Engaging people

When it comes to engaging people there is no ‘one size fits all’.  Multiple approaches are needed to cater for a variety of audiences, their interests and their learning styles.  Sometimes a complex message needs to be broken down so that it can be presented more simply using props, demonstrations, or a fact sheet explaining the science so that it is understandable and tailored for people in a particular community. To help anyone interested in engaging with communities we have brought together the range of different ways the Native Fish Strategy (NFS) engaged with people into an ‘engagement toolbox’ so others can benefit from what we have learnt and apply these techniques in their own situation.

Targeting Your Message

Successful partnerships have been a highlight of the NFS engagement program.  Through positive engagement and interaction engagement approaches targeted for different audiences were developed that met the needs of all involved.  Taking the time to tailor your message and approach is vital for relationships of trust to be built and an ongoing commitment to be developed.

The NFS involved many different groups as shown below, and for each of these groups different engagement approaches were used. Click on each group to read more.

engaging people final


Building a Brand

Part of being human is belonging to groups of people who share the same beliefs that you do, and who want to achieve similar goals.  For the NFS, building a brand about ‘bringing native fish back’ was important for enabling people to identify with the work, activities and research being undertaken, as well as providing them with the opportunity to make their contribution and feel part of something bigger than their individual actions.

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Visual Presentations and Videos

Several powerpoint presentations were developed for use by the NFS team for public events. These provided key background information about the NFS and its components, while also ensuring there was a consistent message being provided at particular events. These presentations proved a useful template which the NFS team members could adapt and build upon for use in other events.

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Written Materials

Fact Sheets and Posters

Fact sheets and posters provide the opportunity to clearly explain relevant information at the appropriate level of detail and language for different audiences.  Fact sheets represented a core tool for the NFS from the very beginning.  They provided the opportunity to clearly explain relevant information at the appropriate level of detail and language for different audiences.  Several fact sheets were also printed as extra large posters and proved useful in clearly presenting key information and prompting discussion.

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The NFS worked with native fish experts and practitioners to produce some key reference books and information in a variety of different formats to engage with lots of people.

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Oral Histories - Science and Stories

True Tales of the Trout Cod

True Tales of the Trout Cod – River Histories of the Murray-Darling Basin represents the work of Will Trueman, a recreational angler originally from Victoria who has had a life long passion for rivers and their fish. In 2006 he began a project to validate accounts on the historic occurrence of Trout cod in a number of waterways through investigating oral histories, science, newspapers, diaries, and photographs.

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Talking Fish

The ongoing review of the NFS highlighted that engagement with recreational fishers and the Indigenous community, in particular, could be enhanced. This was the impetus for the Talking Fish project which acknowledged the important relationship people have with their local rivers and fish within the Murray-Darling Basin.

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Demonstrating How Things Work

There is often great mystery within the general public of what fish researchers actually do out in the field.  People see these staff out on the river or lake and readily seek them out for a chat.  During the life of the NFS, there were many events when fish researchers demonstrated fish survey techniques and explained how equipment is used.

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Live fish displays

Having live fish in a tank is a sure way of attracting a crowd at an event.  NFS coordinators would often bring along a Perspex fish tank with a diversity of fish – these could be native and exotic species relevant to the particular area, depending on the educational message of an event.  Fish were sourced either from aquariums, or from the field locally with relevant government permits.

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Carp Cage Demonstrations

The Williams’ Carp Cage was developed through a cooperative project between the Arthur Rylah Institute, Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Goulburn Murray weirkeepers, through funding and support from the former Murray-Darling Basin Commission.  This innovative technology was first trialled at Torrumbarry weir in 2003, and Carp cages have now been established in a variety of sites along rivers and wetlands in the MDB and other sites.

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Fishway Model

As in the case with the Carp cage, when explaining the operation of a fishway to a general audience, it was often difficult for people to visualise the concept.  Therefore a model of a fishway was also developed as an educational tool for the NFS. Previous experience in Victoria in creating fishway models had highlighted the importance of the model being small enough to transport easily, while also providing the ability to circulate water.

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Field Days

We know that ‘seeing is believing’, so providing people with the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of projects protecting or rehabilitating habitat for native fish, was a fundamental part of the community engagement approach used by the NFS.  Across the NFS’s life, there were a multitude of events, both large and small.

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Forums and Workshops

In the early 2000s, several workshops were held to address specific native fish management issues within the MDB. These workshops were organised by Inland Rivers Network and World Wildlife Fund Australia, with support and participation by many other organisations, including the then MDBC. Workshops included ‘The way forward on weirs ’ in 2000, ‘Thermal pollution of the MDB waterways’ in 2001 and ‘Managing fish translocations and stocking in the MDB ’ in 2002. The findings of these workshops helped inform the development and implementation of the NFS.

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Native Fish Strategy Tours and Native Fish Awareness Week

As the NFS was being developed, a series of public consultation meetings were held across the basin to promote the draft strategy, understand community interests and concerns and identify opportunities for future engagement. The Community Stakeholder Taskforce (CST) took a lead role in organising and undertaking these meetings. The need for community ownership of the NFS was well recognised from the very start.

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Sustaining River Life: Education Package

Sustaining River Life is a management, sustainability and environmental education package, developed for school children of all ages. Its goal is to help students develop awareness, knowledge, skills and commitment to river health.

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Community Activities

Fishy Games

In the case of children’s events, it was valuable to combine some active movement with more sedentary discussion and reflection time.  A variety of games were created by NFS Coordinators which proved effective and fun.  These games were designed to highlight key ecological requirements of native fish species, the effects of particular threats and the value of rehabilitations activities.

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3D Fabric Fish and Silicon Fish

In 2007, 3D fabric, life size, fish were created by a regional artist in Victoria.  The original products included Murray cod, Silver perch, Macquarie perch and Carp.  These incredible artistic creations were made from a variety of interesting fabrics and materials and proved a hit – not only with children but adults alike.  Additional species were subsequently produced, including a Murray cray with kitchen tongs for claws!  Each jurisdiction eventually held its own set of 3D fish, each slightly different. The mighty Murray cod proved to be a particular favourite to all, no doubt due to its immense size.

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Creating Artwork

The NFS produced fish mobiles, stickers and Murray cod balloons, as a fundamental engagement tool for school children.  At several events fish murals and Indigenous dot paintings and hand paintings were created, which allowed participation of a broad audience.

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Trivia, Prizes and Food

Trivia competitions often proved a great ice breaker at public events, setting a relaxed tone, while also providing an opportunity to highlight key ecological information. Sharing amazing and fascinating facts about particular fish, threats and achievements of the NFS often captured peoples’ imagination.

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Music also played a role in some NFS engagement activities. As the Ovens River Demonstration Reach was being established, connections were made between the NFS Coordinator and several local Landcare members who had a long history of creating and performing songs about the environment and local rivers. They were known as the Burwang River Boys. Through their growing interest in the activities within the Demonstration Reach, their songs incorporated lyrics to highlight these.

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