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Storytelling event harnesses neutrality to tackle big problems

In October 2022, towns along the Murray River system raced to contain huge volumes of flood water from destroying homes and businesses. While some places experienced devastating damage, the town of Echuca-Moama managed to beat back the water.

Inspired by the heroic effort and focus of the local community during the floods, a group of passionate locals teamed up to launch pH-SEVEN – an event platform focused on neutrality, communication and idea sharing in pursuit of community collaboration.

Led by sports marketing specialist Jessica Waters Galluccio, Fifteen50 Director Matt Barden and community and open space advocate Suzie Shearer, the first pH-SEVEN event is set to launch in Melbourne on 19 October during National Water Week.

Galluccio said the development of the communication platform has been made possible by a $10,000 community grant, which was attained following the communications and engagement work she did during the 2022 Victorian floods.

“A lot of the work I did with regional communities during the 2022 flooding was because Victoria is my home state. I was born in Echuca and raised on the Murray River. I live in Perth now, but I am still connected to communities in Melbourne, and throughout regional Victoria,” she said.

“When the floods came through in 2022, I felt really far away. It was an incredibly powerful flood. It was all over the national news. I was glued to my phone, calling and speaking with people, watching and waiting.

“I was able to help with distilling information and then disseminating it, and so I stepped in to help with the communications effort.”

During the floods, Galluccio said she saw the world get a lot smaller as every member of the community came forward to help in whatever way they could.

“Everybody in Echuca-Moama became incredibly focused on the task at hand and brought a skill set to that effort. There was one singular vision: to stop the water. Through that specific goal, and under good leadership, they were successful at meeting the challenge of a one-in-a-thousand year event,” she said.

“And I thought: we need to harness this. The human effort was breathtaking – all people of all ages united for one common cause. In the regions, we go through droughts, fires and floods, but what do we carry forward? Are we bringing this unity, experience and learnings to plan for the next event?

“I didn’t want the knowledge and connection gained from the experience to be lost. It’s easy to slip back into normality. But given the state of the environment and water, I didn’t want that to happen following this crisis because there was such incredible power in that unity.”

DSC_2374Image credit: McPherson Media Group

pH-SEVEN: water, land, people
Following the floods, Galluccio put together the idea for pH-SEVEN – a platform for story sharing that stays neutral, encourages open discussion around tricky topics, and inspires action for change.

“The three pillars of pH-SEVEN are water, land and people. It’s a platform to explore the challenging issues, the hot potatoes, the difficult conversations. We believe we are in a position to get different people and perspectives into the room,” she said.

While Galluccio has the people focus, Matt Barden, a specialist in natural resource management delivers the water expertise, and Suzie Shearer brings over 20 years of experience in community land-use and advocating for green open spaces. All three come from farming backgrounds and have working knowledge of agriculture and food production issues.

“In nature, a pH reading of 7 is the measure of a neutral environment. It is the pH of pure water and healthy soil, and it is considered the optimal conditions for growth. There are so many parallels that we have drawn upon in the development of the pH-SEVEN platform. Importantly, pH-SEVEN is sponsor-neutral and carbon-neutral,” Galluccio said.

“Our aim with pH-SEVEN is to create inspiring storytelling events with a code of conduct underpinned by neutrality to encourage listening, the absorption of perspectives and encourage greater understanding.”

Similar to a TED-X environment, each speaker gets about 20 minutes to communicate their message to the event audience.

“We are focused on learning so being inclusive and diverse is key. Standing up and speaking is not for everyone. Matt’s extensive work in community consultation in the water space taught him that knowledge and opinions can be effectively passed on in other ways,” Galluccio said.

“Storytelling can be achieved with spoken or written words, but also visually through footage, art, music or performance. All too often, when it comes to having a voice, it is the platform or forum that is the limiting factor. With that comes the risk of excluding important people, groups and their views.

“Diversity is quite often missing in these debates, which is what we are trying to change. We often see events that are highly specialised in one area. We end up with separate conversations, one for agri-business, one for scientists, one for community.

“But everything is interconnected. We need to have a cross-pollination of ideas and opinions in order to create better outcomes. When we start to look at water issues through a strategic lens, there are many different perspectives that need to be included in these conversations. The paradigm needs to shift.”

Encouraging open dialogue
Underpinning each pH-SEVEN event is the code of conduct around neutrality, Galluccio said – a necessary environment to ensure all voices are heard.

“We knew that for the platform to be effective it needed to be free of bias. It needed to not be politically aligned. Our code of conduct around neutrality ensures we maintain a safe space, where people can share their perspectives,” she said.

“But, neutrality is not apathy, either. We want to provide a platform for free speech on topics that are really important to communities. We have community engagement at heart. And we consult with the community and experts to ensure we have a good representation of people.”

Galluccio said the events are also designed to be intimate – aiming for 50-60 people – to ensure people all stay comfortable to talk.

“Coming from the country, we have a great knack at helping people feel welcome. But we ask everybody in the room to abide by the code of conduct,” she said.

“Our code includes seven rules of deep listening. They are about being open-minded and prepared to have your mind changed, being curious and non-judgmental. It’s about coming into the room with the intent to learn.

“People don’t have to agree, but they are asked not to block ideas either.”

What to expect
The one-year anniversary of the October 2022 floods in Victoria is fast approaching, and Galluccio said she can’t wait to launch the first pH-SEVEN event in commemoration of the hard work that inspired it.

“We wanted to launch the first pH-SEVEN event one year following the floods, in the philosophy of reflection and not letting the learnings from the experience disappear,” she said.

Set to be held on the Yarra/Birrarung, the first event will include representation from Traditional Owners, including sharing the story of the river.

“The themes of our first event span voices from the bush to the boardrooms of our cities. We will hear about cultural water, country versus city water, the Murray-Darling Basin, community engagement from an on Country perspective, agriculture and drought to flood efforts,” Galluccio said.

“We will also be discussing urban water and water futures and have an amazing panel lined up.

“pH-SEVEN is the perfect environment for growth in nature. We are hoping these events will become the perfect environment for people to learn, grow and collaborate.”

Interested in learning more about pH-SEVEN or attending a future event? Visit pH-SEVEN on LinkedIn or contact Jessica Galluccio: