More engagement lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes

Recently, John Hamilton, the Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management, New Zealand, spoke about the Canterbury earthquakes at the National Board meeting of Neighbourhood Support.

Resilience and personal fortitude

John was effusive in his praise for the “personal fortitude” of Cantabrians and the resilience of their communities. Their response has negated the myth of weak neighbourhood spirit prevalent in pre-quake discourse. The tragic impacts of the earthquakes have strengthened community engagement and communication.

the Student Volunteer Army in action in Christchurch

In immediate response to the quakes, Christchurch citizens checked on their neighbours. In the following days and weeks, community groups such as the student army arose and self-organised to check on people’s well-being and remove the liquefaction flooding streets and properties (see an earlier post). Unlike many overseas disaster scenes, Christchurch people used emergency accommodation for just a few days and quickly returned to damaged homes (where that was safe). Most of the fatalities occurred in the CBD, but thankfully residential buildings performed well and no lives were lost in residential building collapses. And, according to John “schools did a fantastic job” – no school children lost their lives.

Situational awareness

But the people of Christchurch and Canterbury weren’t anticipating an earthquake, and may not have been as well prepared as they could have been. The authorities found it difficult to get timely and accurate intelligence about immediate impacts and particularly in suburban areas. Effective community networks established before any disaster help the authorities gain situational awareness and better target response actions.

John believes that Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, has heeded lessons from Christchurch and is improving community preparedness. Wellington sits on a major fault line and people have been anticipating “the big one” for decades. Wellington civic leaders have engaged at community level to build emergency response capacity. Should a big earthquake occur, Wellington’s strong community infrastructure should  enable a good response.

Neighbourhood Support’s role

Community groups such as neighbourhood support play an important role in fostering community engagement. Neighbourhood Support was originally set up to improve security and reduce crime in neighbourhoods. This necessary, but reactive role, is dramatically enhanced by the more pro-active community engagement role – where people are encouraged to get to know their neighbours. Thus resilience is built into communities as people learn (or relearn) to engage with neighbours. Resilient communities are better placed to respond to destructive events, whether they be natural or man-made. And on the positive site, increased neighbourhood engagement opens up opportunities for an enriched social life and greater prosperity through community initiatives.

If you want more information about neighbourhood support, or would like to form a neighbourhood support group check out the Neighbourhood Support New Zealand website. Please comment – I would be interested to know about similar initiatives in other countries.

image credit: http://iprepared.blogspot.com/2011/02/helping-each-other.html

Stakeholder engagement drivers – Part 2: Self-interested organisations

In the first part of this series of posts we looked at three levels of commitment to stakeholder engagement, self-interest, enlightened self-interest and altruism. This, and the following posts will expand on these and illustrate them with examples.

The antithesis of engagement

Lets start by looking at an extreme level of disengagement – methamphetamine (P) production and distribution. This example shows how the core business impacts negatively on a range of stakeholders.

The classic approach to stakeholder engagement is to look at categories of stakeholder engagement – owners, employees, suppliers, customers and the community. If we consider P production from a suppliers perspective, raw ingredients are sourced either in bulk from unscrupulous suppliers, or from chemists (drug stores). Chemist shops (in New Zealand) have collaborated with Police to restrict this source. As a consequence, medicines, once readily available for genuine consumers are now difficult to access. Chemist shop staff have additional layers of security checking to cope with when selling the product.

People that rent houses that are used to “cook” P are another unwitting supplier and therefore stakeholder. These houses are left drenched in toxic chemicals and require detox processes to prepare them for the next tenant.

A high proportion of users get addicted to P and their behaviour and priorities change. This might include resorting to gambling, stealing from employers, family and others. The families of P addicts often despair at the changes that the drug induces in the addict. The increase in crime, generated by the need to secure funds for the continued supply of the drug, diverts police resources as does the activity required to counter the drug production and distribution. Other crime fighting initiatives may well be under-resourced exposing citizens to more crime.

Without expanding further, we can see that in this case, the “commercial activity” has negatives that cascade through the community. The stakeholders of the illegal drug industry are many and varied and the impacts can reach deep into our communities.

Other examples

Sadly, examples of organisations disregarding the well-being of stakeholders in their pursuit of profit are all too common. Here are some examples:

  • The tourist operators along the Gulf Coast became stakeholders of BP and Halliburton when oil washed on to their beaches.
  • Those of us that carelessly discard plastic waste may well cause marine life to be consumers of the waste, and therefore stakeholders. Albatrosses in the Pacific consume plastic, thinking it to be food. Their gut can fill with plastic, leading to certain death.
  • Alcohol companies and their marketing agents that target young people with promotions help to foster a binge-drinking culture with sometimes devastating social outcomes.

