What I’ve learnt from 2020?

This time last year the South East corner of Australia was on fire. This year there is a plague of disorientation and disappointment.

A strange year for all no doubt but for someone like me who lives on an island at the bottom of the world in a capital city removed from most of the population, there is little to complain about. We have been spared the worst.

The joined-up, content-led, digital world in which we live brings the challenges of the rest of the world on to our screens every day. I can’t believe how fortunate we have been in Australia and my thoughts and prayers go to everyone dealing with the ongoing pounding waves of this insidious virus.

So, what have I learnt in this year unlike any other?

Well, the first thing I have learnt is to always be grateful. To never want for more and to smile about what I have. There is always someone worse off.

The second thing I learnt is that when faced with changing circumstance, standing still is not an option.

When the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison closed down much of the country back in March, my obvious and most immediate thought was “what will it mean?” Truth be told, on that Sunday afternoon, there was no certainty. But having endured a self-inflicted, near death, business experience two years earlier, I knew standing still was not an option. Life would be different and we would have to adapt. To what, I wasn’t sure, but whatever it was it was sure to different to what we’d been doing up to that point. Walking to work the next morning through the deserted streets of Canberra, I was imagining different ways contentgroup could be useful. What could we uniquely do that would create value for the Australian people? I realised that the Australian Public service (APS) would play a key role in an enabling the Australian government’s response to the pandemic and that it would be useful for people to know who they are and what they were planning to do. By its very nature, the APS is a conservative organisation, uncomfortable in the spotlight. But clearly, we were headed into uncharted waters and if the Australian people were to have confidence in the APS to deliver, they needed to step forward and explain themselves. Now in my world, there is no question where “podcast’’ is not the right answer, so quickly, with support of long term collaborators we moved from idea to concept to on-air in just 2 weeks. “Work with Purpose’’ was born in record time and has delivered on its promise. The world now knows a whole lot more about the people and personalities of the APS and the important work that they do every day in the interests of the Australian people. So the lesson? When you have an idea, test it, activate your network and get moving. This year has certainly taught us that to look into the days, weeks, months and years ahead for certainty is futile but the formula of putting the needs of your audience at the heart of your efforts and moving quickly to action is a good one.


A second example was staging the world’s first virtual government communications conference, The GovComms Festival. In search of wisdom and learning about the changes to the government created by COVID-19, the OECD staged the Government After Shock global dialogue. A notice popped up on LinkedIn offering the opportunity to host conversations and to answer three simple questions, ‘’What have we learnt?, What are we going to leave behind?” and what will we do differently?’’. Living daily in the world of government communication and understanding the challenges and opportunities presented by the acceleration to digital, we offered to host a discussion. The OECD agreed and away we went. In 11 short weeks, our community created a program of 170 speakers from 22 countries who generated 120 plus hours of content over a 24 hour period for a global audience of almost 1600 people. Just read those numbers slowly. Remarkable…Simply remarkable. To everyone who took the time to make a contribution, thank you, thank you, and thank you again. So, what did I learn? People are smart and generous and they are happy to share their knowledge in pursuit of the public good. I learnt that the world is an increasingly small place and that the challenges of creating and delivering effective government communication are common, widespread and global. The content our community created was incredible. Google ‘GovComms Institute’ and take a look. For the second time, I learnt the same lesson. Have an idea, activate your network and take action. And always, always put the interests of your audience at the heart of everything you do.


Thanks again to the team at contentgroup for a great year. Our mission is “to help government strengthen communities’ and improve the well-being of citizens through effective communication’’. Our values are “Be kind, Be curious and Be remarkable’’. This year our people have been all of those things, every day. In a year of challenge and uncertainty, they have delivered their best effort, every day. To our clients, thank you so much for the privilege of working on your projects. I’m constantly amused by the rush for purpose in the private sector. Every hamburger, motor vehicle and insurance company is desperately seeking an identity beyond profits. Happily for those of us who work in government, it is simple. The purpose is to come to work every day to improve and enhance the lives of the citizens you serve. It’s a compelling mission that never changes.


We will be back bigger, better and stronger in 2021 after a nice rest at the beach. There is much to look forward to. Enjoy your break, stay safe and thanks for reading.

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