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Policy reform where the environment connects with the economy and community: four factors to consider

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Planning assessment simplification. Electric vehicle regulation. Green tape reduction. Offshore wind farm approval. Not a week passes without a government in Australia announcing reform at the intersection of the economy, environment and community.

The drivers for these reforms vary from combatting climate change to regional development, creating jobs and improving resilience to natural disasters. These swirling forces are putting pressure on policymakers to enact substantial reform.

In recent years Nous has supported multiple Australian and state government agencies to develop and implement substantial reform efforts in planning, precincts, energy, water and agriculture.

Drawing on this experience, we have identified four factors that every policy-maker ought to consider.

1. Triangulate the evidence

Often the need for reform is clear – critical stakeholder feedback and evidence of poor outcomes will make dissatisfaction obvious. But when problems are identified, it is not always apparent where governments should focus their reform efforts. To prioritise action it is essential to triangulate the evidence, which involves assessing the relationship between different sources to zero in on what is crucial.

Recently Nous worked with a state government planning department to build an evidence base for reform. The evidence came from several sources – comparing planning processes across states, gauging the experience of customers (in this case, developers), and measuring system throughput (such as how many assessments are made and how long they take).

Each piece of evidence on its own was useful, but the real power came when we put them together – triangulation. For example, we could identify not just where there were differences in processes, but also identify whether those differences mattered to customers and the impact of timing differences.

The key lesson? Build a multi-dimensional evidence base and take a customer mindset while staying aware of other policy objectives.

2. Tie the quantitative data together

In what location should a government focus its attention? This challenging question will often arise, especially following natural disasters such as droughts or floods. To best answer the question requires a range of data sources, including environmental, economic, industry and community sources. Thankfully there are now sophisticated tools for data analysis that can help you derive actionable insights.

This year Nous worked with the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency to develop indicators to assess regions’ eligibility for drought support. The indicators use physical measures (such as rainfall, soil moisture and vegetation cover) and socio-economic measures (such as the unemployment rate and mental health service access) to assess a region’s vulnerability to drought and the likely impact of drought on the region. We developed a model with these and other data points representing conditions at five-kilometre intervals, with 230,000 data points across Australia.

The key lesson? Bringing diverse data sets together can help you to better understand citizen and consumer needs.

3. Focus efforts on implementation

The best reform plans count for little if they are not properly implemented. Implementation needs resources and attention, with an objective of achieving outcomes that impact users rather than completing processes for their own sake. Effective implementation of broad reform programs typically requires a Project Management Office (PMO).

The most mature PMOs ensure decisions are taken by the right people and based on the right information. They also serve as the single source of the truth on program delivery and as a hub for lessons learned. Truly effective PMOs further provide training, coaching, mentoring and quality assurance, and manage documentation, project history and organisational knowledge.

Nous has supported implementation of reform projects across many agencies. We work backwards from the key outcomes that must be delivered and then (and only then) move to task-based planning. This way, projects focus on the required outcomes not merely on the tasks in a typical Gantt chart, which can rapidly become outdated or irrelevant.

Organisations are wise to invest in their project implementation capability. In one project, we supported an Australian Government agency to develop a playbook to embed agile project management. This involved developing and delivering training sessions on key topics and providing coaching to spur successful implementation. The outcome was not just that the organisation successfully implemented the reform, but that it developed the skills to implement future reforms.

The key lesson? Keep the outcome front of mind, both at the start and during implementation.

4. Embed case management

Reform often seeks to improve processes for approvals, assessments, determinations and licenses, which are a key part of the work done by government agencies who work at the intersection of the economy, environment and community. As these reforms are developed, business as usual must continue. Success often comes from a case management approach – that is, a person (or group) in the agency taking responsibility for navigating an application through the necessary approval steps.

Recently we worked with a state government agency that saw that planning requirements were inadvertently acting as a roadblock to the timely development of electricity generation projects. The agency saw that to meet the state’s energy ambitions it needed to use case management, in which the agency would advocate for, and support, electricity generation proponents as they navigated the planning system.

Using our service design and business process expertise, Nous worked collaboratively with the agency to design and deliver a case management service. The service was delivered quickly, enabled by a sophisticated customer relationship management system. With this approach in place, critical energy generation projects progressed far more efficiently through the planning approval system.

The key lesson? Intensive tailored support can accelerate assessments and decisions on crucial projects.

A sequenced approach can bring substantial benefits

These four factors are vital for planning and executing policy reform, whether rebuilding a program from the ground up or adapting it in mid-flight.

The number of moving parts in a complex reform project can seem overwhelming. In our experience, concerted effort in just one area at a time as part of a sequenced approach can bring substantial benefits.

Policymakers need to step up to make the case for change to stakeholders, to build the enablers to drive successful reform and to enable colleagues to deliver. Drawing on deep experience with leading policymakers, we are confident they are up to the challenge.

Get in touch to discuss how Nous can help your deliver reform at the intersection of the environment, the economy and the community.

Prepared with input from Stephen Petris and Matt Topp.

Connect with Simon Guttmann on LinkedIn.