Wednesday, 10 July, 2019

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Cities and regions where leaders collaborate, with a shared vision and an agreed set of priorities, attract major public and private investment, according to national and international evidence. Alignment among leaders across sectors ensures that advocacy on behalf of a city and region delivers economic and social benefits for the whole community and their enterprises.

That is the opportunity for Greater Newcastle to benefit from growth and foster economic diversification. It requires collaboration among disparate stakeholders. A measure of cooperation is evident with the Hunter Joint Organisation of Councils and the new and evolving Committee for the Hunter.

Cross-sector collaboration – and the ‘distributed leadership’ that can result – appears to begin with conversations, but people need to follow up with ongoing engagement and action. To provide scaffolding for such activity, the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre has been offering expert insight and facilitating initiatives under this year’s theme of ‘Collaboration and Vision’.

The Centre’s March Hunter Economic breakfast featured former Tasmanian premier, the Hon. David Bartlett, discussing the ‘MONA effect’. The opening of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart in 2011 boosted tourism numbers and spawned or enhanced a range of other enterprises, breathing new life into Tasmania’s economy. Bartlett pointed to timing, underlying institutions and extraordinary individuals as contributing to MONA’s impact.

“When MONA came along, we invested almost nothing. In fact, MONA would not have worked if it had relied upon Government money. However, we invested money in the Salamanca Markets and Arts Centre and in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. I believe that we ended up with something much bigger than the sum of its parts.”

Bartlett also had the foresight, as Premier, to invest in supporting MONA Foma music festival, shortened to MoFo. The successful festival began two years before MONA opened and made sure the world was watching when it launched.

An international case study in the development of a vibrant innovation ecosystem was the focus of our May breakfast, featuring Sander van Amelsvoort discussing Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Over two decades, Eindhoven transformed from a declining industrial base with high unemployment to be recognised as one of Europe’s most innovative regions.

Eindhoven’s transformation relied on a ‘triple helix’ of university, business chamber and city council. Under their Brainport Next Generation strategy, Eindhoven are now moving away from the ‘triple helix’ model to embrace a ‘multi-helix’. “The days of successfully innovating by yourself are behind us – to keep up with the fast-moving developments, you have to innovate together with your suppliers, customers, and even your competitors”, stated Imke Carsouw, former Managing Director of Brainport Development.

Lucy Turnbull AO, Chief Commissioner, Greater Sydney Commission, will share her experiences in creating consensus and effectively exerting influence around strategic initiatives at our next economic breakfast in July. She is a former Lord Mayor of Sydney, former Chair of theCommittee for Sydney, and former deputy chair of the COAG City Expert Advisory Panel – all roles requiring skill in collaboration and influence.

Last year’s Second Cities Symposium highlighted trends and opportunities in urban and regional planning and development in second cities and their regions, showcasing successes and revealing their secrets. The symposium comprised 21 sessions, including a final segment to identify priorities for Greater Newcastle and the region. This year’s follow-up, again led by the HRF Centre, Smaller and Smarter Cities International Symposium, is scheduled for October.

One priority from the 2018 symposium – identity and positioning of Greater Newcastle – was the focus of a workshop in March, co-facilitated by the HRF Centre and the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation. Fifty-one participants came from 33 organisations in the business sector, government, utilities, universities, schools and peak bodies. Nine local government areas were represented. A working group is now progressing participants’ recommendations.

The challenge of identity and positioning for the region has been taken up by four teams of young professionals in the HunterNet Future Leaders program for this year, at the request of and supported by the HRF Centre.

Collaboration was also cultivated in a workshop on development of the Committee for the Hunter, facilitated by the HRF Centre in June. More than 40 participants from 32 different organisations represented government, business, trade unions, and the arts and community sectors from Greater Newcastle to the Upper Hunter.

So, there you have it – insights from experts, workshops, symposia, working parties, and projects to foster greater collaboration and to clarify a vision for the region. It has been a busy year, but the distributed leadership that seems to be emerging provides encouragement.

This opinion piece by Professor Will Rifkin was published in the Newcastle Herald on 8 July 2019