DesignInc Sydney is thrilled to announce the launch of our first ‘Innovate’ Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), committing to practical actions to strengthen relationships, create mutual respect improve the opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.
Reconciliation—The Year in Review
Embarking on our first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), 2022 was a year of growth and learning for DesignInc Sydney. With the first twelve months of our RAP under our belt, now is a great time to reflect on the successes as well as the challenges that we have faced.
The RAP-related activities in our first year were many and varied—we established systems and protocols, developed methodologies, facilitated internal and public events, held training sessions, connected with other like-minded organisations and participated in the Architecture and Design RAP Ring program.
In concert, these actions have resulted in a demonstrable deepening of knowledge and understanding about issues regarding Aboriginal culture among our team, provided opportunities for Aboriginal people and brought significant changes to our organisation and design approach.
Our RAP Working Group
It was a busy year for the nine members of our RAP Working Group, who voluntarily met quarterly to plan, review and implement our RAP actions. At each meeting this year we talked through a range of issues, allocated tasks and established sub-groups for particular deliverables.
We realised early on that we were incredibly lucky to have Craig Kerslake—Wiradjuri architect and Director of Nguluway DesignInc—as a special advisor in our RAP Working Group. Having an Aboriginal voice guiding the group was invaluable, as we could ask Craig questions along the way. As well as providing suggestions and reviewing our documents, Craig helped us connect with Aboriginal people and organisations and facilitated regular Cultural Sharing Yarns, sharing his story with the DesignInc Sydney team.
We realised early on that we were incredibly lucky to have Craig Kerslake—Wiradjuri architect and Director of Nguluway DesignInc—as a special advisor in our RAP Working Group. Having an Aboriginal voice guiding the group was invaluable as we could ask Craig questions along the way.
The first half of the year was an important time for establishing our group, setting up processes, building templates and nutting out how to track and communicate our RAP initiatives. We now have robust and efficient systems that make it easy for us to maintain and to track our progress.
Some of the achievements we are most proud of from our first year are:
National Reconciliation Week. National Reconciliation Week—from 27 May to 3 June—was one of the biggest weeks in the DesignInc Sydney calendar for 2022! We facilitated six events involving a total of over 300 people. In line with the theme ‘Be Brave, Make Change’, these events included:
- ‘Ensuring First Nations Stories Continue through the Build’ panel discussion—a catered public event held in our studio attended by over 60 people;
- ‘Women’s Business’ excursion—an intimate gathering of 15 women facilitated by Susan Moylan-Coombs held at Middle Head;
- ‘Reconciliation in Business’ networking event—a catered B2B event with over 50 people from DesignInc Sydney and DLG Shape;
- ‘Traditional Bracelet Weaving’ workshop—an intimate event held in our studio run by Aunty Karleen Green attended by eight people;
- ‘Cultural Sharing Yarn’—an interactive workshop with 15 people held in our studio run by Craig Kerslake where he talked about his personal history and provided an introduction to Aboriginal stories and culture; and
- ‘Designing from Country’ VIVID Sydney panel discussion—Craig Kerslake spoke as part of the Blak Hand Collective event at the University of Technology, Sydney, attended by over 200 people.
National Reconciliation Week was one of the biggest weeks in the DesignInc Sydney calendar for 2022! We facilitated six events involving a total of over 300 people.
Cultural Sharing Yarns. We held five cultural sharing yarns in 2022. Facilitated by Nguluway DesignInc Director Craig Kerslake, in these 60 minute interactive workshops Craig touches on his personal story and provides an introduction to Aboriginal culture and history. All DesignInc Sydney team members are encouraged to attend a yarn at some point, and we will continue running these every 4-6 weeks in 2023.
NAIDOC Week. We held two internal events as part of NAIDOC Week 2022—a screening of the film Ten Canoes in our studio, and an excursion to David Boyd’s exhibition ‘Treasure Island’ at the AGNSW.
