• May 2017

    Improving open space – a tale of two cities

    In two cities there is an under utilised space earmarked for improvement. Both are in areas with low open space to people ratios, they both involve community engagement, both are in world famous beautiful cities.

    The difference? One is in Khayelitsha an informal settlement of over 1 million people in Cape Town, the other is an in an inner city suburb in Melbourne.

    I spent a week in Cape Town following the work of the Community Organisation Resource Centre or CORC. They support informal settlement dwellers upgrade their neighbourhoods. I was fascinated to learn their community engagement approach for this  open space.

    In the Melbourne example the Council identified the need for an open space and the site.  There was some general community engagement about the vision for the broader area, but most of the discussion took place once the designs were finalised. The construction of the space is managed by the council, and they are relying on the eventual success of the park to override any community frustration about the process.

    The process in Khayelitsha is very different. With a history of cities being built to exclude  them the motto of the local community network is ‘nothing for us, without us’ and this is how the engagement takes place. With the support of CORC the community mapped their own needs with household surveys and GPS devices. They then took this information  to the council to advocate for turning a smelly swampy open space where people dump their rubbish, into a community park including new toilets, trees, a new drainage system, soccer pitch and community centre.

    Once the council was on board (which I am sure was a drawn out process). The community then begins negotiating the design of the space. There is currently a shipping container on the site where people bring their rubbish. They need to negotiate where this will be moved to, the staff point out this may require two community meetings to make sure everyone agrees.

    Once the design is finalised there is then a negotiation between community and council about how labour will be chosen. South Africa has 27 per cent unemployment and the council have their process for choosing labour, but the community after all their work to date want to make sure local people are used.

    When the park is finished the council will take over the management of the park but you can expect the community will be involved in managing the security and use of the space.

    This process is the closest I have ever seen to genuine start to finish community involvement.  It is however a slow process, the Melbourne park will be finished first. You could argue the process is too slow in a place with so much need. However, the history of seclusion means the process to the local community is perhaps  more important than the timeline.

    – Koel Wrigley

  • March 2017

    Revitalising Yangon’s Transportation System

    In downtown Yangon a bus conductor wearing a checked purple longji and a grey thin cotton shirt leans out the middle door of a bus as it moves down the middle lane of a six lane major arterial road. Clutching notes of Kyat in one hand and using his other hand to grip onto the open door handle, he shouts to group of people waiting patiently on the side of the road. They are not standing in a bus shelter nor is there a sign to indicate this is a bus stop. After watching the bus approach and listening to the conductor’s shout, the passengers make eye-contact with the conductor signalling their desire to board. The conductor shouts down the bus to the driver who slows the speed of the bus but does not stop. The passengers slowly step off the footpath and onto the road before carefully weaving their way through the moving car traffic to by pulled onto the moving bus by the conductor. Once on the bus there is a quick exchange of money with the conductor as no formal ticketing system exists.
    To the un-knowing eye this appears chaotic, as if there is no system in place that has planned the bus network for Yangon. However on 15 January this year, there was a complete overhaul to the Yangon bus system creating a formalised network with 58 routes and bus stops along the way. Yangon Transport Authority Group oversaw this huge task that required private bus operators who jockeyed for business on the previous 300 routes come into line with the new network plan. The previous bus system was overseen through the military and created competition amongst bus operators along the same routes which also contributed to Yangon’s growing traffic congestion issue. Previously bus drivers were incentivised to take more passengers creating significant overcrowding and were paid per completed route which encouraged drivers to break traffic rules whilst driving at faster speeds.
    Prior to the overhaul, regional government’s chief minister U Phyo Min Thein was lobbied by community members through his social media channels to prioritise the bus system upgrade. The Japanese International Cooperation Association (JICA) prepared a 2040 Master Plan describing a strategic long term blueprint for Yangon’s growth and development. The Plan suggests an upgrade to the bus system to create a Bus Rapid Transit network to ease traffic congestion by identifying key routes. The new network appears to have followed a similar model by connecting Townships to key interchange locations along major roads.
    The roll out of the new system on 15 January was supported through 4000 volunteers who worked with local government officials and police to provide information to passengers about the new system and help them to install the new Yangon Bus Services mobile app. From many accounts, the roll-out was not a smooth process and left passengers stranded. A local Yangon resident described chaotic scenes along roads as passengers did not know which bus to take or where it would stop. JICA was quick to distance themselves from this chaos and issued a statement saying they were not part of the new network design and rollout .
    This stress and uncertainty for passengers stranded did not go un-noticed and many generous private car drivers provided lifts. Taxi’s were said to profit from this confusion however there are other accounts of taxi drivers acting as a shuttle service along the old routes taking passengers at no cost.
    The Regional Government was provided feedback about the passenger views of the new services through the volunteers who surveyed them during their journey. The passengers provided suggested new routes or stops they thought should be required. The mobile app is also an ongoing source of feedback for the government. The app enables passengers to search routes and bus stops as well as provide comments and has received a rating of 4.3 out of 5 from 1,348 reviewers.
    A local business owner in Hlaing Township said that the Regional Government had not undertaken any community engagement about the network upgrades. She stated the Government published a news article in the local paper on 14 January advising about the changes. In a country where democracy has only been reinstated for less than a decade the absence of community engagement is not surprising however to have 4000 community members volunteer their time to support their community is. What is more surprising is that it was a deliberate effort of the government to draw upon community networks in a country where it is still illegal to have public gatherings of more than three people.
    Whilst the roll out did not go as smoothly as planned, the engagement with the community to seek their feedback on the new bus network demonstrates a new willingness of the Regional Government to engage with its citizens. Citizen engagement will become crucial to support the sustainable development of a country that has only opened itself up to the outside world in the last decade.
    – Niamh Moynihan

  • February 2017

    Community Engagement and Communications

    Recently Capire spent a day out of the office discussing how to plan for effective community engagement. Since that day I’ve been reflecting on a number of terms that we use quite often in our industry: communication and engagement. What does it mean to communicate? What does it mean to engage? How are these two actions different? And how are they the same?

    These words are not only nouns and verbs, but are also used as professional descriptions – community engagement and communications. There has been much debate about the relationship between these two professions. I have decided to add to the discussion by outlining what I think the key differences are.


    Communication is about relaying information, and transmitting messages. To communicate is to exchange information, news and ideas.

    As a community engagement professional I do this. I facilitate the sharing of information and ideas between different groups of people. I also help organisations to inform others about specific projects or policy changes.

    Communications professionals also do this. Key to communication strategies is the effective transfer of information from one group to another. Communications is about communicating to specific people, in a controlled way, to present a clear message.

    To be effective in their work, both community engagement and communications professionals are required to have strong communication skills.


    In many ways, engagement is an extension of communication. It is the next step. To engage is to participate and take part. Engagement is about reaching out to others so that they can join the conversation. It is a two-way street, a back-and-forward of ideas. It is not always about having one clear message. It can sometimes be messy, with ideas coming from many different people.

    This idea of exchange is essential in community engagement. Community engagement professionals use a vast toolkit of techniques to facilitate conversations and to ensure a diverse range of voices take part in discussions. Although communication skills are essential in using these tools, community engagement usually encompasses much more than informing or communicating information.

    Engagement is not crucial to communications. Whilst a communication professional aims for their work to be ‘engaging’, to provide content that people connect with and understand, they rarely aim to foster a two-way conversation.

