Pillar 1 – Community Involvement:
Identify engagement tools and actions

Quick tips:

  • Use a diverse range of engagement tools and actions which appropriately cover the engagement spectrum.
  • Once all engagement tools and actions have been identified, they should be assessed for their suitability for target audiences, level of effort and time required, and feasibility within available budget constraints.
  • Engagement actions should be costed and prioritised to clarify what can realistically be achieved, and what is likely to maximise promotion of the project with specific target audiences.
  • Understand the key issues, interests and concerns of target audiences and how these may influence selection of appropriate engagement tools and actions. Identify engagement actions that people can relate to, are interested in, and see the relevance of.
  • Link in with existing complementary programs and organisations wherever possible. The multiple benefits include efficient use of resources and cost savings, and developing and building relationships within the community.
  • Recognise that continuous and concerted effort will be required to effectively engage with target audiences over the long term.
  • Those undertaking engagement need to have appropriate skills and level of knowledge so that they are seen as credible by target audiences. Involving a range of specialists and experts enhances this perception.
  • Place emphasis on producing written material (e.g. plans, annual reports, summaries of achievements) that is easily accessible on websites, social media and mobile devices to target audiences and the broader community. This provides a lasting legacy of a project and maximises chances of long term continuance.
  • Consider how to measure implementation of engagement tools and actions. This can include not only ways to quantify attendance and uptake, but also how to monitor social change.

Engagement tools and actions for demonstration reaches should aim to:

  • provide people with information
  • involve them in activities
  • consult them on relevant issues and
  • empower them to make well informed decisions for their reach.

This corresponds with the increasing levels of stakeholder participation identified by the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) spectrum of engagement (i.e. inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower).

Approaches to stakeholder engagement must cater to the differing needs, interests, perspectives and learning styles of the demonstration reach audience. Some prefer to hear about things, others like to see things, and some prefer direct interactions. A wide variety of engagement tools and approaches will be required to build an understanding of the project, garner interest and ultimately participation, requiring time and significant effort.

Existing demonstration reaches developed different types of Communication Plans and used varying terminology. Within these plans, many tools and actions were identified and implemented covering the levels of engagement described within the IAP2 spectrum.

It is important to recognise that members of a target audience will each have their own interests and perspectives; understanding these is an essential step in developing the most appropriate approach to communicate with them. It is critically important to identify the correct people to contact with respect to stakeholder groups, and especially Indigenous communities. Use of champions and high profile people can be valuable, increasing profile and interest. Long term landholders who have lived in an area for many generations should be involved and valued, since they have a wealth of knowledge and social connection.

During the development of demonstration reaches, emphasis should be placed on effectively identifying the target audience by using existing networks and ensuring adequate promotion of the project in the community that invites participation from stakeholders who represent the community. Strong community ownership, participation and empowerment is essential in all aspects – developing strategies and plans, implementating works and monitoring outcomes. Without this genuine, continuous and diverse involvement, a community can view a demonstration reach as a government agency driven program that they are not strongly and personally invested in. This approach also helps to create community capacity, and maximises the chances of empowering the community to become stewards in the long term. Broad community involvement also increases the potential to diversify funding options through partnerships with local industry, the community and government.

Relationships and trust must be developed and maintained throughout the project. It is important to acknowledge that there can be a significant ‘lead in’ time to building community understanding and support for the proposed activities.

Lessons learnt

Key lessons learnt about tools and community engagement approaches are described below, with additional information provided in the “Engaging People” component of the guide.

Promotional Material

There is a vast array of promotional material that can be developed for demonstration reaches, including signs, brochures, posters, displays, stickers, drink coasters, hats and T shirts. These can help in branding of the project. Installing interpretive signage at key popular locations that are accessible to public, is valuable to highlight ecological values, issues and rehabilitation achievements. Creation and use of community artwork, including children’s art and Indigenous art, on interpretive signage and promotional material also strengthens community connections with a demonstration reach.

Information resources are popular with the public at field events (Photo – Fern Hames)
A fish stall at Tahbilk full of resources, some of which could be used to generate income for th demonstration reach. Photo: Pam Clunie
Native Fish Strategy T-shirts (Photo – Fern Hames)
A sign to promote Hollands Creek demonstration reach (Photo – Fern Hames)
A school activity to highlight fish rehabilitation works (Photo – Fern Hames)
Interpretive signage explaining flow diversity. Photo: Katfish Reach Project

Written Material

Written material represents a key communication tool and can range in its level of detail and complexity, depending on the target audience. Newsletters and fact sheets can clearly explain relevant information briefly for a broad range of target audiences. These may also not require significant effort to prepare and distribute. For those interested in further detail, project reports, monitoring results and workshop proceedings may be appropriate and should be published and easily available.

Websites and Social Media

Creation of specific websites and webpages for demonstration reaches is a key engagement portal for information to be disseminated. Such websites can provide general information, a suite of written resources and linkages to complementary projects. They also provide an opportunity to easily notify people of upcoming events. Websites are also valuable in measuring engagement, since it is easy to monitor number of visits to a site, views of particular pages and duration of visits. Establishing and maintaining a website however does take effort and funding. Websites can provide an ongoing legacy and promotion of a demonstration reach.

The rapid rise of a variety of social media platforms also presents potential opportunities to engage with some target audiences through social networking, blogs, production and sharing of videos and photographs. While existing demonstration reaches have not focussed significant effort in these approaches, there is clear potential to embrace these in the future.

Community Meetings

Undertaking community meetings provides a valuable opportunity to introduce and promote demonstration reaches, and seek local feedback on any issues, concerns and priorities. Such meetings are especially important in the early stages of a project, where local connections need to be made. These need very careful planning to consider the most appropriate location, timing, purpose, content and approach. Community meetings can often require a significant level of effort and resources.  Preparation should include seeking the advice of local contacts, publicising the event effectively, providing catering and, ideally, a point of difference to other similar meetings (e.g. fish in tanks, display material, expert talks). This can maximise the chances of a good local attendance, as well as creating an early favourable impression of the project with the community.

Field Days

Field days are a fundamental component of demonstration reach engagement, since they provide the opportunity for group and individual interactions directly onsite. They provide scope to demonstrate threats and values of a site, observe on-ground rehabilitation works and techniques, celebrate achievements, and thank stakeholders involved in these projects. Direct participation of the community in activities such as tree planting, rubbish removal and water quality monitoring provides a strong local connection to the project. Involving stakeholders on field days also helps to establish them as ‘champions’ in the local community, creating ownership and a sense of pride around achievements. Participation of local champions also enables them to share information in ways that are directly relevant to their community. People often prefer to hear things from their neighbours or other landholders who live in the same region, rather than from someone outside their locality. Gradual word-of-mouth conversations with neighbours, and seeing what is happening with those nearby can spark interest and community momentum.

Field days which include a variety of speakers and guest presenters can increase interest and awareness of multiple issues. Scientists and experts can discuss key values of a reach, current threats, the reasons why particular rehabilitation activities are needed, and what monitoring results are showing. Outside of such events, target audiences may rarely have the opportunity to meet scientists, or understand what they do. Existing demonstration reach practitioners have used props to assist in engaging with people during field days to demonstrate both simple and complex messages. Props are any object that assists the audience in understanding an issue by linking people to a real thing. By gaining someone’s attention, this creates an opportunity to express your message. Examples include the Carp cage model and Fishway model which were used regularly at events and proved very effective.Field days have also incorporated demonstrations of electrofishing and radiotracking, as well as seeing a fishway or fish lift work.

Enabling people to see live fish, either in a tank or being released during a stocking event, can also be worthwhile. Fish must be sourced either from aquariums, or from the field locally with relevant government permits. Trivia competitions have often proved a great ice breaker at field days, setting a relaxed tone, while also providing an opportunity to highlight key ecological information.

An electrofishing boat demonstration during Native Fish Awareness Week 2008 (Photo - Fern Hames)
A site visit during Native Fish Awareness Week 2009 in Queensland (Photo - Greg Ringwood)
Seeing things - fishlift at Yarrawonga (Photo - Fern Hames)
Fish tanks are a useful addition to an educational event (Photo - Tony Townsend)
Stakeholders discuss rehabilitation works (Photo - Fern Hames)

Training Days, Workshops and Forums

Training days that focus on high priority issues can achieve multiple benefits – raising awareness of a specific issue, increasing community capacity, building stronger relationships and attracting new participants to demonstration reaches. The Dewfish and Namoi demonstration reaches held several Tilapia workshops to increase awareness of this pest species, stimulate discussions, and highlight the importance of early detection and rapid response. The Namoi demonstration reach also held cultural survey training days with an archaeologist, highlighting how to identify and record sites and objects of cultural significance. Several demonstration reaches have also incorporated training in water quality monitoring for local communities.

A Tilapia training workshop. Photo credit: Greg Ringwood
Cultural surveying along the Namoi Demonstration Reach (Photo – Milly Hobson)

School Activities

Relationships can be built directly with school principals and teachers to investigate the potential to incorporate aspects of the demonstration reach within the curriculum.

It can be worthwhile seeking the advice of key local community contacts on how to best engage with schools. There is often scope to give presentations within class, as well as involving students in onsite field visits and activities. Schools can participate in field days, as described above, and children respond particularly well to props and direct participation.

A range of resources specifically targeted for children have been developed and used within demonstration reach events, including fish mobiles, stickers and balloons. During children’s events it is valuable to combine some active movement with more sedentary discussion and reflection time.

A variety of games have been created to highlight key ecological requirements of native fish species, the effects of particular threats and the value of rehabilitations activities. These games can be adapted to cater to different occasions and context, as well as different age groups.

3D fish have also been created for an array of native and introduced fish species. These creative fish, which are visually very engaging have often been used within displays and as components of games. A key benefit of these objects is that people can handle them.

The creation of the Sustaining River Life education package increased the efficiency of engaging with schools. This package, which helps students develop awareness, knowledge, skills and commitment to river health, includes a variety of lesson plans and activities. There is also a MDBA Basin Champions Program for students (year 4 to 9) which offers the opportunity to link up with Murray-Darling Basin Authority experts through videoconferencing and investigate the health of a river or creek near their school.

