018: The Power of Activating People in Complex Situations with Max Hardy

Episode 18: The Power of Activating People in Complex Situations with Max Hardy

The quality of early engagement is critical to successfully activating people in a complex situation and achieving a positive outcome. It sets the foundation for the rest of the process.

In this episode of Thriving in Complexity, Susanne Le Boutillier speaks with one of Australia’s foremost experts in community engagement processes, Max Hardy. Max highlights that starting softly and listening without judgement, rather than going in hard from the start, is key to creating positive outcomes that benefit both the community and the organisation.

Max discusses the importance of co-design in activating people and how it helps to create a sense of ownership and buy-in from the community. He also explains how fear of failure can hinder the engagement process and how utilising appreciative inquiry and framing questions can help overcome this. Max also explains how utilising digital tools in engagement processes can enhance community participation and create a more inclusive process.

If you are looking for practical tips on how to effectively engage with communities or people across your organisation, this episode is for you. Tune in and learn from Max Hardy’s extensive experience and remember, the quality of early engagement helps to set you up to get somewhere – it might not be exactly where you thought you were going, but it will be a better place.


  • What most people don’t know about Max (04:45)
  • What does working in the public participation space means (06:20)
  • The impact of activating people in the community (10:30)
  • The value of Co-design in activating people (13:50)
  • How does fear of failure affect the process (18:35)
  • The importance of listening without judgement (24:25)
  • Why we need to explore different ways of having a conversation (30:01)
  • The benefits of framing questions (32:02)
  • Utilising appreciative inquiry in complex problems (37:32)
  • The power of digital tools in engagements (41:52)
  • What does thriving in complexity mean for Max? (48:00)
  • A situation he would’ve handled differently (49:39)
  • Max’s advice to his 25-year-old self (53:23)


“When faced with a complex situation, people often tend to think, or see the community as a problem to be solved, rather than an asset to be utilised.” -Max Hardy 

 “Building relationships is absolutely critical. And you only build those relationships when people know that you actually care about what they care about.” -Max Hardy 

“If you demonstrate you’re interested in what people know, then they’ll become curious about what you know.” -Max Hardy 

“The lens through which we interpret things is based on what we already know, and have experienced ourselves” -Susanne Le Boutillier

TED Talk: Questions change everything in community engagement

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Website: maxhardy.com.au
Email:  max@maxhardy.com.au  

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Max Hardy is one of Australia’s foremost experts in community engagement processes and a highly sought-after facilitator for complex issues and challenges, including those related to redevelopment of social housing projects. With a special interest in deliberative democracy Max has designed and facilitated over 60 deliberative panels since 1998.  Renowned internationally for his skilful design and facilitation of community engagement processes, Max has developed innovative models for collaboration and community engagement, for which he has won numerous national and international awards. 

Max Hardy specialises in collaborative governance, process and solution codesign, appreciative inquiry, strategic questioning, collective impact and designing, facilitating and evaluating deliberative community engagement processes. He also co-facilitated Australia’s first Citizens’ Parliament, and facilitated a world café session at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, Sydney. 

As a Master Trainer for IAP2 Max co-designed and facilitated two training academies in 2006 and 2008, in Alberta Canada, and Edinburgh, UK respectively. 

He has co-authored two books, presented papers at numerous international conferences, and is a regular guest lecturer at various universities. 

Max is a Mentor for IAP2’s Advanced Mentoring Program, an Associate of Collaboration for Impact and a regular collaborator with the Tamarack Institute, Canada.  

As one of the founders of Authentic Co-design, Max has also co-developed self-paced courses in Co-design which are delivered online throughout the world.