Enhancing Policy-Making and Public Dialogue on the Future of Cities
The University of Western Australia (UWA) has played a critical role in enhancing policy-making, public debate and progress on the future of Perth and Australian cities. An important part of this has been an innovative, longstanding partnership with the Committee for Perth. This partnership has focused on major urban policy concerns related to globalization, economic development, demographic change, urban liveability and social equality. This research stimulated debate across business, community, government and individuals about the future of cities. The partnership draws on an active and ongoing strategy of engagement with stakeholders. In addition, the partnership actively seeks to inform policy by improving the quality of evidence used by urban decision-makers.
Impact Case Study
During the mid 2000s, Western Australia entered one of the most rapid periods of economic and population growth in its history. Led by global demand for natural resources, the State’s growth contributed to major economic, demographic and social changes. This led to increasing concern about the ability of the State to cope with growth and the absence of a sound evidence base on which to build policy and debate.
In response to these concerns, a partnership was formed in 2008 between UWA’s Centre for Regional Development and the Committee for Perth (CfP): a corporate member-based organization focused on stimulating public debate on the future of the city. The objective of the partnership was to undertake research and community engagement that would enhance policy and dialogue on questions of global integration, economic development, livability and social change. The initial agreement was for 2008-2011, and has been followed by two extensions (2012-2016; 2017-2021). For the reference period, two main impact arenas are been described:
Arena 1: informing government policy and strategy
The research was linked directly to the formulation and implementation of government policy and strategy. This influence spanned a number of sectors.
- The Department of State Development (DSD) used the research undertaken by UWA as part of the CfP Partnership in the development of trade and investment strategy. In particular, the Department drew directly on research showing Perth’s position within the global economy through the unique structure of its corporate network. This research emphasised not only Perth’s global connectivity, but its areas of competitive advantage relative to other cities in Australia and internationally. DSD advised that “the research been used to help focus the work of our trade and investment team’s international strategy and to help understand how companies in Perth fit within the wider region…” (D. McCulloch, DSD, 2014). The FactBase Special Reports were incorporated into the resource used by WA’s 10 offshore trade offices (including Europe, India, China), where they provide critical impartial data for investors on city’s economy and demography.
- The report “Fremantle as a Re-connected City” provided an assessment of the economic, demographic and social-economic challenges facing Fremantle. The work has been of value to local government in their strategic planning processes. For example, the Major of Fremantle commented “we’re working on a strategic plan that takes that growth into account and aligns with the Future Freo report” (B. Pettit, 2015). Deputy Mayor of the City of East Fremantle noted “the report informed our discussions during amalgamation, when local governments were required to provide a demographic analysis of their municipality prior to merging. He also stated that “the major benefit for us was building closer cooperation with the City of Fremantle” (M. McPhail, 2018).
- An underlying research theme was understanding urban liveability. The quantitative research undertaken for this was used by the Department of Culture and the Arts (DCA) as a key resource in its 2016 strategic plan Directions 2016-2031. This document guides the State government’s development of the culture and the arts, and focuses on the sector’s contribution to urban liveability. It also led to new work between UWA, CfP and DCA in developing metrics to assess the impact of the arts on urban life. The report notes that “the collaboration between the Committee for Perth and UWA through their FactBase project and the DCA’s Culture Counts system offers scope to benchmark our ambition in this area” (p.12). The UWA-CfP led to UWA being represented on the DCA’s Statistical Research Reference Group.
ARENA 2: INCREASING PUBLIC DIALOGUE
The UWA-CfP partnership had a direct impact on broader public discourse on urban policy, particularly in the context of resource-led growth. The partnership is focused on producing high-quality, freely available outputs that are aimed at stimulating debate amongst a broad audience (described in Part B). This body of work actively engaged broad interest and debate on the future of Perth and its major policy dilemmas. Between 2014 and 2016, the partnership featured in 37 news articles in national and state print media and 26 interviews on radio and television in Australia. Media activity was, however, a small part of the engagement. For each Special Bulletin a major release was held that included a cross section of government, business and community stakeholders.
These launches were used to discuss the results, and each engaged between 350 and 500 individuals. Other events where the results were shared and debated included Town Hall meetings and community lunches. Six of these were held, with between 80 and 150 people attending. There were also over 25 briefing sessions with special interest groups. In total, more than 2,650 individuals were directly engaged through these activities.
The impact of the work in stimulating debate is exemplified in unsolicited testimonials to the CfP. For example, the Acting Premier of Western Australia noted: It is pleasing to see the outcome achieved by… researchers working on the FACTBase project with UWA, in producing research that will assist Western Australia become more informed as a region and in the continuing development of our City… Publications such as these will… inform and stimulate debate about our future”. (Dr K. Hames, 2014). The Minister for the Environment commented “the research provides important insight into Perth’s connectivity, not only in its immediate region but globally” (A. Jacob, 2014). One of the Australia’s largest land developers commented that “It’s only by carrying out this research that we have a better understanding of the region’s opportunities and challenges and also how it compares to other parts of the metropolitan area and other relevant cities around the world” (Mr Fini, AO, 2015).
Since the early 2000s, UWA has actively contributed to applied research on the economic, social and cultural geographies of Perth and regional Australia. Much of this research was undertaken through the Centre for Regional Development, and responded to government, industry and community concern about spatially uneven development. The research focused on understanding the drivers of uneven development and associated policy responses. Central to this was investigating the interplay of global economic processes, the policy landscape, and local economic, social and demographic conditions. This work was funded by a range of organisations (e.g. ARC, RIRDC, government agencies), but led to a novel partnership in 2008 with the Committee for Perth.
The research agenda was developed in collaboration with these partners and concentrated on: i) the spatial linkages between local economies and the global economic networks; ii) the drivers of economic and socio-spatial inequality; iii) liveability in Australian cities and regions; iv) the policy environment. The key researchers over the assessment period were UWA staff: Prof Matthew Tonts, Prof Paul Plummer, Dr Kirsten Martinus, Dr Veronica Huddleston, Dr Paul Maginn, Dr Steffen Wezstein and Prof Fiona Haslam-McKenzie. Visiting scholars also contributed to the research, including Profs Jon Shaw (Plymouth), Mike Taylor (Birmingham), Ben Derudder (Ghent) and Thomas Sigler (UQ).