Engagement ninjas – building agency capabilities for better outcomes

May 17
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There has never been a more important time to ensure we are engaging with our citizens – collaborating, co-designing and listening to those whose lives we impact with our programs, policies and regulations. As our world continues to evolve, we need to embrace the changes occurring and remain current, engage and deliver results. Building individual capability is at the heart of being responsive, improving our knowledge base and developing a smarter workforce to be part of a modern government.

The Department of State Development has created an environment which supports building capability across all divisions with a four pronged approach. In doing so, we have created a core group of ‘Engagement Ninjas’ changing the way the department operates. This can be summarised as follows:


A concerted training program of identified staff across all divisions, levels and areas – including policy, administration, IT, project management and service delivery – have undergone the IAP2 five-day training program. To date, 125 staff have participated, building a core group with a common knowledge, shared language and greater understanding of the extent of the department. Training in facilitation has been provided to a select group and ongoing peer mentoring and personal development is occurring through regular Ninja forums.


The department has created an intranet library for all staff to access a wide range of resources, web links, case studies, tools, techniques, templates and list of Ninja contacts. We have also developed an online intuitive engagement planning tool to assist staff with the planning and development of their engagement activity.


Regular sessions are held for all to attend where engagement activities, practices and case studies are shared. Building and strengthening relationships across the department is helping to break down silos and foster a collaboration between divisions to achieve outcomes. Added to this, external practitioners and experts are invited in to share information, deliver presentations and challenge how things are done. Time and the occasion to listen and discuss is providing a positive reinforcement to many who participate.


The department has embraced the public sector values around collaboration and engagement, enabling the building of skills, provision of systems and tools, development of relationships and fostering of networks internally and externally. A change in the conversations is occurring and the culture is evolving to view better stakeholder engagement as critical to delivering results. Staff are questioning and challenging with confidence and using a shared language to seek a smarter way of doing business.

Stakeholder engagement as a discipline in its own right

The investment in DSD has been significant, with a future focus on targeted executive training to create greater understanding and align engagement with South Australian government policy on Public Value. As I see it, it is now time for stakeholder engagement to be recognised and seen as a discipline in its own right. It’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ sitting as a component of communications, marketing or planning, but a serious and highly skilled component in any department.

To engage well externally is now necessary as the public and all stakeholders demand to be able to participate in broader conversations. Importantly and ever increasingly, it is critical we learn how to engage better internally in departments and across governments to lead by example and collaborate.

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Submitted by Jason Downs

Jason Downs

Jason Downs is Leader for Engagement at the Department of State Development SA.

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