Play is not just for kids

There is plenty of research about why it’s important for kids to play – it helps creativity, learning, social interaction, developing language skills, dexterity, as well as physical, cognitive and emotional strength.  Play is part of education; it’s recognised as a critical part of a child’s formative years and is encouraged in all aspects of life…that is until they become an adult.

So why isn’t play just as important for adults? At what point do we become less interested in all the fun, creative things that were so important to us before the age of 18? And more importantly, why don’t employers see the value in play to help employee performance?

The science proves it

The Washington Post article, Why it’s good for grown-ups to play reflects on work by professor of recreation, sports and tourism at the University of Illinios, Lynn Barnett, which says significant research is being put into the benefits of adult play.  Barnett says, “at work, play has been found to speed up learning, enhance productivity and increase job satisfaction; and at home, playing together, like going to a movie or a concert, can enhance bonding and communication.”

They even say playfulness attracts the opposite sex and makes you younger!

OK, well they didn’t quite put it like that but a study in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences, says that playfulness in women “signals youth and fertility” and in men means they are likely to be a good partner. The study said that playfulness is an underestimated character trait and acknowledged that the need for play in daily life was a basic need – to relax, keep yourself amused, a way to escape, for entertainment, stimulation and basically just have fun!

Build it like Beckham

Even David Beckham plays for fun. In 2010, David Beckham said in an interview with Yahoo, that he has a passion for LEGO and loves playing with it. (Given Mara’s passion for LEGO, we’d gladly offer Becks an opportunity to come to visit/work with us and play with ours!  It only seems fair.)

Newcastle Jets Lego Serious Play workshop
Women's professional football team, the Newcastle Jets getting creative with LEGO.

And it’s not just about individuals, cities can have fun too

Move over smart cities, playable cities are coming for you. That’s right. Cities all around the world are now branding their towns as “Playable Cities”. It’s based on the fundamental ideal that play creates social value in the spaces that we use on a day-to-day basis. Why install a boring park bench when you can install a playable xylophone bench that encourages people to play OR a slide at a train station instead of taking the stairs. We can have fun and interact with each other. What an idea – social interaction and community activity!

Look up from that smart phone and smile

Seriously, play is just a catalyst for bringing people together no matter their social standing, how much money they have in their pocket, where they are from or where they are going. Can you imagine it? A space, whether it’s workplace, a neighbourhood or entire city that encourages engagement and social interaction through play.

For the policy wonks and number crunchers, there are tangible benefits for adapting spaces for play (even in the workplace!).

Arrow Creates economic value

Arrow Positive health benefits – play reduces anxiety and improves mental health

Arrow Encourages physical activity and supports healthy lifestyles

Arrow Helps people be more creative

Arrow Has a positive impact on social values of a community

Arrow Creates a positive sense of identity

Arrow Helps to break down barriers

Arrow Encourages inter-generational interactions and engagement.

Pancho the office junior cat) playing with jenga
Pancho the office junior cat) playing with jenga

Check out the cool work that organisations like The Urban Conga are doing in the United States. And never fear, the team at Mara are hard at work bringing play to our communities. Swing by anytime for a game of Connect Four, Jenga or Quoits, maybe play with our office cat, Pancho or grab a pillow and a box of LEGO and get creative.

AND watch this space - the Mara team will be bringing a little bit of guerrilla play to a community near you!

If you want to know more about how play can help your community get in touch or call 02 49654317.

#engagement #placemaking #stakeholderengagement #play #urbandesign #planning

Crisis hits, now what?

We've read with interest recent articles in the Newcastle Herald about a week of action by anti-coal protesters. Activities were aimed at shutting down coal chain and the largest coal export port in the world to demand drastic action on climate change. The protesters used a range of methods to disrupt operations of several business including being chained to rail tracks and coal machinery, blocking entrances to workplaces and accessing private property. Without making a judgement on the merits of such activities, how would you respond if this action was aimed at your business?

