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Cindy Plowman

Exciting News! We’re Hiring!

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Are you a student who wants to be part of a fun and vibrant team? Do you love talking to people and learning new things about them? Are you looking to gain some excellent experience for your future endeavours?

Well if you answered yes to the above, here’s your chance to apply to join the dynamic Conversation Caravan Team.

We’re looking for young go-getters in the Loddon (VIC) area to work with us casually on a variety of pop-ups.  As part of your role, you will approach and engage with the youth in the area. We’re working with the Loddon Shire to learn how to best serve our youth in the area and we want you to help!

To find out more about each of the roles and how to apply, download the position descriptions below and follow the instructions there. Good Luck!

DOWNLOAD EAST LODDON COLLEGE PD

DOWNLOAD PYRAMID HILL COLLEGE PD

DOWNLOAD PROJECT SUPPORT PD

 

 

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More than my accent

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Accents are a part of us. We get them once we start learning to speak. The type of accent that we have is largely dictated by the languages that we grow up speaking. As this is directly tied to our backgrounds, accents end up becoming a part of our identity.

Does our accent define us?

Accents vary depending on our backgrounds. Growing up in Kenya, I got used to many accents. The country has 42 tribes that all speak a different language. As children, we used to make fun of people with thick accents who couldn’t properly pronounce words. People from my tribe, for example, run the risk of mixing up ‘l’ and ‘r’ depending on where they were raised because the letter ‘l’ is not in our vocabulary. It’s was never that serious, though, because we can all understand each other. It just sounds odd.

As an adult, I never thought much about my accent or about being misunderstood until I got to Australia and had cases where people couldn’t understand me when I talked.

Accents can form the basis of bias. Australia is a diverse country with people from all over the world living in it. Not many countries can boast of that. People can freely exchange cultures, learn new things and even overcome biases they previously had. It’s an intriguing experience for some who value these interactions. However, sometimes, differing accents can become a language barrier. It can be a pain going to work and not being able to understand workmates, especially if the work to be done is collaborative in nature. I’ve been to work at times and had cases where I talked to people and they didn’t understand me. I’d have to repeat myself, sometimes more than once. Other times, I was the one who could not understand.

Accents are a part of us. We get them once we start learning to speak. The type of accent that we have is largely dictated by the languages that we grow up speaking. As this is directly tied to our backgrounds, accents end up becoming a part of our identity.

Does our accent define us?

Accents vary depending on our backgrounds. Growing up in Kenya, I got used to many accents. The country has 42 tribes that all speak a different language. As children, we used to make fun of people with thick accents who couldn’t properly pronounce words. People from my tribe, for example, run the risk of mixing up ‘l’ and ‘r’ depending on where they were raised because the letter ‘l’ is not in our vocabulary. It’s was never that serious, though, because we can all understand each other. It just sounds odd.

As an adult, I never thought much about my accent or about being misunderstood until I got to Australia and had cases where people couldn’t understand me when I talked.

Accents can form the basis of bias. Australia is a diverse country with people from all over the world living in it. Not many countries can boast of that. People can freely exchange cultures, learn new things and even overcome biases they previously had. It’s an intriguing experience for some who value these interactions. However, sometimes, differing accents can become a language barrier. It can be a pain going to work and not being able to understand workmates, especially if the work to be done is collaborative in nature. I’ve been to work at times and had cases where I talked to people and they didn’t understand me. I’d have to repeat myself, sometimes more than once. Other times, I was the one who could not understand.

Are we missing opportunities for social interaction?

After a while it started to affect my confidence. Having an accent can bring out people’s biases. Beliefs about a person’s level of education, their financial status and even societal views. In a world that is turning into a global village where anyone can live anywhere (Australia is a big example of that) are we comfortable making a large portion of the population feeling inadequate? Of course not. Mostly, the biases are unconscious and don’t harm the subjects. Other times they manifest in the decisions we make about them and could even result in racial prejudice. Sometimes, biases lead to missed social opportunities for interactions and, at times, even professional opportunities. How many times have we been in situations where we wrote people off because of how they speak?

