Category: Consult

  • An organisation with the energy to change the world

    Image: Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd CEO, Alison Rowe

    Apart from it being the perfect Melbourne Spring day (sunny, windy, and with a chance of rain), I thought it appropriate to ride my bike to Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd (MEFL) for my conversation with CEO, Alison Rowe.

    After having being swept down Sydney Road on a fearsome northerly wind, it was a relief to be welcomed into the MEFL offices by a different energy: friendly, calm and focussed. But rest assured, MEFL is a no less powerful force of nature.

    That’s because the organisation has a visionforan equitable zero carbon society. And their rolein achieving that vision is to accelerate the energy transition by empowering communities to take action. It’s an ambitious pursuit that requires creative thinking plus determination. MEFL is ready to create that change.

    A bright future

    MEFL CEO, Alison Rowe, describes a visionary future where everyone has equal access to, and control of, energy, financing and health. Alison says, “We see the connection between energy and health.” She says that MEFL’s aim is to create a, “society that is actually a healthier one through energy efficiency and using renewable sources. (A future where) people have a thermally comfortable, healthy home. We know that if we have that type of home Australians won’t get as sick as often. We are likely to see improvements in chronic health conditions.”

    It’s possible now to see that future. Alison says, “The energy system is changing. It’s moving from being a very centralised system to being a very distributed system. I don’t think we   know exactly what it’s going to look like in 2050, but it certainly will be an energy system that is far more digitised.” Alison also envisages a different energy ownership model that includes community-owned, and perhaps even local governments as retailers, and where there will be a different mix and scale of energy systems, including rooftop solar, utility solar and batteries, and hydro.

    With their experience, knowledge and networks, MEFL are acting as a trusted educator, partner, advisor and service provider. Their job is to build partnerships that demonstrate what’s possible, to give the right advice, and make sure people have access to the information and technology they need to take action. As Alison says, “Everyone has a part to play in this transition and we must make sure no one gets left behind.”

    But where do you start? And how do you know if you’re on the right path? MEFL have three new, clear Strategic Goals to help them navigate towards their vision:

    1. We create, demonstrate and share clear transition pathways to a zero carbon society.
    2. We increase energy efficiency and investment in renewable energy in Australia.
    3. We are a sustainable organisation.

    Building on a legacy

    MEFL was established in 2000 by the Moreland City Council, in response to the privatisation of the electricity sector. With the interest of the sale of the assets the Moreland City Council created an independent organisation to focus on tackling climate change and increasing renewable energy. Alison explains, “We still have a very strong relationship with the Moreland City Council, albeit it is quite different today. Now we’re a national organisation, back then we were working only in Moreland. We’ve just had the privilege of honouring Mike Hill’s legacy (The Mayor of Moreland in 2000) at our Spark Conference last week.”

    The organisation has evolved over the last 18 years. Since Alison came on board as CEO in 2016, the team has more than doubled from 16 to 42 people, bringing with them diverse skills and valuable experience. Alison has a corporate background, and she combines her commercial experience with a strong desire to have a positive impact on society. Perhaps the most significant change in the last few years has been MEFL developing new partnerships in NSW and SA.


    1206 spark 2018 day 1
    Image: The Spark Conference 2018

    The power of a plan to limit and to liberate

    It seems like MEFL is doing exactly what it has set out in its Strategic Plan. Looks effortless doesn’t it?

    But this time last year, things weren’t so aligned. The organisation’s Strategic Plan was due to expire and MEFL’s ambition had outgrown its current plan and vision. In order to succeed, MEFL needed a Strategic Plan that was broader and clearer. There were three limitations that the organisation needed to challenge:

    1. Being active only in Moreland.
    2. Having a focus on renewable energy without energy efficiency.
    3. Not having enough creative space to innovate.

    The organisation formed a Strategic Planning Group, which engaged Midnightsky to work with the Executive and the Board, including a Strategic Planning Day in November 2017.

    The planning day needed to articulate a succinct Vision and Role, and find agreement on the three limitations. Alison says, “If we didn’t get there on the day, we were probably going to lose three of four months in our timeline. And we definitely wanted our Strategic Plan to be ready for the new financial year.”

