GOVERNANCE | The Melbourne Model

Posted on 09/09/2009

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In my postgraduate studies this semester, I am learning about Corporate Social Responsibility. It’s an interesting field, perhaps still finding its feet, but nevertheless it’s better to have business engaged in considering their environmental and social impacts than not. In my readings, I stumbled upon some information about the Melbourne Model, an initiative of the UN Global Compact Cities Programme (UNGCCP), which provides a framework for a new form of governance that seeks to resolve complex urban issues. The Cities Programme is an urban-focused component of the UN Global Compact. The Melbourne Model is premised on the theories of: unutilised human capacity; local capacity generation; and the theory of the self-healing city. This blogpost draws extensively on an article by David Teller to explain the Melbourne Model and its application to urban issues.

The Melbourne Model methodology was first tested and validated in 2004 through the Utility Debt Spiral Project (UPS) which developed mutually beneficial solutions as to how water, gas and electricity companies could better work with their customers experiencing financial hardship. The Melbourne Model, developed at the not-for-profit Committee for Melbourne, now underpins the UNGCCP as an alternative methodology for how cities can craft innovative solutions to their environmental, social and economic challenges. It functions by motivating, facilitating and organising input from business, government and civil society, and providing the resulting solutions for delivery through existing policy-delivery mechanisms. Its innovation lies in its ability to: provide a neutral and facilitated forum for the development of consensus-based outcomes; engage and empower ‘the best as opposed to the usual’ local proponents; and its ability to deeply motivate and harness the capacity inherent within the private sector.

I am not entirely sure what ‘the best’ means in this context. However equitably bringing new minds and talents to the table of urban problem solving is much needed and all organisations and communities seem adept at wasting their ‘human capital’. Teller notes that in any community and in all sectors there exists a significant number of individuals who are keen and highly motivated to contribute to processes whereby they are empowered to apply their specific areas of expertise to issues of personal interest. One of the reasons I quickly lost interest in the 2020 Summit is that it seemed to be a platform for the same old that has inured, with some of the most interesting and innovative ideas for renewal and reform falling by the wayside. Who prevails in those governmentalised contexts and to what end? I’ve long been an advocate of drawing on all of our human abilities and ensuring that people (citizens, communities) have opportunities, beyond tired and complacent consultation programs, to participate.

The call for new forms of governance has been echoing for a very long time and this process – the All Sector Taskforce (AST) – seems to move the process from ticking boxes. Teller observes that one reason that cities often fail in resolving intractable issues is that no form of governance currently exists whereby the sole driver for generating a given solution is purely the issue itself. Indeed, market-driven mechanisms are skewed towards the needs of owners and shareholders, government-led processes often produce suboptimal outcomes due to the influence of the political re-election imperative (in those places where democratic processes occur) and self-interest where they do not, and the outputs of current models run by civil society of multi-stakeholder networks are habitually skewed towards the needs and wants of the strongest partners or managing entities.

The requirement of ASTs seems to be a good process that is driving to solving a problem through understanding, where each of the individuals at the table makes a commitment to solving that problem. Teller states that this is due to their unique capacity to simultaneously draw and combine ideas, experience, data and information from business, government and civil society. It must be noted, however, that many issues do not require ASTs as they can and should be addressed by a single sector – often government – or two sectors working together.

If urban creativity and innovation is what our cities need, then we need the systems of governance and facilitation that will release that in ways that haven’t happened before. In reference to environmental issues, I often hear people saying that the same thinking that got us into this mess won’t get us out of it. Part of that process is crawling out of litany (complaint has a tendency to just reinforce the problem rather than solving it) and sharing resources to move towards some practical methods that may break the hardened synapses of failing systems.

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