Australia needs to start delivering collaborative regional development approaches, according to the Regional Australia Institute.
Their recently published The case for collaboration: what it is and how to do it well (2018) describes the problems with Australia’s current competitive grants approach to regional development. According to the RAI, competitive approaches can widen inequality between regions and result in ad hoc ‘white elephant’ infrastructure. In contrast, collaborative approaches can stimulate local problem-solving networks that make investment more meaningful, and support more fruitful innovation processes.
So, what needs to change to make Australian regional policy more collaborative?
According to the RAI, the ingredients of collaborative regional policy are:
- agreed outcomes
- understanding and support for capabilities, and
- new ‘rules of engagement’.
The EU’s approach to regional policy—known as smart specialisation or S3—offers a model that could inform collaborative policy making in Australia. In fact, two Australian regions—the Hunter region in NSW and the Gippsland region in Victoria—have adopted a smart specialisation approach.
Smart specialisation goes beyond the RAI ingredients and asks: what kinds of collaboration matter in a knowledge economy?