    Means to an end v End in itself

    Community engagement is a means to an end. It is a process that leads to a specified objective. Although the end goal or outcome varies depending on the context, it is the guiding force of the process. At Capire, we think of engagement as having a number of objectives; informing decisions, building capacity and strengthening relationships.

    Communications on the other hand is an end in itself. The aim of communications is to connect with people by clearly communicating specific information or ideas. The outcome of a successful communications project is acceptance of the information delivered, and positive feelings towards the organisation that provided it.

    Distinct Differences

    There are crossovers between community engagement and communications. However, for me they remain distinctly different. Although community engagement professionals and communications professionals both communicate, and to differing extents both engage, they do so with very different objectives.

    Community engagement is about making room for discussion and facilitating involvement via effective communication and inclusive engagement. It may sometimes involve communications, but this remains only a small part of the community engagement toolkit. Community engagement is rarely top-down. Most importantly, community engagement should always be undertaken in the pursuit of an objective greater than simply the passing on of information, or the efficient management of an organisations reputation.

    – Anna Rowe

  • January 2017

    Why engagement matters

    As a fairly new member of the Capire team, the organisation’s recently updated vision of ‘giving every person a voice’ has given me a chance to reflect on why community engagement is just so important.

    Prior to joining Capire, I worked in the small South Pacific archipelago nation of Vanuatu as an urban planning advisor to Government. While engagement or even consultation is generally not a given on urban development projects there, it was an essential part of the work I conducted there. Two particular experiences of delivering community engagement in Vanuatu still hit home for me, and really emphasise just how important proper community engagement is for project success.

    The first experience that sticks in my mind was delivering creative drawing exercises with children in order to understand their ideas for the future of their city and to influence the focus of a major urban plan for the capital, Port Vila. The richness, pragmatism and thoughtfulness of these children’s ideas really demonstrated to me that far from being a box-ticking activity (as some organisations treat it), engagement with young people is absolutely necessary and incredibly rewarding in terms of the insights they can deliver. Being the city’s future, children are legitimate stakeholders in any urban planning project, and deserve the right to be listened to.

    The second experience came from running two collaborative workshops for people with disabilities and their families, in order to improve a preliminary design for an all-abilities adventure playground. Port Vila is not an easy city to live in if you have a disability; with poor, disappearing or wildly variable footpaths, far fewer disability-support services than we have in Australia and not a single playground designed to consider people with different abilities. Of course the best people to analyse an inclusive playground design and factor in the items they needed would be people with disabilities themselves.

    A key factor going into any engagement activity is clarity on what is up for negotiation in a project, so that the participants know what they can change or influence. In this case, the whole playground format was up for negotiation, which generated incredibly helpful feedback that ultimately resulted in a much better design – a playground that gave the community what they wanted from a public play space and community gathering point.

    The ‘why’ of engagement and delivering on what you hear through engagement is this: as someone external to the community, you cannot hope to understand their lived experience and true needs without genuine engagement. It is the people who will be affected by a project that deserve the right to have their say and to be genuinely listened to as experts.

    – Madeleine Beart

  • January 2017

    The future is here

    I love virtual reality. In fact, I’m just a little bit obsessed with it at the moment. I recently bought a Cardboard – Google’s cheap (and when I say cheap, I mean cheap! It cost me $15!) answer to a virtual reality (VR) headset. It weighs almost nothing and all you need is a smartphone, some VR apps (there are loads of free ones on both the App Store and Android), and you’re ready to go! Just the other night I was standing in my kitchen, while my dinner simmered away on the stove, riding a rollercoaster in the desert somewhere!

    But VR is not just about virtually riding rollercoasters or driving fast cars; with a plethora of VR goggles hitting the market in the past two years, there is a real opportunity for VR to revolutionise the way we engage both community and decision makers on large scale infrastructure and city design projects.

    Immersive VR presents an opportunity to simulate environments, giving the community and decision makers a clear idea of the outcomes of potential policy decisions that architectural plans or artists’ impressions on a page cannot. It also gives us the advantage of seeing how people actually behave, rather than how they say they will behave.

    The United Nations have been using VR to draw the attention of decision makers to the plight of vulnerable communities around the world. The 360 VR film, Waves of Grace, follows a young woman who survived Ebola in Liberia, and used her immunity to care for orphaned children in her village. The film was released in conjunction with the United Nations Secretary-General’s International Ebola Recovery Conference, and was integral in ensuring affected countries received the support they needed to end the epidemic and rebuild their communities.

    I for one am excited about the opportunities VR presents for increased public participation in the design of places and spaces that suit the needs of the broader community, as well as the potential for technology to become a key tool for advocacy for at risk communities, and the power this gives our communities to influence change.

    –       Anna Morath


    “When multiple people all share a virtual experience they can more effectively communicate, leading to better design.” – University of Minnesota, Virtual Reality Design Lab

  • December 2016

    Lit up from the inside

    At the time of the year when people are frantically shopping until they drop and Christmas lights are illuminating our cities, it’s a good time to reflect on what makes us light up from the inside.

    As engagement consultants, we are passionate about people. We are motivated by work that gives us a sense of meaning and purpose and this gives us an inexhaustible drive.

    We hold the space for respectful listening and expression of a wide variety of views and ideas. We create thoughtful and dynamic opportunities for this sharing. This generosity of spirit embraces differences with acceptance and compassion.

    We also know that we are not perfect. At our best, we approach projects with an openness to see, learn and find new ways of doing things. We engage with others with an open heart and mind that we continue to reflect upon and nurture through our work.

    As we move into the New Year, Capire is demonstrating our collective magnanimous spirit by rebranding our vision. Giving all people a voice. A chance to be heard. Affirmation that you matter.
    People essentially want validation. They want to know they matter. A clear message of you matter can change one person’s sense of self-worth or it can change a community. It is a movement of change, one voice at a time.

    It has been said that the measure of our life is not in our accomplishments but rather the impact that we can have on others. It is in the small acts of valuing.

    The ultimate gift we can give to one another is our presence.

    If our capacity to be generous is about living from the inside out, let’s take this time over our break and shed a bit a light for ourselves. It’s always about walking our talk.

    – Kathlin Mayer

  • December 2016


    It’s the lead up to Christmas and the holiday break, an inevitably ‘busy’ time. This week alone I have four Christmas dinners and parties to attend. Four! Luckily I love celebrations and just bought some stretchy pants. Amongst everything else in life it has felt like a crazy time and one that I just need to ‘get through’.

    Last week the Capire team had our annual Unconference; a time to get the whole team together to zoom out and think about our work, clients, impact and how we want to get better.

    We were fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours with Sally Polmear to do some ‘mindful meditation’. It was a chance to take a pause and just be in the moment. There was no rushing, to-do lists or deadlines. No multiple tabs open or trying to get through on task just to jump to the next. We were focused on one thing and that was being there.

    This is an important take-away for me, particularly at this time of year. While life may full, it’s full of the good stuff – my communities and delicious food. Functions with my work team, dinner with the team I volunteer with, drinks with close friends and Christmas celebrations with my housemates. And I’m going to make an effort this year to be mindful in each moment. I’ll be mindful of the people I’m in conversation with, the food I’ll eat and the people who aren’t as fortunate as I am and may be struggling particularly at this time of year.

