The rise of solar energy

In recent years, the number of large-scale solar farms has significantly increased in Australia and according to Energy New South Wales solar now accounts for 12 per cent of the State’s energy mix.  

Canstar Blue lists 14 new 50MW+ solar farms under construction in NSW in regional and rural communities. Currently more than 7750 people are directly employed in the renewable energy sector. With the obvious push for renewable energy, there is likely to be a massive boom for jobs and investment in the sector.   

 

Solar panels surrounded by trees

But while there are tremendous benefits from harnessing the sun for energy, there are still impacts that must be considered before projects are approved.  

 In 2019, the NSW Government released a new guideline for large-scale solar energy projects to guide industry and the community through the planning process. The planning framework outlines the criteria for evaluating a solar project.  

 As a general guide:  

    • councils assess projects under $5 million 
    • the Joint Regional Planning Panel assesses projects between $5m and $30m  
    • the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) assesses projects over $30m. Projects that are environmentally sensitive and over $10 million are also considered by DPIE.  

Like other new developments, solar projects must consider a range of issues, particularly social and visual impacts on the surrounding community. Social and visual impact assessments are carried out to help identify and define potential social and visual impacts (positive and negative) of the project and make recommendations to help reduce and manage those impacts.   

Solar farm artist impression

 A key part of the new draft guidelines is the requirement for community engagement. Any proponent looking to develop a solar farm proposal will need to consult with affected landowners surrounding the development, as well as the broader community and local council.  

 Community consultation should not only be done in accordance with the approving authority’s requirements, but also with best practice methods in mind. During the COVID-19 pandemic, online engagement is essential, so it’s important to use a range of tools to gather genuine feedback.  

What are the potential impacts? 

Canstar’s list of large-scale solar farms are all in regional areas and sites that are great for ground-mounted solar panels are often also prime agricultural land. Additionally, as the land is usually cleared, the solar panels are visible from surrounding properties and passers-by. The visual impact and potential loss of agricultural land are two of the most common concerns for large solar projects.  

Effective communications and engagement can  reduce community fears about a project and minimise the potential for conflict between renewable energies and land used for agriculture. We can clearly communicate what the impacts might be by using visual aids such as photomontages, artist impressions, flythroughs, and drone imagery of the site. Importantly, these tools usually help to reduce fears about the project. That’s why drone and aerial photography are part of our suite of services.  

 Meaningful conversations about the project’s impacts can also lead to opportunities to work together, turning a potential negative into community advocacy for the project.  

Solar farm proposal

How can we reduce the impacts? 

Where there is a visual impact, in most locations it can be mitigated through careful planning and using vegetation for screening. During the visual impact assessment, the potential glint and glare effects are measured. This is the reflection caused by the angle of the panels, which can be a safety concern as well as a nuisance factor. Changing the angle or using visual screening can help to alleviate impacts and concerns.  

Tips to get you started

We suggest engaging with your community early. Here are our tips for getting started:  

      1. Be clear about what you do and don’t know and when you will be able to provide more information 
      2. Be frank about what people can and can’t influence. Some clients refer to these as negotiables and non-negotiables  
      3. Understand your stakeholders and what their likely concerns are going to be. If you can think like your stakeholder and anticipate their questions, you’ll be prepared for any conversation 
      4. Above all, put a stakeholder engagement plan together at the beginning of the project to map out your consultation and communication. It will be a requirement for state significant developments and increasingly councils will require consultation as well as a social impact statement/assessment. 

Need help? Think Pink. 

Need help with social impact assessments, visual impact assessments, drone and aerial photography or community consultation, Think Pink and get in touch.  

Contact us. 

Email: mara@marasulting.com.au 

Phone: 02 49654317 

About the writer

Kelly LofbergKelly Lofberg is a communication and engagement specialist. Kel specialises in media and issues management, social impact assessments, consultation, advocacy campaigns and strategic communication.

Get in touch kelly@maraconsulting.com.au or 02 49654317.

