Adelaide, 2010

Michael Freeman: Adelaide, 2010

Michael Freeman was the Chief Executive at Stratford District Council when he attended the LGMA National Congress in Adelaide in 2009.

This year I had the opportunity to attend the Australian local government managers (LGMA) conference, with the generous support of MWH New Zealand and SOLGM. The event was in Adelaide in May.

The conference theme was one of Re-Generation, with three streams of presentations covering Recovery, Resilience and Resources. The bush fire and flood events over recent years, along with the challenges posed to some communities by the global financial crisis have presented many opportunities for case studies on how local government and communities in Australia have dealt with such events.

Impact of Extreme Events on Communities

Extreme events have consequences for communities. Communities are people, not buildings and structures, and change every day in response to cues, prices, constraints and opportunities. They are complex self-organising systems with many tightly-coupled parts, and when one part fails, it has impacts on others, similar to a just-in-time manufacturing system.

When an event does happen, fixing the economic portion is the hardest, and often just happens, regardless of actions by the recovery authorities. In the aftermath of an event, revenues of businesses drop, jobs are lost, and sometimes those who can leave do. In the case of the 2003 Canberra bushfires over 50 percent of those who lost their house moved on, bringing about a new community, which they have dubbed the “new normal”. Similar trends are starting to develop with the 2009 Victorian fires.

An interesting learning was that, in the aftermath of an event, changes in local government personnel occur. A council finds it requires a different skill set for recovery activities. High level problem solving becomes a valued skill.

Social Businesses

Social businesses are a growing trend in the third sector that councils need to be aware of and interact with. Social businesses are cause driven with a not-for-profit focus. However, they are a business. The Grameen Bank is one well-known example, and this micro-finance concept is spreading.

In this changing social landscape, councils have to adopt a new return on investment calculation, called the social return on investment (SROI). SROI is an approach to understanding and managing the impacts of a project, organisation or policy. It is based on stakeholders and puts a financial value on the important impacts identified by stakeholders that do not have market values.

Darebin City in Melbourne

Darebin City in Melbourne is home to many international students who are seeking to become permanent residents and are using study as the pathway to gaining this. This council has conducted a study on the experiences of these migrants. Their findings included students feeling uprooted on a personal level, marginalised and disenfranchised in the community. As a result, Darebin has built a model to help migrants feel grounded personally, included at a community level and empowered to negotiate the systems.

Any conference provides a great networking opportunity that requires the above mentioned SROI process to evaluate. Meeting up again with most of the Australian managers I toured UK councils with in 2009 again provided value.

MWH logo

Finally, having attended SocITm and LGMA Conferences in the last year, it is obvious that SOLGM can be very proud of its conference.

MWH sponsored these Conference Attendance Awards.

Further information on SOLGM here.