Policies and Procedures. It may sound boring, but developing new policies and procedures that consider Aboriginal people culture has been incredibly impactful!
- Cultural Sharing Protocol—Our protocol outlines the difference between an Acknowledgement of Country and Welcome to Country, details who, when and why to deliver these protocols and provides a standardised Acknowledgement of Country to be used as a default. Our staff are encouraged to build confidence delivering the Acknowledgement of Country, and to develop their own personalised acknowledgement.
- Indigenous Recruitment, Retention and Professional Development Strategy—This comprehensive document contains a wide range of goals and actions to increase the number of Indigenous employees in the business, better support Aboriginal staff members and to provide opportunities for Aboriginal people more broadly. One action from this strategy is signing up Aurora, through which we will host two Aboriginal interns per year from 2023.
- Cultural Learning Strategy—This strategy provides a framework for ensuring our organisation is culturally aware, culturally safe and culturally secure for First Australians.
- Anti-Discrimination Policy—We have reviewed our Anti-Discrimination Policy to ensure it addresses Aboriginal communities and people.
- Internal Engagement Strategy (draft underway)
- Indigenous Procurement Strategy (draft underway)
Our staff are encouraged to build confidence delivering the Acknowledgement of Country, and to develop their own personalised acknowledgement
Designing from Country Methodology. One of our biggest achievements this year was developing a Designing from Country Methodology.
We realised early on that a key challenge in the large-scale integration of connecting with Country processes into the design of built environments is the limited number of Aboriginal designers and architects available to do this important work. Our methodology addresses this issue, providing a blueprint for how non-Aboriginal architects may engage with Traditional Custodians to authentically and meaningfully connect with Country as part of the design process. A key step is ensuring consent and endorsement of the Traditional Custodians of the final design.
Since finalising the methodology in November our team has facilitated two internal CPD sessions training our project mangers and the broader team in how to use the methodology, and typical challenges faced along the way. We have already integrated the process into a number of projects, and in 2023 the methodology will be integrated in the standard DesignInc Sydney project management plan.
Our methodology … provides a blueprint for how non-Aboriginal architects may engage with Traditional Custodians to authentically and meaningfully connect with Country as part of the design process. A key step is ensuring consent and endorsement of the Traditional Custodians of the final design.
Architecture Scholarship at UWS. We continued to fund an Aboriginal architecture student scholarship, now in thrid year at UWS. In 2022 the scholarship recipient participated in a paid internship at Nguluway DesignInc during university break under the guidance of Craig Kerslake.
Architecture and Design RAP Ring. We are one of four organisations coordinating the ‘Architecture and Design RAP Ring’ for design firms across Australia with a RAP. This RAP Ring was established in 2022, and we helped develop the Terms of Reference, helped to plan the first two quarterly sessions, and we had representatives from our Working Group speak at the first two quarerly sessions.
To keep the broader DesignInc team updated with our various initiatives, a member of the RAP Working Group presents at our monthly ‘Company Update’ attended by all DesignInc staff. This allows us to talk about upcoming events and launch new policies, procedures and methodologies.
The appetite for knowledge and learning among the broader DesignInc team has surprised us all. People are interested and engaged—they want to learn about First Nations cultures, connect with Aboriginal people and grow, both as individuals and as design professionals
In line with the RAP pillars, this year we have built relationships, encouraged respect, created opportunities and established governance systems. The appetite for knowledge and learning among the broader DesignInc team has surprised us all. People are interested and engaged—they want to learn about First Nations cultures, connect with Aboriginal people and grow, both as individuals and as design professionals.
Overall, the RAP Working Group agrees that the main challenge has been time. The journey we are on personally and organisationally requires us to listen, engage and reflect, and it can’t be rushed! It’s a process of change—changing the way we think, changing the way we design, and changing the way our organisation operates. We are loving the journey, and we’re hoping that the systems, networks and learnings that we have built this year will make the next stage of our RAP smoother and deeper.