    Alison describes the pivotal moment in the Planning Day saying, “There was this point of clarity, which was fantastic. It was when we all agreed on being a National organisation with influence internationally. To see the Board having that ambition for MEFL to scale up, it was absolutely pleasing and overwhelming. It was great!”

    The excitement continued to build. Alison explains, “We don’t have a time limit on our new Strategic Plan. It looks so good that we’ve put in place a rolling review. We felt that our new Strategic Plan was so ambitious and everything in the market was changing so rapidly, that we wouldn’t put a three-year time limit on it.”

    Whilst developing the full Strategic Plan, Alison used the organisation’s consultative approach to seek the input of the staff. She also met with key stakeholders, including the Moreland City Council Mayor and CEO. With MEFL changing its strategic position from working mostly in the Moreland region to becoming a national organisation Alison says, “That was an important conversation and a really fantastic one. Because the whole premise around goal number one is that we demonstrate and trial things in Moreland. So, whilst the name isn’t there (in the strategic goals), the connection to our heartland is.”

    Measuring and managing success

    At MEFL, each goal tracks its progress against objectives and KPIs. There is a Business Plan underneath the Strategic Plan that outlines the organisation’s projects and activities in relation to the goals, objectives and KPIs. A quarterly Business Plan review ensures that it continues to connect with the Strategic Plan. And an annual off-site staff planning day is another moment for the team to connect back to the Strategic Plan. MEFL is currently developing a three-year market outlook as another tangible outcome of the Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan directly influences which markets MEFL chooses to work with, where, and how; right down to the solutions and services the organisation provides.

    160718 MEFL group photo 1 low res
    Image: The MEFL team. 

    All hearts and hands on deck

    At the heart of any Strategic Plan, Business Plan, market outlook or goal dashboard, there is a team of dedicated people creating the success.

    MEFL’s third goal is to be a sustainable organisation. As Alison says, “A sustainable organisation has to be first of all our people, along with our financial  and environmental sustainability.” As well as measures of staff satisfaction and wellbeing, the new Strategic Plan defines measures around diversity, inclusion and flexible work practices.

    Alison explains, “We have to look after our people so that we don’t get burn out. It’s a pretty open, highly altruistic workplace but really focused on delivery outcomes, changing people’s lives and making the world a better place.” “Everyone is connected to our new Vision because it’s really clear. And they might take that down to a level for themselves personally, whether that’s around renewables or working with the vulnerable members of our community, everyone has a different connection.” “Whilst we have probably changed a little bit about how we work, we now have a bit more commercial acumen, but without sacrificing our connection to purpose.”

    The Strategic Plan was created collaboratively, and so too is the implementation of that plan. MEFL relies on its trusting and productive relationships with communities, governments and businesses to achieve its goals. MEFL’s partnership with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Department of Health and Human Services and Sustainability Victoria is such an example, and demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to link health with energy. One of MEFL’s roles is to retrofit 1,000 low income social housing around Victoria with energy efficient solutions.

    Alison has big plans for MEFL. She wants to establish another MEFL office interstate in addition to Sydney. She wants MEFL to be at the heart of solutions, proving that they work and scaling them up. And she wants to build the leaders of tomorrow; people who can take the organisation forward.

    As Alison says, “We don’t see barriers. We have all the same challenges as other organisations, but we don’t let them get in the road. We thrive on them. We get excited. We know when to fail and that’s part of our learning. We think that it’s a good thing. MEFL does so much, so we bring it back into focus and we celebrate saying ‘no’ to some things. We are all clear around the direction, the ambition, the level of excitement, the size of the problem, the fact that we’ve got a role to play, and that our role is really important. We’re not just thinking about the end of the project, we’re actually thinking about how achieve that vision.”

