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

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.

Welcome to 2020!

It’s a new decade and the team at Mara is back! We’re pumped and ready to take on 2020.  We’re looking forward to creating vibrant communities and projects together.

It’s been a tough start to the year for many affected by horrendous bushfires. The outpouring of community support shows the strength of our humanity at a time when people need help the most. Selfless acts of kindness are seen everywhere. But there is still more to do.

#TeamMara is back!
Our drone operator Tadd

New services – aerial photography and drone photography and video

Adding a bit of flair to our visual impact and design services, Mara now offers a range of aerial photography and video services to support our projects.

Drones are great for giving a different perspective to a project, whether it’s to help communicate a complex message through images or to create a fly-through of what a project will look like.

Our urban design guru, landscape architect and environmental planner can now also boast that he’s a pilot! (We’re not quite sure how that is all going to fit on his business card).

  • Aerial photography, video filming services
  • 2D and 3D aerial photography mapping survey
  • Inspections of construction sites, mines, roofs and hard to reach areas
  • Traffic counts and footage for transport studies
  • Urban tree canopy and aerial tree imagery
  • Images for renders and urban design projects.

To find out more, contact Mara on 02 49654317 or email tadd@maraconsulting.com.au for more information.

Do you have 2020 vision? Maybe a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop is what you need.

Here at Mara, we’re all about doing things differently. Bold, Different, Playful!

LEGO ticks that box.

The new year is a great time to plan the year ahead and bring some different thinking to your workplace. A  LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop is great for business strategy, encouraging innovation at work, planning, team communication and engagement.

A facilitated workshop will help you to:

  • Develop strategic goals and objectives
  • Create a corporate mission, vision and values
  • Get input when leaders don't have all the answers
  • Identify ways to lead not follow
  • Build teamwork and collaboration
  • Encourage different, creative and innovative thinking
  • Break bad thinking habits - "We've always done it this way..."
  • Encourage better communication with your team.

The LEGO Serious Play method helps you think more creatively and tackle challenges or situation in a new and fun way.

Book your workshop today – call 02 49654317. Or visit the Mara office for a great coffee and a LEGO sampler!

International Year of Plant Health

Did you know it’s international year of plant health?

Here’s to all the awesome landscape architects, urban designers, arborists and horticulturalists in our team. They are tree-mendous.

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