An unwitting stakeholder – a young albatross killed by plastic waste  

While the illegal drug industry is an extreme example, it illustrates that organisations that operate from self-interest, can generate significant unintended misfortune for stakeholders. We can expect that organisations that operate from higher motives can generate significant good, as we shall see in subsequent posts.

image credit: Science News for Kids

Engagement stories – back yard angels

Di Celliers was concerned about the increasing demand on food banks to feed the poor. She was also aware that a lot of fruit goes to waste in back yards. She drew on her social and church networks and workmates at the ASB bank to inspire and mobilise people to pick fruit in backyards.

In a little over a month, Di’s initiative has spread across Auckland and the idea has been picked up in other regions in New Zealand. Auckland City Mission now collect the fruit weekly and distributes the fruit to 70 foodbanks.

Community Fruit Harvesting now has a Facebook presence and a website is hopefully on its way.  The Facebook page is a great example of community engagement and social networking’s capability to connect people in a cause. You can hear Di talking about the initiative on National Radio. Here’s Di picking citrus.

Another Auckland initiative is ooooby.org, (Out of our own back yards). It has been set up as a social business that harvests produce grown in backyards, micro growers and from local farms. Customers sign up for a $27.90 weekly box of fruit and veges.

These initiatives are inspiring steps to a more sustainable means of food production and supply. The benefits include providing free or inexpensive, nutritious food, building community bonds through engagement and volunteering and providing micro-enterprise opportunities.

Here is Muhammad Yunus explaining the social business concept.

Images used by permission of Di Celliers

Engaging stories: rebuilding Christchurch

The City of Christchurch, New Zealand was devastated by a series of earthquakes. The largest, on the 4 September 2010 wrecked havoc in the central city, but the second quake on 22 February killed 181 people and all but destroyed the central city. The response of the people of Christchurch is an inspiring engagement story. On 11 August, the Christchurch City Council released it draft Central City Plan.  The plan was immediately received with acclaim.

From an engagement perspective, the plan embodies three foundational strengths:

  • inspirational leadership
  • inclusion of the indigenous Ngāi Tahu
  • comprehensive public participation and community engagement

 Inspirational Leadership

From the day of the first quake, the indefatigable Mayor, Bob Parker fronted up and communicated clearly, exuding a aura of compassion and hope. As in the image below, he was often seen on camera with a person translating his words into sign language, an unspoken symbol of inclusion. When the Council released the draft plan there appeared to be an evident sense of celebration and unity in the council – not that common in local body politics.

 Inclusion of the tangata whenua

The Mäori tribe Ngāi Tahu are the indigenous people of the Canterbury region. In formal occasions, it is common for Mäori to acknowledge tipuna (ancestors) and those who have died. The draft plan beautifully incorporates words authored by Ngai Tahu to set an appropriate context for the plan. Here is the English translation:

This mihi is given by the Ngāi Tahu Rūnanga – Te Ngāi Tūāhuriri- to acknowledge and respect the people who have been lost and those whose hearts are grieving them, and the sorrow of this .  It also acknowledges the losses and pain of all people in Christchurch and Canterbury who have suffered as a result of the earthquakes.  Ngāi Tahu recognise their atua/god Rūaumoko as having pulled his umbilical cord and caused so much to break, including land from the mountains to the sea.  While acknowledging the pain, Ngāi Tahu see us uniting us as one people – the survivors (morehu) of Christchurch and Canterbury.  The mihi is a call to Christchurch to rise up, and together to rebuild Christchurch brighter and better.

Public participation – share an idea

Following the second quake, the City Council launched Share an Idea, a public engagement campaign to lay the foundations for the rebuild. In six weeks, the website, www.shareanidea.org.nz generated over 58,000 visits. Ideas were also harvested through facebook and twitter. Virtual engagement was complimented by a two-day community expo (attended by over 10,000 residents) and a series of public workshops. These are two of the larger examples of over 100 stakeholder meetings. (See the draft plan for more detail of engagement).

A total of 106,000 ideas were shared during the six week campaign – that is one idea from every 2.2 residents. Share an Idea generated a level of community involvement that has never been seen before in New Zealand.

