As Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) and Director of Engagement and Impact at The Social Deck, Butcher works directly with government, not-for-profits and for-purpose organisations to help them engage and communicate meaningfully with communities and their stakeholders, across a range of social and environmental issues and policy areas.

A certified B-Corp and social enterprise, The Social Deck specialises in strategic communications, stakeholder and community engagement, digital strategy, social marketing campaigns and evaluation. Competing with much larger consultancy firms, Melanie believes The Social Deck’s point of difference lies in its values as a business.

With impact at the core of what they do, The Social Deck team are intent on working thoughtfully, respectfully and collaboratively to understand the needs of clients and all of their stakeholders – and to find the best way to understand and include a diverse range of voices so that changes are positive.

“Over the past 10 years in this space, I've been responsible for designing and facilitating hundreds of workshops, focus groups, roundtables and webinars on behalf of clients, to help them consult and engage with their stakeholders and communities. I also lead our research and evaluation work, with that analytical side playing directly into my background in science,” Melanie said.

“It’s important to us that the people understand and are involved in matters that affect them and can have their say, feel heard and are included in a fair and equitable way.”

A project that demonstrates this was improving communication to increase participation in the National Cervical Screening Program, with the Department of Health. When recommendations for the frequency of cervical cancer screening changed from two to five years with increases in screening accuracy, there was an opportunity to boost awareness of this important aspect of women’s health.

When The Social Deck came on board, Melanie’s team started by conducting research on why women were not getting screened, including identifying specific behaviours, as well as barriers and enablers to participation in screening.

The research and communications teams collaborated to create a series of communication materials targeting different key barriers and enablers to screening. They then used focus groups and an online randomised control trial to understand and test the most effective communication approaches, messages and materials.

This included a specific focus on understanding what is most effective for diverse audiences, including First Nations peoples, multicultural communities, people with disability, people who are LGBTQIA+, as well as young people and older people.

Research findings were also delivered to the Department in a comprehensive research report and The Social Deck delivered two communications packages to roll out as part of a pilot program in 2021.

Because cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, it was important to engage women from all backgrounds and for them to understand the importance of testing regularly.

Melanie believes that it is important that throughout each stage of research, engagement and design, the process is inclusive, accessible and meaningful.

“It is crucial for the success of any public policy that communities and stakeholders can have their say and be included,” she said.

We have worked on projects and strategies across diverse policy environments including health and mental health, aged care, disability reform, housing and homelessness, reducing domestic and family violence, and on innovative environmental and health behaviour change programs.

Making purpose their business

It’s this focus on diversity and inclusivity that sets The Social Deck apart from others taking a business as usual approach and sees better results for their clients.

“We only work with clients that share our values. Our aim is to undertake projects that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

So we only look for and take on projects that we believe will have a positive impact on society or the environment, and we actively turn down work that we don’t think will make enough of a difference, or where people can’t genuinely be included in decisions and policies that affect them.”

And it is that intersection between a desire for positive social change and leveraging the power of business to create that change, where Melanie sees amazing potential.

 “Businesses and organisations can have a social or environmental purpose at their very core, and they can still grow, and be successful while making positive and long-lasting impact along that way.”

A rock-solid career shift

Formally a geologist, Melanie spent over a decade of her career living and working in remote locations in rural Australia, Canada and Argentina. This period of her life helped prepare her for a career shift that was geared toward positive and meaningful social impact.

“I was exposed to a lot of diversity through my geology career, which gave me a broader perspective. In Canada we worked very closely with First Nations people and in Argentina I enjoyed understanding different cultures, communities and their perspectives.”

And while she loved geology, Melanie decided to make a career change to follow her interest in social issues, people and communities here in Australia.

“Though I chose geology as my first career path and love science and rocks, I’ve always been interested in people and social issues, which led me to study a Graduate Certificate in Social Impact at the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) UNSW,” she said.

With a focus on social enterprise and social entrepreneurship, Melanie was excited by the potential impact a socially driven business could make.  This is when she joined The Social Deck with founders Kate Bowmaker and Steven Speldewinde in 2014, as a small purpose-led strategic communications and consultancy agency, with big aspirations.

Growing a business with purpose

Bowmaker and Speldewinde had started the business in New York a few years earlier to provide communication services and social marketing for not-for-profits and social enterprises doing good work, but put the company on ice when they moved back to Australia. When they looked at relaunching in 2014, it was exactly the kind of company Melanie wanted to be involved in.

She left her geology career and at the same time started the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact through the Centre for Social Impact at UNSW. Applying what she’d learnt at CSI directly into The Social Deck business as it grew, Melanie wanted to take that learning further. So when the opportunity to extend her study and articulate her prior learning into an AGSM @ UNSW Business School MBAX (Social Impact), it made complete sense.

“I was keen to leverage what I’d already learnt and continue not only learning about something that I loved, but continue applying what I had learnt in real time – both on the social impact side and on the practical business side as well,” Melanie said.

“The program’s innovative insight into how business, social enterprise, government, and community organisations can work together successfully for positive social change was an invaluable resource to grow The Social Deck, while subjects like finance and economics gave me the practical business tools I needed to enable purposeful growth.” 

“I enjoyed the entire program. I met the most amazing people and teachers – it was really inspiring.”

Melanie saw great value in learning alongside people from such a wide range of professions and industries during her MBAX. She was also very happy to see an interest in making a positive impact on society from her cohorts who represented larger corporations or government bodies.  

“There were social entrepreneurs in the room, but also social intrapreneurs, looking at improving corporate social responsibility and how they can make a positive impact on society from within large companies.”

Melanie believes the program would be especially perfect for all policymakers and politicians to complete, because the latest knowledge and ideas of what works to effect real positive social change, is what should influence good policy and regulatory decisions.

“It’s really important to have people in government who understand these core principles around designing with people, not just for people, and making sure that we challenge our own assumptions of what we think we know is good for people,” she said.

And that’s exactly what Melanie and the team at The Social Deck are trying to do every day. By working with decision-makers to shift mindsets and make positive changes, they’re playing their part in creating a more inclusive and accessible world. That is better for all of us.

#AlwaysBeLearning #LifeLongLearning 

Find out more about the AGSM MBAX (Social Impact)