My five years at engage2: Open Government and Building Community to Build Resilience

When I met engage2 director Amelia Loye at TEDx Sydney, I was a wide-eyed, optimistic 19-year-old, recently home from a perspective-altering trip to Antarctica (I still hadn’t done my washing!).  Amelia and I discussed sustainability, community-building and our changing world; and within a fortnight, we were working together. It was exciting to meet someone who shared my level of enthusiasm.

In March this year, I will have worked with engage2 for five years, and the time has come for me to move on.

I am lucky to have found engage2. engage2 is a network of people around the world, meaning I have been exposed to international leaders and experts in a wide range of fields with diverse skill sets. The flexible business model has allowed the team to work overseas, as well as stay on top of what’s happening internationally in the field – opportunities I would not have had working in other organisations.

I wanted to take some time to reflect on my time at engage2 and share how my involvement in the Open Government Partnership, the Sydney Metro Strategy, the Code for Australia Academy and ChangeCampAU have influenced my understanding on the role of engagement in open government and building resilient communities (among other things!).

The engage2 team at a team building afternoon with Mindful Cooking


Working at engage2

Amelia and the engage2 team have supported me in pursuing other aspects of my career – university, research positions, an exchange year overseas and my community advocacy work. I work remotely (including from Vancouver), yet we are constantly communicating, collaborating and supporting each other in our work. The whole team is motivated by a collective vision, and we are genuinely passionate about community, sustainability, open government and representative democracy.

And that passion is reflected in the way we work; we all have input into the planning process, and we are open with each other about how we operate. We work together to identify what needs to be done; and I am then trusted to complete that work, reaching out for support to Amelia and more senior consultants working on projects if necessary.

I have been incredibly lucky. My work over the last five years has been remarkably diverse. I have helped prepare proposals, write engagement reports and blog posts and managed engage2’s social media accounts. I have done research on policy, planning and engagement. I have coordinated and supported Amelia in facilitating many events, including public forums, large-scale conferences, face-to-face and telephone interviews, and intensive programs. I have had the opportunity to talk with thousands of people, from all walks of life, interested in many different issues.

The Code for Australia Academy participants


Open Government

The highlight for me was our involvement in the Open Government Partnership, working both with the Australian and New Zealand Governments to develop their National Action Plans. This involved talking with people across the community, government and business to listen and understand a variety of views on improving government transparency, accountability, and participation.

I see open government is a means to an end – as a tool for solving some of the most complex problems we face today. I believe open government is a critical requirement for environmental sustainability, an issue very close to my heart.

The World Resources Institute’s Environmental Development Index (EDI) is a great example of open government supporting environmental sustainability. The EDI is an online platform for assessing various legal indicators across 70 nations; it promotes open access to information.

The move to open government is still in its early stages. Currently, a consultation is underway to develop Australia’s second Open Government National Action Plan (NAP) 2018-20, which is due for release in August 2018. You can get involved here. I look forward to seeing how the Commitments in the first NAP have progressed and what Commitments come out of the second NAP.


Building Resilient Communities

My involvement in ChangeCampAU, Sydney Metropolitan Strategy and various events moved me towards a greater understanding of the role of communities in building resilience. Although I have been interested in climate adaption since the age of 16, my excitement really grew when I began to think of ‘community building’ as a form of climate adaption.

Resilience in our communities can help us prepare and respond to change and disasters. As Eric Klinenberg puts it: “it’s the strength of a neighborhood that determines who lives and who dies in a disaster”. The example often given is the devastating 1995 Chicago Heatwave in which communities that were more connected saw lower mortality rates. The communities I am part of are extremely important to me; engagement is about people who care about their community having the opportunity to improve and share it. This is what we sought to promote at ChangeCampAU.

The ChangeCampAU team (left) and the ChangeCampAU participants (right)

The word ‘resilience’ is following me everywhere I go, in both my personal and professional life. Given that climate change is a daunting and complex issue, I’ve tried to spin it around and focus on ‘resilience’ and building resilience in cities as a mitigation and adaption solution to the stresses and shocks we are facing. Heat kills more Australians than any other natural disaster, and our cities need to be ready for the increasing severity and frequency of heat waves. That doesn’t just mean our policies, infrastructure, and emergency response plans need to be ready, but our communities – the people – also need to be ready.

So tomorrow, go and say hi to that neighbor who is always in the garden. Check on your older neighbour and that family down the road without air-con. So when another heat wave inevitably comes, you can turn to each other to ensure everyone is ok. Why not organise an event as part of Neighbour Day, coming up 24th March? We need communities that stand up, speak up, and support each other.

Building stronger communities and improving engagement between government and community is an essential ingredient in building resilience. In my experience at engage2, people like to engage in many different ways. When coupled with other forms of engagement, digital technologies like social media, civic technology and EngageTech tools can be harnessed to strengthen participation because it can allow for more accessible, inclusive and far reaching engagement.

If coupled with other forms of engagement, using technology can allow for accessible, inclusive and far-reaching participation.

Alice and Danial from the engage2 team nerding out on a visit to Data61

The main lesson I’ve learnt working at engage2 is that collaboration across sectors is essential in getting anything done. Overcoming the barriers to open and transparent governments and resilient communities requires the government, the private sector and the community to be genuinely working together with their shared goals in mind. In my opinion, government is well placed to enable these collaborations.

Another revelation I’ve had through working with engage2 is that – and it sounds corny – an individual can make a huge difference. Not long ago, we at engage2 had a wonderful, dear colleague pass away, and I had the shock realization that the world was genuinely worse off without him; all the amazing ideas and solutions in his mind will never be heard. I often think about this when I see the initiatives and projects that came out of ChangeCamp, and when I see the work that engage2 partners and friends share on their Linkedin and Twitter pages.

I’m very grateful to have worked with an incredible team across Australia and New Zealand; all of whom are motivated to work with government and community to build a more representative and open government and to build resilient communities. I would especially like to thank Kimberley, Martin, Danial, Hannah, Denise and Jo for being amazing colleagues over the years.  I am excited about what Amelia and the engage2 team will achieve in the coming years.

I am excited for the next chapter in my life – I will be doing research full-time on resilient cities at the University of Sydney, focusing on environmental justice and social resilience. My time at engage2 has influenced this next chapter of life, as I was seeing through our work that building urban resilience is a highly accessible, approachable, solutions-based approach to addressing climate impacts, so I wanted to focus on this and contribute to the literature.

I cannot thank Amelia Loye enough for the endless hours of support, tutelage, and patience she has given me. I have been so lucky to have learnt so much from her, and I look forward to many more years of friendship.


Alice Simpson-Young, March 2018.

Alice and Amelia in front of the ChangeCampAU building (UTS BP Building) a few months before ChangeCampAU


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