Community and Stakeholder Engagement in the Water Sector, Water Conversations

26 March, 2019

The WA Branch of the Australian Water Assocation presented our first Water Conversations event on Tuesday 26th March 2019, hosted by our Program Partner, ChemCentre at the Exhibition Space in the Chemistry Precinct at Curtin University Bentley. The theme for the event was Community and Stakeholder Engagement in the Water Sector.

Rachel Evans, the AWA WA Branch President opened the event by posing the question, why is water not part of our general conversation in daily life considering how important it is to us all? Peter McCafferty from ChemCentre then welcomed everyone and spoke of the importance of stakeholder diversity for ChemCentre.

Dr Kathleen Broderick, the panel facilitator began the session by identifying that with the range of speakers for the event there is common principles that everyone uses for stakeholder engagement.

The presenters included:

  • Robyn Fenech, Harvey Water
  • Ingrid Cumming, City of Canning
  • Bryce Skarratt, BHP
  • Josephine Searle, DWER

Robyn Fenech, Business Development Manager identified that consistent communication was a key part of Harvey Water’s stakeholder engagement strategy. This included having a media strategy with regular positive news articles. Robyn also identified that playing an active role in the community that they work in was important, such as sponsoring community events.

Ingrid Cumming, Community Outreach Project Lead from the City of Canning was the second speaker. Ingrid, a Whadjuk Noongar woman found that throughout her work as a community engagement specialist there was a common theme of water being an important source for continuing Noongar culture. Ingrid has found that you should always use more than one form of communication for engagement, listen and stay connected to your stakeholders and always go back to your stakeholders to tell them what you did, even if a project did not progress, it is important to tell them why.

Bryce Skarratt from BHP brought a corporate view of stakeholder engagement, discussing BHP’s water stewardship strategy. BHP is one of the first mining corporations to start water reporting, which has stemmed from the CEO acknowledging that “water sustainability… is one of the biggest challenges humankind faces”. Bryce discussed that disclosure and collective action were key to stakeholder engagement, where collective action could range from very informal to quite structured. Bryce gave several examples of BHP’s stakeholder engagement from around the world.

The final speaker was Josephine Searle, a Supervising Hydrogeologist from Department of Water and Environmental Regulation. Josephine discussed her personal journey of learning about stakeholder engagement using a case study of a drilling program in the Canning Basin. Josephine’s learnings included engaging early and having continual engagement with your stakeholders, tailor your approach to your stakeholders, be honest, open minded and involved.

Following the individual presentations, a panel was set up with all the speakers for questions. The speakers were asked “what were innovative aspects of their own work in regard to stakeholder engagement?”. Responses included using more traditional knowledge in conjunction with contemporary science (Josephine Searle), and seeing how collaborating with a diverse community will bring innovation (Ingrid Cumming). While Robyn French saw that greenfield development is becoming a bigger part of Harvey Water’s customer base and looking at water sustainability for these customers such as third pipe will be an innovation challenge, and Bryce Skarratt saw BHP working more with suppliers and customers to influence decisions and increase transparency. The question of how to manager stakeholder conflict was put forward to the panel, and there was a general agreement that conflict can’t be avoided as you will likely have a diverse range of views with your stakeholders, however each group of stakeholders should be given the opportunity to have their say.

The consistent message for all of the speakers was that continual communication was key to building relationships with stakeholders and the community.

We would like to thank our event committee, Renee Blandin (Hyd2o), Halinka Lamparski (Urbaqua) and Blair Shackleton (GHD) for their dedication to the WA Branch in putting together this program for our members and the wider community together, our program partner, ChemCentre for hosting us for this event. This event was proudly supported by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation and the Water Corporation.