Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

REPORT | EDA Conference

With participation in a diverse array of events and conferences, we’ve had an interesting few weeks. A report about the Open Government Data Symposium has already been posted. Most recently, Linda participated in a ‘think tank’ to discuss the question of attracting, holding and growing key workers (talent) to regions. This wide ranging discussion prised open the question, gradually moving towards recognition of the need to ‘grow’ or ‘nurture’ talent in regions and localities. This required more of a collaborative effort to realise a spectrum of social, economic, cultural and environmental needs. In other words, in the current context, it required some significant cultural shift to occur. In order for that shift to occur, community and cross-sectoral relationships were vital – there was a need for sensible dialogue and competent discussion. It’s about ensuring that the capital – social, creative and intellectual – stacked up. That this capital isn’t just frittered away from project to project or stifled from one organisation to the next, but rather is generative and regenerative. These ideas are central in the development of resilience and sustainability. There are considerations in that about the role of large organisations such as government, hospitals and universities as facilitators of innovation. This, of course, links back to one of the key messages of the Open Data Conference, that innovation is more likely in more open environments and communities.

There is an easy segue from this conversation to Economic Development Australia’s national conference addressing ‘the digital economy’ held in Adelaide, a city undergoing its own reinvention with its mall being made over as a ‘people’s place’. The difficulty of that transition is apparent with the prevalence of commissioned graffitti murals that hide otherwise empty shops at street level and other subtle creative interventions, some more effective and striking than others. A city that has built a reputation on cultural events knows the value public spaces and creative engagements with place and people. With the promise of high speed broadband to every premises in Australia, there was genuine anticipation at the EDA Conference (#eda2011 on Twitter) about the potential for leveraging that infrastructure for diverse economic and community benefits. Part of that equation also involves attracting and retaining a skilled professional workforce while appreciating that low skilled or unskilled employment and wages are on the decline. Place is also a critically important consideration in economic development given quality of life considerations for attracting talent, entrepreneurship and encouraging local business. What is most interesting here is that most cities in Australia are comprised of multiple local authories, while Brisbane is governed by only one. Each of those local authorities in other major cities are working to establish their own competitive advantage, multipliers and sense of place. This means a finer grain of local area quality of life and engagement.

It sometimes seems like our economies have been in transition for a very long time, since ‘e-‘ became a prefix that hailed a new world order at some point in the 90s. I have one nagging doubt about digital economy strategies. While I have no doubt that the digital economy – understood as “the global network of economic and social activities that are enabled by platforms such as the internet, mobile and sensor networks” – is part of and shaping both our world and us, I do have some apprehension in the development of stand alone strategies that address only that aspect of the economy or community development. In times of transition, there is a tendency to continue to segregate rather than integrate and to chart a transition from an existing paradigm to a new one. The digital economy strategy becomes an add on – a bit like the ‘e-‘ of the last decade and a half. I prefer to see integrated planning and iterative approaches that recognise that the digital economy is, in fact, already with us and that ICT is cross-cutting. This is indeed foundational for the new economy. Economies, industry and enterprise are driven by innovation, services and knowledge and there are opportunities to reinvent business process and models. Further, I suggest these digital economy strategies, including theFederal Government’s strategy, are transition strategies – they are readiness, engagement, adoption, industry and/or adaptation strategies – which punctuate the evolution of economic development and other strategic planning led by local and regional agencies.

A handful of reminders and takeaways from the EDA Conference and Masterclass included:

  • Digital exclusion is not an option for an ‘intelligent community’ – can’t create a digital golden age for the privileged (Robert Bell)
  • At the regional and local level, we are preparing the ground for a greater vision and new opportunities (Geoff Heydon)
  • Today’s business models are still relevant and will co-exist with new business models and process (Geoff Heydon)
  • Social media facilitate problem solving; there are opportunities to hook into idle capacity (or cognitive surplus)
  • Invest, Collaborate, Engage, Demonstrate, Share, Act (Colin Griffith)
  • High speed broadband is social infrastructure (Kate Cornick)
  • A sustaining narrative and vision is needed. It’s about ‘connectedness’ not just connectivity (Martin Stewart-Weeks)
  • Libraries play a pivotal role in enhancing literacy and digital literacy (Ross Duncan)
  • NBN is only part of the story – we have to make it sing and dance; foster cultural change; nurture and catalyse innovation (Tim Williams)
  • In ‘smart city’ frameworks, governance is centrally important but the least researched (Tim Williams).
  • Governance needs new tools, new interfaces and new methods e.g. urban informatics (Tim Horton)

As I read some of the example strategies, many of which do seem to chart that transitioning zone, it seems that many of them have matched their aspiration and reality, understanding the value of foresight, deliberation and visioning. The strategies establish a promise and commitment from the local authorities, while seeking to establish competitive position. However, it also presents a major challenge in that it entreats local authorities and their officers to collaborate and abandon their silos and guild structures.

Finally, continuing on this theme of knowledge and innovation, the EIDOS Institute recently hosted a conference on Achieving Regional Development: Pathway to Productivity, which we unfortunately couldn’t attend. The conference recognised that achieving regional productivity and development through innovation requires both a sound understanding of the key resources of the region and a willingness to look outside of traditional workforce and development opportunities and recognize the need for engagement with non-traditional industries such as the ICT, clean technology and health technology industries.  The presentations from this event are now available online.


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