Boost to infrastructure

The 2020-21 Federal budget was a bumper crop for regional Australia and for local government across the country. It outlined significant funding for infrastructure projects with a big boost for community infrastructure like shared pathways, tracks and trails.

Great news for regional areas like the Hunter.

Biodiversity Day image

Getting projects shovel ready

Pink piggy bank and budget signEven before the budget, we have seen a rush of local government tenders in the marketplace to get projects “shovel ready” to capitalise on government spending. This is likely to be exacerbated by the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's comments, stating that the funding would be on a “use it or lose it basis”. There is a potential for councils to rush projects, removing the community’s ability to have a say.

The value of community voices in decisions that impact them is crucial in preparing our public spaces for safe and COVID-friendly use.

Yes, consultation can be a complex process, but I am not convinced consultation and being shovel ready are mutually exclusive.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, we all changed the way we do business. While our projects included an online presence pre-pandemic, now they are completely focused on effective consultation in a digital space.  The lockdown forced everyone to operate online, meaning there was little pushback from our clients and the community in switching activities to a virtual space.

But is online engagement effective?

There are great benefits to online consultation and engagement. Online platforms are eye-catching and visually appealing to users. This generates greater interest, boosts participation and response rates.  Recently we conducted online consultation on the future of cemetery and after-death services. While a complex and sensitive topic, we received interest from over 800 stakeholders with about 500 people providing feedback. It was simple and quick to set up and provided great insight for strategic planning.

Furthermore, online consultation provides access 24/7 providing flexibility for stakeholders to have their say, wherever and whenever they like. From a research perspective, we can also use technology to accurately capture location-based data where targeted feedback is important.

 

Explore online tools

We regularly use online whiteboards like Miro, collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, and Asana, as well as Social PinpointSurveyMonkeyConsultation Manager, running webinars and online forums.

Some are free and others subscription-based. Get online to explore different tools and take advantage of the free introductory offers. It’s a great way to work out if they are right for your activity.

While we all want to see the economic stimulus to help our communities, I wonder if removing stakeholder input from those decisions will lead to good community outcomes.

Is a rush to spend more important than how people want it spent? I don’t know... what do you think?

Online engagement methods using a computer

If you’re not exactly sure how to mobilise your strategy for the digital world, Think Pink and contact Mara

About the writer

Kelly LofbergKelly Lofberg is a communication and engagement specialist. Kel loves all things strategy and even gets paid to play with LEGO! 

But seriously, Kel specialises in media and issues management, social impact assessments, advocacy campaigns and strategic communication.

Get in touch kelly@maraconsulting.com.au or 02 49654317.

Need help? Think Pink.

Contact us. 

Email: mara@marasulting.com.au

Phone: 02 49654317

Honeysuckle precinct ideas

Creating great places in Honeysuckle

The urban transformation of the Honeysuckle precinct is continuing, with the invigoration and future development of the remaining parcels of land at the western end of the city.

The Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation (HCCDC) recently invited community members to join the conversation about the future use and function of the western end of the harbour foreshore precinct.

Share your ideas Honeysuckle

The project

HCCDC engaged Mara Consulting to conduct community engagement on Honeysuckle West. We wanted to know what you would like to see in the future development of Honeysuckle. We were particularly keen to hear about initiatives that encouraged improved environmental, social and economic outcomes for the development sites and surrounds.

This was a great opportunity to provide your input to help shape the final stage of Honeysuckle’s transformation.

Engagement was open between 24 September to 18 October 2020

Feedback was sought from the broad community via a comprehensive advertising and promotion campaign including print and digital advertising alongside editorial and direct email.

Feedback was sought via a survey, digital ideas wall and directly via phone and email. Visit the project page here

The next step is to review all of the feedback and develop draft objectives and test these with focus groups. These will then be included with a summary of all the engagement activities and feedback in an outcomes report.

For more information email honeysuckleideas@maraconsulting.com.au

Thanks for being part of the Honeysuckle ideas conversation!

Need help with your community engagement project? Think pink!

