The Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) and Regional Capitals Australia (RCA) have just launched a report I co-authored with Dr Robyn Morris and Lucinda Molloy on local government’s role in building strong and sustainable regional capitals and regions.
The report, Local Government Growing Regional Australia, was officially launched at the Regional Capitals Australia conference Regionalism 2.0 in Mackay, Queensland. As the RCA media announcement of the launch of the report notes, it “explores the factors underpinning strong and sustainable regional capitals and regions, and the vital role played by local government in this crucial national issue”. This was based on extensive research we undertook over 12 months and involved an extensive literature review, socio-economic analysis and five detailed case studies of the regional capital councils of Geelong (VIC), Geraldton (WA), Launceston (TAS), Mackay (QLD) and Wagga Wagga (NSW) and their surrounding regions.
In particular as the report’s Executive Summary notes, “the study investigated the factors that contribute to building strong sustainable regional capitals and regions with a particular focus on identifying key governance and leadership ingredients and the part played by regional capital local governments in attaining this outcome”. The report outlines some of the key drivers and inhibitors of regional development we identified. These include environmental factors, community capital, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, institutional factors, governance and leadership.
The report also identifies some of the key “ingredients” for growing sustainable regional capitals and regions. Many of these are specific to each region but there are some which we found have more general application. In relation to governance frameworks these included a shared commitment to supporting regional wellbeing and growth with adequate slack resources to participate effectively, effective formal regional structures which provide a framework for interaction and collaboration, the capacity for regional stakeholders to work together in developing both informal collaborations and more formal partnerships and a shared approach to leadership.
Within this framework the contribution of regional capitals is central to the development of their regions, because of their size and the agglomeration of infrastructure and services available in each of them . Some of the key shared ingredients for success adopted by a number of the councils which we documented in the case studies include:
- the ability to work with other major stakeholders to build ‘horizontal’ or distributed leadership coalitions and policy frameworks.
- the development of an effective advocacy strategy to engage with state and federal governments as well as the local/regional community.
- support for projects and the adoption of strategies that support specifically the growth of the regional capital but also, directly or indirectly, the development of the wider region.
- the development of strategies to assist in the diversification of the regional and/or local economy.
- engagement in a proactive, flexible but professional relationship with the development sector.
- a commitment to innovation and entrepreneurialism.
- the capacity to respond to major negative events and to minimise their impacts.
- an ability to ‘scan’ for future trends and respond proactively.
As the RCA media announcement notes, ACELG and RCA will circulate the report more broadly and “encourage a dialogue across governments about the key issues raised by the research, with particular regard to the ‘Future role and contribution of regional capitals to Australia’ inquiry announced recently by the Federal Government.” The research will also be presented at the ALGA 2015 National General Assembly of Local Government which will be held from June 14 – 17 2015.
The research report can be downloaded from the ACELG website in two volumes. Volume one introduces the report and contains overviews of the literature review and the case studies, along with a discussion of the research findings. Volume two contains the full literature review and case studies, along with an outline of the case study methodology. A research summary is also available from the ACELG website.
This proved to be a long and complex project and although we obtained a range of interesting and hopefully useful insights these are really only the beginning. I hope the report will stimulate further research for example, as its conclusion suggests, the conduct of longitudinal studies to test the effectiveness of significant governance initiatives over time and to explore further the nature and extent of the integration between regional capitals and their regions.