Mark Strom leading a workshop on economic development at USQ Fraser Coast on Friday. Pictured from left are Abbie Grant-Taylor, Megan Smith, Tracy Hetherton, Kerry Fullarton, Nathan Spruce, Mark Strom, Nigel Hill, Paul Collits, Robert Garland and Robert Mangoyana.
Mark Strom leading a workshop on economic development at USQ Fraser Coast on Friday. Pictured from left are Abbie Grant-Taylor, Megan Smith, Tracy Hetherton, Kerry Fullarton, Nathan Spruce, Mark Strom, Nigel Hill, Paul Collits, Robert Garland and Robert Mangoyana. Jocelyn Watts

In search of the Holy Grail of regional growth

WE NEED to find new ways of doing things. 

That was the message from Sydney philosopher, adviser and former chief executive Mark Strom who led a workshop at the University of Southern Queensland.

"The richness is in the stories," he said after wrapping up the day-long workshop last Friday attended by nine regional people dedicated to finding the keys that will boost regional development through teamwork.

"In anything like this, it's tempting to say, 'here's the program, this has been done in five other countries in the world, this is what you do, just apply this program and that will bring about all the changes you need'."

However, that approach tended to alienate people and ignored the fact there was already brilliance on the Fraser Coast, Dr Strom said.

"What I mean by brilliance is not IQ but the ability for people to shine," he said.

"There are already great stories, not just the wonderful stories you hear when there's a flood and people pull together in extraordinary ways, but even in the times without crisis.

"There is always a school somewhere where teachers are knocking themselves out doing some great things with the kids or a health service with someone doing an amazing job of taking care of people who would otherwise fall through the cracks.

"The richness that gives you the insights on how to bring about deep, lasting change is in the stories that you'd otherwise ignore … the stories of everyday brilliance."

Fraser Coast  councillor Robert Garland said the workshop gave him a refreshing view of the world and greater insight into what regional development meant.

"It means different things to different people - for one person it might be he simply wants a job for his son, for another it could be she wants a $150,000-a-year job.

"We need to look at their stories and see what's different, to put everything into perspective, look at the successes and build on them, and to take centres of excellence and build around them.

"But rather than tackle a 'dinosaur', we want to break it down to the five top things that might stimulate development and look at the mechanics to get that happening."

Dr Strom led the workshop at the invitation of USQ Fraser Coast's Associate Professor Paul Collits and researcher Robert Mangoyana.

They believe the secret to the Fraser Coast's fiscal success is the collaboration of its myriad economic development groups and bringing together of resources.

The challenge is inspiring people to collaborate outside their traditional silos.

"The Holy Grail of regional development is 'how do you encourage collaboration between people?' It's a difficult thing anywhere not just the Fraser Coast," Dr Strom said.

"On Friday, we looked for different approaches to regional development, given that traditional project models so often don't work.

"I have seen this time and again in all kinds of industries and projects where there are complex social contexts, yet people continue to apply cookie cutter approaches that don't work.

"Here we have a group of people who want to do better than that.

"Whether I'm working with governments, corporations or groups like this, all my work is about opening up conversations: first, about the ways of thinking and acting we've inherited that stop us working together well; and then about developing more natural, more human, and more effective ways of working.

"Fundamentally it's the old question of what it means to be wise - what it means to live well together.

"When you start there, and encourage those conversations, all the management jargon evaporates.

"We see the patterns that shape our lives and discover the kinds of dialogue together where we create new meaning.

"Influence and change come down to relationships - you can't have more influence than your relationships will bear."



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