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The Queensland Plan: Developing a Valuable Vision? - email sent 6/5/13

Queensland Plan Project Team

Re: The Queensland Plan: A 30 year Vision for Queensland

Preparing a ‘vision’ for Queensland’s future can potentially motivate, guide and coordinate action by leaders in Queensland’s government, business and community.

Thus the goal of the Queensland Plan is to be applauded. It is also vitally important because Queensland’s institutions have not in the past been very effective in developing sound strategic policies (eg see Curing Queensland’s Myopia, 2011), and Queensland’s environment is becoming increasingly challenging.

However achieving the necessary sense of ‘vision’ is not straight forward. I should thus like to offer two suggestions about producing the Queensland Plan. These are: (a) to think about the process whereby a community learns so as to produce a ‘vision’ that achieves constructive change; and (b) to take more account of the insights of leading edge practitioners and experts. These suggestions are developed further on my web-site.

It is not clear how much flexibility there is in the Queensland Plan process, but if there is any flexibility the above suggestions may be worth considering.

By way of background I note that I was involved in enabling an interdepartmental group to produce proposals for putting a ‘strategic front end’ on the Queensland Government’s planning process in the late 1990s (ie the so-call Preparing for the Future Project), and that their proposals went nowhere in the highly politicised environment that Queensland's public service had become.

John Craig

Detailed Suggestions

Firstly producing a ‘vision’ that actually achieves real benefits requires thinking about the process whereby a community learns. A ‘vision’ that is likely to produce benefits needs to: (a) be beyond what is already widely known; (b) be seen as plausible by leading edge practitioners; (c) provide potentially valuable benefits to diverse groups; and (d) be vague enough so that (while it provides a useful sense of direction, it allows a lot of scope for initiative).

The currently proposed process for preparing the Queensland Plan is unfortunately unlikely to achieve this because ideas that can motivate and coordinate action by leading edge practitioners in any area won’t be widely-enough known to be surfaced through a politically-catalysed process. In some respects the current proposal resembles the federal governments ineffectual Australia 2020 Summit (see Talkfest Magic?, 2008)

Illustration: This point can be illustrated in a diagram related to the production of a ‘vision’ to motivate, guide and coordinate economic development. The diagram represents ideas and practices which are well accepted near the centre, and newly emerging near the periphery. Practitioners normally operate within an area where there is a better than 50% chance that an idea / practice is accepted. However changes allow innovators to succeed by trial and error in a direction which corresponds to those changes (which is the basis of economic change in a `free' market). Over a period of time, the `boundary of practice' moves. Change can be accelerated (ie the economy can be developed faster) by identifying a `vision' (of attractive new options) and enabling groups of practitioners in considering early action to address it. However, as this diagram implies, there is no overlap between what is accepted by the majority of practitioners (and thus what is likely to be politically accepted) and a valuable new option. Anything that is well enough known to be politically accepted is likely to be already being done by leading practitioners – and thus won’t be considered to be valuable as a ‘vision’ to motivate or coordinate future initiative.

Ways to get around this constraint (and generate constructive initiative rather than platitudes) are suggested in A Case for Innovative Economic Leadership. The Queensland Plan is clearly not merely to provide leading practitioners in Queensland’s government, business and community with an economic ‘vision’. However in all functional areas there will be similar constraints (and options to get around them).

Second, high powered starting resources are required for developing a valuable ‘vision’. The ‘future oriented’ resources that are referenced in relation to the Queensland Plan cover many important issues (eg Our Future World: Global megatrends that will change the way we live from CSIRO Futures and an adaption of this for Queensland by Queensland’s Chief Scientist, ie Signposts for Queensland: An analysis of future pathways). However they do not do so in a way that would be beyond what is already well known to leading edge practitioners.

Issues Addressed: Our Future World addressed six megatrends, namely: (a) global resource constraints that require doing more with less; (b) loss of biodiversity; (c) the shift of the centre of global economy from west to east; (d) population aging; and (e) people’s growing product and service expectations. Signpost for Queensland deals with: (a) interfacing with Asia and emerging markets; (b) protecting and using natural resources and biodiversity; (c) the need for economic diversification in a volatile world; (d) social issues such as aging and education; and (e) developing urban / regional areas and infrastructure.

To be of value a ‘vision’ needs to be more than a consensus amongst practitioners about what is already known. It must illuminate new and valuable directions, and incorporate the insights of leading-edge practitioners and experts. Thus the process for developing a Queensland Plan needs to start with more than a literature study. It must also involve widespread consultation with leading edge practitioners and experts to learn (and incorporate) what is not yet in the literature. For example, both the ‘futures’ resources referenced take a view of Australia’s Asian interface that is ‘politically correct’ (ie parallels the approach taken in the federal government’s Australia in the Asian Century White Paper) but overly-simplistic (for reasons suggested in Fasten Seat Belts: Rough Weather Ahead).

In each of the areas that the Queensland Plan addresses there will be similar issues / options / possibilities that need to be surfaced so that they can be taken into account by participants if the resulting ‘vision’ is to be built on the real future rather than on rapidly-dating assumptions from the past. Once again ways of doing this are available, but this does not seem to be envisaged within the published Queensland Plan process.