Seizing a Moment: Innovation and Research in Local Government

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists government must lead by example as Australia moves beyond the mining economy. Local government has a part to play.

Malcolm Turnbull is proposing an innovation-led economy. Source: AFR

Local governments are active across a very broad range of fields. They are service providers (waste, libraries), construction managers (roads, bridges, buildings), utilities (water), property managers (buildings, parks), democracies, and tourism operators, amongst other responsibilities. Across all of these areas, local governments have an opportunity to innovate and conduct or manage leading research. The difficulty is, as suggested in the 2012 report Innovation, Ingenuity and Initiative:

Elected members and managers do not have a body of research and a stockpile of resources to invest in innovation.

So, how do we fix it?

I suggest local governments, both large and small, urban and regional, should employ Research and Innovation Officers. These staff members would be responsible for leading an innovation agenda across the local government organisation. In the case of neighbouring smaller councils, employees could be shared (in NSW, perhaps across Joint Organisations, fulfilling the spirit of ‘Regional Leadership and Advocacy’ function). Ideally, the staff would generate enough savings to cover the cost of their own salary.

There’s a job description below.

Forbes Town Hall. Source: Flickr/Mattinbgn

Responsibilities

  1. Prepare research briefs on emerging trends in local government
  2. Identify and direct innovation opportunities across the organisation, based on sound evidence
  3. Act as an Institutional Reviewer for research conducted by other staff to ensure it is ethically sound and well-designed
  4. Conduct staff training on research and innovation
  5. Engage directly with the community on relevant projects

Desirable Attributes

  1. Research experience, either in higher education, market research, or government roles
  2. Capable of conducting research using a wide variety of quantitative and qualitative methodologies
  3. Exemplary communication skills and experience publishing in a wide variety of media formats
  4. Strong interest in emerging technological and social trends
  5. Knowledge of the Australian government system, especially the role of local government

I briefly considered writing an end of year list in this post outlining all of the jobs I’ve applied for this year and the weak feedback I’ve been given. Instead, in hope of a better 2016, I wrote this post outlining not only a job function that I think most councils desperately need, but one I’m qualified and experienced for. If your employer needs someone like me, please get in contact.