An evolving story of resilience, hot chocolate and hugs! Stephanie & Simone’s Twinning Story

Our why: The Macalister River, Gippsland

Twinning Partnership

Mentee: Stephanie Suter – West Gippsland CMA
Mentor: Simone Wilkie – Melbourne Water

Twinning reflections…

It’s fair to say that adaptive management is central to achieving good on-ground outcomes in natural resource management. Well, our story is a case of adaptive management in action. With changes to our project, our positions and host organisations and a baby on the way for Steph, the focus of our Twinning Partnership went far beyond ‘a single project’. All of these changes were positive and allowed us to share and discuss our strategies to manage change and build resilience.

Steph and Simone navigated:

  • 3 project iterations (i.e. Snowy River, Thomson River, and finally Macalister River)
  • 5 different jobs (between the two of us – all positive for careers and life)
  • 75% of a baby, still in the oven

Through the Twinning program Steph aimed to become a confident project manager, to build industry networks and to develop additional skills and competency in environmental water management. A big tick! While Simone aimed to improve skills in active listening, to re engage in the environmental water space and to be organised and available for Steph. Mostly a tick!

Key program learnings and outcomes:

  • Successfully appointing a consultant and seeing the project come to fruition
  • Communicating early, no surprises. Clear communication from the beginning and throughout a project is vital, it’s really important to know what you need to help set your direction. Clarity is important, because not everyone can see the finish line as clearly as you can.
  • Ask questions and listen to answers, learn from those around you.
  • When times get hectic have a plan in place, even if it is a simple as having three key discussion points in a phone meeting, it can help you feel back in control and give you some direction.

The Twinning program also provided some surprise learnings for us:

  • The Why? Central to all engagement in NRM, why we do what we do
  • Using a story spine to engage in a meaningful way, Refer above to the Why?
  • Taking a moment to reflect on how resilient we are and the strategies that we use and celebrating this
    Insights into Traditional Owner engagement
  • Structured and scheduled telephone meetings with the golden three key points are a winner, as they make best use of our time and give our conversations direction (thanks Andy and Tamara for your pearls of wisdom there!)

Not surprisingly, the Twinning program also highlighted some of the great people in our industry and provided an opportunity to re engage or build new networks.


So back to the project…

Environmental water is managed in the Macalister catchment, Gippsland, by the West Gippsland CMA (WGCMA) and Victorian Environmental Water Holder. To better inform management of this precious water resource, the WGCMA commissions ecological studies and water modelling projects to learn more about our local regulated river systems and how best to deliver environmental flows. The overall goal of the project was to prepare and manage an assessment of environmental water shortfalls and water balance in the Macalister river system. This assessment will inform future management of environmental flows in the Macalister River.

As a new member of the WGCMA water team, managing a project such as this was a brand-new experience for Steph. Coming into the Twinning program the main actions were to:

  • Prepare a project timeline for the Macalister water balance and shortfalls project
  • Prepare a project brief to be put out for tender
  • Select a consultant to undertake the project
  • Stakeholder communications, resource sharing, meeting management (i.e. DELWP, SRW, VEWH, WGCMA, Consultant)…Project management 101
  • Have the project completed by mid-November 2018


Our why: The Macalister River, Gippsland
Our why: The Macalister River, Gippsland

How the Twinning partnership assisted the project…

After a few false starts, or shall we say project evolution, we bedded down the project. To ensure clarity in roles and support for the Twinning partnership, we involved Steph’s manager in a discussion and developed better clarity around where the project fits in terms of timelines, required outcomes, and where Simone’s skills and experience would be of best use.

From here a project brief was prepared, with some guidance and great feedback from Simone. Having her knowledge and expertise from both a consulting background and a government agency really helped to tighten up the brief, framing it in the best way possible to go out for tender.

One of our glamorous hot choccy and chat sessions at Southern Cross Station (still smiling)
One of our glamorous hot choccy and chat sessions at Southern Cross Station (still smiling)

Following the second workshop, Simone and Steph really took on board the approach of other 2018 Twinning program participants, Andy and Tamara. We scheduled more regular meetings, and Steph prepared three key points to aid our discussions. This was a fantastic way to focus our phone calls and use our time efficiently.

Simone was also a fantastic resource when it came to managing the tender assessment process. Having never done this kind of thing before, Simone was able to navigate me through, giving me greater confidence in the approach I was taking. Following an inception meeting and two stakeholder workshops, this project is tracking well and Steph feels real ownership and confidence that it will meet the CMAs needs. We were also able to schedule in two face-to-face meetings, at the very fancy Southern Cross Station, for hot chocolate, project updates, and life updates.

What did we personally gain from the waterway management twinning program?

The Twinning program has really opened my eyes to the importance of resilience, flexibility and a sense of humor. The Twinning program relationship we’ve forged has become a real anchor, a constant as many things kept changing around us.

The mentor-mentee relationship was a “safe space” to explore ideas, it gave me a lot of confidence in myself. Simone has been great throughout the process, her insight into all aspects of project management (from a range of viewpoints) has been great to tap into. Plus, she’s an awesome human being and I feel really comfortable talking with her when I’m unsure and need some guidance. I feel like we work in a very similar way, which has really helped me to build my confidence throughout the project.

I’ve also found the workshops and wellbeing program to be really valuable. I’ve always had great respect for Siwan and the work that she does. I feel very privileged to have been able to learn from her and be part of this program. Not only have a been able to manage a project that relates directly to my work, but I have also learned communciation techniques that will be useful throughout my career.

– Steph

I said early in the Twinning program, that I was so pleased to be partnered with Steph. We have a similar working style, career interests and enjoy a few laughs, especially at the most stressful of work times. Whilst the formal mentoring partnership has finished, we will continue to seek times to meet up or connect on the phone.

As Steph mentioned, the program really enabled us to explore and take a moment to think about our individual resilience and our ability to adapt to change. The program also provided an opportunity to step away from the day to day and think about the waterway management industry more broadly and my place in it. Reconnecting with existing networks and establishing new contacts was so important. This has already lead to some collaboration on a number of projects.

I thoroughly enjoyed the three intensive workshop sessions. Siwan’s enthusiasm and approach was fantastic and tested my thinking. I have incorporated ‘The Why’ into my engagement strategies amongst other tools. I also enjoyed seeing the growth in many of the mentees as they took on responsibilities for some of the sessions.

– Simone

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