Training for change
More than a year ago, Woollahra Council, New South Wales, began an ambitious program of change management to embed a new whole-of-council approach to community engagement.
Early on, Council’s community engagement coordinator, April Nicholls, met first with senior staff to gain insight into their views, concerns, frustrations and expectations; then with managers across all departments to identify skills needs and understand attitudes toward public participation.
Some teams were already highly experienced but stuck in a consultation rut; others were keen to engage but didn’t know where to start; a small number hadn’t considered the benefits of incorporating public participation into their work.
It was apparent from these conversations that, to effect change, a comprehensive training program was essential to upskill staff, increasing their capability and their confidence to engage.
The success of moving toward increasing public participation in Council’s decision making process was clearly linked to staff at all levels having the necessary skills and behaviours to fulfil their role in bringing about change.
The community engagement coordinator worked closely alongside Council’s Learning and Development Advisor to develop a series of training opportunities for staff delivering community engagement programs.
After holding focus groups to better understand staff needs, concerns and aspirations, it was decided training would be crucial to bring about cultural change and boost confidence and skills.
Since then, more than 30 Woollahra Council staff have participated in community engagement related training courses, including IAP2 Foundations in Public Participation and Bang the Table’s Your Say online engagement platform.
The outcome is promising: in the last year, staff have engaged 9600 community members on 23 projects.
Over the next 12 months, more training is planned, including plain English and report writing, and Council will continue to explore ways to capitalise on this solid foundation of change, building skills and collaborating across Council departments on engagement.