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NZ Symposium 2019 – It’s a wrap!

Chris Mene and Jo Wilkins share their learnings and reflections from the NZ Symposium 2019.

Kia ora koutou – Greetings to you all

It was really quite satisfying to spend a couple of days with engagement colleagues growing our collective body of knowledge (matauranga) at our recent Symposium. The Matariki theme was focused on new beginnings and particularly relevant in that Christchurch is a city that has had more than its fair share of ‘engagement’ recently. Mostly due to the huge effort to help our people recover, rebuild and regenerate after a damaging series of earthquakes.

The involvement of Ngai Tuahuriri hapu in our Symposium was a highlight for me. This started with the mihi whakatau welcoming us on day one followed by deep and direct sharing by Arapata Reuben (Chairperson of Ngai Tuahuriri) about the history and current aspirations, issues and challenges faced by his hapu and iwi. These partnership and engagement realities are similar around the Aotearoa New Zealand context.

The manifestation of the historical cultural narrative described by Arapata was viewed and experienced by ~60 delegates in landscape, architectural and artwork design on the Otakaro Avon River walk in the afternoon.

Michelle Feenan’s masterclass on indigenous and intercultural engagement provided a contrasting experience from Australia’s Northern Territory. It reminded me that we’ve got a lot more in common than different and that we’ve got plenty to learn from each other’s experiences.

Day 2 started for some with the sharing of kai (food-breakfast), engagement insights and storytelling about the co-design of Turanga – Christchurch Public Library. It was a rich and compelling story about partnership and engagement between local government, Iwi, the public and other stakeholders. 

The conference keynotes and workshops provided a broad range of reflections, storytelling and interactive conversations. Each with their own contexts, learnings and actionable insights for engagement practitioners.

It was a big couple of days and there was plenty of learning for me. I really valued having so many practitioners attend the Symposium in our city and the openness in which people shared their stories and experiences was deeply moving.

One key insight for me is the reinforced importance of engagement practitioners in New Zealand embracing their own bi-cultural journey within our increasingly multicultural context. This is a significant whero (challenge) to our practitioners in Aotearoa.

Nga mihi nui

Chris Mene


A great way to start the NZ Symposium on Monday morning listening to Arapata Reuben tell stories about Ngai Tuahuriri values, tikianga and kawa. Arapata gave an interesting example relating to working through a plan change: the Council Planners have different ideas to how the whanau want to plan their living areas, to have true intergenerational living arrangements – these ideas needed more korero.

Our post-lunch walking tour took in some interesting engagement stories as we followed the Otakaro river through town listening to Chris Mene talk to us about pop-up spaces, family gardens, community social enterprises, revitalised areas, cool new buildings, great artwork and fun installations. One of the main reasons to come into the Central City is the Margaret Mahy Playground – the largest playpark in the Southern Hemisphere, this is a great example of what can be achieved when children are involved in community engagement.

We also paused at the National Earthquake Memorial and were reminded that sensitive subjects require delicate community engagement.

Monday afternoon continued with a masterclass from Michelle Feenan on Engaging in Indigenous and Culturally Diverse Environments. We considered differing world views and cultural competence.

Monday then concluded with some well-earned welcome drinks.

An early start for some of us on Tuesday morning with a breakfast at Turanga hearing a bit about ‘Your Library, Your Voice’; how all the ideas were realised; and how the weaving of the cultural stories that are embedded in the fabric of this fabulous building.

Back at base, Donna Marshall, our IAP2 Board Chair, welcomed everyone formally and we cracked on with an ice breaker to start the day, moving around NZ (and beyond): from where we’re from, to where we love, to where we work…

It’ll be great to see some commitment beyond the symposium; convening and attending local area networks.

Keynote, Anya Satyanand, expressed how our work is important as part of a bigger social movement. Young people are going to be taking on some of the world’s biggest problems – there’s never been a more important time to involve young people in community engagement and decision-making.

Up next: Shelley Crestani with ‘We didn’t see that coming’ OR ‘How to avoid engagement flops!’ Take-aways from Shelley included:

  • Remember to be independent
  • It needs budget
  • Draw out the insights
  • Understanding the climate (of the community)
  • Do your homework
  • Ask the right questions
  • Finally, are you brave?

Breakout I: Danny Pouwels from Stantec took us through Tactical Urbanism and how it can be used to stimulate debate, change behaviour and gather feedback.

Breakout II: Michelle Feenan helped us to effectively Manage Complex Engagement.

Sylvia Smyth and Rachel Puentener spent some time telling us about The How Team and their work in New Brighton. One of their main challenges…keeping everyone on task to address the HOW (not get caught up in the WHAT).

We celebrated the IAP2A Project of the Year with NZTA’s Aimee Brock, who took us through this major infrastructure project and its many complex elements.

Shout out to the wonderful working group, pleasure putting together this symposium with you all (Chris Mene, Janet Luxton, Ray Tye, Claire Fletcher, Jen Scott, Caroline Lim and Stephanie MacDonald) and also a mention to the sponsors who kept us going digitally (Bang the Table), sustainably (Just Add Lime) and with caffeine (Stantec).

Jo Wilkins