Local government and resilience – its more than building levee banks and new culverts

Back on 15 October 2013 I addressed a Local Government Research Symposium  convened in Brisbane by USQ’s Institute for Resilient Regions and the Australian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development .  Associate Professor Heather Zeppel did a great job drawing together a line-up of researchers from around Australia to discuss local government and the research needs of the sector.  In opening the symposium I threw out a challenge to researchers to stop answering the wrong questions which is prolonging an unproductive policy process evident in some quarters, and start finding the right answers to the right questions.  My concern is that resilience is being construed as largely an infrastructural issue, and not one of social capital and community capacity for learning and adaptation.   Below is the abstract of my remarks.  Over the next few weeks I hope to post a few articles on the themes of resilience and planning for the future.


No level of government has a more direct interest than local government in achieving resilient regional communities, economies and ecosystems.

Resilience is more than being able to kick back and withstand the impacts of natural disasters, economic downturns, or rapid changes in population. It’s mostly about building capacity to create and manage change on terms conducive to the long term interest of the stakeholders. 

Engineered resilience though can be illusionary and deliver short term gains at long term cost and pain.

Local Governments seeking to ensure that their regions are genuinely resilient will seek to promote community capacity for change and innovation and long term impact. This means involving the people fundamentally from the grass-roots up.

They will ground their economic development planning in the principles of sustainable development, respect the precautionary principle and they will look to promote diversity and equity in their social and economic mix. They will take account of the ‘big wheel’ impacts of climate change, globalisation and technology. 

Lastly, local Governments that hang on to the past and fail to build adaptive management into their policy and program development also run the risk of investing in redundant functions and strategies that deliver inefficient outcomes or narrow a region’s options for the future.

Author: Professor John Cole OAM

Professor Emeritus and founder of the Institute for Resilient Regions at the University of Southern Queensland and Honorary Professor, UQ Business School, The University of Queensland.

2 thoughts on “Local government and resilience – its more than building levee banks and new culverts”

  1. Hi John,
    Some work I was pleased to be joined to some years ago suggested infrastructure was important in helping to create the environment necessary to attract the industries and professionals that have the greatest economic flow-on to the community. At that time broadband was need as critical to retain and attract younger people and families.


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