From the dark side

From the dark side

I am from the ‘dark side’. I found this out last week. Let me set the scene …

I was attending the National Community Engagement for Infrastructure Forum (NCEIF) in Canberra. You see, this conference hosted and boasted some of the best minds, thought leaders and inspirational speakers in the engagement industry.

People like Anne Pattillo, a true legend and leader was dropping truth bombs from 5 feet flat. Her talk on leadership featured disarming humour, candid delivery and a call to shift expectations, to keep the meter moving, as she proclaimed a positive message of progress in the industry.

Then Tony Clark – the Chair of IAP2 – dropped by to administer some additional inspiration by imploring our sector to push the boundaries and promote active engagement at every opportunity.

This was followed up by the wisdom of Max Hardy, who reminded us of the changes the engagement sector has undergone in the last 30 years, whilst pointing out that the very act of asking someone a question, changes their behaviour – mind blown!

Our very own Kate Kernaghan delivered what turned out to be the most stimulating presentation of all on generative artificial intelligence. The topical theme permeated the rest of the conference and ensured the lunchtime chatter buzzed.

… this leads me back to the ‘dark side’ …

During the lunchtime chatter I mentioned to a new colleague that my strengths fall more squarely in the comms side of comms and engagement. In particular, my experience in marketing and advertising, known as the ‘dark side’ to some of my new friends. In a light-hearted kind a way of course!

I am new to engagement side of the ledger, yes, but what I found out during the conference is that the engagement industry itself is also new – relatively speaking. It’s new, and it’s changing. From being all but a casual idea in the 70’s, to developing standards through the 80’s and 90’s, to now being an often-regulated staple of infrastructure planning and delivery. But community and stakeholder engagement is still evolving, and the meta is still changing rapidly.

The wise words of Anne, Tony, Max and Kate not only showed me where we had been, but shed some light on where we are going, and that the direction is still being navigated.

The sector leaders are not in the US anymore. Perhaps they are still in Canada. But surely, they are now here, in Australia and New Zealand. I witnessed this first hand at the conference. Yep, it’s us now.

We are pointed in the right direction, and it’s our turn to push things forward. It’s our turn to shift expectations and turn away from the ‘dark side’. It’s our turn to absorb, implement and spread a positive message of progress; to push to engage not just early, but to engage first. With authenticity. And ideally, after sharing a bite to eat!