Two things demographers know that you should know too

Dealing with statistics, forecasts and technical language can sometimes seem overwhelming. We may not use population data in our work as a result, or rely on information we feel we don’t have the expertise to make sense of it.  

I’m here to assure you that with a few key insights in your toolkit, you’ll be able to take advantage of the data available to make a positive impact for the places and people you are working with. I’m often asked what’s important to look at in demography and there’s two things that stand out. 

Only three things can cause populations to change  

Populations only change because of three drivers of change: births, deaths and migration. Populations grow if there are more births, or less deaths, or more people move into an area, or less people move out. Or populations can decline when the opposite happens.  

Changes to these drivers also affect the composition of a population. Retirement migration to the coast can lead to population ageing, as can out migration of young people for work or education. We might see things like new housing developments lead to population growth because it’s allowed for more migration and brought people to an area who then go on to have more births.

The three drivers of population. Births, deaths and migration.

Age and sex matters 

When looking at population we’re used to looking at how big it is, or the rate of change. But if this is the only thing we look at we’re probably missing what’s important. Everything we do is affected by age and our gender. Populations are no different. If you want to understand how a population is changing and what it needs, size only tells you so much. It’s the change in age groups that shows where that change is coming from and indicates what kind of infrastructure they will need.   

Two graphs explaining the population of Liverpool, NSW.

By looking at both age and sex, we can make sure we are fully informed about different segments of our population. This can inform policy, highlight areas where more work is needed, as well as prompt us to ask why we’re seeing those differences.   

A graph depicting the median annual income of employed persons with tertiary education.

Keep these two things in mind when talking about population or thinking about how population changes might affect the work you do for a more informed discussion about demography.  

This article includes information presented at the Masterclass “Analysing data to tell your story”. Astrolabe Group works with organisations to provide demographic insights that support strategic planning and change management. To find out more contact Kim at [email protected]  

Setting an agenda during an election year

No matter what industry you work in, you are either affected by government regulation, have government as a client, or rely on it as a service provider. Negotiating with government bodies can be difficult, and in order to achieve your desired outcomes it is important to understand the particular needs and restrictions of public administrations.

What is often overlooked is that these needs change according to election cycles.

The authorising environment

Central to understanding government’s changing needs is the public policy concept of ‘the authorising environment.’ This is the context in which government decisions are made. It can be thought of as the mandate, or social license, for a government to use public resources to address an issue.

This authorising environment is clearest when a politician has campaigned on a policy, and the voting public have endorsed that policy by electing them to execute their promises. If the policy is explicit: ‘Susan Politician MP will spend ‘X’ dollars on a hospital’, and Susan gets elected, the authority to spend that amount is clear.

The authorising environment is more complicated when a politician adopts a policy mid-term, in order to tackle a problem that is immediate or unforeseen (or not sexy enough to campaign on). In these situations, the authority comes from a mix of public sentiment and technical evidence.

While most people would be aware that measuring public sentiment is imperfect and open to misinterpretation, technical evidence can also contain significant bias.

This is because the government evaluates projects using frameworks which may not reflect real-world outcomes. For example, to justify the building of a rail line the key evidence base will be existing commuter volumes and the projected travel time saved. This has a natural bias towards congested travel corridors at the exclusion of more innovative transport solutions.

To negotiate with the government for your desired result you must be aware of the existing evaluation framework. A proposal must either work to fit the existing criteria or acknowledge the framework and address its central shortcomings, allowing the government to adopt creative solutions without reaching beyond their mandated authority.

While it is tempting to launch straight into a campaign or propose a project to government, it is important to first understand the authorising environment and the evaluation frameworks that will be used to justify that authority.

Advocacy Cycles

As you would expect, the authorising environment is directly linked to the election cycle. Advocacy cycles are times in the election cycle when the government will be more receptive to particular messages and particular types of projects. Even a very strong proposal given at the wrong time can be dismissed out of hand.

As State and Federal elections draw near, all candidates will be looking for big messages and promises they can take on the campaign trail. This might not be the best time to have a project delivered, but if you can position your ask so that it can become a positive announcement, there is a greater chance of the idea getting traction.

