Member Spotlight: Robyn Austin
Robyn came to IAP2 USA in a convoluted way. With a background in public policy and intergovernmental relations, Robyn worked in communications with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Federal Courts before joining Kittelson & Associates, a transportation engineering firm, to help with public involvement.
“It was a really good fit with my background in government relations and public policy, and I started out developing communications plans focusing on outreach and social media, but something was missing. I was the only one in the firm specifically focusing on public involvement, so I didn’t have anyone else to run ideas by. There wasn’t a team to draw energy from.”
Robyn ended up searching the Internet to find people doing similar things when she ran across IAP2 USA. She attended an event in Bend, Oregon where she discovered “this amazing group of people just like me –all in central Oregon!” IAP2 events gave Robyn the opportunity to meet and learn from people doing public participation work, but even more so they helped her solidify her role and shape what she was doing.
Robyn has created public involvement as a service area outside of engineering projects. “Other firms started coming to us for assistance where we have people on the ground and outreach expertise. Whereas normally we would be a competitor, in these cases we know the area, the agencies, and the people, and we’re able to provide value-added public involvement services outside of our own engineering projects.” And Kittelson’s reputation is growing. “More clients have come to us because they’ve heard we have a good reputation with the people and the public.”
Robyn attributes growing her role from traditional public relations/ communication to listening to the stories and lessons learned of the people who worked in different industries – for example, water rights and mining – and realizing they are the same stories and lessons learned just in a different arena. “I began to think less about how you do public involvement in transportation to more about how you do public involvement, period.”
She took the Foundations course, which gave her a better foundation in the fundamentals, and the course manuals provide a reference she uses when making plans. “It was helpful to bring back the materials and talk about what I learned. It gave me something to point to to say ‘This is how to develop a good plan.’”
The IAP2 Core Values and Code Ethics really helped to inform Robyn’s work as she developed her role. In the beginning she was asking herself “Am I involving?” “Am I communicating?” but as she grew to understand and internalize the IAP2 principles, reading through them, and really understanding how they were reflected in her work, Robyn started taking them to her project teams, asking “How are you involving … communicating … educating, in your project plans?”
“That’s when we really started doing public involvement. It was definitely transformative.”
Robyn started thinking about the public participation aspect of projects as its own piece, and started asking questions around “What is our goal?” “What are we asking of the public?” “Are we empowering?” “Are we collaborating?”
The questions raised by the IAP2 Core Values and Code Ethics reframed the conversation and transformed what Kittelson was doing for the practice …all within a very short time frame.
Robyn attended the event in Bend ~2 years ago, and while she’s located in the Intermountain which covers a lot of territory – 5 big states – Kittelson’s headquarters is in Portland, where she’s gotten to know many people in the Cascade chapter. It was just 11 months ago, in January 2015, that Robyn joined IAP2 USA and the Communications Committee where she was welcomed with open arms – Thanks Lance! – “I knew I wanted to be involved more, and when I saw a call for volunteers in the newsletter I thought ‘I can do that!’”
She jumped right in helping with social media generally, but in the weeks before the North American Conference she got involved with the planning committee with Kittelson’s backing and support. “We were able to host the committee meetings in our Portland office, which gave us a good central location to connect with all the amenities but no extra costs!”
The Communications Committee remains a mainstay of Robyn’s involvement. “Communications is such an important part of IAP2! We’re a hands on committee working on social media outreach, the newsletter and the website, and of course the big success of 2015 – the new brochure – Thanks Jessica! – getting information out to people who may not know about the organization so they can get the newsletter and receive announcements. People like me, who are doing public involvement but don’t have the backing of this great organization that can help them frame their work and make it grow.”
- We’re an organization of people who are good at this. People who want to help and want to be involved, there’s definitely space.
- It’s as easy as sending an email.
- Not to mention we have a few good coaches and mentors…
Robyn is super excited about the upcoming 2016 Skills Symposium. “I’ve already registered for More Tools! and Digital Engagement to see if what we’re doing is up to snuff. I’m looking forward to connecting with others and hearing what they’re doing in their industries. I hope to see you there!”