Mentee: Andy Lowes – Murray Darling Basin Authority
Mentor: Dr Tamara Boyd – Intrinsic Scope
Stories are a powerful way to engage people and communicate information in a memorable way. Communicating the benefits of the work we do through stories merges emotion and meaning, to make the facts and figures we often present much more personal, meaningful and memorable.
It is not often we hear how programs are working from the perspectives of those on the ground. This project allows people to discover the icon site managers and learn why they do what they do – hearing the stories from the person behind the camera. The Living Murray icon site managers are a dedicated, passionate and hardworking group of people with years of knowledge and experience to share. This project personalises their achievements and insights by allowing their stories to be told, shared and celebrated in a series of short videos.
Andy joined the Twinning program hoping to work with a mentor to improve the products from the project, but more importantly, gain knowledge and techniques to improve the way he approached his work. The Twinning program also offered the opportunity to build extensive networking across Victorian water agencies – several of which help deliver The Living Murray Program – and provided access to decades of knowledge and experience from people working in water matters outside the Murray–Darling Basin.
Mentors have played a key role in successes Tamara has had in the water industry. She joined the Twinning program seeking to give back to the industry she loves and to support emerging leaders. Given Tamara’s previous role with The Living Murray Program as part of Parks Victoria, the project also offered the opportunity to link back in with The Living Murray network.
The Twinning partnership
With Tamara based in Ballarat and Andy in Canberra, regular catch-ups in person weren’t an option. Weekly phone hook-ups were therefore organised, with Andy setting the agenda (3 items) ahead of each meeting. Agenda items could be project specific, or focus on an area of professional development.
The project – why are we doing what we’re doing?
Together, we identified that for the project to be successful we needed a clear purpose and we needed the icon site managers to appreciate that purpose. Importantly, we needed them to understand why their stories are important to share.
To support this, we developed a project logic to identify objectives and outputs. Andy drafted a series of interview questions to guide site mangers through the filming. Tamara helped refine these questions to make sure they drew out the personal experiences of the site managers and to emphasise why they do what they do.
The project also benefited from Siwan’s expertise in guiding people through the power of storytelling. This made her the perfect person to run a session with the site mangers to prepare them for filming.
With a picturesque lower Murray River and Chowilla Floodplain as the backdrop, and armed with an expert videographer, Siwan’s tips for storytelling, polished interview questions and gigabytes of film and footage from each site (courtesy of partner agencies), the icon site managers shared their experience on camera.
In total, seven videos have been produced of site managers sharing their experience. Their stories showcased with sensational footage and photos collected at their sites over the years. The videos are set to be released as part of a broader revamp of The Living Murray web pages on the MDBA website.
Key learnings from the Twinning Program include:
- Having a mentor accelerates your professional development. Working in partnership with someone who has extensive experience within the industry allows you to develop in so many areas of your work and life at the same time. The Twinning Program supports this, while also delivering a project for the Mentee’s organisation.
- The importance of reflection. Ensuring you have a process to go back over what you have done, review how it went, celebrate success and see where you can improve allows you to be better prepared for the next challenge.
- People matter. Relationships are fundamental to achieving outcomes. This includes between agencies and with communities. Making connections with good people is motivating and makes you want to push yourself. The Twinning program emphasises this in both theory and practice.
- It is important to celebrate success. The videos celebrated some of the successes the site managers have had working with communities to achieve terrific environmental outcomes.
- The importance of asking good questions. The right questions can link on-ground activities to personal insights and emotions, making information more meaningful and memorable to those listening.
- A supportive supervisor is essential. Having a supervisor and organisational leaders who support staff through such a program, is key to the success for mentors and mentees.
- Active listening can be difficult to do, but is important for making people feel genuinely heard.
- Under ever-increasing workloads, it is important to remember to have fun and have a laugh.
What did we personally gain from the waterway management twinning program?
“Prior to the Twinning program, I could not fully comprehend the value of having a good mentor. Now that I’ve completed it, I wish I’d known earlier. Through the Twinning Program, I’ve learned the importance of investing in people. Having Tamara as my mentor has significantly improved the way I organise and approach tasks and taught me the importance of reflection. Being in a room full of people who share the same values and enthusiasm to improve our waterways is extremely motivating, and a unique opportunity to link with a wealth of experience across so many parts of the water industry.”
“The Twinning Program was a delight! I really enjoyed having this opportunity to support the great work and personal growth of Andy, plus connecting or reconnecting with many other waterway managers. I was especially impressed by the enthusiasm of everyone involved and the range of tangible and valuable projects they delivered. The program reinforced for me the benefits of always extending our networks, sharing our knowledge and stories, looking after our own wellbeing (and each other’s), and making sure we celebrate and enjoy the amazing work we do.”