Collaborative Cities


Collaborative Cities – the next evolution for Australian Cities


Australian cities face enormous challenges over the next few decades. Challenges caused by significant population growth, climate change, rapid technology innovation, ageing populations, increasing density and insufficient or inappropriate transport infrastructure investment. The recently released "Creating Great Australian Cities" report by the Property Council of Australia highlights that whilst Australian cities have prospered in the past the status quo will not be acceptable for the future.

All Australian cities have financial resources available to them through rates, taxes and levies. In every Australian city there are mature and well governed organisations responsible for different elements of making that city operate. Local authorities manage day to day issues such as rubbish, roads, community assets etc and larger Councils manage economic and community development. State Governments provide essential services such as policing, health services, education and transport. Public Utilities provide and manage critical services such as communication, water and electricity.

On any given day in any given Australian city each of these important organisations will be delivering the business as usual services to the best of their ability largely unaware of their partner organisations. Increased understanding and collaboration of the activities and goals of partner organisations represents an enormous opportunity for all cities to become Collaborative Cities and improve the lives of local citizens, manage cities better and foster competitive advantage. A Collaborative City is a city which actively ensures integration of strategic goals and data sharing between key city organisations and monitors those over time.

A recent example of this was demonstrated at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. For four years Local Government, State Government and Public Utility Providers met frequently to focus outside their core business, share information and work collectively for a common goal. While it provided the backdrop for a successful Games it also built lasting personal and organisational partnerships; increased understanding of roles and challenges partners faced and galvanised a united front for a “better city”.

This highlighted that all organisations that play a role in city life are fully committed and capable of doing so. All organisations develop strategic plans to ensure they deliver their core business to the best of their ability. What the Games taught us is that there is enormous opportunity for cities by collaborating and driving towards a common city goal. A common city goal of better use of resources; improved safety and city operations; optimised public space delivery and management; targeted investment; appropriate transport infrastructure and real time management.

This is also the goal of the Federal Government’s “City Deal” approach through the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities by building place-based partnerships. The focus is on aligning all levels of government and the private sector in developing a shared vision for the city or region. This type of approach is ideal and has been used previously at the State level in programs like the Queensland Department of Housing’s Community Renewal program. To date, City Deals have occurred with Townsville, Launceston and Western Sydney with more to follow, however that leaves dozens of other metropolitan areas without a formal strategic collaboration structure.

It is clear that better collaboration and alignment will improve cities and there are three simple ways that cities can achieve this to become Collaborative Cities. Firstly, it is vital that governance structures be in place to enable formal collaboration between government, private sector, utility providers and key advocacy groups (such as tourism, small business and agriculture).

An output of this group is a city plan which can be developed strategically identifying collective goals including infrastructure, real time operations, economic objectives, investment opportunities, community benefits and city branding. Presenting a unified front with shared intent generates increased opportunity for both private and public sector investment and lends competitive advantage over other cities. This ensures that discussion around issues such as economic development, infrastructure, tourism, and community does not continue to occur in isolation but holistically as they are all clearly intertwined.

Secondly, there is enormous opportunity in increased sharing of existing data and integration of information systems between government, public utility and private sector organisations. While open data frameworks and policies have advanced this opportunity considerably over the last few years, more can be done to catalyse innovation in data use, reduce costs, improve customer experience and ultimately make our city's smarter. This will not just occur and organisations need to actively collaborate to identify opportunity and then implement it. Recent examples include the use of cloud based GIS and the ability for organisations to share existing spatial data and consume others.

Thirdly, it is critical to measure and communicate success and considering the complexity of cities this needs to be done in a manageable way. The complexity of setting a shared strategic direction and then communicating this cannot be underestimated. A city dashboard that provides a regular assessment of elements such as current construction (City, State and private), transport operations, public safety statistics, tourism numbers, resource usage and segmented media commentary presents real opportunity. City dashboards commonly refer to real time data however this dashboard would reflect long term goals of a City measured quarterly.

The National Cities Performance Framework  captures data on “jobs and skills, infrastructure and investment; liveability and sustainability; innovation and digital opportunities; governance, planning and regulation; and housing” across 21 Australian cities. This provides brilliant comparison between these cities however for the benefit of individual cities it is appropriate to monitor metrics specific to the locality.

Cities can better manage the resources they already have to drive competitive advantage, improve citizen amenity and ensure that their output is more than the sum of their parts. Expected future challenges require changes to our business as usual practices and whilst improved collaboration is one element of the future journey of Australian cities it is an important first step. Formal governance structures with appropriate membership, improved sharing of data and ongoing monitoring through tools like dashboards enable all of our cities to become Collaborative Cities and begin the journey to meeting future challenges.