In this episode of the podcast I have a brilliant conversation with Melissa Dark, a communications and stakeholder engagement consultant. Melissa is the Chief Collaborator at Common Place Communication and the Co-Founder of Busting Silos, and she is passionate about how we involve people in the decisions that affect them. Now, like all the recent episodes on the podcast, this conversation was recorded before Covid-19 changed the world, however I think it’s fair to say that communications and stakeholder engagement has only gotten more important since then—as we say at the end of this interview, communication skills can be really undervalued until they’re really needed, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing play out in the world today. 

If you are wanting more up to date pandemic related content, I am doing a series of interviews on YouTube with previous podcast guests that checks in with them to see how their organisations are changing or not during this time, and how the Smart Community space is approaching Covid-19.

 In this episode Melissa and I talk about what we can learn about community engagement from organisational change management research, and why trust is the absolute key factor in successful engagement in both communities and organisations. Melissa tells us what engagement actually means to her, and the relationship between integrity, empathy and authentic engagement. We talk about the challenges and opportunities that digital technologies have brought to the comms and engagement space, and the fundamental things that haven’t changed. Melissa shares with us that she believes the emerging trends in the engagement space are not in fact tech related but actually the return of old school human approaches. We finish our chat discussing Melissa’s work with Busting Silos helping integrate through and across boundaries in organisations, both internally and externally. As always we hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed making it.

Listen here: 

What we covered in this episode:

  • Melissa’s background of 25 years in communications, change management and stakeholder engagement
  • Her passion for involving people in the decisions that affect them
  • The substance behind change management and engagement related buzz words
  • What we can learn about community engagement from organisational change management research
  • Why trust is the absolute key factor in successful engagement in both communities and organisations
  • What engagement actually means to Melissa
  • The relationship between integrity, empathy and authentic engagement 
  • The similarities and differences between communications and engagement strategies
  • The challenges and opportunity that digital technologies have brought to the comms and engagement space
  • The fundamental things that haven’t changed with the advent of digital communication
  • The emerging trends in communication being the return of old school human approaches rather than tech related trends
  • Melissa’s work with Busting Silos, helping integrate through and across boundaries in organisations, both internally and externally


“When we look at designing a change, we base our decision making about that change on what we think and we don’t take the time to stop and think or actually ask our stakeholders what they actually need; and it might be different to what we think they need.”

“There’s been a lot of work done in the change management space in organisations and… the opportunity for us is in applying some of that work into how we conduct change in a broader sense and in communities and in the public realm….It’s not exactly the same. But there are some really good lessons for how change has been done well and badly in organisations that we can really apply to how we do change in communities.”

“The thing that carries across especially between organisational change and community change is [that] people are people. People are people whether they’re going to work or using the local park or thinking about the streetscape they want for their local Main Street. So the way people respond to change is a human thing that we all have in common.”

“The most important first step in any kind of project is actually identifying who the stakeholders are. So who are the right people to be engaged …Idon’t think you need to be doing personal one-to-one meetings with every single stakeholder in order to have effective engagement. What effective engagement looks is really dependent on that analysis of the stakeholders and understanding what they want. And it starts with empathy.”

“People who feel involved in a process are far more likely to accept the outcome of that decision, even if it’s not what they actually wanted the final decision to be.”

“It used to be much easier to manage a message because there were only a few sources of messaging. And generally…you were just able to be more directive in the messaging because you put a newsletter out, and you sent a media release to the local newspaper and you had a community meeting and the people who wanted to know about a project only had a few sources of information to go to.”

“The fundamentals of communication are knowing who your audience is, making sure that the messages that you create resonate and are comprehensible and valuable to them. That’s still absolutely the same [in this digital age].”


SCP Episode 153 with Bruce Winzar


Find the full show notes at: 

Connect with Melissa on LinkedIn or via either of her websites, or 

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The Smart Community Podcast is produced by Perk Digital.

My Smart Community

My Smart Community offers consulting and media services with a focus on making our communities more accessible, liveable and sustainable for all. We have a focus on Smart Mobility, Smart project management, Smart technology in regional communities, dealing with disruption and facilitating genuine collaboration. As well as podcast production, communication and media advisory and engagement, keynote speaking, moderating, master of ceremonies and workshop design and facilitation.

The Smart Community Podcast

The Smart Community Podcast is a hub where smart and exciting people from all around the world come to discuss all things Smart City, Smart Town, Smart Region - anything that makes a place more liveable. Together we can create our own Smart Communities.


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