Tales from the Trenches with Joel Levin
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Born and living in Perth Western Australia, about to hit the big 50, married, two teenage kids, dog and under-utilised guitar. I love writing and exploring more philosophical elements of life. Board member of local women’s refuge and was the founding coordinator for IAP2 in Western Australia when the WA group was established too many years ago now.
Tell us a bit about your organisation.
Aha! Consulting works with organisations, communities, consumers, carers and stakeholders to make the most of those times when people need to come together to dream, plan, prioritise, or simply more deeply understand each other and how they want to work together.
We design, manage, facilitate, analyse and evaluate engagement for multiple contexts and scales, working across Australia and Internationally with the United Nations.
We are privileged to have clients from a diverse range of sectors including resources, health, Indigenous, human services, planning, culturally and linguistically diverse, environment, arts, aged care, disabilities and justice, sports and recreation, education, utilities and waste management.
What does your role involve?
• Designing and facilitating engagement processes (in organisations or externally).
• Helping organisations to evaluate engagement and develop their engagement frameworks and systems.
• Training others in engagement.
What would be a typical day in your working life?
I am either with a group in some part of the world or at my desk following up/or preparing for the next group. It’s groundhog day in some ways but completely different in many others.
Can you share some of the good and bad experiences you have encountered over your career and how they have helped you grow as an engagement professional and person?
The Good: Being told I was not a ‘full of …’ as they originally thought by the end of a community workshop. The learning for me, you can crack through the layer of defence but it takes patience and transparency.
The Bad: Not getting enough alignment between our work and the clients’ expectations. The end result was not good for the client, the community or us.
If you are working on a project at the moment would you like to share the journey to date?
Current project: Working with the United Nations on models that support the development of engagement practise of Asian Pacific countries as they implement the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Did you come across any surprises on this project?
Engagement can truly can shape society and democracy yet there are no magic bullets, every group, every meeting is a fresh start – no assumptions, no idealism, just a willingness to work with what is in front of you.
What do you find is the most rewarding aspect of working in this field?
The diversity of topics I get to work with and the intimacy that can be shared in some engagement processes. People trust you with sensitive information (both organisation and community) and seeing how they respond when that trust is respected and offered back as a next step in the conversation.
What do you see as the most challenging part of your role or working in engagement in general?
Balancing the need to continue to stretch my own practise and not get caught in the same process AND not doing different things simply for my own entertainment. Make sure there is a value add for everyone.
What prompted you to enter engagement professionally?
I’ve been working with groups since I was 14, engagement was a way of formalise that work and giving me a window into so many and diverse aspects of society, I couldn’t say no!
What are the three biggest professional or personal lessons that you have learnt from working on this field?
1. Use your judgement but don’t judge, understanding is more powerful than being right.
2. A solid process is gold but even the best process falls flat when there is not a human element to connect to.
3. Just because we are being open and transparent, doesn’t mean the people you are engaging will reciprocate AND that is okay.
What advice would you give newbies entering engagement?
See as many different practitioners in action as you can; everyone brings a unique approach that deepens your understanding of how many different way it can be configured.