16 April 2004

City jobs, services and booming property are the least of the worries for Queensland`s small country towns.

Their prosperity hinges on having young, creative citizens, who tolerate difference, own their homes, are well travelled, educated and allow new leadership, a new research report shows.

Innovation in Rural Queensland - Why some towns thrive while others languish, is a joint report for The University of Queensland and the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries.

Its author, UQ Business School senior research fellow Ian Plowman, visited eight small country towns across the state with populations between 600 and 10,000.

One of his 34 recommendations is that nobody should hold a civic leadership position, whether that be as mayor or show society president, for more than one term.

“Leadership is a two-edged sword. It is an act of civic responsibility; it is also an act of denying someone else the opportunity to gain civic experience," Mr Plowman said.

He said the idea of rotating leadership dated back to the origins of democracy in Athens where leaders were unpaid and did not hold any position for more than 12 months.

“So called modern democracy is a very poor version of that.

“Rural towns are frequently fiefdoms for CEOs and mayors who are incumbent.”

After using census data, surveys and interviews, Mr Plowman found that people and their attributes made a town innovative, not its size, economic base or geography.

The most innovative town, with a population of 3000, had the lowest proportion of leaders, was less inclined to seek government funds and had the highest proportion of people who had chosen to move there.

“Many towns are not innovative because of the lack of permission for innovation within them.

“So towns with incumbent leadership inhibit innovation and creativity and cause the creative people who might have been in the town to leave.

“Towns become increasingly homogenous if they`re not giving support to people who are in anyway different.”

Stagnant towns had a bigger rental market as some tenants had rented their home for 30 years, still not ready to invest in their town yet.

“When people invest in bricks and mortar they also tend to invest socially, and this is what is happening in most innovative towns.”

Towns were rated on their innovativeness according to 16 key criteria such as availability of goods and services, technology, experts and civic management, promotion and participation.
An innovative town was not automatically a successful one, but the towns that answered this criteria more positively had higher energy levels, faster growth and better self-image.

Mr Plowman, also a community and organisation psychologist, was seconded for the report from the Department of Primary Industries.

He is completing his doctorate at UQ`s Business School in innovation in organisations and is also delving into similar research about innovation in primary industries.

He would not say which towns he visited as he said it would breach confidentiality.

His report was paid for by the Australian Research Council with $68,000 to research innovation in towns and in industries.

The full 90-page report can be viewed at http://www.dpi.qld.gov.au/business/14778.html

For more information: Ian Plowman (phone: 0417 705 489, 07 3870 2231 or email: i.plowman@business.uq.edu.au) or Miguel Holland at UQ Communications (07 3365 2619, m.holland@uq.edu.au)