The result of the biases can vary. In some cases, people choose to change their accents (like I tried). It takes a lot of practice and usually leads to a confessed loss of cultural identity. In rare cases, people go back to their home countries where they feel they can fit in. I’ve seen examples of both cases. In the spirit of promoting multiculturalism, it is imperative to check our biases towards foreign communities, particularly those with strong accents. Part of that is looking back at how we treat people with different accents and put steps in place to reduce and overcome language barriers.

Our top 10 tips for bringing out the best in each other:

  • Be patient. If it helps, think about the last time you learnt a new language.
  • Use simple English (it doesn’t mean you can speak loudly or speak in broken English like Irene from Home and Away) avoid jargons as well.
  • Tap into the other senses – use visual prompts and cues to support your communication.
  • Connect on other levels, where appropriate talk about family, hobbies or food. Areas where you can both become comfortable speaking to each other.
  • Make the other person feel comfortable (use whatever is most appropriate for you):
    • Reassure the person to take their time
    • Use humour to acknowledges their uniqueness (only use where appropriate) “Your English is better than my Vietnamese”
    • Point out your personal communication challenges to normalise differences “let me know if I speak too fast”.
  • Engage a translator, If the topic is complex in nature it might make it easier and more comfortable for the individual to participate.
  • Seek clarification and encourage others to seek clarification; be specific with what you need reexplaining.
  • Be authentic in speech. Faking an accent can distort your words an make them harder to understand than originally.
  • Slow down while talking. This helps to deliver words as clearly as possible by enabling listeners to pick out individual words from the conversation.
  • Learn proper pronunciations of words where necessary. This doesn’t require changing an accent. A small difference in pronunciation can have large effects in communication.

For more support and resources please check out:

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Good, Good Vibrations

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Get that good vibe feeling after a team briefing session

Don’t let those months of planning, meeting with stakeholders and developing research questions go to waste with an improper briefing session of your engagement staff and helpers.

Its engagement day. Everything has come together, your activity stations are set up, your Facebook posts are already drawing a crowd and you’re ready to go, but are your helpers? It can be tempting to skip the briefing and jump into it.

As tempting as it is, don’t be lured into opening shop early. Conversation Caravan puts the time in to making sure any helpers and staff are confident and comfortable in their role to create engaging conversations.

We all know how things run so much smoother when everyone knows what is expected of them and what to expect during the shift. There are various steps we put into place to ensure this is achieved.

Before the pop up begins

Provide written details on the project, providing staff time to learn about the project. When staff have background information on the project they feel more comfortable engaging and discussing it with the target group. This develops a staff member’s confidence within the project.

This might include:

  • Engagement Plan
  • Activity Plan
  • Details of the event.

We are only human and the more information provided such as parking and transport options makes it easier for staff to arrive relaxed and ready to begin on time. Dates, times, locations and uniform details should be provided leading up to the shift.

Directly before the shift

Move staff away from the pop up and the pressure of the public eye. You want to create an environment where people can get to know each other and ask any final questions.

  • Introduce your helpers to one another, providing some information about each member and any roles or information relevant to the project. This builds opportunities for further discussion between the project team and other helpers.
  • Provide basic details such as location of amenities and where they can store personal items. This allows staff to feel considered and part of the team.
  • Familiarise staff with activities or stations that are set up and explain key goals and desired information/data outcomes.
  • Seek clarification that everyone is up to date on the project. Provide opportunities for people to ask questions so they don’t feel rushed or unsure of the outcomes required.

Manage your own emotions

Accept and encourage input and maintain a positive attitude. It is important to draw on the experience of your staff, allow them to suggest ways in which a station or activity may run better or flow easier. Despite any challenges that may arise, maintain a positive ‘can do’ attitude and lead your staff to do the same.

Remember, with a structured briefing all staff can arrive prepared, on time, feeling confident and ready to get the most out of the target audience. It also provides a calm positive experience.

This blog post was written by Conversation Caravan’s Engagement Consultant Kate Wilby. Kate specialised in youth planning and engagement.

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Gamble Responsibly. Really?

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Drew’s take on being marketed to gamble, then being reminded to gamble responsibly.