The fruit of the engagement process

The thousands of ideas clustered into 5 themes:

  • green city
  • market city
  • city life
  • distinctive city
  • transport choice

The plan includes contributor’s comments to directly link the ideas generated to the completed draft plan (click on the thumbnail for a larger image).

Mayor Bob Parker described the new Christchurch as “a safe, sustainable, green, hi-tech, low-rise city in a garden”.

Out of adversity comes an unprecedented opportunity. We are embarking together on one of the most exciting projects ever presented to a community in New Zealand, perhaps the world…This is our city, it will rise again

Bob Parker

This is just a taste of a truly inspirational document. Anyone interested in stakeholder engagement, community participation or organisational development will benefit from a closer look.

Engagement stories – the New Zealand Army

The New Zealand Army provides an inspiring example of a journey of engagement, and how the engagement ethos supports their effectiveness in the field.

New Zealand is a young nation with a compressed history. 150 years ago, British and Colonial forces were engaged in a series of wars with indigenous Mäori tribes, leaving the inevitable sense of disengagement and division between the combatants. In the following century, the young nation responded to the call of “mother England” and sent young men to fight and die in the killing fields of the world wars.

New Zealanders see our tragic cathartic involvement in the Gallipoli campaign as a crucible for forging our national identity and accelerating the process of cutting the umbilical chord to the mother country. In the Second World War, many young Mäori volunteered and fought with distinction as the Mäori Battalion.

Ngati Tumatauenga

A few years later, in 1949, the NZ Army badge was adapted from the British Army design. The British Army asked for the letters “NZ” to be added to provide differentiation from their badge. Fifty years later, in 1999 the New Zealand Army adopted a new badge incorporating the words Ngati Tumatauenga (God of War)  and replacing one crossed sword with a taiaha.

These outwardly subtle artifactual changes reveal a story of the integration of the army’s twin heritages of the British soldier and the Mäori warrior. The taiaha is a traditional Mäori weapon. Ngati Tumatauenga is a tribal name – the New Zealand Army reconceptualised with a tribal identity.

Ngati Tumatauenga acknowledges what the Army is one family of people bound together by the ethic of service to our country, military professionalism, common values, and mutual respect, mutual trust and camaraderie. As one people we are one tribe. Ngati Tumatauenga reflects our oneness and our unity; it has seen us develop our own New Zealand military cultural practices and ceremonial guided by Tikanga Maori on the one hand and British and European custom on the other. (from the New Zealand Army website)

We can assume that these badges represent a five-decade journey from an ethos of assimilation of Mäori culture in the army, to a more engaging ethos of integration with the consequent forging of a new identity.

It is significant that Mäori serve across the ranks of the Army, and New Zealand’s Governor General designate, Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae, has been head of New Zealand’s Defence Force from 2006 after a distinguished career in the army.

Engagement

The New Zealand military is small by international standards, but over the last 100 years has punched well above its weight. The army has served in several war zones as peacekeepers. As Ngati Tumatauenga, it has achieved stunning success. Watch the YouTube video on this page or here for the inspiring story of the New Zealand led coalition bringing peace to Bougainville with “guitars, not guns”.

I believe the Army’s success in engaging local populations and rebuilding trust can be attributed to the evolution of the shared identity of Ngati Tumatauenga. Over time underlying assumptions of the supremacy of European modes of operation were eroded and the voice of a minority culture emerged. This process could only be achieved through effective internal engagement, creating a culture that is a platform for external engagement.

Note from the video, that the inclusion of women in peacekeeping was a major asset.

Mäori have achieved much in the army, but in wider New Zealand society, they are over-represented in statistics about poverty, ill-health, unemployment and crime. It appears that wider society could learn much from the army. I would like to hear about private or public sector businesses, in New Zealand and elsewhere that have achieve impressive results through effective internal engagement.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Bob Whiu for his help with this article.

Sustainability, engagement and the end of empires, part 2

We are nearing the end of the age of empires (see part one of this post). As the old world is crumbling under its own dysfunction, the new shoots of a new civilisation are discernible. This is the context for the shift to sustainability.

Civilisation by engagement and community building

With the old world essentially a spent force, impotent to deal with the complex issues we now face, the required course correction is a radical reorganisation of human communities and patterns of civilisation. In addition to developing the new institutions to support a new world order, we face the far more profound challenge – that of disrupting ancient and ingrained assumptions and patterns of behaviour, and supplanting them with new ones. This is no simple task.

