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Cindy Plowman

NEWSFLASH! Come and get it!

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“It’s so important to get your name and brand out into the public domain for many reasons,’’ according to Yvette.

Meet Yvette Gray

Media Focus for Conversation Caravan

Conversation Caravan is helping to build the media profile of its clients with the help of our new senior communications officer Yvette Gray.

Yvette has more than 20 years experience in the media industry, working in TV, radio, print and digital journalism as a reporter for the ABC, 3AW, Channel 7, Win TV and Leader Newspapers.

As an award winning journalist, she knows how to identify a good story and present it in a way that the public can relate to.

Yvette has also worked on the other side of the fence as the media and communications manager at Life Saving Victoria, so is very experienced in pitching stories, handling media requests and organising press releases and conferences.

Conversation Caravan recently had success in attracting media coverage in local newspapers and radio for the Frankston First Network and the Loddon youth projects, including a front page story in the Frankston Leader.

“It’s so important to get your name and brand out into the public domain for many reasons,’’ according to Yvette.

“It’s a chance to showcase the work you do which could create further opportunities down the track. There is no better way to promote your business than having a story written about it.’’

Yvette encourages organisations and businesses to be pro-active with media and establish relationships with editors and reporters where possible.

“Some people are afraid of the media but don’t be shy, it is actually a very powerful tool to help build your profile in the community,’’ she said.

When Yvette isn’t working with Conversation Caravan’s director Cindy Plowman on media strategies, she is busy being a Mum, rowing and keeping fit.

If you have any story ideas, pitch them to

Meet Nathan Jackson

Our Design Superhero

Meet the man behind the graphic designs used on Conversation Caravan’s corporate brand and promotional materials.

Nathan Jackson knows how to grab the attention of someone, fast.

“Graphic design is more about laying out text on a page that is readable and easy to understand more than creating fancy graphics,’’ according to Nathan.

“I live by the saying that less is more. We want to add just the right amount of graphics and copy to not overwhelm the person who is reading it.

“Adding the correct type-face for a project is important too. You don’t want to use a crazy font for a corporate event.’’

Our design guru said he has always had a passion for being creative and uses design to help solve people’s problems whilst being creative.

Since joining the Conversation Caravan team, he was worked on projects including the Frankston First Network, promotional materials for the business and some photography.

“The most memorable project so far has been working on the Loddon youth project as I felt like the project itself was more beneficial for the youth in this region,’’ Nathan said.

“Creating something for them to be proud of was probably one of the hardest parts of the job but I thoroughly enjoyed the project.’’

Fun Fact:

Did you know Living Coral is the 2019 Pantone colour of the year?

According to Nathan, Pantone is the name of swatches that are used throughout different forms of design. The living coral colour has been very popular in graphic designs over the past two years. “I find the colour quite calming yet at the same time it’s quite eye catching.’’

Lee’s Top 3 Camera Phone Photography Tips:

  1. Keep angles straight – don’t try fit everything in the image by turning the phone on an angle. Move back if you need to
  2. Don’t shoot into the light – if the sun or a window is behind you, it will create a dark image. If possible, turn the subject around so that the light source is behind you
  3. Be Mindful of backgrounds – we don’t want rubbish bins or a other messy things in the background.
Meet Lee Biderovsky

Our Marketing Maverick

Lee Biderovsky is an expert product and branding photographer living the dream in Australia’s culture capital, Melbourne. Her business is called Lee Bird Photography and she’ll whip up a flat lay faster than you can pop the kettle on (N.B. will happily opt for a strawberry daiquiri after 2pm). She’s helped a wide variety of clients (including jewellery designers, restaurateurs, interior and events stylists, homeware retailers and more) bring their visions to life.  And now, she’s doing all that for Conversation Caravan.

Lee’s knowledge of photography and social media make her an invaluable resource when it comes to building better branding in 2019, and working with her takes the stress out of finding a photographer who not only gets you, but gets the work done, too. Lee has been working as a photographer for the last 10 years, managing everything a business owner needs to, including her marketing. She’s also worked as a communications officer at the State Revenue Office and as a Journalist at several publications including Postcards, Herald Sun, Computer Week, CRN and Marketing Mix Magazine.