    Whatever you celebrate or don’t celebrate, I hope you too can put a pause on being ‘busy’ and try being mindful in your day to day.

    – Liz Rhodes

  • December 2016

    Inter-cultural practices

    Since 2013 I have been steadily studying and I’m now two subjects shy of becoming a master of International, Urban and Environmental Management.

    The course that I undertook this semester was called Inter-cultural Practices – it’s focus is on constructing more humane, culturally and ecologically-respectful planning and development practices by providing practical skills in recognising, analysing, and resolving questions and perspectives in cultural practices other than one’s own.

    Put simply: it is giving me the tools to encourage me to think more deeply about myself and the world around me.

    What I began to unpack through this subject is that any informed discussions about culture and inter-cultural practices ultimately highlights that all points of views are equally valid and that people’s opinions – their ‘worldviews’ – are informed by their morals as well as their lived experiences. However, this presents a dilemma that is common in the field of community engagement: as professionals we are hired to be an impartial listener, yet it’s difficult for us not to bring our own worldviews to conversations and disagree with those we are listening to.

    What I have learnt is that there still isn’t one approach to inter-cultural practices but I am starting to develop up my own methodological approach. It’s important to be flexible and curious, to embrace and learn from otherness and to have awareness to be mindful and unpack your own biases. And yes, this might mean that you feel uncomfortable or vulnerable but having these emotions as practitioners means that we will have the consciousness to take a step back and critically assess and re-frame the situation or question.

    This approach gives us permission to understand our own world views and how they are impacting on the communities we engage – both professionally and personally. It will allow us to understand how our world views are impacting the people around us, the people we speak with, speak for and speak about.

    – Eleanor Howe

  • November 2016

    Uncomfortable Innovation

    Capire began 2016 with a focus on innovation for two reasons; we want to be innovative and lead our industry, but also every proposal request we receive asks for innovation. We asked ourselves what is innovation? What drives innovation? How do you stimulate innovation in a workplace?

    I don’t think we nailed the answers any more than most, but a discussion that I have come to realise should be asked is, how to we overcome the uncomfortable nature of innovation?

    What do you mean, I hear you ask!

    Over the last year, I have witnessed Capire staff – including me – try some new, potentially ‘innovative’ tools for both engagement and reporting on engagement. I have observed how many of these tools have not eventuated because they were too uncomfortable. For example:
    • New tools while being more accessible for the community may not allow branding to be applied exactly as we want.
    • We might not know how the community will respond to a tool in the field.
    • The new tool may require us to operate out of our comfort zone in a high-pressure community engagement situations.
    • Using a new tool in the field may display different values, such as a focus on sustainability rather than aesthetics.

    So how do we overcome this discomfort…?

    Does is need to be top down – a new way or the high way?
    Is it working one on one with each person to address their individual reservations?
    Is it taking away every other ‘normal’ option?

    Honestly it probably requires a bit of all three and more, but I believe it requires the acknowledgement that innovation does not always feel exciting and empowering, often it feels damn uncomfortable.

    – Koel Wrigley

  • November 2016

    Time is everything

    Taking time out from a career working in government, I have had some time to reflect on the biggest challenge facing Governments and organisations to make community and stakeholder engagement truly meaningful.

    Some see community engagement as being driven by an ideological construct. Governments of the past have placed different emphases on the value of entering into a conversation with the community. Left wing Governments more recently, are placing particular importance on co-design, deliberative democracy, participatory practice, the user experience and human centered design for services and infrastructure. In the past, the buzz words used were “community building”, “community strengthening”, “consultation” and “empowerment”. They all mean similar things and they all take time to be effective and meaningful.

    Right wing governments don’t always have well-articulated policy positions. Funding decisions are often policy. Where then is the room for communities to impact on the decisions that will impact them?

    Despite the political ideology of the Government of the day, public servants have been guided for centuries by a code of conduct that directs the way that they should interact with their clients, customers, service users and ultimately their Minister constituents. Training has been delivered for decades to guide public policy making and practice including stakeholder engagement and project management and yet too often a dedicated community engagement approach is not included as part of the project plan.

    It’s not that much different in the private sector. Organisations, developers, etc. are required to meet customer needs to be competitive in the marketplace. They want to know what their customers think about their products and services so that they can find out what will sell and what won’t. To do this well, they must engage with the community effectively.

    So why is it so difficult to always do what best practice tells us?

    Time is everything. Governments make promises when they are elected and the community pays a lot of attention to when Governments break those promises. For example, in a second year of a new term of Government, Ministers’ focus is on delivering on the promises that they made at the election.
    Policy, program and project managers need to be ready to deliver. More often than not, they are waiting for direction to proceed, but when they finally get the approval, the timeframe to deliver is often constrained and not realistically achievable.

    To develop whole of government policy, to design and implement programs that will deliver the outcomes that the community (the voters) are seeking, Governments and public servants need to allow the necessary lead time to properly engage with communities. Communities are all different and will often require tailored strategies to mobilize input from different cohorts. Time is also needed to properly analyze data (what did people say and what does it mean), document the outcomes in a palatable way (tell the story from the community’s perspective) and seek the necessary approval needed to proceed to the next step (get permission to communicate, to implement, to seek funding).

    What amount of time do you have to properly inform, educate, involve, empower and collaborate with those that are impacted by the decisions being made and policies being developed?

    You need to make time to do community engagement well. This involves mapping out your stakeholders, developing a well thought out community and stakeholder engagement strategy and an implementation plan that manages the logistics, communications and allows for the time it takes to make decisions. Is the right governance in place to seek agreement and gain approval or endorsement?

    This is what you must do to take people along on the journey with you, otherwise it is not their journey and people just won’t want to go along for the ride.
    Do you want outcomes, or do you just want to be seen to be doing the right thing? Looking good won’t always get you the outcomes that you seek.

    – Denise Francisco

  • November 2016

    Regional Assemblies

    “Local communities know best and the best ideas about how to develop and grow, to fix problems, to create opportunities as well as realise them, comes from critical understanding of local communities.”

    This was the message from the Premier ahead of the inaugural Loddon Campaspe Regional Assembly held recently in Bendigo.

    The Loddon Campaspe Assembly was the third of nine Regional Assemblies to be held across Victoria. The Assemblies provide the opportunity for the community, industry and government come together to discuss and debate the top priorities for their region. The discussions build on the existing strategies and plans for the region and harnessed the good ideas, the energy and the passion of locals. Over 450 people attended the first three Assemblies in Horsham, Port Fairy and Bendigo. Six more Assemblies will take place across the rest of the year in Torquay, Ballarat, Moe, Benalla, Mildura and Shepparton.

    The Regional Assemblies are the beginning of a new way of giving regional communities a greater say about what matters to them and ensure their voices reach the heart of government. Nine new Regional Partnerships have been established with people from diverse backgrounds and with broad skills, the local government CEOs, and a state government deputy secretary. These partnerships have the ongoing aim to significantly increase collaboration between communities, industry, businesses and government to address the most important challenges and opportunities in each region.

    Prior to each region’s Assembly everyone is given an opportunity via to say what they think really matters to their region and deliberate on the opportunities and challenges facing their communities. The outcome of these discussions shapes the agenda for each Assemblies.

    Following each Assembly, the Regional Partnership Members will present their region’s priorities to the Victorian Government’s Rural and Regional Ministerial Committee.

