From the frontline with IAP2A Director – Penny Townley

From the frontline with Penny Townley

 A personal perspective of engagement from the 90s to now

What motivates us as practitioners?  Does it encompass a genuine love of people, a delight in creating effective engagement channels and a passion for community advocacy?  These are just some of the ideas that came to mind when I was asked to contribute an article as a new Director, IAP2 Australasia.

As a communications practitioner of 35 years, I discovered engagement in 1991 before I knew what engagement meant.  It stemmed from a genuine desire to find out what a community wanted from three new waste and recycling service options being proposed by my client, a local government. The strategy we developed involved a survey to every household, public meetings and displays, with a master statistician helping me to analyse the community responses to demonstrate in a statistically robust manner the option that the majority of the community wanted.  This strategy was subsequently delivered across 15 local councils seeking to change their services, with the preferred waste and recycling service option identified by community, adopted by each Council.

In 2003, I first heard about IAP2 and the IAP2 values and engagement framework. This introduction provided an internationally recognised structure for what I as a communications practitioner had been doing.  It was an eye opener for me and I was delighted that there was a formal structure and a professional organisation, to which I could refer when outlining a proposal to clients.

By 2008, a growing number of IAP2 trainers emerged offering the IAP2 Certificate for Public Participation.  I was fortunate to do the course through Phillips Group Pty Ltd, which enabled me to strengthen my engagement offering to clients.

Over the last 12 years I have delivered communication and engagement strategies on more than 50 major infrastructure projects in the eastern states of Australia with wonderful, dedicated teams.

What I have learnt is, we need to clearly state the negotiables and non-negotiables, encourage participation, actively listen and reflect back to our stakeholders where their input has shaped decisions.  Most importantly, we must advocate for our stakeholders with our Project Directors and clients and be able to safely decompress after a tough day.  Having a sense of humour helps and knowing one’s limits also helps for personal wellbeing and resilience.

When Consult Australia wanted to develop the Procuring Engagement Services Guide in 2013, it made sense to profile the IAP2 framework as the basis for engagement delivery.  The Guide was developed with representatives from SKM, GHD, AECOM, PB and Flinders Group. The project led to the Valuing Engagement Report by Price Waterhouse Coopers on quantifying the value of engagement, which the Next Generation Engagement program is progressing, with the Australian National University. IAP2 has supported this project.

What excites me today is seeing how many government and private sector organisations are continuously innovating with engagement strategies and tools, such as co-design and delivery, Citizen’s Juries, deliberative forums, on-line platforms and virtual engagement hubs. State governments are increasingly requiring IAP2 qualified practitioners on tenders. Additionally, universities across Australia are now including engagement modules within their undergraduate and post-graduate degrees.

Through our profession’s combined advocacy, CEOs, engineers, financial executives, planners, decision makers, government relations consultants and policy makers are becoming aware of the IAP2 core values and framework.

They understand and acknowledge:

Public participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process.

As our industry continues to evolve, know that your work is building understanding of the value of public participation and making a difference. I trust you enjoy your engagement journey as much as I am enjoying mine and take the opportunity to network and learn from your IAP2 colleagues.