Drew Holman, a Conversation Facilitator and Chief Construction Marvel has had enough of being marketed to by gambling organisations and then reminded to gamble responsibly. We are right there with him on that one! Addiction to gambling ruins lives, men and women lose their homes, their loved ones, their health and have even taken their lives at the hands of gambling. Other public safety announcements (smoking, road trauma) don’t brush off their warnings as lightly as gambling appears to do. Other public safety announcements are in your face, they are consequential and do not make taking that risk glamorous at all. It does leave us wondering how serious, as a society, are we about stopping this harm to our community?


If, like many Australians, you listen to the radio, watch TV, peruse social media or look at billboards, you will see or hear the term ‘Gamble Responsibly’ tens or even hundreds of times per day. It’s the convenient little disclaimer tacked onto the end of extravagant advertising, encouraging you to gamble on one supposedly random outcome or another, be it a sporting event, lottery, election or financial market. These two words apparently make any gambling advertising somehow okay, no matter how extreme, outlandish or devious they may be. So ubiquitous is this tiny phrase, it has become either white noise and not noticed at all, or is subtly themed by the advertiser using tone, method of delivery or timing to become in fact, a part of the ad itself.

Strong men gamble

Consider a prominent TV and radio campaign currently on high rotation that features a range of mostly young, mostly white men doing vaguely foolish things while a deep male voice delivers a ‘blokey’ voice-over setting up some obvious gag.

As the ad reaches its finale, the voice-over reaches a crescendo with the punchline, pauses, drops an octave further and snaps out “Gamble responsibly…”, leaving the target of the ad (young men) with the clear subtext of, “make sure you do gamble, because people (I mean men), gamble if they are in fact, real men, with massive t#$+!*&s. These men have deep voices and lots of mates who have heaps of fun at the pub and usually win, but if they lose it’s funny, so don’t worry, just gamble. Don’t stress about those silly people (women) who might think you’re an idiot for gambling, they’ll forget about it when you win, and if they don’t? Who cares, it’s not like they’re your mates or anything? Plus your blokes will think you’re even funnier if you choose gambling over girlfriend because that’s what real men do anyway.” Who wants a beer thrown in amongst that insecurity?

Only men that gamble stand a chance

Or the TV ad for an international betting agency featuring an attractive female dressed in a dark suit with an open neck shirt strolling in front of various screens showing a multitude of sporting events, talking about how much she loves the thrill of the punt and won’t let anyone tell her what to do. By the way, this new platform we are offering makes betting on whatever you want a 24-hour proposition and did I mention how easy it is and don’t forget our great offer for first-time users! Finally, she takes a seat, looks seductively into the camera and breathes, “gamble responsibly”. Again giving the not-too-subtle message of “yeah sure, gamble responsibly OK, but just make sure you do gamble because I love men who take risks. You know that you’ll never get a woman like me if you play it safe, responsibility just isn’t going to cut it with my hot friends and me, plus, all the cool kids are doing it, so come on, join in, don’t stress about the fine print.”

The subtle subtext is nothing new in advertising, and neither is gently twisting a disclaimer to function as part of the ad. However, the sheer volume of gambling advertising in our present reality is something new and allows for the very real possibility that it becomes an accepted reality and progress unchallenged. Here lies the threat.

What’s the future? Help available.

What are your thoughts? I know the Gambling Help Hotline does a great job in supporting families and individuals. Surely there is more that we can do to support them?

We have our Heart Projects open at the moment. We’d love to partner with anyone working in this space within the community. Particularly younger men facing this pressure every day.

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Preparing Yourself for Work in the Community

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I believe you can find a profession tailored to your personality. I’m an interactive person who loves to hang out with other people and make new friends. With that mindset, I find professions that put me directly in the line of interaction with people to be enjoyable.

Dennis - Conversation Caravan

While workplace bullying and harassment is not acceptable, Dennis shares what he does to build rapport and maintain a calm environment in the face of anger and personal attack. For Dennis, leaving people professions isn’t an option, so he needed to find other ways to control the situation and adapt his style.

Dennis was born in Kenya and came to Australia as an international student. While he couldn’t find employment in his original field of study, he found employment as a disability support worker. This, coupled with experience from voluntary Sunday school and working as an educational support person, opened up his eyes and doors to working with people.

