The leader as facilitator

On 24-25 November, members of the NSW Regional Science Hubs network gathered in Sydney for a Leadership Forum. Over two days, 20 participants considered how they could learn from each other and build local communities to create effective and lasting community engagement with science.

The Forum provided a unique opportunity for us to reflect, collaborate and develop a sense of shared purpose for the implementation of Inspiring Australia in NSW. Together we discussed ways of creating strategies for meaningful and enduring science engagament in our communities that would be mutually beneficial to all partners. From understanding diverse community needs, expressing values and harnessing passion for science to facilitating participation and enabling others, we explored the potential for Science Hubs and considered their immense value.

Led by management consultant Arthur Rindfleisch, participants worked together to co-create a vision for what Science Hubs seek to achieve over time as local catalysts implementing a national strategy for engagement with science. The Forum was a fantastic coming together of hearts and minds to consider the long-term value of Inspiring Australia and its contribution to the health, economic and social wellbeing of diverse communities

While one objective was to develop a strategic direction for the network of NSW Regional Science Hubs, we also wanted to provide participants with professional development support them in their leadership roles. So, in addition to considering skills that would progress Inspiring Australia’s overarching objectives, the Forum was an opportunity to reflect on our own leadership strengths. We considered our values, what inspires us and how we create connection with others. Arthur examined leadership as a means of ‘being over time’ while focusing on the (values-based) things that matter most. In terms of protecting ourselves, Arthur reminded us that just like cars that go well with constant refuelling and regular maintenance, we need to pay some attention to ourselves. We invest so little time in recharging and creatively re-energising ourselves. This was an opportunity for us all as individuals to spend some time on reflection, learning, self-knowledge and creativity.

Sharing the load
For Science Hubs to work effectively with the minimal resources afforded them, it is crucial that members share the load. Ideally, leadership is dispersed, with all parties contributing to the workload. But in reality, a sole organisation must nominate to be the lead and one or two individuals can take on the lions’s share for doing the work. We discussed the risks of allowing this inequality to persist. People can burn out, become resentful or simply decide to withdraw if an initiative that began as one full of promise turns into a heavy burden.

Arthur stressed that how we manage our energy is at the core of leadership. Rather than being seen as leaders in the Science Hub space, we discussed how there is more value for Hub members in enabling each of them to facilitate change. For Science Hub leadership to be sustainable, all members must be empowered to take ownership of where they want to invest their personal and organisational energy and resources in the future. As it is unlikely that any one organisation will commit resources for a staff member to undertake all the tasks associated with Hub activities, members need to ensure that different partners are assigned tasks to protect against burnout and sustain momentum and energy. We considered many ways to inspire others to co-create and take on responsibility, equally and willingly.

The control freak within
In leading, issues of control can arise. Arthur skillfully encouraged us to reflect on how our own need to control may prevent others from joining fully as co-creators. Through a process of interactive activities, Arthur invited us to consider our own context. How do we personally respond to opportunities to create? Are we truly willing to share responsibility for leadership? Most of us don’t want to own up to our own complicity in maintaining control, or to the ‘patriarchy of control’ that we sometimes exert over others. Reflection on this topic was illuminating and shed light on the many ways we can sabotage opportunities without realising how our own vulnerabilities can influence our behaviour. Participants enthusiastically shared personal insights as part of this reflective excercise.

Developing a creative stance
Arthur led a discussion about some of the feelings that can arise as we either react or create. A reactive stance is often underpinned by a desire be right, to be liked or to be perfect. This can give way to anxiety and threat leading to confusion, frustration and loneliness. Not a great place from which to work with others. Conversely, a creative stance is about being open. It allows passion to become a collective force for co-creation. Rather than clinging on to individual control, we discussed how in the context of community building, a creative stance can rewards us with confidence, enjoyment, camaraderie and inspiration.

Empowering others
Throughout the Forum we considered how to keep ourselves open and willing to be creative rather than reactive. We kept returning to recurring themes of generosity, sensitivity and empathy and the benefit of being in tune with personal dynamics to help avoid negative feelings. When funds are scarce, resentment and cynacism can threaten innovation, and it is really up to us to think in terms of abundance and possibilities. Arthur explained how true leadership can often be about breaking up conventional leadership patterns, and opening them up so that others can equally lead and contribute. We discussed our capacity to inspire others and the critical need to develop a clear, long-term vision about where we want to go.

Creating a shared vision
Vision is what catalyses everything. And true leaders act as facilitators. They pay close attention to others and that is how meaningful, purposeful collaborations develop over time. Without openness and a willingness to listen to others, collaborative initiatives like Science Hubs will be limited in their ability to thrive. As a result of the Leadership Forum, we have started a conversation that will eventually create a shared vision for the NSW Regional Science Hubs network. This vision will evolve over the coming months and draw heaviliy on the shared learnings of the Forum. This learning experience has been invaluable in creating relationships between Hub members and creating deeper conversations that will underpin a strategy for our long-term future. Stay tuned!

On behalf of the NSW Regional Science Hubs network, I’d like to thank Arthur Rindfleisch for his wonderful facilitation and also the Inspiring Australia (NSW) Executive Committee Chair, Jas Chambers, who made this opportunity available to us. Thanks also to Inspiring Australia’s national team for contributing funds towards this event.

About the author
Jackie Randles is Manager, Inspiring Australia (NSW). There are currently 19 NSW Regional Science Hubs comprising diverse organisations that are committed to long-term community engagement with science. Science Hubs enable local communities to become involved in shaping the delivery of the Inspiring Australia framework. Inspiring Australia (NSW) welcomes new Hubs and interested community groups should contact for more information.