The Regional Drought Resilience Planning (RDRP) project is helping Queensland communities be better prepared for future droughts. Ironically, just two days after kick-off of the pilot program, the first of nine major flooding events hit the state. The project team’s sheer determination to successfully deliver their project in the face of personal disaster (and COVID-19 restrictions) has earned them three 2022 Project Management Achievement Awards (PMAAs).

Regional drought resilience planning program

Project purpose: improving regional drought resilience

  • Customised regional drought resilience plans were created for five pilot regions.
  • Deep collaboration between local government, regional organisations, community organisations and industry informed the plans.

PMAAs won: National Government Project, Queensland Project of the Year, and Queensland
Government Project




Roma Cattle Saleyards (source: Adobe)


First Nations traditional stories of drought date back thousands of years, and the first official declaration of drought was made in 1897. The devastating economic, social and environmental toll on communities can linger for decades, so federal and state governments banded together to help communities be better prepared.

Julia Spicer – Community Engagement Manager, RDRP project commented, “I was keen to be part of the project because we were taking a long-term view of how to prepare our communities. And not doing it on the eve of another drought was a better time to make good long-term decisions. This project could have been simpler in its design with fewer people involved, but that would have missed a lot of the richness that’s come from it.”


Julia Spicer presenting at the RDRP Engagement Workshop (source: The Yellow Company)


Project management highlights

The team’s approach to these core project management knowledge areas contributed to the project’s success and were well- regarded by the AIPM’s judging panel.

  • Robust governance: Monthly board meetings ensured effective collaboration between multiple geographically dispersed organisations.
  • Stakeholder management: A detailed five-stage engagement model gave stakeholders multiple opportunities to collaborate and contribute.
  • Schedule management: A target schedule was adjusted in consultation with stakeholders to achieve maximum engagement.

A double-pronged disaster: navigating pandemics and floods

COVID-19 interruptions and natural disasters featured on the risk register, but nobody predicted the scale of their eventual impact. During project initiation in July 2021, COVID-19 lockdowns were re-introduced in southeast Queensland, disrupting early planning activities. “The threat of COVID-19 remained a key challenge to engagement throughout the project as regions experienced waves of infection and restrictions,” said Ben Lyons. “So, we changed tack and relied on alternative approaches, including online surveys and virtual engagement forums.”

On top of pandemic-related challenges and, ironically for a project about drought resilience, Queensland experienced a severe wet season in 2021-22. Nine major flooding events impacted communities in each of the project’s pilot regions, with team members’ homes at risk during the project.

“The double-disaster of pandemic and flooding was a massive challenge for the project. It was sometimes hard to get people to focus on future drought resilience planning when disaster response activities had to take priority,” said Ben.

“With so much rain, drought wasn’t the number one concern, so we had to work much harder to get the stakeholder engagement that was so critical to the project’s success.”

Champions of resilience

Delivering the drought resilience project during severe flooding only reinforced the need for better climate emergency recovery planning. It required extraordinary resilience, determination and adaptability from the project team.

According to Ben Lyons, Director, Rural Economies Centre of Excellence, this is just the beginning. “We’re now in the process of prioritising actions and securing funding to bring our resilience plans to fruition. It’ll be rewarding to see it all come to life.”

Ben Norling, Managing Director from The Yellow Company, was thrilled to learn the project had been awarded three Project Management Achievement Awards. “We’re extremely proud of this project, which demonstrated a successful partnership between all levels of government, multiple universities, the private sector and community stakeholders. Receiving these awards is well-deserved recognition for the entire team.”

Congratulations from the AIPM to everyone who worked so hard to ensure Queensland is better prepared to deal with future drought events.

Meet Julia Spicer, Community Engagement Manager

Julia’s home was cut off by floodwaters, but she kept working on the drought resilience project. We asked her to share her experience.

What role did you play in the RDRP project?

My role was community engagement. I got people involved in the project at a local level. The team in Brisbane took the feedback and outcomes from my engagement work and put that into the final drought plans.

How did the floods impact your ability to engage with the community?

At some points it was a calamity of Fawlty Towers moments, where we were trying to bring communities together to talk about droughts, but it was too wet to get to events. I live about 15km east of Goondiwindi, and it became a bit of an island. The highways were all closed, so I couldn’t get to events, and out west, people were stuck on their farms. For a few days, I couldn’t leave my place because the road was cut to the highway. But it turned out to be a good time to do some drought planning, because a lot of people couldn’t do anything or go anywhere else anyway.

How did the team adapt to the ever-changing conditions?

We had to rejig things fast. Instead of us physically meeting in a town hall, we met virtually. Sometimes some of the community could meet in town, so we’d do a hybrid session with three or four people in a room and a few of us on Zoom because we couldn’t physically get there.

What was key in making that work?

I think engaging local people to deliver the project played a big part. This was originally driven by the project team genuinely wanting to get the best community engagement. And kudos to them. It probably would have been a lot easier to run this project from their own office in Brisbane, because the more people are involved the more complicated it gets.

But I think it was great they did, because when we hit this massive obstacle in a key, pointy bit of the project where we needed to be getting a lot of stuff done, we could flip that and go online. It wasn’t the first time anybody was meeting me; I knew them and what they were dealing with because I live in the region. We could be efficient and quick to change things. I could make lots of phone calls and because people knew me and could understand what was going on, it all worked out.

Julia Spicer on her flooded street in Goondiwindi (source: Julia Spicer)

Do you think the project outcomes suffered because of the trying circumstances you found yourselves in?

Not at all. It was a little bit wild at the beginning, just trying to reach milestone dates when there was so much going on. But in terms of the conversations, the engagement and the way the community was part of the project, I think people said what they were going to say whether we were in a room together or on Zoom.

What did this project teach you about managing projects amidst change?

It reminded me to always consider the purpose of every project activity. What is the outcome we’re looking for? And once we were clear on why we were doing an engagement piece, then where and how we’d do it would fall out from there.

What did winning the awards mean to the team?

There was a lot of pride across all of Queensland when we won the awards. We dealt with adversity and planned for a natural disaster during a natural disaster. I’m proud to have been part of that. We all feel a bit of ownership of that of that award, and it’s been a really fantastic thing.


This article is taken from the Autumn 2023 edition of Paradigm Shift