    By Cressida Bradley

    Check out more stories in the category: Consult, In the Village

  • Celebrating our community, our work and their achievements

    Service Offering: Facilitation 

    The Essential Services Commission: Retail Market Review

    The Victorian Government has identified operational issues in the state’s energy and gas market that disadvantage consumers. The Essential Services Commission (ESC) is charged with implementing the recommendations of that report.Midnightsky facilitated a session with ESC’s stakeholders from the energy and gas sector. The purpose of the session was to inform the stakeholders of the Government’s (not always easy) recommendations and gather their input into the implementation of the solutions. The result of the session was that the stakeholders were heard and they are now on the journey with ESC.Their engagement means that consumers (like us) will experience better outcomes, like fairer prices and bills that are easier to understand

    Our Watch: Planning Review

    Our Watch’s vision is an Australia where women and their children live free from violence. Midnightsky worked with this valuable organisation on several facilitation projects across the year to help the organization navigate a period of transition. Our Watch has a new CEO, Patty Kinnersly, and the organization is in the final year of its current Strategic Plan.

    Midnightsky facilitated a session with the Board and the CEO to have deep dive conversations about the organisation’s direction. Midnightsky also worked with staff to help clarify specific projects, as well as the organisation’s approach.

    Our Watch’s work can fundamentally change our society for the benefit of everyone. This is a pivotal moment in history to help prevent violence against all women and their children.  Our Watch’s continued commitment to improvement will lead to a bigger impact and ultimately deliver on their important vision.


    Service Offering: Strategic Planning

    Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network: ‘Better Health North East Melbourne’

    Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network (EMPHN) engaged Midnightsky to work with ‘Better Health North East Melbourne’ to focus their scope for the next three years.

    The Better Health North East Melbourne (BHNEM) initiative is a region wide collaboration of health service providers and organisations across the health system that have come together to improve the health system in order to improve health outcomes for people in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs. BHNEM’s role is to make the patient’s journey through the health system easier, more connected, and more efficient.

    Midnightsky worked with BHNEM’s Governance Group, which comprises CEOs of all the collaborating health services and organisations. The organisations involved are: Banyule Community Health, Your Community Health (Darebin), Health Ability (Community Health – Nillumbik), Austin Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, Eastern Melbourne PHN and North Western Melbourne PHN.

    Midnightsky led the group through a process of deciding on, and prioritizing, relevant and realistic activity. As a result, the group created clear and measurable goals, objectives and KPIs, with a new Strategic Plan developed for the next five years. The key impact will be that the people of Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs are more likely to have a better experience of health care, as well as enjoy better health outcomes.

    Carrington Health Ability: Bridging Strategic Plan

    Carrington Health Ability is a not-for-profit organisation that provides a large range of health services to Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. They have recently merged with healthAbility, an NDIS provider that specialises in aged care and disability support, and health services including OT, podiatry & psychology.

    The merge was done with much good will and a new Board is now in place. While the new Board was being formed, the CEO and leadership team developed a bridging plan to help with the transition. Once the Board was in place, Midnightsky started to work with them on a Strategic Planning process.

    This process was important to ensure a continuity of health care and allow the leadership to build a strong, familiar and cohesive team.

    Moreland Energy Foundation Limited (MEFL): Strategic Plan

    MEFL is dedicated to tackling climate change. Midnightsky worked with the leadership team to build a Strategic Plan and develop their leadership skills.

    Together we created a plan that was easy to understand and had measurable goals, objectives and KPIs to implement and track.

    Our society need new systems and behaviours to address climate change. This Strategic Plan helps the organization head towards their zero-carbon target in ways that are good and fair for both people and the planet.

    Latrobe Community Health Service: Strategic Plan Review

    Based in the Latrobe Valley, Latrobe Community Health Servicehas grown to be one of the largest organisations of its type in Victoria, providing health services in both regional and metropolitan areas.

    The organization is nine months into a five-year Strategic Plan and the Board and Executive wanted to check in with how they were progressing.

    Midnightsky worked with the leadership team to help them build an agenda and facilitated a session to focus on what really matters to the organisation’s vision. Our team led them through some difficult conversations so they could identify opportunities, resolve their challenges, and continue with the Strategic Plan.

    At the end of the process the leadership team felt engaged, knowing that all their different perspectives had been heard. They were focused, having identified what has worked and what needs adjusting. And the pathway to success was clear.

    In the end, the better the organisation’s planning, the stronger their implementation of their services. And that leads to better health care for the many communities they serve.


