The Pyrennes region of Western Victoria has unsung beauty. Some time ago, I drove up with some colleagues to Elmhurst, a small town on the highway to talk resilience. Road trips are one of my favourite things in this job, generally because it involves music and good company. This was no exception. Unfortunately, I don’t get to do enough of them.
One of the projects we were running is focusing on Community Level Resilience Planning. This is a bit of a fraught topic, and this project was challenging. We don’t do participatory disaster risk reduction planning in this country that well. There are isolated good examples of it, eg Harrietville Community Resilience Plan, the Tasmania Fire planning process, but it’s not an embedded policy or well resourced. Many agencies don’t have the skills to do this work, as it is community development 101, and then of course there is the fraught question of what does a resilient community look like!
Initially, the focus was on running multiagency preparedness sessions, but they were all aimed at building household preparedness. But there wasn’t an obvious link on how to roll it up to a community level. A change of personnel, and employing someone who was literally just off the plane from running community based risk reduction in Uganda really changed this project up.
I was pretty excited when I learned that we were meeting in the pub (and not for the obvious reasons). The pub is such a hub of places, both country and city, and for many places there is nothing else. The Elmhurst Pub is a happening place. I was impressed to see that it hosted both men’s and women’s health nights.
It was a small group, but important, a couple of farmers, Landcare members, CFA Captain, the local community development officer, the bush nurses, a teacher’s aide, the retired teacher, and a woman who introduced herself as a joiner. “I join everything” She also helped run the Festival of the Wind. The local policeman would have joined, but was on duty.
I was there as a spectator. The art of facilitation is tricky, allowing the space for people to fill into, and occupy. As they said about Miles Davis its more about the notes that are not played, than the ones played. It was fascinating to see the process unfold, and how Jamuna, our project lead, gently guided people. It took sometime, and conversations were going round and round about what did we mean and why didn’t just do some fire planning, and that would be it. In the last half hour, someone said, “Isn’t all about communication” That sparked a fire “but how do we do that” , “we don’t even know everyone in the town”, “I know”, shouted out one person, let’s have a party!.” “Lets develop a directory”. “We could restart the town newsletter”. The ideas were firing thick and fast, and they didn’t have to “be told”
And they were off and running. 6 weeks after, they had a BBQ, and about 100 of the town’s 300 people came along. IT was a terrific day out, and it focused less on disaster preparedness, and more on getting to know each other and swapping phone numbers. The activity I ran got people to work out how many phone numbers they shared. They could always swap numbers to increase their numbers. The highest number was 15.
It’s this sort of social capital that people rely upon, the power of the contact number, that Daniel Aldrich summarised in his great, recent piece for The Conversation. It’s an idea that has certainly gained traction over the past decade. It would be fantastic to see if we can measure the outcomes. Or have more meetings in pubs.
One of the best road songs of the past few years, the brilliant Tom E. Lewis