    – Eleanor Howe

  • September 2016

    A concise history of utopian planning

    When I mention the word utopia in relation to planning, people imagine the grand (unfulfilled) ambitions found in the ABC television show of the same name, or the grand (poorly implemented) ambitions of modernist planners.

    And this is fair enough; utopias of planning past have much to answer for. Modernist planning dreams translated into reality often became bland and lifeless urban spaces. In many ways these utopian dreams backfired, but they had merit at their time of inception. Modernist planners lived in a rapidly industrialising world; cities were dirty and polluted with poor living and work conditions. Their utopia was a place of organisation, order, cleanliness, liberation, universality and justice.

    The thing about utopias is that they aren’t meant to come true. The term utopia literally means no-place. Utopias are simply dreams, plans for action. When we get close to our utopia, we should already be imagining something further into the future.

    As backlash to the modernist dreams came a period that I will call Anti-utopia. This period devalued utopian thinking, replacing it with ideas of local, other, and the incremental. These ideas had a lot of merit. Planning in reality, however, remained pragmatic and continued along the outdated modernist path.

    Some suggest that we are now in a period of Notopia. The postmodern push toward the local and the other hasn’t been effective overall. Planners still pursue universal ideas (sustainable city, creative city, smart city). The social emancipation ideals of the modernist dreamers have given way to capital.

    So where to from here? Is there any value in thinking utopically? In having big, bold and far reaching dreams? I think there is. Utopia’s can be a way to ask questions, to test alternatives, create provocation and generate debate.

    Planning theorist Lewis Mumford wrote, “we can never reach the points of the compass; and so no doubt we shall never live in utopia; but without the magnetic needle we shall not be travelling intelligently at all”.

    We need to travel intelligently in a joint direction. To make positive change we need to start dreaming again. We need to move into a time of multiple utopias; we need to work together to combine our big dreams and come up with inclusive visions for the future.

    So how do we engage multiple groups to come up with multiple utopias? How do we combine these multiple ideas into something that isn’t about sameness, but about community? This is our current challenge. I think it is an exciting one and I’m looking forward to getting started…

    What is your utopia?

    – Anna Rowe

  • September 2016

    Observation or conversation? – The Nordic model

    In my recent travels to Europe, I had the pleasure of stopping off for a chat with the wonderful people at Gehl in their sexy new office in the heart of Copenhagen. Founded on Jan Gehl’s mission more making ‘cities for people’, the team work on innovative global projects in urban design, planning and architecture spaces. It’s safe to say I was pretty chuffed to have been offered even a short coffee meeting with one of the Associates, Louise Vogel Kielgast, who has a background in social anthropology and urban planning.

    Putting my fan-girl tendencies aside, Louise and I discussed community engagement and inclusive city building, swapping stories from our recent projects. I was surprised to learn that community engagement is less prominent from an organisational direction in Scandinavia, with a greater emphasis on community-led initiatives such as ‘neighbourhood houses’ which act as a sounding board for decision makers. The ‘Gehl’ technique seems to be more about observing human life and behaviour rather than conducting conversations with the community to air all of their desires. Which got me thinking about all the methods we use at Capire, and how these could be applied to Gehl projects, and vice versa.

    A project that Louise was involved with was the development of a vision for ‘transitioning’ (smaller) Nordic cities, responding to future urban challenges such as social cohesion, natural spaces and innovation in a changing Nordic welfare model. Led by the Nordic City Network, an international representative body, the project team developed a set of eight trends which demonstrate the shared values of these smaller cities. Perhaps some community engagement techniques could be employed here to test these values with communities of these changing cities? However, my conversation with Louise made me realise that the factors influencing the ways we prefer to be involved in decision-making processes are often embedded in our culture.

    – Sam Cremean

  • August 2016

    Urban discovery with Pokemon Go

    Let me start off by declaring that I am not a gamer. I can barely use a controller. However my boyfriend is, and he has been itching to get into Pokemon Go. As he doesn’t have a smartphone I downloaded it for him…

    I just expected something fun to do with him for a few hours. Instead, I not only found an incredibly addictive new game but also discovered my neighbourhood. In the few hours I spent wandering around trying to find Poke Stops and Pokemon I also:

    • Found out about a community garden a few streets over from my house which lead to me finding a local compost share.
    • Discovered at least three playgrounds and a dog off-leash park in my area.
    • Visited the local community recreation centre for the first time and picked up a class program.
    • Learnt about the monuments in my neighbourhood.

    Much has already been said and written about the health benefits of Pokemon Go (when people aren’t falling off cliffs). However the other genius of it is it is getting people out and discovering what’s in their suburbs, with many of these things organised by local council – parks, community centres, monuments etc.

    But does this mean anything for community engagement? When the whole world embraces a platform like Pokemon Go, should we tap into it?

    We have been talking about gamefication in community engagement for a while – how great it would be to make a game that got people out using and testing parks or urban areas, etc. It seems Nintendo beat us to it.

    Postscript –

    The City of Casey aren’t afraid of a bit of innovation and are right onto it!

    Capire are working on their ‘Casey Next’ project. We have been dropping lures at pop-up events and promoting it across Facebook: ‘Come and say hi. You might even find some Pokemon we’ve lured!’

    An practical observation from doing this is that you still need to understand your audience. Young rugby players from culturally-and-linguistically-diverse backgrounds are likely to give you a funny look when you tell them that you’ve dropped a lure. 20-something inner city uni students will beam with delight.

    – Koel Wrigley

  • July 2016

    Tear down the wall!

    Over and over again we hear from community members about how much they value access to open space. Local provision of open space is often referred to as an extension of their home.

    After having spent the last few weeks out and about on site visits, driving through residential areas, I have observed a number of examples where the local provision of open space is bordered by huge fences (with no gates) dividing residential properties from beautiful open space. I think this has huge implications on the safety of the spaces, not to mentioned the missed health benefits. In some cases, I observed that residents would be required to travel two blocks to access the park located at their back fence.

    Maybe the problem is we have been planning residential areas this way for so long now we don’t realise there is a better way. Maybe we value privacy more than creating communities, not to mention community safety. Having properties face open space would promote increased utilisation, and increased surveillance, both of which promote improved safety.

    Can you picture it?

    A neighbourhood park where every house faces the park. A park where children and young people can play independently, and where the local residents can meet and extend their homes to their community.

    There are developers out there who are shifting their thinking around this, and there are great examples of good urban design around parks in Melbourne.

    I think we should be challenging communities to think different about safety and access to open space and encourage initiatives that see the reversal of poor planning.

    We need to encourage residents to come together, inject life to their local open spaces and ‘tear down the wall!’.

    – Mollie Rashleigh

  • June 2016

    But who are we planning for?

    I love urban planning, so much so I’m back at uni for the third time to study urban planning. I like to understand how all the pieces of our city work together to make it an interesting and every-changing place to live and work. Sometimes I wonder are we too focused on the built form and are we forgetting about the reason we our planning our city for the future – us, the people!

    Recently I was asked to participate in a high level discussion about what the future narrative of our city should be. I heard a lot about managing growth in terms of the hard infrastructure like public transport and the housing we need to provide but I didn’t hear much about the people we are planning for. In the last few weeks prior to this meeting I was in a series of discussion groups about this project and I could start to hear the participants’ voices and the stories they had shared as we were discussing the narrative.