As soon as election results are announced there is an immediate shift in the authorising environment, depending both on the winning party and the size of the win. In the first year of government for an MP that has taken a clear majority, it is difficult to pitch anything that falls outside their core campaign promises. A tight win in a marginal seat is an entirely different story: the day after they pop the champagne, they will be back on the streets campaigning, looking for new ways to sway the electorate and build their supporter base.

Typically, the strongest point in the advocacy cycle is six to eighteen months after an election, as governments put in place the resources to execute their commitments, but this is always mitigated by the real and perceived strength of the governing body’s authority and the public sentiment surrounding the issue at hand.

The current shifting environment

The coming State election is a particularly complicated environment to navigate because there are so many independents and swings expected. The ABC’s Anthony Green, who has been covering State elections for almost 30 years, has recently declared his usual calculus for predicting results in the lower-house is no longer practical: “The only way to overcome the peculiarities would be to make the calculator so complex, its purpose would be defeated.”

What is clear is that the formation of Government will involve new alliances and some strange bedfellows, especially in regional seats where traditional allies are currently waging war against one another.

In order to plan a campaign or seek approvals for a project it must first be strategically framed according to the ever-changing authorising environment of the government and its election cycles.

This article includes information presented at the Masterclass "Setting an agenda during an election year". Astrolabe Group equips organisations with the tools and strategies needed to work with government to maximise public value. Get in touch with Michael at [email protected]

Addressing the population issue

What to focus on in the population debate

Population is top of mind in Australia at the moment. On Friday, an inaugural meeting of Treasurers from states, territories and the commonwealth met to discuss how we can better plan for a changing Australian population. Population is being discussed in the lead up to the NSW State election in March and a Federal election in May with levels of immigration an issue for all political parties and independents.

This focus on overseas migration, particularly how bad it is for Sydney and Melbourne, tends to overlook the complex interplay of overseas migration with other population dynamics. Three are listed below:

The regions are different

The December communiqué from COAG that called for the Treasurers’ population meeting recognised the different skill requirements at a regional level. But focusing only on skills underplays the importance of migration in the regions. Across inland NSW, for example, Net Overseas Migration (NOM) was the biggest driver of population growth during 2016-17, in many cases offsetting Net Internal Migration (NIM) loss.

For small populations, this is not just about skills, it’s about population survival. In Sydney and Melbourne, we see a different situation. Even if NOM was lower, the cities would continue to grow.

Scenario modelling for Liverpool in Western Sydney, for example, showed that even with no overseas migration the population would grow by 24% over the next 25 years. There is in-built population growth driven by a relatively young age profile.

Annual population change to 30 june 2017 selected NSW SA4s

Internal migration also drives growth

When we talk about migration, we often assume it is people coming from overseas. But internal migration also drives growth in some areas. In Sydney, Baulkham Hills and Hawkesbury (the SA4 asdefined by the ABS) had 1,900 more people move to the area during 2016-17 from elsewhere in Australia than left.

Even in areas where there is overall net internal migration loss, like Sydney’s City and Inner South, there are significant internal migration gains in the 15-24 year age group. This movement of people coming to Sydney for university and early job opportunities creates a particular type of population growth, and demand on housing and infrastructure. These internal migration movements are an important part of the national population debate.

Net Internal Migration 2016-17 in Sydneys City and Inner South

Overseas and internal migration are linked

Overseas migration interacts with internal migration. In the Hunter region for example, the 2016 Census showed a net gain of almost 17,000 people moving to the Hunter region from elsewhere in Australia. Of this group, 15% were born overseas. And of the overseas born, over half arrived in Australia before 1995. In contrast, Liverpool had internal migration gains of almost 31,000 people between 2011 and 2016. Just over a third were born overseas, with about 70% moving to Australia before 2006.

Overseas migration then has long-term implications, both at the time people arrive and also as they move throughout the country.

