach the one-year anniversary of the disaster event. The physical scars on the homes, roads and buildings serve as a constant visual reminder, but what has impacted me the most is listening to the emotional, financial, and ongoing impacts of the natural disaster on individuals affected.”
Being resilient against change
With climate change increasing the frequency and severity of natural disasters in Australia, our Community & Engagement team ensures resilience is the cornerstone of every project they work on, even when it seems like a daunting proposition.
“When thinking about natural disasters, it’s important to remember the Emergency Management Cycle – Prevention, Preparedness, Response and Recovery (PPPR) – and the critical, and varied, role that the Communications & Engagement team plays in helping communities to be more resilient,” says Holly.
“Whether it’s discussing and agreeing on ways to jointly manage land to prevent events, educating communities on how to prepare their home, supporting people in the direct aftermath of an event to access services and assistance, or facilitating ways for communities to recovery together – community engagement underpins all of it.”
Tara says resilience, or lack thereof, is a core component of how the Communications & Engagement team approaches natural disasters.
“Resilience has a role to play in each phase of the PPRR spectrum. At a very basic level, a diminished level of resilience makes it very hard to respond and recover effectively.”
However, while many of our projects are aimed building community resilience, the Communications & Engagement team also makes a conscious effort to build and maintain resilience within their own team.
“Working in disaster affected communities can have a lasting impact on our people, so we offer professional debriefings and training in accidental counselling to better recognise and manage vicarious trauma,” says Rachel.
Leading with compassion
The team’s approach to their projects is anchored in humane connection and compassion to support a community on its journey of resilience.
“My approach is to always lead with empathy and respect,” says Tara. “I have found that being genuine and honest, knowing where your boundaries are and setting realistic expectations goes a long way.”
Rachel says demonstrating genuine compassion and empathy for a person and an entire community throughout a response and recovery process makes a huge difference to the delivery of projects.
“Giving people the option to speak with someone or schedule a more suitable time to speak to someone, having an on-the-ground presence, and a ‘yes, I can help you’ attitude has made a significant impact in the delivery of projects I’ve worked on.
“Also, helping people access and understand complex information and processes is an important role we play in these communities. We identify gaps in information, raise questions and streamline processes which adds great value to our clients and the communities we work in.
“In a disaster, timeframes and solutions are often unknown for some time, but creating structure in the chaos is extremely important, even if it’s just responding to someone in an agreed timeframe,” says Tara. “However, I think it is really important to recognise that – as Communication & Engagement professionals – we can’t be all things to all people, all the time but we can leave a positive impression on someone by connecting with them.”
Ned says that listening plays a vital role in building a community’s resilience against change.
“It is our role to listen, learn, and advocate. Listening has to come first, because you can never truly know what a community needs, until you listen to them,” he says.
“The communities I’m working with currently have been flood-affected and left with uninhabitable homes. Given that their homes mean everything to them, our approach is to bring them back home as fast as we can, rather than encourage alternative housing elsewhere. Options like caravans and modular homes on residents’ private properties are some of the solutions we look at, rather than relocation.”
The team sets the benchmark for providing a service that is driven by a Future Ready mindset to explore what solutions are best for communities going forward.
Tara says, “Naturally, we have always embedded Future Ready in our work. We are future-focused, consider ways of streamlining or improving processes, and keep the community at the heart of everything we do. As the world around us changes, the way we communicate and what we communicate about also changes. This means we live and breathe Future Ready, even if we don’t realise it!
“Future Ready thinking underpins everything that WSP’s Communications and Engagement Team does”, says Holly. “Understanding what our communities will think, feel, look like, and do in the future allows us to help them prepare to not just survive, but thrive.”
Future Ready is at the forefront of Ned’s mind with his current project in Central West NSW.
“We can’t settle and say ‘recovery job well done’ if we haven’t implemented Future Ready to prepare us and our communities for the future. It’s important to always consider what we can prioritise and implement differently in a response to create more Future Ready communities.”
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