    This prompted me to ask in the meeting – but what about the people we are planning for? How are we telling the story about their local community and how they are connected to their local area? How are planning for their future aspirations? To me, the people who live in our city should be the heroes of the story and the built form is a beautiful back-drop. Whilst it’s important to think about the type of infrastructure we will need in the future, isn’t it as equally important to think about the type of community we want to be.

    Community engagement is one of the best opportunities we will have on a project to understand the values and aspirations people have for their local area and the city. We need to recognise those aspirations beyond a quote and breakout box in a planning document.

    – Niamh Moynihan

  • June 2016

    Growing pains – Engaging the growth areas

    Recently, a project took our colourful engagement ‘cube’ to the growth areas of the west to ask the community how we could encourage them to use local parks more often.

    The park itself was embellished with a state-of-the-art ‘aquaplay’ playground facility, however the surrounding areas were still in the early stages of development. We waited around, ready to pounce on local residents to capture their ideas, however only a small portion of the new suburb had been occupied. This got me thinking… how do we engage with a future population?

    As Melbourne’s outward growth continues – despite some planning attempts to curb it – this question will become more and more relevant to governments, developers and these future communities in ensuring good decisions are reached in the design and delivery of our new neighbourhoods.

    I recently attended a lecture where Dr Larissa Nicholls of RMIT University presented her research findings on the influence that planning and design of new master planned communities has on health and wellbeing for future residents. Her research specifically looked at the Selandra Rise development. It surprised me that her research is the first of it’s kind in Melbourne, yet without thorough social research we continue to proceed with developing in the growth areas in the same way.

    Dr Nicholls discovered that a ‘sense of community’ has become a marketing drawcard for developers who undertake market research, but imagine if engagement could tap into this process and begin to design neighbourhoods with future residents, not just a fancy playground to draw in their attention (and dollars).

    As the demographic profiles of these new areas change, who is responsible for making sure the residents have access to the community infrastructure appropriate to their needs? I fear that without a meaningful and creative community engagement process in place, and as early as possible, the future for these neighbourhoods could be grim.

    – Sam Cremean

  • May 2016

    Submission tips – getting the message across

    In community engagement we often talk about activating spaces, pop-up conversations and deliberative workshops. The truth is while the toolbox of engagement techniques is diverse there is a very traditional tool we still see in almost every engagement process: submissions.

    While a less sexy form of engagement, submissions are commonly made by stakeholders who represent hundreds of people with real experiences of the issue, and they remain a relevant, important tool.

    Submissions can range from a one page email to 100-page formal document.

    To make sure your message is heard and conveyed to decision makers there are some important things to keep in mind to help your reader out.

    Identify the question/s you are addressing. Avoid making your audience guess what your recommendation is within paragraphs of text. Note the question and then write your response as succinctly as possible underneath. Also separate the responses – question 1 response 1, question 2 response 2 etc.

    Leave information outside of the scope of discussion to the end. While there is always more relevant information to share than you are being asked for, it can dilute your message. Answer the question/s posed, then provide additional information at the end.

    Avoid re-stating the issue you have been asked to address. Your audience knows the issue you are responding to, there is no need to make them read it again in pages of introduction. You can acknowledge the issue by saying ‘we agree with the argument in the Discussion Paper that x is x’ or ‘we do not agree with x in the Discussion Paper which is explained in the following responses to the question’.

    While these tips seem prescriptive they will help you, by helping your audience find, understand and analyse your message.

    Happy submission writing!

    – Koel Wrigley

  • May 2016

    The Resident’s Experience

    I’ve worked in community engagement for over 15 years but I rarely get the chance to experience the process from the resident’s point of view.

    About six months ago I received a postcard in our letter box, introducing a major infrastructure project and a call to register my interest. I registered (of course!) and received a phone call from the project communications team within 24 hours, introducing themselves and confirming my contact details. For six months I was sent weekly update. Some were detailed and some we just “program going as planned”.
    Overall, the construction phase of the project was disruptive, reduced access to our house was annoying and there were times when the noise at night and over the weekend kept us awake. All these factors had the potential to cause stress, but the stress was mitigated because I knew what was happening and when I didn’t I know, I had the phone number to call to find out. .

    This recent engagement experience prompted me to reflect on the resident’s experience and reminded me of three key successes factors for making engagement work…

    1. Get back to basics. Given your community lots of ways to access information about the project. Don’t underestimate the power of a hotline. Phone contact is convenient and the consistency of having one project contact can really help build trust about a project. My elderly neighbour really appreciated this commitment. He rang the project hotline and said he didn’t have an email and wasn’t very good at reading so they sent someone over once a fortnight to give him a face-to-face updates providing him a great sense of relief.

    2. Be reliable, flexible and proactive in your approach. Throughout the project I received a weekly email update every week without fail- even when there wasn’t much to report. Be proactive and double check everyone understands the information provided.

    3. Thank people for their time and participation and review the process along the way. Check in with participants that they are satisfied. Good quality and accurate information provide people with some certainty and peace of mind so I can plan their daily activities and move on with their life.

    – Jo Cannington

  • May 2016

    The substitution of one kind of value for another

    The battle of values is something we as engagement practitioners are often faced with. The battle is also not just between competing stakeholders or community members but often also what our own personal values may be. Our own values not only guide how we engage with communities, but also how we respond to what we hear and how we develop solutions.

    I reflected on this recently when my four-year-old daughter – who appears to have more time for culture than I do (an issue I will seek to address in another post!) – came back from the NGV having gone to the Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei exhibition. She brought home with her a book which I have had to read to her every night since, and each night she gets stuck on the picture of Ai Weiwei smashing an ancient urn on the ground followed by an image of an urn which Weiwei painted over with the Coca Cola symbol.

    Some people viewed this act as shocking while others will have seen new value in an object that they could have easily dismissed, an act of value substitution. When I asked her which version of the urn she likes better she picks the urn with the Coca Cola print, I think mainly for the new splash of colour it adds.

    But anyway, it got me thinking (as is the intention of ‘art’) that it is not only ‘what’ we value as individuals but ‘why’ we value it.

    And although my four-year-old child may not understand the monetary or historical value of, say, an item or the design of a local building, it doesn’t make their kind of value any less important. As engagement practitioners and planners we need to be open to all different ‘kinds’ of values and seek solutions that do not substitute one value for another but where they may pay tribute to one another.

    – Mollie Rashleigh

  • April 2016

    Ch ch ch changes

    At Capire our work so often involves communicating change. We work on projects that focus on altering physical environments such as the future of the Cranbourne Gardens or changing policy such as the Victorian education policy reform.

    For some people, change can be an exciting prospect that they embrace with open arms and active ears. But for others change can be scary and fill them with all-consuming trepidation about the future. As community engagement practitioners we have to be conscious of where people are coming from and understand and ‘unpack’ any concern they have about proposed changes. We have to be mindful that behind any fear, distress or anger, people often have other things going on, factors that sit outside the project.

    We’re experiencing the fear of an unknown future on the Acland Street Upgrade Project. The Acland Street Upgrade was initiated by Public Transport Victoria (PTV) as part of the upgrade to the Route 96 tram. Over the past few years, the City of Port Phillip has been working with PTV, Yarra Trams and their community to ensure the best possible design outcome for Acland Street. The design includes a new level-access tram terminus for the Route 96 tram and a new public plaza between Acland Court and Barkly Street. The vision is to provide an integrated streetscape with a promenade feel and to encourage pedestrians to stroll along the street.

