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Community led recovery


A story about recovery across Australia, reflecting life in November 2020.

After a disaster like the Black Summer bushfires, there is always a lot of talk about recovery and how governments, organisations and people can help. For Pete Williams, the answer is simple — let communities decide what they need, and the rest will follow.

Peter is a recognised thought-leader and practitioner in innovation. He is the Chairman of Deloitte’s Innovation Council and the Chief Edge Officer. He was recently named as one of Australia’s top Digital Influencers and is an Adjunct Professor at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). He is also passionate about community led recovery.

“Communities need to own their own recovery. Communities tend to step in and work out how to solve problems themselves. They really need to step back and say, what is it that we want our community to be. What is our vision for the future of the community and how do we go about creating that?” explained Pete.

He is no stranger to the problems and heartbreak of loss - two family members lost everything in the 2009 Black Saturday fires, which has left him with strong views of what is needed after a fire.

He has also been very involved with communities affected by the 2009 fires, such as Flowerdale in Victoria, but also with communities affected by the Black Summer fires of 2019-20 as a community coordinator, sounding board, connector and mentor.

“The most important aspect is to communicate, communicate, communicate. You need to work with the existing community groups. It’s about turning up and finding people who you may not have spoken to yet and seeing how they are and where they are up to,” said Pete. “Engagement is a really active process, so you have to be able to have lots of channels to reach everyone.”

One of the most important aspects of recovery, he said, is to look at how people get their information. “It’s all about really knowing your community and how to communicate with them and making sure they know what is going on so they can get engaged and access the information. Not everyone is tech savvy so you need to cover off all bases such as email, mail, face-to-face, Facebook, and local media.”

He said the thing to remember is that other people have trodden this path before, and know what works and how it will pan out.

“The reality is help is on its way but it’s going to take government agencies and others a bit of time to get up to speed. So, don’t get angry, don’t get upset, just understand that’s the situation,” he said. “What that also means is you are going to have to start to make connections, you’re going to have to get your community together and understand what your needs are, what your problems are, and what you want to do about it.”