Kids enjoying some colouring in at an Ovens River demonstration reach event. Photo credit: Pam Clunie
A scientist shows school kids a fyke net (Photo - Fern Hames)
A scientist shows school kids a fyke net (Photo - Fern Hames)
A mighty big Murray cod (Photo - Fern Hames)

Recreational Fishing Activities

Recreational fishers are a key stakeholder group in all demonstration reaches. Engagement activities have included giving presentations and attending meetings with fishing clubs, writing articles in fishing magazines and involving anglers in collections of oral histories.  Fishing clinics are another way to provide information on fish identification and fishing compliance.

Implementing Carp Musters has been a particular feature of many demonstration reaches, where a community fishing event is held to target this pest species. Local angling clubs can help support planning and implementation of such events, and local tackle shops and businesses may sponsor prizes.

Such events represent a good opportunity to build and strengthen community relationships. Developing these linkages can then flow onto involvement in other activities within a demonstration reach. Using existing networks to access resources can also represent savings in time and effort in the organisation of such events. It is important to acknowledge and promote Carp Musters primarily as an awareness raising and community building exercise, with great potential to draw strong publicity through local media.

A fishing club monitoring water quality along the Namoi demonstration reach (Photo – Anthony Townsend)
A fishing clinic at Deniliquin. Photo credit: Charlie Carruthers
A fishing club planting vegetation along the Namoi demonstration reach (Photo – Milly Hobson)

Indigenous Community Activities

Engagement approaches with Indigenous communities within existing demonstration reaches have taken many forms, with an aim of empowerment and creation of partnerships, rather than simply informing. There can be difficulties in identifying local Indigenous people to engage with, and advice should be sought from relevant local organisations.

There are specific examples of engagement activities which successfully improved connections between local Indigenous communities and others involved in demonstration reaches. A Talking Circle was built on the on the banks of Myall Creek along the Dewfish demonstration reach. The hand carved concrete seats were built by a renowned Indigenous artist Laurie Nilsen who worked with the local Indigenous community and school children to develop the carvings. This Talking Circle represents a permanent place to rest, reflect and tell stories about dewfish, this river reach and local Indigenous culture.

The Namoi demonstration reach undertook a range of engagement activities involving local Indigenous communities including cultural survey training, implementing on ground activities and building cultural awareness amongst local stakeholders. Interpretive signage using Gamilaraay language and local commissioned art also raised cultural awareness along the reach.

A 2010 Native Fish Awareness Week event along the Kiewa River, provides another example of sharing perspectives on river values and river management which could be applied to demonstration reach events. This event involved sharing traditional knowledge and building and strengthening relationships between groups and government agencies. Elders passed on skills and knowledge of traditional activities, including demonstration of canoe cutting, weaving and spear making.

A Talking Circle on the banks of Myall Creek within the Dewfish Demonstration Reach (Photo - Greg Ringwood)
Weaving a fish eel trap on the Kiewa (Photo - Fern Hames)
NFA Week Indigenous artwork 2011


it is always important to use media to inform, engage and consult target audiences. The array of options include TV and radio interviews, contributions to newspapers, media releases, and organisation of specific media events.

Effective use of media can greatly broaden the potential audience. It is important to ensure that the appropriate level of effort is invested to reflect the desired results. Significant effort can be required to undertake comprehensive media promotion. Developing relationships with key media representatives can be very worthwhile, whilst having multiple voices to speak to key messages of the demonstration reach is important to extend the reach of media in the local community.

Interviewing a demonstration reach participant (Photo – Fern Hames)
Media can help promote events (Photo – Fern Hames)

Linkages with Complementary Programs

There is a vast array of organisations and programs involved in environmental rehabilitation that are potentially complementary to demonstration reaches. Identifying these is an important step to undertake early in a project. Piggy backing on other events helps build trust and ensure attendance in the early stages of a demonstration reach. Establishing links and partnerships wherever possible has multiple benefits including saving on time and effort through sharing planning and organisation activities, as well as building lasting relationships. Field days that involve a variety of organisations and activities are also more likely to attract a better audience.  In addition, linking with complementary organisations and programs may provide the potential to seek complementary funding for activities. There are many examples of existing demonstration reaches participating in other events and field days.

There are also many examples of involvement in more localised state based events, such as Fish Friendly Farms, Namoi Envirobeat Youth Conference, Platypus counts, Frog Watch census and WaterWatch activities. Establishing stalls at farming expos, camping and outdoor shows, as well as fishing competitions can also provide opportunities to link in with much larger and diverse audiences. Given the importance of riparian habitat restoration and protection for rivers, there are also obvious associations with programs run by organisations such as the Australian River Restoration Centre, Greening Australia, Bush Heritage and Trust for Nature.

A Waterwatch activity at a field day for the Holland Creek demonstration reach (Photo – Fern Hames)
A Rotary lunch for the Ovens River demonstration reach (Photo – Fern Hames)