Population and planning

The COAG call for creation of a population framework recognised that it needs to recognise the needs of local communities. But these needs vary and there is no one response to population planning. Understanding the complexity of population dynamics and the long-term impacts of changes from one generation to the next, can inform a debate based on evidence.

If you want to be part of an informed debate, join the Astrolabe Masterclass, “Making People Count” on 20 February 2019.

Innovating in local government delivers better outcomes

Here at Astrolabe Group we really enjoyed working with Liverpool City Council to help them develop an Innovation Strategy that will support the roll out of the Council’s Strategic Plan over the coming years.

When we did this work, we looked at examples from around the world to understand what would deliver a successful innovation strategy. Here are five key things we learned.  

Understand what innovation means

There are many definitions for innovation but a good way to think about it is that innovation is an idea that is new to the user and has purpose. Innovation is often described as something practical that turns ideas into actions that are repeatable and that have value.  

Innovation is not about invention.  Nor is it about scientific or technological knowledge. While these things are innovative, they also need to be implemented, and used to be labelled as an innovation.  Innovation then is not just about big ideas, rather it is about seeing how things can be done differently and working to achieve it.

Innovation is needed in local governments

Reading about innovation shows again and again that innovation gives private companies a competitive edge, allowing them to enter new markets.  Just as innovation allows private companies to be on the offensive against competitors, local government can use innovation tools to be proactive in meeting local needs.

Local government is at the forefront of interactions with citizens, so they are uniquely placed to both understand and meet community needs. Innovation allows local government to take the lead with partners and stakeholders (universities, other tiers of government, private companies, etc) and deliver new ways of working.  

Tools for innovation success

Examples from around the world showed that the key to innovation success is people, both people connections and meeting people’s needs. Technology is rarely the key to innovation success but rather relationships and human-centred responses. Successful innovation then is associated with bringing together like-minded individuals and organisations to work together, as well as end-users and funders.

A key tool for innovation success is leadership.  Leaders set and support the strategic vision for innovation. They set the level of risk appetite associated with innovation. Leadership drives an innovative internal culture and ensures investment via budgets and time in strategic plans.  

Innovation strategy must-haves

Our reading of international examples showed that an innovation strategy must include:

  1. A demonstrated link to the leadership role of the organisation, and the leadership aspirations of the organisation’s leader
  2. A clear link to the priorities of the organisation and how the innovation strategy will help deliver these. Innovation is not its own end goal.  
  3. Implementation tools and measures of success.

Guidelines for implementation

When looking at innovation strategy examples, some common features stand out for successful implementation.  First, articulate the role of the organisation in relation to other stakeholders (including other tiers of government, universities, companies, etc).  Second, be selective about priorities, identify those that innovation will support and are most likely to bring about long-term change. Lastly, be systematic with internal and external aspects worked on at the same time.  

There are many tools to help develop innovation in local government and other organisations. Our approach at Astrolabe Group is to focus on the innovators not the innovation. This creates an innovation ecosystem that everyone, from citizens to new inventors, are active within. For local councils, this is a win-win. There is better understanding of the needs of people within their jurisdiction, and improved solutions that engage a wider range of stakeholders who together make an area a great place to live, work and play.   

To find out more about our approach to innovation contact Kim Johnstone.


Smart Cities Week: Technology is the vehicle, not the end game

Australia’s focus on innovation is now so strong, it hosted its first Smart Cities Week In October. Astrolabe Group was proud to be in the room to support this event.

Australia’s focus on innovation is now so strong, it hosted its first Smart Cities Week In October. Astrolabe Group was proud to be in the room to support this event.

There was a genuine sense of commitment over several days of discussion in Sydney to sharing our ideas and experiences, to get communities further into their future.

There is momentum in the sector and for me, there were four key messages that kept emerging over the course of the event.

Firstly, that we must consider people as our primary focus. Technology can achieve many great things but as exciting as it is, it should not drive smart city policy. Often conversations can get side-tracked into what is the most cutting edge, futuristic technology. But, in many instances we are not using these tools to anywhere near their capacity and there is a danger of viewing the technology as the end in itself. We need to remain mindful that the best technology enables the delivery of what people need to live well and feel connected.

