On campus, students and staff need the skills to engage in difficult conversations to respond to inappropriate behaviour. The University of Sydney invested in communications skills training for its staff and students to promote the inclusive values of the institution.


The University of Sydney collaborated with Polykala in 2018 to custom-design and deliver a series of workshops to campus staff and students. As part of the university’s commitment to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s ‘Racism. It Stops With Me.’ campaign, the training focussed on instances of racial discrimination on, or around, the university campus.

The team at the University of Sydney were attracted to Polykala’s approach to Active Bystander training; the focus on conversation, the use of Forum Theatre combining to form dynamic skills training. 

After an extended consultation and design process with the staff from the University of Sydney, the team at Polykala flew up to the Harbour City to run the series of workshops on campus.


A critical element of the consultation and design of our sessions is getting an insight into the situations that have led them to want training. On campus, like anywhere, these range from questionable interactions that are characterised by a level of ambiguity and uncertainty, to objectionable situations that are clear-cut. We constructed the training to give participants an opportunity to consider the spectrum of behaviours and how that would likely influence our response to them. The gap we sought to address is best described by the difference between what you would do and what you actually do. 

One of the key barriers to tackling questionable or objectionable situations is not knowing what to say. For this reason, all of our active bystander training programs have a conversation skills component. This gives participants a starting point in the form of principles and phrases that question and open up conversation or close conversations down if they’re causing harm to others.

The adage, practice makes progress hold true in this context. The practice component of the session at the University of Sydney incorporated paired and small group practice opportunities to build up to the Forum Theatre roleplay. Forum Theatre allows participants to try different interventions from different positions within a social situation; how to respond to someone behaving inappropriately, how to reinforce others who are intervening, and how to support someone on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviour.


One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a fly-in/fly-out training provider is the insight you gain into the internal culture and workings of your clients. Over the course of the engagement with the University of Sydney, we were struck by the commitment of the staff to the wellbeing of their students. Unsurprisingly, the students were passionate and driven to actively engage in building a welcoming and nurturing campus environment.

“The training provided by Polykala was informative and inspiring. Polykala were very professional to deal with and the workshop was incredibly well designed.
Members of my team who attended the training were still talking about it long after the workshop, as it was definitely a change making experience.  Tom and Ananth are a passionate and empathetic team who deliver challenging material in caring way.”

Amber Colhoun – Program Manager – Sydney Precision Data Science Centre, University of Sydney


University of Sydney



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Sydney (NSW)