In addition to working as an educational support person, Dennis works as a conversation facilitator with Conversation Caravan. He enjoys both experiences because of the interaction with people and the difference he can make. Dennis speaks to us about why he loves doing what he does:

Professions come in all shapes and sizes

I believe you can find a profession tailored to your personality. I’m an interactive person who loves to hang out with other people and make new friends. With that mindset, I find professions that put me directly in the line of interaction with people to be enjoyable. When one works in a field like that long enough, however, a tough reality hits home eventually; human beings aren’t always nice.

I have had a few instances where insults, belittling comments and physical abuse were no longer the stories of my colleagues, but they became my reality. In Australia, 22% of workers have attested to getting insulted or harassed by clients. It’s not to say that the jobs with people are less rewarding, however one experience like this has the potential to not only ruin your whole day, or even a night, but it can have the potential to damage your self-esteem.

I enjoy working with people and the more I work in the field the more I’ve learnt to adapt. My training is in the field of statistics. I crunched numbers, letters and equations for four years during my undergraduate study. I did a couple of internships in the statistical field. However, outside of school, most of my jobs were people-oriented.

Having now found theses professions with people, I am not about to give up. Here are my tips (particularly for anyone that is not from Australia) to prepare yourself for a career with people.

Set your own personal boundaries:

One thing that I’ve grappled with is the amount of freedom students in Australia get to express themselves. In my country, the teacher was king. Everyone jumped at their command. Even parents rarely questioned their direction. In Australia, most students know there are rules to follow. However, teachers are much more relatable compared to mine in my country. As a result, students will talk to them like they’re friends. In higher needs schools the freedom also extended to rudeness and physical assault.

Boundaries are not a call to be rigid with people. They’re what stopped me from being a doormat. I’ve found people to be more inclined to respect boundaries that I set and I don’t have to suffer avoidable uncomfortable situations at work. Consider what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable to you. Make sure you express this when working with people and tell them respectfully when/if they cross one of your boundaries. Consistency with boundaries, I’ve found, works well.

Don’t rely on your good looks or charm:

When I started my job as an educational support, I (wrongly) assumed that personality was all that was needed to work with people. However just like statistics, there’s a lot to learn and a lot of variation. After a particularly bad day at school, I needed to learn how to calm down an enraged student; and learn how to motivate students to do their school work. This experience taught me to respect the skills and experience needed to work with people. Now, rather than relying on my personality, I ensure I have a full understanding of the situation, shadow other experienced staff, ask lots of questions and do lots of research in my own time.

Take time to meet the people and assess the situation:

In statistics there’s no such thing as too much data. When I go to schools, teachers regularly have class notes for casual staff that I use to orient myself with the class. I also ask the students I am working with how they would like to work with me, within the allowable constraints. Taking the time to get to know people will make your life smoother. It also makes them feel valued and helps to build relations with them.

Be a lifelong learner:

I’m always looking for opportunities to learn and I’ll be happy to receive any other useful tips. I enjoy reading blogs, watching other people’s styles and learning through on-the-job training. Learning is about more than just reading books. It’s about getting out there and giving it your best shot. It’s not always a smooth day, but working with people can be very rewarding. With the right attitude and preparation, it’s almost like getting paid to have a hobby.

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Making Social Media More Effective?

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Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Engage2Act UnConference held in Melbourne. In true Community Engagement style, as delegates we set our own agenda for the day. Over 30 people submitted ideas and nominated themselves to run a session, we voted and selected the sessions we wanted to attend. (If you did this at any other conference, I’m sure all you would hear is crickets but let’s not forget the theme was ‘highly engaged’).

I participated in a really interesting session about social media’s use as an engagement tool. Social media has traditionally been used as a way to drive engagement into more structured channels so I was interested to hear more about its use as a tool.

City of Melbourne commissioned a small study as a result of being overwhelmed with comments on Facebook regarding one of their draft strategies. The huge level of interest was deemed engagement on the strategy (by some) as being hugely successful. Others involved in the project were not as convinced in the value or usefulness of the comments.

The study compared input from their online engagement platform (Participate Melbourne) with the comments made on Facebook posts. The study found the Facebook comments, while huge in number, were not as valuable as the online platform (see photo of summary).