Journalists and photographers at press conference
Know what to do in a communication crisis
Group of people being interviewed

Crisis communication is not usually on the top of an organisation’s to do list, but would you be prepared in the case of an emergency, major injury or confronted by a targeted protest? Having a plan before an event is key for protecting an organisation’s reputation and making sure the response is adequate for the situation.

When faced with a crisis, there are few options for proactively managing the situation, it’s about being prepared in an environment with little certainty and sometimes without the facts. This means organisations are often under pressure to make decisions on the fly, so having a clear framework for dealing with a crisis and identifying someone to manage the situation before it happens, is a good starting point.

How does this differ from managing issues? Simply, issues management has the luxury of time. Time to fully assess and make the right decisions for each of the issues identified. A company that develops a strategy, clearly identifying potential issues, threats and business weaknesses can manage actions as part of business as usual. This process allows you to evaluate the options, putting in place the best ways of managing or mitigating the issues identified. Importantly, this can be part of normal business planning, reviewed regularly and updated when the situation changes.

How do you deal with issues or a crisis in your business? Do you have a crisis communication plan or strategy for dealing with issues? What would you do in an emergency?

The first step is to plan, plan, plan and plan some more before a potential crisis.  Developing a crisis communications plan is part of this. Clearly identifying potential scenarios, key messages, who is the spokesperson talking on behalf of the company and understand who says what and when.

Not sure where to start? Give one of our communication professionals a call for a free consultation to get you on track. Call 02 4965 4317 or email

#crisiscommunication #issuesmanagment #stakeholderengagement #strategy #mediatraining #planning

Building trust in local planning decisions

Building trust in local planning decisions

Local government is never a dull place to work but the next few years are going to be even more challenging than usual for NSW based planners and stakeholder engagement professionals.

Planning changes require community participation

Major changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979(EP&A) and the Crown Lands Management Act have recently taken effect and Councils need to be across a range of new planning requirements.  Local government has also been passed the primary role of planning for and managing the risks associated with climate change in for their communities.

Enhancing community participation in planning and an elevated strategic role for local councils are key themes of the new EP&A Act. While a refocus on local plan making and

participatory processes is to be applauded, it will undoubtedly further stretch council resources.  In addition to the regular planning cycle of Operations Plans, Delivery Programs and the Community Strategic Plan, councils are now required to prepare:

  • Local Strategic Planning Statements (by July 2020)
  • Community Participation Plans (by Dec 2019)
  • Climate Change Adaption Plans
  • Plans of management for Crown reserves (by July 2021)

There will be challenges…

Community and stakeholder engagement underpin all of these plans and there is a real risk, if not managed smartly, that communities will become overwhelmed and fatigued with the process and council’s resources quickly depleted.

In preparing Community Participation Plans, councils will have to take into consideration, community participation principles, which according to the Department of Planning and Environment will set the standard for how the community should be engaged and included in the process. This, however it is up to each individual Council to determine how these are applied.

….and opportunities

A focus on effective community engagement can assist in facilitating greater acceptance and enhance the likelihood of building support for actions taken in the future during the implementation stages including for development approvals. The changes though are to ensure decision makers are accountable for their decisions and more importantly, stakeholders will be given reasons why a decision was made. This is to improve public confidence in the planning system at a local government level.

Most NSW Councils have updated their Community Strategic Plans in the last 18 months, making this a great time for councils to map out and streamline community engagement needs for both their IP&R planning processes, the EP&A Act,  crown lands changes and climate change planning processes.

Need help? Call Mara

Mara Consulting is a multidisciplinary team of community engagement specialists, strategic and environmental planners, landscape and urban design professionals.

Our team are local government specialists.  We can help streamline your council’s community engagement processes to meet your current and future planning requirements in the most effective and efficient manner to the benefit of your organisation and the community.

For information, contact Mara's team on 02 4965 4317 or email