Current sustainability discourse calls for change, but it is frequently posited as incremental change (albeit challenging enough itself). The environmental and social challenges facing us are enormous. We will struggle to reverse, or slow down some of the alarming trends, such as climate change, species extinction and resource depletion. But In some ways, the task of supplanting old patterns of behaviour, anchored and expressed in age-old human behaviours, is even more challenging. But the good news is, when we can achieve this, new patterns of human interaction will make it much easier to build sustainable communities.

The changes we are facing require the displacing of these old patterns of human behaviour with often diametrically opposed new patterns. For example, most human communities have used slavery as an economic resource. The practice persists today in locations where the prevailing cultural norms of subcultures view humans as objects for exploitation. This practice is unsustainable where human dignity is a dominant value and poverty is banished.

At present, we are in a twilight zone, where many are working hard to implement sustainability interventions, but are doing so on the foundations of the old order. Many corporates struggle with schizophrenic personalities – the old “profit maximisation at any cost” personality, and the emergent “sustainability” personality. BP’s gulf oil spill personifies this. I have no doubt, the companies’ leaders are genuinely aspirational, but the hyper-competitive marketplace invokes “profit maximisation” behaviours. We are attempting to build a new world on shaky foundations.

Green shoots – community building

There are encouraging developments. Take community building for example. I am hopeful that we have reached the nadir of dislocated urban and suburban communities and we are beginning to connect more with our neighbours. In this Ted talk, Rachel Botsman talks about the growth of “collaborative consumption” – a phenomena driven partly by new peer-to-peer technologies.

And in my corner of the world, the city of Christchurch recently experienced two devastating earthquakes. Amidst the tragedies, it was heart-warming to see neighbours looking after neighbours. Two “armies” were mobilised – the student army, and the “farmy” army, the former, tertiary students, and the latter, Canterbury farmers. These armies cleared away the tonnes of liquefaction that covered streets and suburbs.

More green shoots – the global community

A hundred years ago most of our exposure was to homogenous others – those that were much like us. It was very easy to be embedded in and “us and them” world, when most other nationalities are strangers. Now we mix a lot more, we are broadening our empathy far beyond the homogenous cliques of the past. We are more likely to respond to the plight we see our fellow humans suffering. And science has taught us to that biologically, we are all much the same.

The attitudinal foundations

In the previous post, I outlined the underlying assumptions that supported the empire building ethos – “growth is good” – “extracting value” and “us and them”. Our new world requires an entirely different assumption: unity of action. Rachel Botsman advocated a shift from competition to collaboration.

We also have to overturn some deep-seated beliefs about human nature. For example, we can live peaceably together, and we can transcend self-interest.

Is it arrogant to think that we are living in the midst of epochal change? Could it be that we are indeed part of a transformation of human consciousness? I believe so, and in my next post, I will assemble some supporting evidence. What do you think?

Communication and engagement, part one – the communication spectrum

The term “communication” embraces the range of human interaction. Being more precise about the type of communication we want to enhance, enables us to better evaluate the quality of our communication, and move the organisation forward with specific communication skills, such as engagement.

Communication is interaction. Messages are given and received verbally and non-verbally. When people ask for “more communication” what specifically do they mean? Such a request is very broad and wide-open to interpretation. Here is a model that I call the communication spectrum. It represents a range of communication flavours that we might encounter in our most intimate relationships, our families, communities and workplaces.

At the top of the spectrum in the green zone are appreciation and engagement. We want more of these for effective communication to foster the development of the important relationships in our lives. Talk is in the neutral range of the spectrum. It can range from the more positive manifestations such as dialogue, (inferring an exchange) through to monologue (inferring communication with a dominant party).

The red zone is where our communication can go wrong, and so often does. Debate is ok, but not when the contest is more important than the communication. Conflict can be very productive, but it also depletes us. And communication is really heading for the red zone when someone withdraws, seeing no point in further exchanges, or a lack of safety. Both physical and verbal abuse are communication, and neither serves any useful purpose.

This model provides an easy to understand tool to evaluate the quality of our communication. We can simply ask: Is this communication above, or below, the horizon? Or, how much of my time do I spend above the horizon? What would happen if I spent more time in engagement and appreciation?

Effective stakeholder engagement will happen in a workplace communication climate where engagement is valued, not just as a skill to use with external stakeholders, but as a predominant way of communicating. In part two of this post, we will look at ways to foster this skill.