    However, community feedback has highlighted some concern that change could alter the ‘vibe’ of the street and affect the fabric of what makes Acland Street such an iconic landmark. Traders are worried that any slight change to Acland Street could affect business and their very livelihood. To respond to this, it is essential that the project team provides up-to-date information about the expected construction the likely impact, talk to traders to find out how council can support Acland Street during construction and offer multiple opportunities for traders to talk face-to-face with the project team.

    – Eleanor Howe

  • April 2016

    From St Kilda to Kings Cross: the importance of community

    The suburbs of St. Kilda and Kings Cross in Paul Kelly’s (arguably best) song were not chosen merely because they were separated by thirteen hours of lonely bus travel. Circa the late seventies and early eighties these suburbs offered cheap rent and a place for our city’s formative music scenes to exist as a community. St Kilda was home not only to several iconic venues and Paul Kelly, but also to Nick Cave and the share house of AC/DC.

    During the same period, but across the Yarra, Helen Garner’s semi-autobiographical novel Monkey Grip was written about a single mother’s life in Carlton. The novel describes a hard existence but one which was tempered by the young mother’s surrounding community of friends and family. Most, if not all, of this support community lived in the same or neighbouring suburbs.

    It’s been forty years since AC/DC shared that house in St Kilda and Helen Garner wrote Monkey Grip in Carlton. In 2016, we accept that these suburbs are some of the most expensive in our city to rent or buy. The population of Melbourne has grown exponentially and our city has changed markedly. Nowadays it is seemingly impossible to be young and poor in the city. Or close to your city fringe community, iconic venues, friends and family. All too often the internet ‘surrounding suburbs’ search button extends far beyond our desired neighbourhood, and into the unknown fringes of our badly serviced urban sprawl.

    This is why community engagement is so important. Community is what allowed our largest musical exports to grow in St Kilda and saved the single mother in Monkey Grip. Community engagement provides much more than a platform for unhappy ‘voters’. The true value of our community and community engagement lies in combating isolation, helplessness and vulnerability, and building connections of support as our city continues to evolve.

    – Amy Simpson

  • April 2016

    Dear new project management system

    Your reputation preceded you. Our friends love you and thought we would make a good match. We were excited to be introduced. After all, Capire has been around for a while and it was time to get serious.

    On 1 February, after a whirlwind month of getting to know each other, we made it official. In the short time since, it’s no exaggeration to say that you have changed our administrative lives.

    We have had to reassess everything we thought we know about ourselves (I spent how long writing that proposal?!), and how we do things (wait, is that time or task-billable?). We bid a sentimental farewell to our suite of trusty spreadsheets, and embraced the world of comprehensive, integrated project management. We even have a manual.

    It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. You’re a process kind of guy and Capire loosely resembles the Breakfast Club – simultaneously the brain, the athlete, the basket case, and the princess (hopefully not a criminal, sorry Judd). Sometimes it feels like we’re speaking different languages – what we called prospects you call leads, forecasting has been rebranded as estimated billings, and expenses now prefer to be called costs. It has been confusing and tumultuous. I guess metamorphosis is a messy business.

    But now we’re getting used to each other, and we appreciate the cute little things you do (that thing with the amendable invoicing is amazing). We know deep down that you are a good and honest project management system and that you can bring out the best in us. We also know that ultimately what is best for us is best for our projects, best for our clients, and best for our communities.

    Looking forward to a long and happy relationship.

    – love from Astrid xx

  • April 2016

    Urban planning and family violence

    Every month Capire hosts a discussion with a guest speaker around topics that interplay with community engagement and social development.

    In February, Annette Gillespie, CEO of Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre spoke to us about how urban planning affects women and children experiencing family violence. Safe Steps is a Victoria-wide response and policy program that will receive around 60,000 emergency calls in this year alone.

    Annette told us that the way we plan our places can contribute to a reduction in the risk of family violence. By understanding these risks we can all be part of making a safer and more equitable future.

    Safe Step’s advice to the urban planning world:

    1. Rethink traditional urban planning layouts
    Traditional urban planning encourages a division between public and private spheres, separating employment and public life from the home and family. This can leave women more isolated and vulnerable to family violence risk factors.

    2. New growth areas that lack community facilities and public transport have higher levels of family violence.
    Access to transport and community spaces interact with levels of family violence. We know that outer urban areas, with less access to transport and greater distance to community spaces, tend to have higher prevalence of family violence.

    3. Promote participation of women in planning processes
    Promoting the participation of women in planning processes through gender safety audits and community development initiatives improve women’s safety in the community.

    Thank you Safe Steps for your important work across Victoria. For more information, contact

    – Elly Gardner

  • April 2016

    The youth of today! #theyareamazing

    I’m youth… well kinda #almost30. My colleague Sam and I recently held a discussion group with thirteen year-nine millennials to talk about planning for Melbourne’s future, (ten points if you can guess the project).

    As soon as we walked into the school and I saw the uniforms, I was instantly thrown into a time warp and reminded of when I was in year nine and the things that we would talk about. This made me a little bit nervous about how the session would go, as I can remember the hysteria about how hot Ben Affleck was in Pearl Harbour, (actually I was more nervous about not being across the latest Instagram scandal than talking about planning to fifteen year olds).

    The session went off without a hitch. Well, except for when I made one of them cry WITH LAUGHTER. I was blown away by these students – they were amazing! We gave them a presentation about planning and the role it plays in our neighbourhoods and cities before having some discussions about our future.

    I was so impressed with their ability to empathise with other people’s needs in their local neighbourhoods, their imaginations and ideas for what our city could look like in the future, as well as their focus on protecting the natural environment. The other thing that impressed me was their knowledge of what is happening in their local neighbourhoods, how they felt about new developments and when the planning process had produced a controversial result. We even talked about VCAT!

    Sam and I both walked away really inspired from this session and were reminiscing on the freedom you have to think big when you’re in high school. I took two things from this session: 1) #keepthinkingbig and 2) we need to value the insight and ideas of our younger people more – by including them in our discussions as we can learn a lot from them.

    – Niamh Moynihan

    Image from Flickr user Martina15 – thanks!

  • March 2016

    The Third Wheel

    Waiting on the side of the road, a young girl confusedly scrolls up and down on her phone, whilst attempting to decipher the bus timetable attached to the pole in front of her. A common scene along the many arterial bus routes that wind around Melbourne. Our buses are often thought of as the awkward sibling of the transport family and this has a clear effect on their patronage: the lowest of the major capital cities in the country. Buses aren’t cool enough for Melburnians, however this stigma could be alleviated through some simple design interventions.

    Ex-mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa sees a bus as a symbol of democracy in action. “If 80 people can fit on a bus, then it should be entitled to 80 times the road space as a car with 1 person in it” he told the New York audience in his TED talk. By developing the visionary Transmilenio Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system and providing citizens with safe places to cycle he gave Bogota new reasons to be proud of their city. The BRT provides dedicated lanes allowing the same simple stopping patterns and high frequencies of service as an underground rail network would for a fraction of the cost. These excess funds were invested in improvements to city-wide cycling infrastructure and the two are integrated seamlessly. The users of Transmilenio aren’t concerned with the social biases towards riding a bus, they’re just happy knowing it’s the fastest way around town.

