International community engagement specialist to speak at CCA annual conference

An international community engagement specialist will speak at CCA’s annual conference in November. Dr Wendy Sarkissian (pictured), who is based in Vancouver, Canada, will travel to Brisbane to speak at the conference on the topic of “The Fearless Community Engagement Practitioner”. Dr Sarkissian spent many years working in Australia, including running community engagement and participation processes in all states and territories.

Dr Sarkissian’s keynote address will explore the dimensions of how education practitioners work in community engagement:

  • How can this whole engagement process be truly awesome?
  • How can community voices really be heard?
  • How can we deepen our listening skills? 
  • And how can we learn everything this project has to teach us as we build our personal and organisational engagement philosophy, processes and practice?

Building on decades of planning and engagement experience in a wide diversity of contexts in Australia, Wendy will outline some of the guiding principles of her approach to engagement practice, including:

  • First contact: the importance of the very first contact with community members.
  • Every interaction counts
  • Handling things up the line: bringing members of the Board of Directors and other staff into processes can yield great benefits for all.
  • Direct engagement with community members
  • Authentic and robust processes from the start
  • No sweeping under the rug, speaking about issues that may make some people occasionally feel uncomfortable.
  • Form and nurture partnerships: when your organisation embraces a culture of community engagement then it becomes continuously community engagement. Then it is simply how we do business with our communities.
  • Speak the truth
  • Cast a wide net
  • Playfulness, incorporating elements of playfulness, drama and celebration into an engagement process
  • Resist believing your own story, because our personal stories of what is going on in a community or an organisation may not align exactly with the realities of community members
  • Systematic debriefing, monitoring and feedback, to protect us from foolish errors
  • Nurture respect

Download a copy of Dr Sarkissian’s “Eighteen Guiding Principles for Community Engagement” (PDF). 

Click here for more details about CCA's Conference.

About Dr Wendy Sarkissian

Dr Wendy Sarkissian brings more than 40 years’ experience to community engagement and social planning. During the course of her career, she has consulted to private industry, along with local, state, territory, provincial and national governments in Australia, Canada, the USA and elsewhere.

She has written eight major publications on community engagement, including a trio of books from Earthscan Routledge: Kitchen Table Sustainability: Practical Recipes for Community Engagement with Sustainability;  SpeakOut: A Step-by-step Guide to SpeakOuts and Community Workshops; and Creative Community Planning: Transformative Engagement Methods for Working at the Edge. Her leading international reputation in community engagement resulted in having an award named after her: the “Engage 2 Act Wendy Sarkissian Award for Courage in Community Engagement.”

Dr Sarkissian has taught at the Universities of Sydney, New England and South Australia, and has been a visiting professor at Harvard University, Cornell University and University of British Columbia. She holds a doctorate in environmental ethics from Murdoch University and a Masters of Town Planning from University of Adelaide, and is a Life Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia.

Her community activities include extensive pro bono work for disadvantaged groups throughout Australia. She is a former member of the Board of the South Australian Housing Trust and a former President of the Nimbin (NSW) Chamber of Commerce.

Read more about Dr Wendy Sarkissian here.

Image above: Dr Sarkissian runs a community engagement process in Western Sydney.
Image above: "Bless this road" community engagement at the community hall, Uki NSW, including the Mayor of Tweed Shire Council (5th from right) (October 2018)

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