Developing Economic Complexity in Western Australia’s remote, sparsely populated regional centres

Guest blog by Giles Tuffin

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. 65 Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in May 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

1. Some of the key insights I have learnt include:

Just because your region produces raw goods (like iron ore) doesn’t mean that you should be making downstream goods from it (like steel). The raw goods are available on the open market, and can be easily shipped to your nearest port. On the other hand, cost of transporting manufactured goods is far higher. So you must have a very strong competitive advantage to make it worth producing downstream goods from your raw products.

PDIA is an excellent approach to solving complex problems. Some key insights are: stay focused on the problem, and use it to keep others focused; break down bigger problems into smaller, solvable problems; and start addressing these problems to gain momentum and create authority.

Binding constraints act as a handbrake to development in your region. They should be identified (particularly by looking for the high prices and workarounds they create) and addressed as directly as possible (including via the PDIA approach).

Understanding a region’s ‘sense of us’ is hugely importance to creating buy‑in for policy you create. Without this understanding, you will end up pushing against a people’s culture and get nowhere.

2. Some of the key insights about my growth challenge included:

  • I initially was targeting creating EC in the regions. As the course progressed, I realized this was not feasible, and focused on creating EC in regional centres (ie. towns with populations over 10,000 people).
  • Some of the binding constraints I considered included: limited access to export markets; high overheads; limited government support to help businesses become globally competitive; limited ecosystems; and difficulty accessing export markets.
  • Confirmation that my preferences for doing things informally and quickly, at the middle‑management level, can yield good results (noting that you do need to get proper authority at some point).

3. One of the key things I will use from this course is the creation of Black Belt Teams and high‑bandwidth organisations. Too many bureaucrats in WA only talk to other bureaucrats. Getting out into the field and talking directly with industry is crucial. While we have Regional Development Commissions who do this (particularly with existing industry), there is a lack of focus on engaging with emerging industry.

4. I have a suggestion rather than a question.

PDIA is an excellent approach that can be used in both developed and developing countries. However, I feel that much of the approaches of EC and binding constraints are less useful in developed countries that already have more ‘letters’ and well developed institutions for things like credit, education, public transport etc. This may be because the majority of case studies and deep dives are focused on developing countries (which in fairness is where the majority of the Growth Lab’s work has taken place).

With this in mind, I’d suggest some materials that specifically cover developed countries, including:

  • How the product space and employment space are likely to look very different for developed countries, because of the higher proportion of people in the services sector (including professional workers) – see diagrams below.
  • How best to use the product and employment space to look not just for new ‘letters’, but for new innovations that aren’t yet listed in both spaces.
  • What sort of binding constraints are most likely to apply to developed countries (noting that the approach to finding them remains the same as for developing countries).
  • Other approaches for fostering global competitiveness.
  • Any insights from the Growth Lab team that came to WA regarding the differences between developed and developing countries.

5. Thank you for a wonderful course! I’ve learned lots – now to apply it!

To learn more about Leading Economic Growth (LEG) watch the faculty video, and visit the course website.

What if it’s not broken yet?

Guest blog by Carmel Quin

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. 65 Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in May 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

Western Australia is a prosperous State in a diverse and wealthy country. Our growth challenge is not one that we experience today – but one that looms large on the horizon. 

Much of the State’s wealth comes from the export of non-renewable commodities – natural resources that will not last forever. If we want to maintain our standard of living in the future, it is vital that new drivers of growth are developed.

The question I, and many others, have sought to understand is – what might these new growth opportunities be and how can we best support them? Further, how can we prompt meaningful and sustained action to address a problem before its impacts are felt?

Continue reading What if it’s not broken yet?

Implementing Planning Reform Amid Great Disruption

Guest blog written by Oliver Luckhurst-Smith

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 6-month online learning course in December 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

South Australia is one of the most affordable and liveable places in the world, with its capital, Adelaide, ranking the world’s 10th most liveable city according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Adelaide’s unique colonial design, with grid-pattern streets and lush belt of continuous make it an enviable destination to live and visit.

Despite Australia being ranked as a Top 20 Easiest Economy to do Business in, and Adelaide being the most competitive city in Australia to do business in, South Australia is currently in a sluggish state, with some of the highest unemployment in the country and an ageing population.

To counteract this lag behind other states, the South Australian Government is pursuing a Growth State agenda to increase the population, foster a skilled workforce and entice new industry to the state. While much of this is being completed in collaboration with the private sector, the Government is also putting an emphasis on becoming a low-cost jurisdiction; removing red-tape and streamlining existing services.

One addressable area is through simplifying and modernising the planning system, and is a policy area has piqued my interest for a number of years as an Advisor to the Lord Mayor of Adelaide.

Anyone needing to use the planning system in South Australia, whether it is because they are seeking to extend their home, convert a disused office building for their retail business, or build a multipurpose facility, must presently navigate up to 27,000 pages of planning rules, across 500 residential zones, with some 2,500 combinations of zones, overlays and spatial layers.

This causes issues not only for applicants, but for the bureaucrats at state and local government level who need to assess these development applications.

As evidenced through media reports, one council was found to take up to 50 days to approve minor developments such as garden sheds and pergolas. Worse, in some instances, a planning application to change land use could take up to 20 weeks for approval.

Continue reading Implementing Planning Reform Amid Great Disruption

IPP Program Journey: Disaster Resilience in Australia

Guest blog written Jorida Zeneli

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy  Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

When I came to IPP my motivation level was at the lowest it had been in a decade. After two years of struggle to revamp the policies that underpin resource allocation, operating on the edge of the established processes, knocking on many doors, speaking to many people, pouring a lot of sweat and long hours, agitating, engaging, consulting, and facing much resistance for the sake of resistance rather than for sake of progressing the work, I had managed to get something over the line that I believe was a much improved product. There had been several attempts to do so from predecessors, but these had failed. By the looks of it I had succeeded, but I did not feel that way. So I had a bunch of questions and I was hungry for good answers, not non existing silver bullets, just credible insights:  What went wrong and what went right? What insights can I gain into working better and smarter next time? What are the organisational processes that supported me and what hindered my work? How can I manage these more effectively? How can I make meaningful change count? How can I prevent myself but also other people around me from burning out? How can I empower people to drive change? How can I sustain their motivation? How can I support their curiosity?

So the IPP started and it must have been on day 2 when Matt Andrews was talking about the roles that define project success that I had one of these enlightening and so scary realisations at the same time – I had taken over most of the key project roles for pretty much all projects I had been involved in: Ideator, problem identifier, organiser, convenor, empower, authoriser etc. not just for a bit of time, but for the entire duration of these projects, as a complete outsider in a team of accountants. In the same classroom, I was surrounded by incredibly passionate, capable and bright people from all over the world with similar experiences. I learned three lessons in those first two days:

  • Lesson number 1 – I was not alone and shared pain is half the pain and shared joy is double the joy. Loneliness in the workplace is real – so surrounding yourself with a community and sharing the risks/ benefits is the only healthy and sustainable way to approach complex problems that need creativity, perseverance, motivation, skill and a diver’s breath.
  • Lesson number 2: Operate and team like a snowflake molecule that has a strong centre and is linked, however not two of them are the same, so make it unique and tailor it to the context and problem at hand – yes to chemistry!
  • Lesson number 3: Leadership is about risk and restraint (thank you Monica Higgins) – we all have our Everests to climb!

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Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Disaster Resilience in Australia