Contact Mara

8 tips for great communication

Anyone working in corporate communications would have heard the phrase – oh, you better flag that with comms...<insert eye-rolling here>

In my experience, the majority of the time this phrase gets muttered way to late in the process and the comms person is left to wrangle a pending disaster.

So, what can you do about it? You need to change the way you approach communications and here are our eight tips for getting your communications in great shape.

8. Remember your staff

I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your internal stakeholders up to date. Finding out information about the business you work for via an article in the local paper sucks. If this happens on a regular basis your employee engagement will plummet along with the trust and respect of your most valuable asset – your people.

When it comes to internal communication, there is no such thing as oversharing. Find out how people want to get their information then get it to them often.

Need inspiration? Check out the winners of the 2020 Ragan's Employee Communication Awards

7. Get in early

Think of communications as a risk management tool. Early, effective and ongoing communication can pave the way for a hassle-free project. By treating poor communication as a risk, it becomes part of your standard project planning for the life of the project. Here are some samples to get you thinking of risk from a communications perspective.Stakeholder: Employees and contractors

Risk: Sharing incorrect information about campaign to community members
Mitigation: Provide project information including key messages to staff
Action: Brief staff at all staff team meetings

Risk: Missing out on in-house knowledge being captured and considered
Mitigation: Encourage staff to participate in consultation activities
Actions: Send ‘all staff’ email at start of project with links to activities and further project information; provide staff with key information summary

Stakeholder: Elected representatives

Risk: Lack of awareness about project could lead to negative media coverage which damages service provider’s reputation
Mitigation: Ensure elected representatives and their key staff understand non-negotiables for project engagement process as well as key dates and activities
Actions: Provide briefing note prior to campaign going live, include contact details for lead if further information is required; provide regular reminders via email about project deadlines; provide flyers for MP Office to encourage community participation

6. If you aren't sure how people like to get information, just ask them.

There is no need to guess or assume the best communications channels. Just slow down and ask people how they like to get their information. It might be a phone call or email, it might be twitter, if might be a flyer in the mailbox or it might be Tim at the butcher shop. Take the time to get to know your audience, build trust and watch the effectiveness of your communication soar.

5. Proactive is better than reactive

Nothing makes you lose credibility with your audience than admitting that you knew about an issue/problem and decided not to say anything. Crossing your fingers and hoping for the best is a bad strategy, someone ALWAYS finds out.

When you are planning communications think about the things that are most likely to be of interest and address them directly.

4. Coordinate communications activities

It may seem logical, but I have seen it over and over again – right hand not talking to the left. If you are building a new road, you might want to check that there are no plans to replace cabling under the road in the near future.

Your credibility will be out the window if you have a ribbon cutting with all the fanfare one day and the next day, excavators roll in and dig up all your fine work.

Simple conversations can save your budget and your reputation.

3. The boss isn’t always the best spokesperson

People respond to information by passionate people. If you have someone that has come up with a quirky solution to a challenge, let them talk about it. No one will be as passionate as they are, and they will be able to explain and answer questions on the fly. Don’t be afraid to substitute a CEO or Chairperson for a subject matter expert.

2. Keep it simple

Effective communication doesn’t have to be a complex production with a glossy finish. It just needs to be clear, authentic and genuine. Take a page out of the playbook from former NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

During the 2019/2020 Australian bushfires, he was providing daily masterclasses in effective communication. He was clear in his delivery, he knew the detail, wasn’t afraid of saying he didn’t know the answer and showed empathy both on and off the camera.

1. Technical problems don’t stop projects, people stop projects

What’s the worst-case scenario for an infrastructure project? Being delayed or shelved, not because you can’t find a cost-effective design solution but because a high-profile person speaks out in opposition.

Complaints, protests, negative media coverage – these are all manageable if you have plan. Sure, you won’t be able to make everyone happy but if you are clear in your message and get the information to people that are interested and have influence over your project then you are on your way.

Effective communication isn’t rocket science, you just need to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

If you don’t know where to start, give Mara a call – this is our jam!