    Thousands of brightly-painted matatu buses circle the streets of Nairobi – the largest portion of the city’s passenger transport – but navigating this complex informal system requires local understanding. Acknowledging this information gap, The Digital Matatus project fused technology with local partnerships to make Nairobi’s public transit legible and service-oriented. Collecting local knowledge in the spirit of collaboration, an accessible data set was developed and synthesised into an easy-to-use set of map diagrams. With a focus on open data, the GTFS friendly information can even be accessed via Google Maps.

    Dedicated bus lanes, simplified stopping patterns and accessible and attractive network information such as in these examples could allow Melbourne bus riders to feel more in control of their experience, addressing the frustrating barriers to accessing the network that repel us from using it.

    – Sam Cremean

  • March 2016

    Through their eyes

    Community engagement is an important and valued part of city shaping.

    While designers and planners have good intentions, they often overlook the views of communities who will be most impacted by changes to streets, public places and community infrastructure.

    In the majority of government-led community engagement, less than 1% of the local population actively participate in a conversation about the future of places or spaces. And usually those who do choose to participate are the usual suspects; those that have the resources, capacity and confidence to participate in a public conversation. Those whose opinions are generally already known.

    An important part of understanding broader perspectives is connecting with hard-to-reach communities using respectful and accessible engagement techniques. So often we miss the mark when engaging these groups about the future of the city. The engagement needs to be framed in a way that is relevant to the community member; authentic in how it is delivered; and be meaningful when informing how spaces and places are designed and used.

    Team Capire is currently working on through their eyes. A series of tools which take a segment of the city and presents the experience of hard-to-reach groups when interacting and navigating with the spaces, services and other people. These groups include children, older people, people with a disability, Aboriginal Australians, refugees and homeless people. What one groups see or perceives is different to another, but all are important when creating socially inclusive cities.

    Stay tuned!

    – Amy Hubbard

  • March 2016

    So what was disruptive design..?

    In truth a variety of things! Rather than a rigid theory or process it is a way of looking at and solving problems.

    Firstly, problems need to be thought of as in a system. No problem exists in isolation it is informed by the social, industrial and ecological systems it resides in. If we do not think about the broader system, we may create far worse problems than the one we sought to solve. An example is the push for bio-fuels as a solution to climate change, producing crops for fuel out bid producing crops for food and resulted in a global food crisis in 2009.

    Secondly, if we understand a problem within its system, we can identify the best points within that system to leverage change – which is not always were you think it will be. The aim of the game is to intervene in the most dynamic and effective way possible to leverage the biggest change possible.

    Take the ‘Who gives a crap?’ idea – Simon Griffiths the founder was one of our mentors. Encouraging people to donate it a challenge and there is often a limit to people’s generosity – factors such as budget or compassion for the issue. However, everyone uses toilet paper and most people like doing a good thing if it requires no additional effort on their behalf. As a result, he is able to raise far more money for aid projects by selling toilet paper than he could asking for donations or government grants.

    This description barely scratches the surface and the seven days was a mad mix of learning, inspiration and exhaustion – one-minute I was touring social enterprises the next solving the problem of picking up dog poo. I will leave you with this simple diagram of how to go about a disruptive design process, and wish you well on your quest.

    p.s. if you want some more theory look up – Russell Ackoff, Buckminster Fuller, BJ Hobbs.

    – Koel Wrigley

  • March 2016


    Everything old is new again.

    I used to rummage through mum’s wardrobe for just the right kind of old thing to wear on casual days at school. Photo evidence suggests that I achieved this with varying degrees of success. On weekends, I pored over dad’s record collection making lists of my new favourite, hitherto undiscovered (by me) artists and saved up to buy the digital versions at JB Hi-Fi. My Discman and I were the coolest things in Moonee Ponds.

    I was not alone. Reappropriating old things in new ways is still big business. And so it is with spaces and places.

    The Coburg Velodrome is an arguably under-utilised relic of a bygone era. Built in the 1970s in an industrial precinct near Batman Station, the velodrome has more recently seen its share of the competitive cycling action decline in favour of indoor venues. However Moreland Council has come to the rescue by recognising and capitalising on the uniqueness of the velodrome by promoting it as a music, art and cultural event space.

    And it works! I was there for a day party last weekend. Despite the inevitable toilet woes, resistant to all forms of planning or magic, the velodrome was a charming host and a great example of old meets new. Combine with the novelty of early summer, good music, pretty young things, some cheeky school night beers, and a track that lends itself to impromptu sprint-offs, and voila! Happiness ensues.

    And now here is a photo of my friends just generally being attractive and having a lovely time. If you look closely you should be able to make out the concrete velodrome circuit in the background, thereby making this photo marginally relevant.

    – Astrid Ruban

  • January 2016

    C/ student–graduate program

    ‘We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.’ – Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Capire’s student/graduate program aims to build the skills and capacity of current or recently graduated Masters students by providing real-world, hands-on experience.

    As part of the program our student/graduates have the opportunity to be involved first hand in the design, delivery/implementation and reporting of our community engagement projects. Capire staff are also available as mentors to further support the student/graduates in their professional journey.

    We employ up to four student/graduates at a time for a six month period in paid positions. Our next program is scheduled to commence in March 2016, for details check our Facebook page or email

    – Eleanor Howe

  • December 2015

    Communication and/or engagement?


    What’s the difference between communication and engagement?

    Having recently become an official member of the Capire team with the task of building our strategic communication capabilities, I thought the first thing I need to figure out is what is the difference between communication and engagement?

    So I started by asking the team their thoughts. Not surprisingly, as engagement experts, communication was largely seen as something you do in support of your engagement efforts. Good communication leads to a better engagement outcome, as it can provide clarity around subject matter and increase participation, but it is a means to an engagement end. Taking a communication perspective, engagement is often seen as something you do to get a better understanding of your stakeholders so that you can more effectively target your communication.

    While I think there are fundamental commonalities between the two, indeed I think good communication and engagement are inter-dependent, there are some differences that are worth considering. In my experience, communication typically has a pre-determined objective, whereas engagement can be about listening to understand someone else’s position. Communication often has a defined audience or set of stakeholders, yet many of our engagement activities are open to those that choose to participate. Communication is usually based on an agreed set of key messages (something I would dearly like the industry to move away from, but that’s another post) and is seen as the mouth-piece of a project, whereas engagement often starts with open questions and a blank sheet.

    Communication and engagement are both powerful tools to build great relationships and make better decisions. As such they happily co-exist on many projects. Perhaps the better question is: should this initiative be engagement led or communication led? Let me ponder that and come back to you another time.

    – Todd Beavis

  • December 2015

    Disruptive Design

    Ideas, news

    Last week I found out I was accepted into the UN School of Disruptive Design. This is a weeklong fellowship that happens in cities all over the world. Next January it will be in Melbourne!

    If you are wondering what disruptive design is, so am I. The fellowship describes itself as ‘designed for emerging leaders, creative rebels and change makers across a number of disciplines’. The curriculum covers design, systems thinking, sustainability, social innovation & entrepreneurship.

    What pushed me over the line into applying is the great mentors including Jess Miller who started 202020 Vision, to create 20% more green space in our urban areas by 2020.

    So why am I a ‘creative rebel’ and ‘change maker’, or hope to become one?

