Consensus from the Inside Out:
A Culture of Communicating to Empower
An Intern's Reflection

“I’m pretty sure it’s El Se-gun-do. There’s literally a song called ‘I Left My Wallet in El Segundo’, and that’s how it’s pronounced there.” 

“I just have an accent, which is why I pronounce it as El Se-goon-do.” 

The back and forth between my two colleagues was so interesting to me that I couldn’t help myself from pitching in. “Well, I just don’t know if you can call someone out for how they pronounce Spanish names.” 

The argument–discussion, would have gone on for the rest of the afternoon if it weren’t for Andrea, our Vice President, who chimed in. 

“We’re called Consensus for a reason, guys.” She laughed, but I knew she meant what she said. “We should embody that.” 

At that time, I had been interning at Consensus for only a little shy of two weeks, and didn’t fully understand what I was doing, much less understand what the company did. I definitely did not know how our work tied into our name. But during that engaging conversation in our office space one afternoon, it somewhat started to make more sense. 

People are different. This may seem like a very obvious fact, but oftentimes I think we fail to notice both the gravity and the reality of it. If a handful of colleagues can disagree on something as seemingly trivial as the pronunciation of a city name, it’s easy to imagine how other people, even those from the same groups or communities, can inevitably contend on larger issues that affect them as a whole. 

There will always be disagreement, and our job is to help communities come to a consensus. Consensus exists not to invalidate the disagreement or cut the conversation short, but rather to ensure discussions are productive and precede effective change. 

In my two months as a Community Engagement Intern, I was able to learn a great deal about Consensus’ commitment to productive conversations that transform into support around client projects. What was even more fascinating to me was how this looked incredibly different for each client. For a transportation project, like a freeway auxiliary lane, it meant creating broad stakeholder databases to identify those impacted by the change, and then letting this inform where to best hold community open house meetings. 

For a large real estate development project, it meant employing digital marketing strategy and setting up an interactive website to engage potential supporters. 

For a public park master plan project, it meant conducting meetings with community leaders to gather key insights. 

This helped me realize that the way we build support around projects that represent change for different communities can never be a one size fits all. Besides the nature of each project, the unique character of each community ultimately informs how we do our outreach. As community liaisons, it’s imperative that we are cognizant of a community’s culture and needs. 

I think this is precisely how we do things at Consensus: we take the time to get to know communities first, and then we let that inform how we engage them. 

Being from the Philippines with minimal local experience, I thought this would be a daunting task. Quite frankly, however, taking time to understand communities has been my favorite part of the job. Not only am I able to better assess how a client’s project suits a particular community, I’m also able to explore various communities in Southern California on a deeper, personal level. This has given me great insight on what to look forward to in the place I’ll be calling home when I finish school. More than that, this has provided tangible context to the work that we do. 

I guess this is also what made this internship so special. When I applied I had a traditional PR firm experience in mind – one with press releases, copywriting and media relations. While these things are all important and still part of what we do here at Consensus, it was only through this opportunity that I’d seen the title public relations come into fruition in the sense that we truly related with the public. Strategy and all the desk work has been crucial, but our bread and butter has proven to be how we’ve learned to be eager listeners and receptive to the needs of the community. 

Two months ago, I was an aimless college student yearning for a work experience abroad. I knew I was interested in PR and communications, and I knew I had a heart for the community and societal change. However, I didn’t really have an idea of what that meant in terms of me carving out a career path. Consensus provided me with an incredible glimpse of what a future utilizing my skills to fulfill my passion looked like. 

I’m certain of this especially because of the way the office has easily become another home to me. My colleagues are all genuinely invested in everyone’s growth and nurture each other with guidance like a family would. My co-interns became my office siblings, and our leaders our office parents. The familial dynamic easily allows everyone to feel open with each other, which is crucial in ensuring Consensus starts from the inside out. 

More importantly, working with talented individuals with various strengths has given me an awesome selection of people to consult with for different skills I want to build. It’s been refreshing to see how everyone’s unique strengths come into play on various projects, and encouraging to know I have a variety of mentors I can look up to as I continuously learn and grow. The best part? They’ve all empowered me too, even as an intern, to make big decisions, contribute heavily to strategy, and be at the forefront of client and community interactions. 

This was, in every shape and form, a big girl internship, and I feel equipped to start my career as a full-fledged community outreach professional. I can return home to the Philippines after a refueling summer, with sharper communication skills and a stronger heart for the community. I owe it to Consensus for training, or should I say raising, me well. 

Celina Pacana is currently studying in the Philippines, pursuing a major in Economics and minors in Political Science and Communications. She is passionate about storytelling and also about economic development. You can learn more about her experience in the attached resume. She has completed internships at LAEDC and also at a research consulting firm in Hong Kong, assisting with content development for social media, event planning and copywriting. She also recently spearheaded a youth forum in Manila, organizing a get-out-the-vote campaign among university students.

The Listening Booth: Mobility 21 Summit, Los Angeles 2018

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