What else can we help with? Maybe some LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® or,  if things have already gone south, some crisis and issues management advice.

Check out our projects list to see what we have been working one.

Consultation will make or break bar trial in Newcastle

We are watching with interest to see what happens with the potential changes to liquor laws in Newcastle, NSW. One thing for certain is that community and stakeholder engagement will make or break this trial.  

Get it right and Newcastle’s night-time economy can grow and support a range of venues and experiences. Get it wrong and it will be a decade before any government – local or state – will go anywhere near it.  

Consultation is our thing here at Mara, so we have put together our top tips to help our local businesses keen to get involved in the trial. 

1. Talk to your community  

There is no point sitting on the sidelines assuming the worst, so only way to know what people think is to have a conversation and build a relationship with your community. Your locals might be itching for you to stay open later or serve cocktails until midnight but they just haven’t had the opportunity to tell you.  

2. Listen to feedback  

Ignoring what people have to say is only going to get you into hot water. Once you know what the issues are, you can investigate whether there are measures you can put in place to see if this helps the problems. The key is having a continuing conversation – yes you will be able to resolve some issues and not others but keep people up to date with what’s happening is a winning approach. 

3. Be persistent 

We are all time poor, so make sure you give your stakeholders time to respond. If you aren’t getting responses, adjust your consultation activities. Think like your stakeholder and anticipate the best way to gather feedback. It is okay to change your plan than get to the end of the process and have to do it all again.  

4. Ask for help 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed. If you would rather stick to making great food and serving tasty beverages, that’s ok. There are plenty of people that are experts in this field, and we are one of them. Don’t be shy, get in touch.  

Need help? Think pink.  

We can help you identify relevant stakeholders, come up with a plan, write communication materials that are easy to understand and help facilitate conversations with your community. Once we have all the information, we can help you work through ways to address issues that arise and report back to your community and other interested stakeholders.  

Relevant links

NSW Government – Community Impact Statement

Liquor and Gaming NSW – Community Impact Statement

Contact us

Top 3 engagement ideas

During COVID-19 community engagement changed. Everything moved online and it happened almost overnight. As projects get back underway, the question is – how do you want to participate in decision-making about your community?

As well as that, we're always looking for ways to improve our engagement to make sure it is effective for our clients and projects.

Take the survey below to let us know how you want us to engage with you in the future.  3 questions - 3 sections. Simple! 

What's your top 3 engagement ideas

Grant writing… it’s an art!

Need help sharpening the grant writing pencil? Here are our tips

Ever wondered how to get those government grants that are up for grabs? 

Generally, it is not just about meeting the criteria. Knowing how to write the grant application is critical to stand out above the other applications.  

Here are our tips to make you stand out from the rest. 

Grant writing tips

Write for your audience1. Write for your audience

Grant writing can be tricky. However, knowing what the priority policy areas of the government agency assessing the application is key.

Ask yourself, "What's in it for them" and write the grant application to meet their expectations. Showing how your project fits the priority areas is essential. Check their website, look for clues in media releases, policy documents, annual reports and of course the funding document.  The grant reviewer will likely have a checklist, looking for examples and key phases of how the application meets the criteria.

Including lots of information about why your project is important to you is great but demonstrating how it is important to them is much more powerful.

Don’t be fooled though, some grant applications require significant supporting documentation. I remember writing one government grant application that was in two volumes and each one was about 10-15 centimetres think! Lots of research, understanding the government priorities and tailoring the response to the person assessing the application took several months to complete.  The hard work paid off though, we secured the funding to complete the extremely popular Fernleigh Track shared pathway built along a disused railway. Total cost $11 million dollars.

2. Be ready to start

Shovel readyYou also need to make sure your project or program is shovel ready! All that means is, if someone turned up with a big fat cheque tomorrow you could get started straight away, not scramble to get the final plans and approvals done.

People want to see workers employed and getting on with construction. Very rarely do governments provide grant funding for feasibility studies, design development or early work on a project. They want to come back in six months’ time for a photo cutting the ribbon.