    Because I believe we can truly create zero carbon cities, where people are mindful about waste and public transport is the norm. However, I think we need to rethink how we go about it. I want to use community engagement to understand people’s barriers to sustainable behaviour and collaboratively design the sustainable solutions with them.

    This is the idea I would like to test and build on next year beginning with the fellowship, which wouldn’t be possible without the amazing support from Capire.

    I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

    Pictured below is me being a ‘change maker’ – walking 328km across South Australia for solar power (Walk for Solar).

    – Koel Wrigley

  • December 2015

    The Inclusive Community Engagement Toolkit

    Ideas, news

    Hot off the press is the second version of our Capire Inclusive Community Engagement Toolkit – developed from our extensive experiences in stakeholder and community engagement projects.

    Every project we undertake lets us further develop our tools and confidence to connect with different groups, and this updated toolkit allows our friends and colleagues to learn from these experiences, ensuring high quality and meaningful engagement practice is widespread.

    In the new edition we’ve expanded the thinking process to incorporate an iterative approach which looks at meaningfully evaluating and collating your findings through a six phase process: Define, Understand, Design and Implement, Capture, Feedback and Evaluate. We’ve also added new innovative ideas for engaging hard-to-reach members of the community, reflecting current engagement practice.

    Everyone has a role in community engagement – we should all take a step back and think about what we can share with others to create stronger communities.

    To get a digital copy of our Inclusive Community Engagement Toolkit, please email a request to (just write ‘Request Toolkit’ in the subject heading)

  • December 2015

    I am biased.


    I am biased. We all are. And that’s usually ok.

    As engagement professionals, we are the impartial listener. We are there to soak up the community vibe and ensure that the local voice is accurately represented in decisions. But impartiality can be hard because sometimes the community doesn’t want what we want, or what we think they should want, or maybe nobody is really sure what they want at all. While it’s almost certain that they know better than we do, it shows that impartiality can take effort.

    So I was happy to stumble across this list of questions as I took the scenic route through our clients offices in search of the bathroom one day. On the whiteboard in big, friendly, curly writing, I was saw:

    Are you:
    • Judging?
    • Giving solutions?
    • Evading/avoiding?
    • Crisp/clear/concise?
    • Hitting the headline?
    • Making it about me?
    • Really listening?
    • Really interested?
    • Giving more than you’re taking?

    I refer back to this list regularly to keep myself in check. Because I don’t like people ordering for me in a restaurant. They’re not the boss of me. This is pretty much the same, although slightly less trivial.

    – Astrid Ruban

  • December 2015

    Perspective engagement


    ‘Perspective engagement is often defined as the ability to combine your own capacity to sense and accurately identify the emotions of others, regulate your own emotions, take the perspective of others, focus on them with care and concern, and then do something skilful based upon your perceptions’ (Waal, F. (2009). The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society. New York, NY: Harmony)

    Undertaking an empathic approach to engagement provides engagement practitioners with solid tool to truly see the issues through another’s eyes. I find the best way is to start perspective engagement is to reflect on my own perspective of the issue, initiative or project I am engaging about. I then try to consider the counter argument and open myself to being challenged to think of the deferent perspectives that will add broader insights to the strengths or challenges of the topic. This makes me aware of my own internal biases so I can regulate my opinion and be a more active listener to hear the experience of the respondent.

    An empathic environment also creates a safe space where the respondent can feel they are not being judged or expected to say or feel a certain way. It’s a great tool to connect with your participant. Perceptive Engagement is the culmination of the five aspects of the empathic process. In order to engage perceptively, you have to be able to share emotions, accurately identify them, regulate them in yourself, take the perspective of others, be concerned enough to want to engage, and finally, to engage from an unselfish position of empathic knowledge of the other (Waal, F. 2009:29). This approach acknowledges that the person you are engaging with is an expert in their own right, that they feel empowered and confident to provide valuable local insights. Finally empathy means taking on and respecting the responsibility of accurately representing what you have heard to ensure that it can influence and inform the outcomes of the project.

    – Jo Cannington

  • November 2015

    Engagement Triangle


    The Engagement Triangle is a spatial tool we developed which identifies desired outcomes of engagement based on the overarching objectives of informing decisions, building capacity and strengthening relationships.

    Aimed at practitioners and the wider community, the Triangle can be used by teams in early stages of planning to help clarify objectives, map stakeholders and identify appropriate tools/techniques.

    To get a copy of our Engagement Triangle booklet, please email (just write ‘Request Triangle’ in the subject heading)

  • November 2015

    Your new Toolkit


    The newest edition of our Inclusive Community Engagement Toolkit is almost ready for distribution amongst friends, colleagues and the world. I was delighted to be involved with re-energising the booklet to reflect contemporary community engagement methods and principles, researching some inspiring examples of how to make your engagement projects more meaningful.

    In the new edition, we’ve expanded the thinking process to incorporate an iterative approach which looks at meaningfully evaluating and collating your findings through a six phase process: Define, Understand, Design and Implement, Capture, Feedback and Evaluate. We’ve also added more innovative ideas for engaging hard-to-reach members of the community, to ensure that not just the loudest voices are heard, and some fun ideas for finding engagement opportunities in unexpected places.

    Thanks to all that kindly contributed their time and thoughts with us and we look forward to sharing the finished product with you soon.

    – Sam Cremean

  • November 2015

    Visiting Portlandia


    This year the IAP2 North American Conference was held in Portland, Oregon and I was lucky enough to be selected to present on Capire’s Engagement Triangle. The conference was generally okay, lots of speakers from lots of interesting places around the globe. While I definitely learnt a few new things at the conference, my real learning took place outside of the conference; observing and experiencing Portland, the progressive ‘hipster’ mecca.

    So what did I learn from Portland?

    · I learnt community participation in Portland is driven by the community and their aspirations for place. Residents don’t wait for anything, they get on and make things happen.

    · I learnt as a tolerant city, Portland has some of the highest rates of homelessness in the USA. Unhoused people are not out-of-sight or out-of-mind, they are in every public space and street, and they are active members of the community.

    · I learnt that they let developer’s land bank. And that this has weird side-effects, like creating the environment for the food-truck phenomena.

    · I learnt that they have REALLY WIDE streets with LOTS of cars. And yet they still manage to activate old suburbs at fine grain… which means we have no excuses here.

    · I learnt that the high-end hipster foodie culture is a universal indicator of renewal.

    · I learnt that there is MUCH greater awareness of issues to do with racial difference, stereotyping, accessibility, and equity.

    – Amy Hubbard

  • November 2015

    God bless America, her friendly people and her programmed parks


    I recently went to New York and was blown away by just how friendly everyone is (aside from the fierce customs guy who accused me of coming to the USA to take someone’s job), even a security guard at LA airport told me “gurllll you are looking fancy” as I was dashing between gates.

    One of the things I noticed in New York was that strangers were really comfortable striking up conversations with each other whether it be in the subway, a bar or over a friendly lunchtime game of table tennis in Bryant Park.

    Programming in parks, plazas and public spaces seems to occur way more often in the US than Australia – maybe density is a factor. Programming has led to the transformation of parks and plazas like Bryant park from underused scary places to busy spaces to join in an activity, strike up a conversation with a stranger or simply watch the people and activities happening around you (my favourite).

    – Niamh Moynihan