Most of the organisations we work for have long term goals. These goals are always in a context – always contingent on external factors beyond our direct control. It is necessary to review these factors at least periodically to understand not only how change will affect our ability to achieve the goals we have set but also whether we need to adjust our goals in the light of new situations. This is an especially complex task for organisations such as local Councils which operate across many sectors and have multiple goals in sometimes conflicting areas of responsibility.
I had the privilege recently to take a deep dive into trends that will affect the operation of local government. Along with my colleague Michelle Howard of Collaborations Pty Ltd, we worked with the City of Maroondah in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs to come up with the key external factors likely to affect the Council’s operating environment over the coming period.
We sifted through many trends but kept returning to a core set of issues – warming climate, job automation, urban sustainability, social resilience etc - that were likely to affect many different aspects of Council’s operation. These issues led us to provide the following prompts to the community conversation about goals and the roles of Council:
Action on climate change becomes more urgent as new evidence comes to light. And in so far as action is delayed, the eventual costs become steeper. Council has a two-pronged approach to climate change, with a carbon neutral strategy to reduce the organisation’s own emissions; and a risk management approach that ensures mitigation measures are built into Council actions. There is also an opportunity to work with the Maroondah community – residents and business – to create a carbon neutral municipality.
The employment landscape is changing rapidly, with, for example, ongoing automation, use of artificial intelligence, the gig economy and the move to services. Council has a role in identifying the new economic and employment opportunities for Maroondah and creating the environment that can see those opportunities realised.
Changes in the availability of jobs and the way that services will operate in the future emphasises the need for improved digital skills for economic success and social engagement. Council has opportunities to promote digital upskilling through its small business programs and to acculturate residents to innovative digital engagement practices. Council can also work to ensure that its own systems are taking advantage of digital breakthroughs by, for example, judicious investment in smart city infrastructure. Increasing digital skills and awareness is particularly important for a municipality with a higher than average risk of losing jobs through automation.
Plan Melbourne identifies 20 minute neighbourhoods as a key platform to deliver more sustainable urban form and outcomes across Melbourne. Walkable open space and local destinations, increased housing diversity, enhanced transport connections and greater emphasis on active transport are important factors. Vehicle electrification and automation will prove a particular challenge to sustainable urban development but will also create substantial opportunities for new urban forms and accessibility. Also, of crucial importance is improving the vibrancy of activity centres and the opportunities that they present as community hubs and centres of local employment as well as local service delivery.
Action on mental health in Maroondah is urgent given the higher than average incidence of suicide and mental illness. Improved mental health outcomes can be achieved through collective action in partnership with community organisations, service providers, health practitioners, schools and peak agencies. Council can play a leadership and brokerage role to support a collective impact approach across the municipality.
Cultural diversity will increase over time as the population of the municipality grows. Celebration of diversity, including celebration of local indigenous culture, will be an important factor in improving community resilience and harmony.
These are the key issues for the Maroondah community; some will be relevant for all communities but each place will also have its own unique set of challenges in facing the future.