A recent grant application that I was asked to assist with was no doubt a great idea, but the applicants hadn’t thought through all the issues. Firstly, they would be impacting on another user group, and even though it was minor, it is difficult for any government including a council to support an idea at the detriment of someone else. In this instance, it is important to communicate to other stakeholders and find out if there is a way to work together and minimise the potential impact. Try and come up with a solution that everyone can work with, even a joint application or supporting each other's ideas and grants. Colaboration and partnerships are big hits with funding bodies!

Additionally, the plans  were only concepts and rather than shovel ready drawings they could give to a builder.  Concepts are great for getting buy-in but to secure the funding, detailed designs are likely to be mandatory.

 

3. A picture paints a thousand words

Tell stories through imagesPoliticians love to rock up for photo opps for ready to go projects. So you better have those renders or plans of your super cool community building/economic stimulus/ infrastructure project on hand when the media show up! Images help to explain complex ideas and projects in a way that people can understand and visualise.

For one project where I was seeking both government and corporate support to expand and complete the larges all-abilities playground in Australia, we put together a suite of materials to help tell the story, including a video of the kids and families that were using the first stage of the facility, glossy flyer for private donors and sponsors and organised media exclusives to showcase the amazing facility. It worked! It helped secure the $4.8 million dollars to complete the project ($6.1 million in total).

We use videos and drone footage in our projects where possible. Here is another great example, check out Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation's The Station landscaping project. It has it all, renders, videos, progress shots.

4. Commit to the project

Match fundingAlso make sure you are not asking for 100 per cent of the project funds. Rarely do businesses or governments hand over all the funds. They want to see that you are committed to the project and just need a boost to get it started and delivered.

Think about the administrative costs. Governments often will not pay for the operational costs of the project. For building projects, this could mean any designs, architectural services, specialist advice, surveys or similar. For programs, they want to know if you have funding beyond the grant applied for, that means would the program be sustainable without the funding.

The other key thing is do not ask for everything. If the funding body has $1 million to hand out do not expect to secure the lot OR event the majority. From the donor’s perspective, the more people, and organisations they can help the better! They are more likely to support 10 projects of $100,000 each than one project at $1 million.

5. Demonstrate support for the project

Secure support from othersIf you have a great idea, chances are people will want to know about it and be involved. Think about the funding organisation and identify people or groups that are likely to take notice of.

A letter of support from politician (State or Federal MP, Mayor or Councillors), relevant community groups or likely users. If the grant is related to education – talk to the local school/s or groups that cater to education, for health initiatives – doctors and health professions or sporting associations, even think about how kids can be involved – drawings, letters, photos.

And once you have received the funding, remember, reporting, progress photos, media opportunities and acquittals will be required for government grants. It just takes a little bit of planning and organisation, but it is worth it in the end.

For regular grant and funding updates, including grant writing tips, and opening grant rounds, subscribe to our newsletter.

If you would like assistance with your grant application, contact us for more information.

About the writer:

Kelly Lofberg is responsible for securing funding of more than $60 million from both private and government sectors for community, rail, and road infrastructure projects.

Need help with your next grant, Think pink! Get in touch.

 

Contact Kel

Kelly Lofberg

Kelly Lofberg

Communication & Engagement Specialist

0425 715 536

kelly@maraconsulting.com.au

New adventures, same great pink team

Changing the way we do business

What a year!

Like other small businesses, we've made changes to the way we operate during the COVID-19 restrictions, including working remotely. The team at Mara adapted so well to remote working that we’ve taken the step to close our physical office.

It's not a surprise really, when you have a bunch of professionals that rise to any challenge, they just got on with business and quickly helped build a successful remote team environment.

What that means for you

The team at Mara will still be providing the awesome services that you’ve come to expect, just without a permanent office space (for now).  As COVID-19 restrictions ease, we’ll be able to visit our clients more, do more face-to-face engagement and bring back the coffee and a chat!  We will still be using video chats wherever possible, so we can see your lovely smiley faces.