Having worked in Local Government, this was not a great surprise when thinking about the most common social media comments received. Most social media posts are outwardly focused, or directed at other social media users rather than a contribution to the topic at hand. There is also no simple way of gaining demographic or other data about those people making the comments.

A statement that stood out to me was someone in the session likening Facebook comments to people that walk past a pop-up session, don’t necessarily want to participate in formal engagement channels yet yell things at you (“My rates are too high!” or “Stop wasting my money!”). You could almost call it drive-by engagement.

The challenge for engagement practitioners is how to harness the interest gained (and people wanting to make a quick comment) via social media in a more meaningful way. I know I would love to be engaged more via social media, it would be a welcome break from watching videos about pandas.  What are your thoughts and idea?

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Stop unconscious bias sneaking into your engagement!

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In this blog we’ll share how to identify unconscious bias and stop it sneaking into your engagement program!

Did you know that you’re more likely to believe something simply because others do? Or that you’re more likely to accept information that confirms your own world view?

Naively, I had been thinking that I was enough of a critical thinker to form my own ideas, beliefs and assumptions about the world; that because I’ve been aware of stereotypes and other biases, issues such as these didn’t really apply to me. I was wrong. And apparently I’m not the only one who is…

According to Harvard University researcher, Mahzarin Banaji, “Most of us believe that we are ethical and unbiased. We imagine we’re good decision makers… But more than two decades of research confirms that, in reality, most of us fall woefully short of our inflated self-perception.

Unconscious bias is not something that only affects the majority; it has a biological basis that exists within all of us. So, the real question is not “do you have bias?” but rather “which are yours?”

Our unconscious mind is what allows us to make quick assessments of people and situations without us realising. This is very useful, except for the fact that the brain operates efficiently, meaning we don’t thoroughly interpret everything we see. In other words, we do not see our world as it really is, we see our world the way our bias allows us to see it. Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. We may not even be aware of these views and opinions, or be aware of their full impact and implications.

When coordinating community engagement projects we will continue to design projects, conduct research, engage with the community, analyse results and make decisions with filters on our thinking as long as bias exists.This means there is substantial value to be unlocked in a more conscious approach to decision making – by addressing unconscious bias and increasing the rigour within our programs we can improve the quality of all decisions we make. It’s not easy. In fact, the closer we are to projects, the more we invest of ourselves, the more we want them to succeed (consciously and unconsciously), and the more we can be influenced by results we’d like to see. Interestingly, it’s often those with more distance that can add valuable insight.

Here a few steps we can take to reduce the effects of unconscious bias:

  1. Be aware of generalisations: Stereotypical views and generalisations can easily creep into our language. Be alert for misplaced adjectives or broad sweeping statements.
  2. Challenge your decision-making: Get into the habit of asking yourself ‘why am I thinking this way?’ Be particularly aware of first impressions and gut reactions in your decision-making.
  3. Avoid groupthink and confirmation bias: When considering how you’ve arrived at a decision consider if the information is confirming what you already thought (confirmation bias) or if you could be influenced by what others think (groupthink). I found it fascinating to learn that probability of one person adopting a belief increases based on the number of people who hold that belief.
  4. Take a test: Harvard University have developed a series of free Implicit Association Tests (IAT)to help identify unconscious bias. Once aware of any biases, you can reflect on your behaviours and introduce strategies to reduce bias from your actions.
  5. Work beyond your comfort zone: Look for ways to work with others of different backgrounds, skillsets, and cultures both in and outside your organisation. They can start to challenge preconceptions and expand your thinking.

For me personally, I have realised how many biases can exist during the project lifecycle and this year I’ve decided to challenge how decisions have been made, be it my own or those of my colleagues. From asking why one engagement method has been chosen over another, to querying the use of one dataset over another. I’m also making a concerted effort to work with a wider variety of people from different backgrounds and different organisations.

By asking the tough questions I feel as though I’m starting to challenge ideas and assumptions. I am hoping to combat inhibitive patterns of thinking and start opening up new options for exploration and optimal problem solving.

How will you start to address unconscious bias?

Need another perspective on your engagement project? At Conversation Caravan we’re always happy for a chat. Bring along your notepad, but leave your biases at home.