    Service Offering: Learning and Development 

    Over the year Midnightsky worked with many people to help them become more insightful and compelling communicators and leaders.

    Building their leadership skills impacts positively on society as they apply their abilities in influential organisations, including: MEFL, Leadership Victoria, Alfred Health, Centre for Sustainable Leadership’s Future Makers Fellowship, executives in the Healthcare sector, and members of the Victorian Government.


    At Midnightsky, we have four key service offerings:

    Facilitation: Help groups find a voice, articulate their shared purpose, and create a clear plan.

    Strategic Planning: Understand what you want to achieve, what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to behave along the way with a clear Vision, Mission and Personality

    Strategy to Story: Telling a compelling and consistent story comes from knowing who you are, who you should talk to, and what they need to hear – connect your strategy and your story.

    Learning and Development: Help teams to know their purpose and communicate it confidently to the world





    Check out more stories in the category: Consult, In the Village, Learn

  • Helping the people who help the people

    Outside it’s a crisp and foggy Autumn morning, but here inside the Midnightsky studio it’s warm and inviting. In the middle of the room there is a long, wooden table offering almond croissants, hot chocolates and cups of tea.

    I’ve been invited to sit down with Tracey O’Neill, Board member at the Australasian Association for Managers of Volunteers (AAMoV) and Luke Hockley, Director of Midnightsky.

    We’re going to hear the story of how AAMoV created itself a better chance of a successful future. And we’re going to hear how Midnightsky worked with AAMoV to help them find the clarity to take that opportunity.

    But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start by explaining who is AAMoV and what they do.

    AAMoV is the independent voice of volunteer leaders. Over the last 20 years AAMoV has grown into an Australasian network and is run entirelyby professional and passionate volunteers. Thenot-for-profitorganisation works across the community, in different sectors and organisations.

    There are many thousands of volunteers in our communities. Each volunteer needs a manager to make sure that they have the support they need to be effective, safe and relevant. And in turn, each manager needs support to do their job well. As Tracey says, “If you want impact for volunteering, if you want your organisation to be safe and if you want your volunteers to be engaged, then you need someone with a high level of skills. And they need the resources.”

    The volunteer sector has many managers who are ready to be challenged and learn some advanced leadership skills like, Strategic Planning, engaging with Executives and Board, and how to influence organisations. AAMoV provides professional development and also advocates for the appropriate resourcing of volunteer leaders.

    So that’s what AAMoV does and why they do it.

    Naming the sticking point

    But before we go any further, consider this; some managers of volunteers are paid and some are unpaid. This means that the unpaid managers are volunteers themselves. Essentially, they are volunteer volunteer managers.

    And across Australasia there are state peak bodies for volunteers and national peak bodies, whose mandates are to support volunteering and the outcomes for the community. That includes supporting the volunteer and paidvolunteer managers. However, AAMoV is the only peak body whose sole focus is to support volunteer managers.

    AAMoV doesn’t want to duplicate, or compete with, the important work of the peak bodies. But AAMoV does recognise that there are some fundamental differences between their core purposes. It is this key difference that allows AAMoV to work directly with paid volunteer managers to make sure they receive the professional development and support that they need, and also work in partnership with the peak bodies who are developing the skills of unpaid volunteer managers.

    But flashback to several months ago and the Board of AAMoV had not yet gained this clarity. They were getting stuck on a hard question; why should AAMoV exist? And that’s the key challenge that brought AAMoV to Midnightsky.

    As Luke says to Tracey, “If I go back to the moment when you first spoke to me what I got was, ‘We know there’s a need for something in this sector but we’re not clear what part of that need we can fulfill, and how we can do it as a volunteer organisation without burning ourselves out or duplicating others.’ I could sense confusion and frustration that you were not quite getting there.”

    Tracey agrees, “Either we could continue the way we’re going, or we would cease to exist because we were just not achieving anything. We’d already lost members because we weren’t giving them a clear message. The more the Board talked about it, the more we realised that we didn’t have any clarity around who we were. The Board agreed that a workshop sounded like a great idea.”