What that means for us

Having a high functioning remote team, means that we can work anywhere, be nimble and responsive to the challenges you send our way!

It also helps us to provide more workplace flexibility for our staff. (You might just see an extra pet or family member in the background from time-to-time.)

Hope to catch up soon. Stay pink!
Kel

Creating vibrant communities & spaces

Project update

Northern Cemeteries

Northern Cemeteries

We're consulting with communities around Ryde to help shape the future of the Macquarie Park and Field of Mars cemeteries.  Find out more.

Hunter Water projects

Hunter Water 

We're working with Hunter Water on a range of great water initiatives and projects, including Belmont Desalilsation project, Lower Hunter Water Plan, Wyee sewer scheme, and Hunter River Estuary project.

Tunkuwallin Recreational Facility

Central Coast Council

We talking with the Gwandalan community and developing the Precinct Plan for the Tunkuwallin Recreational Facility.   Find out more.

Daracon - The Station landscaping project

Hunter Central Coast Development Corporation

Working with building contractors, Daracon, Mara is delivering the community liaison support during the construction of The Station landscaping project.

What we do best

Spotlight on some of our services

Online engagement

Online engagement

We’ve been testing out and adapting our workshops and engagement methods to be effective in a virtual space.  While working with clients and communities in person helps with connection, we have tools to engage effectively online. Not sure how to get the most of online conversations, get in touch with the Mara team.

Tree assessments

Arboriculture & tree health

Now it is a great time to complete tree safety audits when fewer people are around. Our team of consulting arborists provide expert advice on tree health from risk assessments and audits to surveys and management plans.

Drone services

We've got you covered with our drone and aerial photography services. It makes our visual impact assessments easier to understand and helps bring our landscape and urban designs to life.  We use the latest technology to help explain complex issues, because we know a picture is worth a thousand words. Find out more.

Get in touch

Need help with your next project

P: 02 49654317

E: mara@maraconsulting.com.au

 

 

Perfect time for tree safety audits and inspections

Tree safety audits

While everyone is in lockdown and there are restrictions on movements in public spaces, it is a great time to complete tree safety audits when fewer people are around.

Importance of tree safety audits

A tree safety audit is a systematic assessment of your tree assets to determine the risk associated with the trees. Ultimately it is to make sure that people using your site, are safe and not at risk from falling tree branches.

Managing trees in public spaces is a key part of asset and risk management and is typically done by schools, golf courses, universities, hospitals, councils in parks and playgrounds and anywhere there are a large number of people and trees.

As a result, understanding your responsibility and demonstrating sound management of sites is important part of the managing trees effectively.

Aboriculture - Tree Assessment

How to manage trees in public spaces

  1. Manage your duty of care - When people are using your site or public space, and there are trees on site, the owner has a duty of care to ensure visitors and employees are safe.  This means, leaving this responsibility to an unqualified grounds person or site manager may not be an appropriate way to manage risk.

    Our qualified consulting arborists have expert skills and knowledge to help you plan and manage your public spaces.  And they do this through a tree safety audit to help you manage and understand any risks and the health of your trees.

  2. Be prepared – If something goes wrong or there is a tree related incident, demonstrating a systematic approach to tree health and risk management is key.  As a result, performing regular tree safety audits will provide you with recommendations and reports to help manage risks and identify any problems with tress. 

    Additionally, a program of regular audits over time will help to build a recorded history of the site. It will also help to inform maintenance and spending decisions on your valuable community assets.

  3. Understand the value of mapping trees - It’s all about managing risk, creating a safe environment for your employees and visitors. If something does go wrong, you’ll be able to show the organisation met its health and safety obligations.

A regular program of inspections will identify a system for reinspection based on a risk rating. It will also give you control of the costs, with recommended works planned and reported on.  It will provide you with a better history of the trees on your site, including when it was or will be inspected.

Consulting arborists – expert advice

Our consulting arborist is available to assess and complete the tree safety audit.  All our reports are written in accordance with Australian Standards and prepared by an AQF Level 5 arborist.