Her easy to follow, have-fun-or-go-home approach makes working together an absolute breeze, and whether you’re looking to build out a specific campaign, want to raise overall brand awareness or are more focused on developing your own personal brand, she’ll make you look hotter than Liam Hemsworth on a sunny Australian beach.

And it’s highly possible you’ve already seen some of her work! Lee’s creative flair has seen her featured by the likes of Mama Disrupt, Little One Magazine and Modern Wedding Magazine. She’s a two-time Finalist in the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year Awards, scored silver in the VIPP Awards, and is a Mouth of Mums Awards 2011 nominee. She’s a member of the AIPP, Business of Food, Females in Food and the Victorian Chamber of Commerce, and holds a degree in Media and Communications, majoring in Journalism and Radio Broadcasting.

At Conversation Caravan we’re delighted to have her on board helping out with Marketing and as a Referral Partner.

When Loddon Grows Up

Conversation Caravan recently travelled to central Victoria to help one council find out how to retain young people in the region.

The Loddon Shire Council asked our team to investigate what young locals consider to be the essential facilities and services needed to encourage them to stay or later return to the area.

Like many rural councils, Loddon Shire has a significantly lower population percentage of young people aged 12 to 24 years living within the municipality compared to metropolitan areas.

We spoke to about 300 young people at four pop up events at Pyramid Hill College and East Loddon P-12 schools, as well as local sports events held at Bridgewater Oval and Donaldson Park.

Those we interviewed were aged between 12 and 25 and gave a variety of responses, ranging from needing improved internet connection to more safe spaces to socialise.

Conversation Caravan Director Cindy Plowman said a common theme was how important sport is to the lives of young people.

“Many told us sport is what they love about living in Loddon as it gave them an opportunity to connect with friends regularly, volunteer through their clubs and spend time outside,’’ she said.

Cindy said it was a great experience to work with a regional council in the engagement process.

“Identifying engagement barriers and assessing how they can be overcome is an integral part of what we do as we want to ensure all possible efforts have been made to reach the target audience.

“Given the focus of the young age group, we provided extra incentives to encourage participation such as a $300 voucher to the sports club with the highest participation at the Wedderburn match day community pop up.

“We also found hosting a workshop with council staff and working closely with the local community when planning the engagements contributed to ensuring the project was a success.’’

Loddon Shire Council will use the feedback to prepare its youth strategy. The council is already considering how to provide free Wi-Fi in the municipality, create work experience and skill based training and will consult with young people to plan more youth focused events.

To read the case study, CLICK HERE

Making Frankston Safer

Conversation Caravan has helped create a community network in Frankston who have come together to make the suburb safer.

Working with Victoria Police and the Department of Justice, we have set up the Frankston First Network.

The group consists of 25 community members who come from a variety of backgrounds including the Frankston Traders’ Association, small businesses, not for profit organisations, local sports groups and Frankston City Council.

Conversation Caravan Director Cindy Plowman said the network has met three times and has already come up with some great ideas to make Frankston safer.

“The group has suggested a program to better support and empower everyday citizens to speak with someone who is vulnerable or at risk and know how to offer them that support,’’ Cindy said.

“They also suggested wider promotion of support for parents with teenagers and programs to support young people and their families.’’

The network was established after a survey of more than 2500 Frankston residents identified burglary, break and enter offences, illicit drugs and dangerous driving as key concerns for locals.

Cindy said the network is now working towards reshaping Frankston’s image through the promotion of positive stories about the area.

“One of the nicest parts of this project has been the interaction between Victoria Police and general members of the public. It’s really great hearing the conversations and solution-finding,’’ she said.

We’re excited about presenting two public workshops aimed at helping different community groups create a safer experience. 

First up is the visual merchandising workshop, which is for traders wanting to learn how to make their shopfront more attractive to customers, while also adding a layer of protection to their business through their displays. It’s being run on September 4th and spaces are limited (CLICK HERE TO BOOK)

Next is a Home Safety Workshop that is being run as a joint partnership by the Neighbourhood Watch and Victoria Police. They will share their essential tips on keeping your home safe. There will be plenty of time to ask questions and attendees will be given a hard copy checklist to assess their home.  CLICK HERE to book now and ensure you’re doing all you can to keep your home safe.

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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 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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