Appreciation is not ingratiation – where an underling curies favour in a transactional manner. It is more the result of experiencing empathy for others, being grateful for their contribution and gaining insights into their world. Thus appreciation is a skill that supports engagement.

So what is the quality of communication like in your key relationships? And, where it is needed, how can you move it above the horizon?

Note that the categories here are very broad. Others could be included. Do you see any major omissions?

Stakeholder mapping

Stakeholder mapping is a key process for formalising your stakeholder engagement. Follow this four step process to establish a stakeholder map. Using a matrix to rate the factors that determine the relevance of each stakeholder group will provide another perspective on your business.

AccountAbility’s AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard specifies:

“In order to design stakeholder engagement processes that work, engagement owners need a clear understanding of who the relevant stakeholders are and how and why they may want to engage. The engagement owners need to understand not only the stakeholder group but also the individual stakeholder representatives.”

How you achieve this will, to some degree, will be determined by the size of your organisation. Assuming you don’t have huge resources at your disposal, what I suggest here is a pragmatic four step way to map stakeholders.

1.    Determine the factors that you will use to rate each stakeholder group. These might include:

  • statutory, or other responsibilities
  • their influence on your performance
  • your impact, or potential impact on them
  • geographical proximity,
  • their dependence on your business
  • any existing formal representation they may have on your business’s board or other committees and working parties
  • their relevance to your strategic intent
  • the potential for creating or enhancing shared value.

Select the factors that are most relevant in your first attempt. I especially recommend you include the last – creating or enhancing shared value. This is the factor that most aligns your stakeholder engagement with the win-win orientation of Sustainability 2.0.

2.   Create a matrix, with space for your stakeholder names in the first

broad stakeholder categories

column, and the factors you have chosen in the top row. In your first attempt, brainstorm to identify a list of stakeholders and then rank each factor, using a numerical scale, for each stakeholder group. I suggest a scale of 0 (no relevance) to 3 (high relevance). You might want to weight those factors that are critical so the numbers are potentially higher, but I recommend you start with unweighted factors to keep it simple – it will work. Here’s an example.

3.   Sort the matrix so stakeholders are ranked with those scoring highest at the top. Use a one-page matrix to consult with your colleagues (any more than one page makes the process too unwieldy). In meetings, conversations and workshops get your colleagues to rank stakeholders to establish a ranking that has broad consensus internally.

4.   Indentify your top 10 or so stakeholders and focus on these for the first year of formal engagement. This will pilot your processes and help to focus your engagement efforts with a range of stakeholders, and hopefully get some runs on the board. As you engage, you will unearth other stakeholders. In subsequent years, include stakeholders in this process and build from the initial 10 to a larger number.

As with other stakeholder engagement processes, some staff will find rating stakeholders challenging, as it requires them to consider their world from their stakeholder’s perspective. Expect this shift of perspective to be the first of many benefits from this process.

Fence post or tree? A metaphor for engagement

A fence post and a tree are both anchored in the earth. But they achieve it in totally different ways. A fence post is typically made out of wood, or perhaps concrete. If it is wood, it may be chemically treated to protect it from the organisms of decay in the soil. It is held fast either by compacted earth, or concrete and sits in the earth in attempted isolation.

In contrast, here is Guy Murchie’s elegant and insightful description of a tree root.

If you are among those who think of roots as nothing but dull appendages sleeping peacefully in the stuffy dirt under a plant, you may be interested to know of their real adventures while aggressively hunting for water, air and mineral foods, which means fighting many a pitched battle against competing roots or animals, intermingled with making friendly, constructive deals with rocks, sociable moulds, worms, insects and, more and more frequently, man. At the tip of each advancing thread of root is a root cap, a sort of pointed shoe or shovel made of tough, barklike, self-lubricating stuff that the root pushes ahead of it and replaces constantly by cambium cell division inside as the outside is worn away and turned into slippery jelly by passing stones, teeth, running water or other antagonists. But the tiny root cap is only the first of several specialized parts which, working together, enable the root to steer its zigzag or spiral course, skirting serious obstacles, compromising with offensive substances, judiciously groping for grips on the more congenial rocks, secreting powerful acids to dissolve the uncongenial ones, heading generally downward in search of moisture and minerals while ever careful not to run completely out of air. (The Seven Mysteries of Life, page 46).