Next, that we should be planning for the future user as well as ensuring the needs of current users are met. Pre-empting how those future users might need smart spaces to behave raises a key question “are we involving the right people in the planning process?” This is particularly true for large scale, infrastructure solutions. For example, new highways and motorways may meet our current need but will they meet those of future generations and take into account new transport modes such as autonomous vehicles? The answer may need us to rethink our approach, including how we engage with future users.

Following on from this was the opportunities presented by data.  There is a lot of information available to inform how we plan, design, implement and improve products and services.  But how do we extract valuable insights from this mountain of data? And how do we ensure that the quality of the data we use is high and representative in order to improve everyone’s experiences in the places they work and live.

The fourth strong theme was that collaborative governance is vital. Disconnected government service delivery is a major impediment to smart city progress. The three tiers of government in Australia can have different policies and priorities which can result in actions that do not complement each other. The conference heard there needs to be a shift, to ensure that governance is more connected and responds to the needs of a place with the output delivered co-ordinated to achieve the best possible outcome.

Finally, a take away I think liberates all policy makers is that we need to start trying things now! The future will not arrive at a given point in time on a given date. It will not be the result of a quantum leap for any one place or city but by working on innovative approaches during which governments, researchers and industry collaborate to create better places by putting people first. We need to make start testing, trailing and experimenting, not wait for a vision of what an ideal smart city should look like to arrive first. The solutions can come from within Australia as much as anywhere else in the world and Smart Cities Week gave us more confidence than ever that working together we can be leaders in this space.

Making the most of feedback

Feedback is an essential part of our learning process and a key ingredient to acting innovatively. And usually, it’s the reason we engage people during a project – to find out what they think and incorporate those views into the development of your project. It’s also why we talk about our work to our peers – to get advice and test viability.

But sometimes engagement is used as a “tick a box” along a project timeline with no real thought to how to meaningfully use that information. And sometimes our workplace doesn’t give you a chance to get feedback as you develop a product or service.

This is an opportunity missed. So, here are two techniques you might like to consider to enhance the use of feedback in your project development:

Modes of Feedback:

Using feedback is something teachers are very familiar with and there is a lot of research about how to do it to maximise effectiveness too. John Hattie has been studying this topic for over a decade and found that feedback is essential when we want to improve practice and attain high professional standards.

Hattie has identified three effective feedback modes to improve learning:

 

Framing our feedback in this way provides a structure to close the gap between our goals in a project and how we might achieve them.

Feedback Capture Grid:

Another great method is a feedback capture grid. This provides a real time structure to sort feedback you are receiving into four quadrants:

making-most-of-feedback

This is a great tool to immediately start to synthesize the feedback you are receiving that you can then action, particularly if you are testing a product or new service.

How do you use feedback to inform your work?

 

Who is the City?

Next week is Smart Cities Week Australia and on Tuesday 30 October 2018 I’m chairing a Boardroom lunchtime session asking, “Who is the City?”. As a demographer I’m interested in the people who make up our cities, what that means for our future and the smart cities’ agenda.

One of the things that stands out in our cities is the young age profile, particularly when we compare Australia’s capital cities with the rest of Australia. Millennials, those born between the mid-1980s and early 2000s are the biggest generation living in Australia’s capitals. They outnumber every generation that is older than them.  Even outside the capitals, Millennials number the same as the Baby Boomers and almost match the number of those from Gen X.

Number of people by age, Capital Cities and Rest of Australia 2017

Number of people by age, Capital Cities and Rest of Australia 2017

One of the things I’ll be asking around the Boardroom table is whether our planning for smart cities is ready for this new generation. Millennials and the children who follow them, more than any other generation, will live with the long-term consequences of smart city planning decisions we make today. Are they part of the planning process? Are we listening to their ideas about what’s important and potential solutions? Are we acting on those ideas? How do we balance new ideas with learning lessons from the past?

Part of being a smart city, is meeting the needs of the people who live there. And to do that we need to be smart about understanding who those people are and making sure they are engaged in preparing for the future.