Written by Monique Cosgrove Conversation Caravan’s expert in community engagement on topics of engaging vulnerable communities. 

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Learning and growing with each project

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I’d love to know what conversations you’re having with your family. How has your  on the job learning influenced your family? Mainly as I want more ideas for me own family conversations!  

One of the things I love about being  an engagement consultant are the conversations I have with my family. What I particularly enjoy is watching my three children take in new information and their eagerness to learn and know what I’m working on. 

Exposure to a variety of projects through our work means I am provided with many on the job learning opportunities. I always get a thrill out of discovering what the next project will be about and what I will learn. It also becomes the next thing my kids will learn. Sharing my new-found knowledge and love of learning has been a highlight in this role.

Two awesome projects that created loads of conversation

Below are two projects that, through our discussions as a family changed our behaviour:

City of Melbourne’s Climate Change Mitigation Strategy: provided endless discussions in my household. My children’s interest started in what mum was working on, but after some explanation of the project you could see their minds turning and they soon began to ask many questions. ‘What happens if we don’t change what we are doing?’ to ‘Can we have a worm farm at home?’

They had a genuine interest in the project and would ask me over the course of the pop ups what new ideas had been mentioned that day. One of their favourites, and one of mine if I’m honest, was one man’s plan to reduce his carbon footprint by consuming  insects and bugs. We were always excited to discuss what other people were doing to reduce their carbon footprint and then also assess the ways in which our family were helping to reduce our carbon footprint.

We haven’t added bugs to our diet (yet), however we have introduced a worm farm and several worm hotels into our vegetable garden beds. My son regularly rides his bike to school.

Alfred Research Alliance: also started many conversations in our household. A key outcome for this project was to increase awareness and consideration of four values. We had postcards that asked people if they were more curious, driven, open or Inclusive as a person. This led to conversations at home about which we would use to describe ourselves and why. Having three very different children provided very different answers and considerations when discussing how they would best describe themselves. It led to a deeper understanding of each other and of what was most important.

We need more dinnertime conversation

It amazes me how a simple conversation can develop into such wonderful and enriching discussions and how it provides people with the opportunity to share knowledge and make connections within their own families and their communities.

What are you waiting for? Please get in touch about your next project, Kate and her children are waiting for their  next conversation.

Written by Kate Wilby Conversation Caravan’s expert in community engagement on topics of engaging young people and families.  She is passionate about ensuring young people access education that is best suited to their learning style, interests and capability. 

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We’re hiring a Marketing and Digital Coordinator

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Are you an active member of your community?

You know the type of person who collects mail for you neighbour when they’re away?

Answered yes! Whoo hoo! Us too. We should work together.

Have a read of the position description, send us your experience and make sure you tell us about you in your community.

Send your application and questions through to hello@conversationcaravan.com.au. Applications  close 11th March 2019.

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Thanking your participants and closing the loop

Close the Loop its only good manners

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What a great consultation! People were engaged, interested and gave great feedback. So what happens next? Well like a good dinner party you thank your guests and close the loop!

To build on the momentum created by your project, the Conversation Caravan team recommends taking the following actions to close the loop:

Thank participants and those interested in the project: issue a statement thanking participants for participating in the project. Remind them of their commitment to working collaboratively. Release some of the fantastic ideas to keep the conversation going.

Keep participants informed: in engagement this is called ‘closing the loop’ the information loop is currently open. Participants have shared their ideas and their feedback with you and are waiting for what happens next. Tell them, share timeframes for decision making and keep them informed with new projects and programs that are emerging as a result of their feedback.

Using the data: not all data can be used. That is okay, sometimes data collected relates to other parts of your organisation. If it doesn’t relate to your project, find a place for it within your organisation. Use what information you can, share data across your organisations as much of the data will relate to another part of your service. Consider ways to bring the data to life consider hosting an information session at lunchtime and invite project managers from other departments to come along.

Thank the champions: if you had participants that went above and beyond, they helped to promote the project, recorded their ideas through a vox pop or recorded their ideas, opinions and personal actions. Thank these champions and share their message with others onsite.

Consider releasing an engagement report here is one we released for the City of Melbourne.

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