Morton Bay Fig (image from Land Lounge)

Extending the metaphor – extending the reach

To extend the metaphor even further, consider mycorrhiza – fungi that establish mutualistic (or symbiotic) relationships with plant roots. Their microscopic mycelia effectively extend the range of roots in their search for water and nutrients. In exchange, the host plant provides its “suppliers” the products of photosynthesis. This “shared value” relationship renders the plant more drought tolerant and disease resistant while providing the fungi with exotic foodstuffs from distant climes.

While the fence post can only support a limited load, from small beginnings the tree can grow to its genetic potential. Its engaged root system provides the platform for a stunning range of diverse and beautiful aerial structures. I am in awe of the engineering feats of trees such as the Morton Bay fig that sprout branches growing tens of metres parallel to the ground.

Many companies are in the process of transformation from the fence-post like relationship with their environment to the organic model so ably described by Guy Murchie. Walmart, for example, the target of justifiable hostility in the past, is taking herculean steps towards sustainability. It is influencing its massive supply chain to do so much better.

The parallels to be drawn from this metaphor are numerous – please share your insights.

Stakeholder engagement and community building

Nascent engagement processes emerging in companies around the globe mirror community building dynamics happening in wider society. Both represent an epochal change in the way we communicate. And as we recognise the profundity and pervasiveness of this change, the principles that underpin these global changes have the potency to inform and guide our engagement efforts in our local contexts. We will never go back to how we were.

Mankind collectively is approaching a state of maturity, never seen before on the planet. We are emerging from a turbulent adolescence to adulthood. The communication of our collective childhood and adolescence was (and to a large extent, still is) characterised by conflict and contention and occurred in societal structures that created privilege and power for an elite. Some of that residual power flowed, then trickled, down the ranks. Can you think of a period of our history where this wasn’t the case? If you can, I imagine you will find it was an aberration from the norm.

The communication of engagement

As we started to formalise the study of communication, the first models that emerged, post-World War Two, were transmission models of communication.  These presented communication as “getting the message” and focussed on external noise that impeded communication flow. The complexity of the people involved in communication wasn’t really factored in. There can be no true communication where there is an imbalance of power.

A contemporary model of communication that better equips us for engagement and the profound changes referred to above is Susan O’Rourke and Sandy Barnett’s shared meaning model. Here, true communication is that intersection in the understanding of two parties.

shared meaning

As our mutual understanding develops, the area of intersection grows. This model aligns nicely with the engagement ethos, applying to our workplaces and communities.

This blog has focussed on the business world, but parallel engagement processes can be seen in communities and nations around the world. People are finding greater cohesiveness in neighbourhoods, crises are invoking a unified response in effected communities and the widespread protests in the Middle East sees people revolting against old models of power.

Community building

Christchurch’s horrific earthquake has bought out the best in the community. There have been two parallel responses, the impressive institutional response from government and NGOs, and the inspirational grass roots response. Among the latter are the Student Volunteer Army and the “Farmy Army”. These two groups have emerged independently to rid the suburbs of an estimated 260,000 tonnes of silt generated by liquefaction. The Student Volunteer Army, in teams from 5 to 1000, has to date completed over 1,500 jobs logged on their website by needy Christchurch citizens. The opportunity connect with fellow human beings in a time of crisis, I suspect will be life-changing both for those receiving the help, and the young people so freely giving of themselves. A spokesman for the volunteer army, Louis Brown, described the phenomena to TV3’s Mike McRoberts “An incredible effort; people stepping up, taking leadership, building trust with people that’s not necessarily earned but given to each other in a matter of hours is incredible stuff”.  The images of the Student Volunteer Army marching the streets also serves to soften negative stereotypes of young people.

The student volunteer army on the streets of Christchurch (from TVNZ – click here for the YouTube video)

Another development that may well have a more long-lasting impact is the development of neighbourhood forums. The Rebuild Christchurch website offers a tool for people to build an online community, based on their neighbourhood. Hopefully we are emerging from the nadir of decades of dislocation in our suburban bubbles to rediscover our neighbourhoods.

Engagement lessons

What are the engagement lessons that we can glean from these events?

  • While government/authority support is vital, grass-roots initiatives can mobilise people quickly for the community’s benefit.
  • The burden of cost is reduced as communities become more self-reliant and resilient.
  • Tools of technology facilitate engagement and community building.
  • The “armies” formed themselves and didn’t need to be “empowered”. Democracies enable this – most organisations don’t.

From these lessons we can distil some principles and values to guide our engagement aspirations – but I will leave you to do that☺. I would appreciate hearing through comments how this relates to where you work.