What's stopping good community engagement?

Effective citizen engagement

Since starting work with Astrolabe Group Pty Limited, I have been working with the Committee for Sydney on a report focused on one of the core building blocks of successful liveable cities – effective citizen engagement.  As our cities change in response to demographic shifts and technological advances, those of us involved in place-making need to engage early to make sure we really understand people’s needs. This is the only way to bring everyone along for the ride.  

Early engagement requires continuous community involvement in the planning process as opposed to one-off engagement exercises. Key to this is making sure we plan engagement properly – plan it before we make decisions, with the explicit intention of meaningful collaboration.  

But what stops early and continuous community engagement taking place?  I have been struck by two pieces of research that show government structures may be a key barrier.  

Mazhar et al. published an article last year about Nottingham City Council in the UK, who are undertaking energy policy reform as part of a five-year EU funded study on sustainable urban regeneration. A review of Nottingham City Council’s community engagement found a high commitment to community engagement among staff. But the researchers found that when Council staff talked about engaging citizens at the start of the process, they were actually talking about a point after decisions had been made. This means engagement often ended up being citizens presented with a binary choice – accept it or don’t, do you like this a lot or just a little?   

 

Identifying the needs of a community

Continuous community engagement starts by identifying what the community cares about. Understand why change is feared. Ask questions and listen to the answers before giving solutions. It’s active listening at a community level.

But this can be challenging in a traditional policy development setting. A recent article by Ron Levy reporting results from a survey of nearly 2,000 state and federal public servants showed that public servants most consulted with other public servants. Moreover, they assumed that members of the general public lack the capacity to deliberate well on broad policy directions.  

This is frankly a misplaced view.  It means key issues might be missed or that unintended consequences create a negative impact.  It also means that the people affected by planning choices are not part of developing solutions that will meet their needs. It leads to engagement that presents people with limited choices.

Good community engagement then needs leadership from those agencies controlling the engagement process to engage early and often.  One way is exploring how digital engagement tools may enhance when you engage, how you engage, and being able to focus on different sectors within the community. This can lead to better outcomes for cities, as well as greater shared ownership by all the stakeholders, a powerful tool in creating lasting innovation and change.

These two studies also show that governments who control community engagement also need to be willing to relinquish decision-making power to those most affected by the planning decisions being made.  

What if we halved migration to NSW?

Today the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she wants immigration to the state halved and already businesses and universities have raised concerns about the impact of halving immigration to NSW. As a demographer, I’m interested in what impact halving immigration would have on NSW’s population.

When we talk about immigration, most people are referring to net overseas migration – that is the balance between people who come into Australia for 12 out of 16 months and those who leave Australia for 12 out of 16 months. It’s this measure of immigration I write about here.

As the chart below shows, net overseas migration has a history of going up and down with large peaks typically followed by lower levels. Large inflows that can drive a high net count (the balance between in and out flows) are often followed by people leaving again after a few years. While temporary migrants can transition to permanent migrants, they aren’t counted again in the migration data. Net overseas migration has been high in the past two years, but the levels are not as high as in 2008, and we’ve never seen levels over 100,000 of more in-migrants than out-migrants.

It’s also important to remember that NSW’s growth is not only driven by migration. Natural increase, the balance between births and deaths, also contributes to the state’s growth. NSW growth is an amazing success story as people continue to survive to older ages. The pressure of population growth on our health infrastructure is testament to this success.

NSW population growth 1982-2017 source: ABS

NSW population growth 1982-2017 source: ABS

Which migrants would we cut?

The practicalities of halving migration to NSW means we would have to cut the numbers coming in specific visa categories.

I’ve assumed that Australian Citizens wouldn’t be part of the regulation to halve immigration (even though they’re counted in the migration numbers when they leave for work or study and then return home after a few years).

The biggest net gains in NSW come from visas for higher education, visitors, working holidays (all temporary) and the permanent skilled migration visa. Looking at data for 2016-17, if we assumed the number of departures were about the same next year, to halve the number making up net migration we’d have to see a decline in higher education students from almost 38,000 to just under 24,000.