    The good work started even before they got to the workshop. Luke shares one of his facilitation secrets. He says, “In this pre-workshop conversation, I’m asking, ‘what does this group need to get them where I want them by the time we meet?’ I get them to a point where they have processed enough information, and given me what I need, to get the most value on the day. Facilitation is what happens in the room, but facilitation is also what you set up everyone for success – including me! I also gave the Board a clear framework for where strategic goals, objectives and outcomes fit, which is separate to a workplan where all the activities fit.”

    Tracey says, “Doing that piece of work in planning, that’s when we started getting excited. As a Board, we were defining who we were and who we wanted to be.”

    Unsticking the sticking point

    Through facilitated conversation, the workshop resolved the difficult but fundamental questions. There was a pivotal moment when Luke asked the group, do you need to represent the whole of the sector, or do you need to represent paid volunteer managers and leave the unpaid managers to someone else?

    Tracey remembers, “It was the one point where we realised we could make a decision without all agreeing. We needed to detach our personal feelings to make the best decision for the sustainability of the organisation. Suddenly things felt achievable. Suddenly it felt like we can do this. And it gave us a pathway to create good relationships with the peak bodies.”

    Luke agrees, “The Board was able to see that you were not going to desert that group of people, the unpaid volunteer managers. People were able to see that the decision to partner with other organisations was like an open door, not a closed door. That’s when people realised that you can have everything, you just don’t have to be responsible for everything.

    The organisation’s new Vision was created, ‘The power of volunteering creates a just society’. And its Role is, ‘To unleash the power of volunteering by ensuring professional leaders of volunteers thrive.’

    Tracey says, “We’re so passionate about our sector and what we contribute to the successful outcomes of volunteers. That whole wording of ‘unleashing the power’ really spoke to us.”

    Creating a clear path

    And it sounds like that passion and energy has already had an impact in the months since the workshop.

    Tracey says, “We have now created our Objectives. We’ve developed really clear Board membership position descriptions and committees that those positions lead. We’ve articulated who is responsible for particular objectives in our Strategic Plan and how we report back to the Board. That’s made it really fantastic for us because it has shared the workload between the Board members. And it’s made it easy for us to make decisions on things that would have been difficult in the past.”

    Now, it would be great to give you a fairy tale ending. It would be great to tell you that AAMoV has achieved everything in its Strategic Plan, that it has built deep and fruitful relationships with all the peak bodies, and that everyone is living happily ever after. But change and growth takes time and care. Happily, AAMoV are off to a good start.

    As Tracey says, “It still feels really daunting. But we’re really excited. This process has enabled us to be really targeted about what we do. Before it felt like we were all just going to throw our hands up in the air and say it’s too hard. Now it doesn’t feel like giving up, it feels like giving it a go. We’ve got to do things differently and we’ve got to find ways to engage people. We’ve got to give it a red, hot go. We owe it to our members.”

    As Tracey, Luke and I finish up our hot drinks and head out into the day we find that the morning fog has lifted and suddenly the skies are bright blue again. It certainly feels like a good day to give it a red, hot go. Particularly when you are helping to create smart, professional and thriving leaders in a caring, volunteering world.

    by Cressida Bradley

    Check out more stories in the category: Consult, In the Village

  • Engaging your key audiences gets the good work done.  

    We may know the right thing to do. But do we always do it? And how do you inspire others to do the right thing?

    The Consumer Policy and Research Centre (CPRC) built the Building Customer Trust report; a clear, practical and engaging toolkit that shows electricity and water companies how to build trust with their most important stakeholder, the customer.

    Quite simply, CPRC researched ways that electricity and water companies create good customer experiences and now they are encouraging the adoption of these best practices across Victoria.

    As we learned in our previous article, it is CPRC’s role to drive policy development and better protect consumers. CPRC’s Acting CEO at the time, Petrina Dorrington, says that, “We had an initial report, but we didn’t know how to get the businesses on board and embed the principles in the community.”

    The initial CPRC research revealed a number of key principles and several case studies from which businesses could learn. So the organisation wanted to make it easy for the electricity and water sectors to engage with and apply their research.

    CPRC engaged Midnightsky to lead them through a process that Petrina says is, “strategic, creative and gets the best out of people.” The final report made the original, solid information clear and inspiring, as well as engaged key stakeholders in the power of the research.

