When you want people to think or engage differently you need to ground it in something familiar and appealing. You can then open constructive dialogue.
"You need to be comfortable with not knowing where engagement will lead you, or how people will connect with your material."
I look for ways to ground the EPA’s engagement approach in things that are familiar and appealing to those we’re connecting with.
To begin conversations with groups from non-governmental organisations and iwi partners we held a Matariki breakfast in July 2019. Our guests were invited to move from table to table, to talk with EPA staff about their views on environmental issues, and to hear about our work. There were some lively exchanges – sharing food and conversation was far more constructive than holding a lecture.
"We encouraged guests to offer feedback on post-it notes, addressing the themes of What’s important, Being heard, and Thinking big. We still refer back to what people shared."
Far from being academic and theoretical, our approach to community engagement begins with empathising with people and their varied perspectives, listening to them, connecting with them, and building enduring relationships with them over time. We want people to trust the EPA, to be aware of what we’re doing and why, and to have a voice in our decision making.