Visitors arrivals would need to go down by 10,000 from 29,000 to 19,000. We’d need to see 5,500 fewer working holiday makers. And the permanent skilled intake would need to decline by over 6,000 from its current level of 15,300.

Net-overseas-migration-1617

Net-overseas-migration-1617

What would happen in the future?

I ran a simple projection looking at what would happen to the NSW population if we halved migration. First, I assumed that the average net overseas migration for the past five years stayed the same into the future (77,630 people) and the other factors that drive population change also stayed the same both for the levels and age profiles (total fertility rate, life expectancy at birth and net interstate migration). I then changed net overseas migration to 38,815 to compare the difference.

Not surprisingly, halving immigration led to a smaller population in 20 years’ time – reaching 9.1 million compared to 9.8 million if we keep migration at current levels. This difference of 700,000 people is seen in the working ages with the number of people aged 20-64 years projected to grow to 5.7 million if migration levels stay the same as now, compared to 5.0 million if they are halved. Indeed, if migration is halved, my projection indicated there would be fewer people aged 25-34 in 20 years’ time compared to now.

Because the population of NSW has different age profiles across the state, with proportionately fewer working age people in regional centres and rural areas and a higher reliance on in-migration (from overseas and elsewhere in Australia) to maintain service delivery, we could expect to see disproportionate negative impacts in some areas if migration is halved. In Sydney, where a large number of migrants live on arrival to Australia, we would see a change in the age and cultural mix of our suburbs, particularly in those places with students.

Population policy for all population issues

Having an informed discussion about population is critical for NSW. But population is more than international migration – there is a constant flow of people between states, regions and within our towns and cities. Even with no migration, NSW would grow to 8.5 million people over the next 20 years. What we must consider is the mix of generations seen in each part of NSW and the different impact they have on how that community will grow into the future, including the types of jobs, housing and infrastructure it will want and need. Importantly, a population policy must reflect the fact that our planning needs to respond to the 7.9 million people who already call NSW home.

Not surprisingly, halving immigration led to a smaller population in 20 years’ time – reaching 9.1 million compared to 9.8 million if we keep migration at current levels. This difference of 700,000 people is seen in the working ages with the number of people aged 20-64 years projected to grow to 5.7 million if migration levels stay the same as now, compared to 5.0 million if they are halved. Indeed, if migration is halved, my projection indicated there would be fewer people aged 25-34 in 20 years’ time compared to now.

Because the population of NSW has different age profiles across the state, with proportionately fewer working age people in regional centres and rural areas and a higher reliance on in-migration (from overseas and elsewhere in Australia) to maintain service delivery, we could expect to see disproportionate negative impacts in some areas if migration is halved. In Sydney, where a large number of migrants live on arrival to Australia, we would see a change in the age and cultural mix of our suburbs, particularly in those places with students.

Population policy for all population issues

Having an informed discussion about population is critical for NSW. But population is more than international migration – there is a constant flow of people between states, regions and within our towns and cities. Even with no migration, NSW would grow to 8.5 million people over the next 20 years. What we must consider is the mix of generations seen in each part of NSW and the different impact they have on how that community will grow into the future, including the types of jobs, housing and infrastructure it will want and need. Importantly, a population policy must reflect the fact that our planning needs to respond to the 7.9 million people who already call NSW home.

City Deals for Integrated Cities

Shifting government mindset, from a regulator to customer-centric approach.

Back in August 2018, Michael went on the Smart City Podcast.

The episode can be heard here.

Michael explains his background in mathematics and growth infrastructure planning, so how cities grow.

“There’s a lot of metrics from a commercial perspective that show that we are highly digitally literate (in Australia). But then there are other elements where we’re very far behind…and the opportunity there is we can be a fast follower.”

He also talks about the Smart City being about people and place, and also the importance of governance reform and leadership.

Michael also talked about some of the things he’s been working on, including City Deals, and how it’s important for the government to shift their thinking from being a regulator to moving to a customer-centric approach.

They also discussed some emerging trends and the fact that everyone is still learning.

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