    How did the report achieve this?

    Using language that speaks to your audience
    One key part of the process was to look at the language of the report. The report distilled the many research principles into four, making it more likely that businesses will remember and apply the information. The report used warm and direct language to reflect one of CPRC’s key aims; to build trust between people and their electricity or water supplier.

    The original research title was changed from the pragmatic but cold, ‘Principles of a fair consumer experience’ to the report’s more welcoming title that resonates with both industry and community, ‘Building Customer Trust’. And similarly, the language throughout the report was simplified to help communicate the messages more directly.

    Getting audience skin in the game
    The second key part of the process was to engage the broader water and electricity sector to build ownership in the report. This simple action can be extremely powerful.

    Workshops were held with key stakeholders, including utility companies and community reference groups, to gather out their feedback on the four key principles.

    The workshops also sought their input on the best actions that will help businesses to embed the practices. Petrina says that, “the workshops created excitement as the participants started to see how the report could contribute to positive relationships with customers and, in particular, support the most vulnerable in our community”.

    The report is already making its way into the right hands. It was launched in September 2017 by ‘Thriving Communities Partnership’ , a cross-sector community and industry collaboration that includes Yarra Valley Water.

    So next time you’re talking with your Electricity or Water supplier and you leave the conversation feeling heard, reassured and satisfied, it may have something to do with the good work of the good people at the Consumer Policy and Research Centre and their ‘Building Customer Trust’ Report.

    by Cressida Bradley

    Check out more stories in the category: Consult, Knowledge Bank

  • How to kick perfect goals while the posts are moving

    Or creating a clear and effective Strategic Plan

    The Consumer Policy and Research Centre (CPRC) recently achieved the strategic equivalent of the triple somersault, half twist in a pike position off the 10 metre diving board with a 9.0 difficulty rating; it found clarity and purpose in a new strategic direction, expanded the trust and support of its main funder, and continued to kick perfect goals while the posts were moving. Sorry, mixing my sports metaphors there.

    Oh, and did I mention that they were also recruiting for a new CEO throughout the strategic planning process? So CPRC had the additional challenge of creating a Strategic Plan that should provide enough direction to keep the organisation moving and enough certainty to guarantee funding. And the plan should also allow any new visionary CEO to take ownership of the plan and make key decisions or reasonable changes. That has just increased the strategic difficulty rating to a 9.9. So how did they do it?

    A key decision that led to their success was to develop a Strategic Plan that spanned three years, but included a review after the first year. This would allow the new CEO to make reasonable changes and learn from the organisation’s experiences.

    CPRC is a Victorian Government funded broad-based research centre that helps to drive policy development and better protect consumers. Until recently, the CPRC was known as the Consumer Utility Advocacy Centre (CUAC). Apart from a name change, the recent transformation also expanded the organisation’s purpose and scope of activity from being an advocacy body to take on a research role and the responsibility to deal with broader ranging consumer issues across all sectors.

    The Board and staff went through a process with Midnightsky that guided the organisation to a confident, shared understanding and clarity that could be communicated with key funders, new leadership and all staff.

    Acting CEO, Petrina says that the resulting Strategic Plan, “gave us the basis to show the government where we were going, which aligned with what they were thinking too.”

    Midnightsky helped the organisation navigate the significant change by asking it to reconsider some fundamental strategic questions: what is its purpose, what is it going to do to achieve that purpose, how is it going to behave along the way, and how will it know when its achieved success?

    In other words, the organisation re-articulated its Vision, Role, Values and Goals. These are key aspects required to inspire and focus any organisation and its stakeholders, including staff and funders.

    Since the development of the Strategic Plan, the new CEO, Lauren Solomon, has built the research agenda for the organisation. This research agenda has become part of the whole Strategic Plan and contributes to the organisation’s vision.

    The clear and direct language of the new Strategic Plan continues to emerge in reports and other communication tools as the organisation’s strategy is embodied by the CPRC team and implemented through their activities.

    by Cressida Bradley

    Check out more stories in the category: Consult, In the Village, Knowledge Bank