Krystle Gray is the Principal Manager, Communication and Stakeholder Engagement at Roads and Maritime Services in New South Wales. Krystle manages 30 staff throughout NSW who are involved in community engagement on the agency’s road network planning, maintenance and improvement projects across the State. She has worked with Roads and Maritime for three and a half years and comes from a background in communications and engagement, with experience in both the public (State and Federal) and private sectors. Krystle enjoys working in the public sector, providing essential services to the community. She believes involving communities and stakeholders in projects delivers better outcomes. She enjoys the diversity involved in her work – be it the large range of projects and the inherent challenges and opportunities involved, the different communities and people she encounters and the range of engagement techniques she needs to employ.

In addition to her role at Roads and Maritime, Krystle sits on the Board of Directors of IAP2 Australasia as the Chair of the Membership and Events Committee. She enjoys this role as it enables her to further develop the community engagement profession. She is happy to give back to a profession that has given her so much.

Roads and Maritime is delivering the largest road infrastructure program NSW has ever seen, with expenditure doubling to $16 billion in the next 5 years. This large amount of infrastructure work has a significant impact on the community – either directly, by the noisy work being literally in a person’s back yard, or less directly, such as a time increase in the journey to work for thousands of people due to road work delays. The agency understands that, in delivering projects, they will disturb a large number of people.

For this reason, Roads and Maritime focuses heavily on community and stakeholder engagement. The agency has 85 staff members employed in the community engagement sphere across NSW, who, in the last year, have worked on 5,500 projects, held 25,000 face to face engagements, attended 400 community events and distributed more than 4,000 individual pieces of communication material to hundreds of thousands of people.

For Krystle, working at Roads and Maritime is a pleasure. She oversees a team of talented and dedicated staff and the organisation is committed to supporting, engaging and  empowering staff to perform and build professional development. Krystle also enjoys working for an organisation that is committed to pursuing a high level of community and stakeholder engagement; the agency has a well-established engagement process and the principles of community engagement are built in to their ethos, from the top down.

Krystle explained that while some engagement is a legislated process, the agency carries out engagement wherever activities and decision making are of potential interest or will impact communities and stakeholders. A community engagement strategy is prepared at the initial planning stages of any project when the scope of influence is determined, along with the negotiable and non-negotiable aspects of the project. It is also important to ascertain whether the engagement will seek to simply inform or whether community input will be considered; feedback isn’t sought where there is not an opportunity to include it in the decision making or planning. Interestingly, feedback may be sought on a variety of different aspects of a project; including the actual design of the infrastructure itself, the project’s staging or urban amenity at the project’s completion. Regardless of whether they are seeking feedback or are just wanting to inform the affected community, Roads and Maritime understands community engagement is integral to the planning and construction process and community involvement ultimately leads to better outcomes for stakeholders and the community.

Understandably, Krystle’s staff often encounter people whose lives are being significantly impacted by infrastructure activities. The team aims to be proactive in keeping people informed and addressing their concerns in order to minimise work impacts and ensure there are no surprises. They also like to take the community along for the journey, so they can understand the  benefits of the end product. While consensus among stakeholders on a decision can be difficult to achieve, in Krystle’s experience, if the process is fair and transparent, people generally appreciate the process and end result.

Roads and Maritime uses a range of tools to engage with the community, from traditional media, face-to-face meetings and local shopping centre pop-ups to new emerging online technology and social media. All communities are different and have different engagement needs. Krystle explained her team carries out community profiling to determine the best mechanisms to engage with a broad spectrum of the particular community. The engagement plan is based on this important research, to help improve the effectiveness of engagement activities and ensure a real customer focus.

When asked for some tips for new engagement practitioners, Krystle advised that passion and commitment are vital, as being a dual advocate for both the organisation and community is challenging and rewarding. She also considers establishing and maintaining networks to be a very important tool in the engagement industry.

It was a pleasure to talk with Krystle about her role and gain an insight into the organisation’s approach to community engagement.