Studying the impact

A LONG-fought-for social impact study of Latrobe Valley to help guide, and monitor, its economic transition has begun at Monash University Gippsland.

Funding for the study was a key ask in both Latrobe Valley Transition Committee and Latrobe City Council transition-related submissions to Federal Government as the region prepares for a low-carbon future.

Now armed with $50,000 from Regional Development Australia, a team of Monash researchers from the university’s business, sociology, economic and health fields will put together an “instrument” intended to help the region through its forecast economic upheaval.

Monash Gippsland Professor and School of Business and Economics Deputy Head Alan Lawton told The Express the study would be broader in scope than a social impact analysis, adding “we don’t think another report is appropriate” given the “wealth of information already available here”.

While existing reports will be collated as part of the new project, expected to be complete by the year’s end, Professor Lawton said “we want to look at how communities are generally resilient to any change, including the carbon tax”.

“We plan to develop a barometer, which will include a survey instrument and a community engagement process,” he said.

Professor Lawton said part of the ‘barometer’ concept was based on a global tool that measured entrepreneurship development.

“This is being used worldwide and we want a regional one,” he said.

“Its attraction is that it looks at the motivations of individual entrepreneurs (already in the area)…we do this because we need more innovation but not a lot is being done in looking in detail at what that means.”

Professor Lawton said there was a range of large investors in the region who had prospered despite economic challenges “and we want to know why they are able to succeed, and look at what are the barriers (to achieving success)”.

Developing a barometer would also allow regional stakeholders to “dip it in, on a regular basis, to different parts of the region to track changes.”

“We can then see how the region is performing, over a range of indicators, including health, well-being and social capital,” he said.

Professor Lawton said evidence showed the stronger a region’s community engagement and social networks were, “the more likely it is to be resilient to change”.

“So this (study) is about bringing together not just hard infrastructure but also soft infrastructure,” he said.

Professor Lawton originates from the United Kingdom and has been in the Valley two years.

He said pockets of Northern England had endured industrial and manufacturing losses similar to this region and “how areas respond can be quite different”.

“But it is not just a question of throwing more government money at areas, it is about developing an entrepreneurial mindset and it has to be driven from the bottom up,” he said.

“We don’t need just another consultants report.”

It is hoped, once the study’s outcomes have been piloted, policy makers at every level will use its findings for “better decision making”.