Packages to suit

At Mara, we collaborate with our clients to provide expert advice.  Our onsite inspections include:

  • Conduct tree safety audit on a site for up to 20 trees
  • Travel within the Hunter, Central Coast and MidCoast council areas is included
  • Detailed written report with tree management recommendations
  • Fee for tree safety audit $4,500.00 (ex GST).

Need more than one site inspected or price for fewer trees, contact Mara for a customised quote.

 

Shaun King

Shaun King
Shaun King

Landscape Designer & Consulting Arborist

02 49654317

shaun@maraconsulting.com.au

Mara Services:

  • Tree risk assessments
  • Annual safety audits
  • Arboriculture impact assessments and statements
  • Compliance, monitoring and supervision
  • Tree surveys and management plans
  • Development applications and tree protection plans
  • Nursery stock inspections to NATSPEC/AS2303
  • Expert witness reports
  • Protection of trees on development sites
  • Urban forest strategies.

Read more about Mara's services

Team Mara sharing stories: Raw Energy Newcastle

The team at Raw Energy Newcastle decided they wanted to show some love to our frontline health and emergency workers and giveaway free coffees every Wednesday until the COVID-19 crisis is over.  Lucky for us they were thinking pink, and the Team Mara put together a quick plan to share their story and help get the word out.

What did we do?

We talked to Greg from Raw Energy Newcastle about what he wanted to achieve. Free coffee on Wednesdays was a given, but he also wanted to encourage other people to pay it forward by adding a coffee to the tab. We put together a plan which included traditional and digital media outlets as well as social media channels. We wrote media and social content, corralled some firies from Cooks Hill Fire Station to act as our models and then we let the story loose.

The result?

See for yourself, here are some of the links

Did we practice what preach and pay it forward?

You bet we did. We donated our fee to the coffee tab.

Need help? Think Pink

We love helping businesses share their story, we can help you think pink!.

Business as usual for us, but how are you going?

Business as usual - Crisis communications

In these rapidly changing times, we want to let all our clients know it's business as usual for the team at Mara Consulting. We regularly work remotely and have everything they need to meet and exceed your expectations. Our leadership team is working behind the scenes on our business continuity to make sure are as prepared as possible for whatever COVID-19 recommendations are made.

We are committed to the health and well-being of all our people, our clients and our communities. As such we will be making any necessary adjustments to our engagement programs by implementing social distancing measures as recommended by NSW Health.

Our top tips for communicating in a crisis

  1. Talk to your people first - internal communications is often left until last during times of crisis. Your leaders, managers and staff are the most important part of your business so make regular communication with them a priority. There is nothing worse than your staff here critical information second hand via a third party or the local media.
  2. Stay calm – it’s easy to get stressed and feel anxious in a time of crisis. Staying calm is essential so you can think clearly. This can be tough for many decision makers, business owners and those in leadership roles. Find someone you can talk to and get it out of your system because your team need you with a clear head to make decisions. Then get to planning and put in place your communication with stakeholders.
  3. Pick the right spokesperson - whether it is your CEO, your chief communications officer or another member of your leadership team; the key is to pick a trusted spokesperson, make sure they are briefed before stepping in front of a microphone and are a consistent and unwavering source of truth. If there was anything positive to come out of the recent bushfires, it was the phenomenal job by Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. He was a genuine and trusted spokesperson and a respected leader throughout.
  4. Share often - reinforcing known information and acknowledging unknown infomation is better than saying nothing at all. If no information is being shared, people will find sources of information elsewhere. Make sure you are the go to for updates on areas your are responsible for.

Be prepared

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 probably means you’re under pressure to make decisions on the fly. Stop, stay calm and develop a clear communication framework for dealing with the unfolding crisis is a great place to start.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19 and are not sure where to start to get your communications in order, think pink and get in touch.

All the best,

Kelly and the team from Mara.

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 mara@maraconsulting.com.au.

#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 mara@maraconsulting.com.au.