Director – Australian Knowledge Management Group Pty Ltd
CEO – Australian Quality Council
Associate Director Organisational Development, Telstra
Executive Manager, BHP Steel
Senior Metallurgist – Steel Manufacturing, BHP Steel
Australian Knowledge Management Group (AKMGroup) have been working with the Natural Resource Management (NRM) sector in Australia now for over a decade, working with regional NRM organisations to manage and improve their Business Management and Service delivery capabilities.
Over that time we have seen the Sector mature and grow, taking on new roles and management of a wide variety of programs across the Continent.
Question: Can you outline what the Natural Resource Management (NRM) sector looks like in Australia?
The NRM sector is based on a comprehensive infrastructure that is quite unique in the world and reflects the importance placed on the preservation of Australia’s inland and coastal natural resources. There are 56 regional NRM organisations, each with a designated geographic region that together, cover all of Australia.
Every regional NRM organisation is governed by a Board. Boards are appointed by State/Territory Ministers in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, and elected or appointed by the community in Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Each regional NRM organisation is required to develop a regional NRM Plan for its designated region that identifies natural resource management priorities that align with those of the Australian and State/Territory Governments and with those of regional communities and Local Governments. Such planning is also recognised for the contribution it can make to national NRM policies such as climate change.
The regional NRM organisation takes on a coordinating role in overseeing on-ground work to deliver desired NRM outcomes. This is achieved through engaging with a range of community groups and organisations, establishing strong partnerships with industry and government agencies and managing contractors engaged to deliver on-ground work.
Funding to support such work is primarily provided by the Australian and State Governments, with some financial support also provided by Local Councils and industry. Regional NRM bodies also play an important role in building community NRM capacity including Indigenous communities and volunteer groups such as Landcare. The work of regional NRM organisations also aims to work with Land Managers to adopt best land management practices.
Question: What are the key issues facing the NRM Sector in Australia at the moment?
High reliance on government funding and uncertainties with expected levels of funding present challenges for regional NRM organisations in planning for the future. In recent years, the total amount of government funding has continued to decline, while performance expectations have been raised, essentially forcing regional NRM bodies to ‘do more with less’.
At the organisational level, regional NRM organisations have had a greater focus on improving their overall capability and performance in order to be better equipped to meet emerging challenges in an environment of limited funding. At the sector level, initiatives to reduce total cost through establishing closer working relationships across regions have started to show savings through economies of scale and sharing of limited resources where possible
In NSW and South Australia, the respective State Governments have substantially restructured the NRM infrastructure in those states through expansion of the range of responsibilities and size of the regional bodies. The magnitude of the restructuring has resulted in a major turnover in people in leadership roles at both Board and senior management levels. In 2013, a major independent review of regional NRM arrangements in Queensland was undertaken and an action plan to achieve greater efficiencies across the sector in the state is being implemented
Question: Over the 11 years of working with the NRM sector, AKMGroup has captured a picture of the sector and maintained a data base of information relating to the capability of the delivery across Australia – what have been some of the main areas of improvement across the sector?
In 2004, AKMGroup was engaged to develop a frame of reference and process by which the capability and performance of regional NRM organisations could be assessed. This initiative was driven by the regional NRM bodies and supported by state and Australian Governments.
The approach was based on a framework that was consistent with globally recognised Business Excellence models and customised for the NRM sector in terms of terminology, relevance and consistency with issues that reflect the business environment in the sector. The framework was used as the reference for the conduct of an external review of the regional NRM organisation to provide a ‘snapshot’ of strengths and opportunities for improvement. The use of such feedback to develop a set of prioritised set of improvement strategies then became the vehicle for driving improvement.
The conduct of external reviews was not mandated but demand for such reviews progressively grew and 54 reviews have now been conducted across all states. Each review has involved a CEO or senior manager from another regional body participating as a co-reviewer to establish the process as a ‘peer review’ and enable sharing of best practices across the broader NRM sector. The NRM Excellence Framework also adopted international convention of allocating quantitative profiles for each review, thereby providing a reference for benchmarking within and outside the NRM sector.
A substantial data-base on governance and management practices across the NRM sector has now been established and has been drawn upon to identify case studies and provision of introductions to organisations identified as demonstrating best practice in a particular field.
Question: What areas can still be addressed from and Organisational/Business Performance perspective?
Quantitative scoring profiles of regional NRM bodies that have participated in external reviews have been maintained and the following conclusions can be drawn from the results:
- Substantial improvements have been achieved by organisations that have acted on review findings and adopted an approach of continuous improvement through follow-up reviews.
- There is now a wide spread of capability across the national NRM sector, ranging from organisations that continue to have major gaps in areas contained in the Excellence Framework to organisations that are now approaching performance levels of globally recognised outstanding organisations.
- Key attributes that differentiate highly capable organisations in the NRM sector are in the areas of Leadership, Organisational Culture, Corporate Planning, People Focus and Community Engagement.
- Attributes that could be strengthened across the sector are in the areas of Information and Knowledge Management and Process Management as well as the development of better measures of overall organisational performance.
Question: With the release of the 3rd Edition of The Performance Excellence Framework – what is the vision you have for the future of the NRM sector and its capability to provide confidence in the services that they deliver?
I believe that the NRM sector is well-placed to build upon the platform of continuous improvement that has been established during the past decade. Attributes that characterise this sector include:
- A strong passion amongst people who work in the sector to make a positive contribution towards improving the resource condition in their region. This passion is more evident in this sector than others I have worked with over the years and there is a receptiveness to continue to improve capability and performance.
- There is relatively little competition in a conventional sense between regional NRM bodies as is found in other sectors operating in highly competitive marketplaces. Such an environment lends itself to strengthening cross-regional cooperation and sharing of information on outstanding practices for the benefit of the sector as a whole. Organisational Excellence reviews are actually about capturing a lot of information on governance and management practices. It’s now a matter of establishing more effective ways of disseminating such information.
- Regional NRM organisations operate with somewhat limited resources to support the work they do. During the past 10 years, many types of standards, improvement models and audit regimes have come and gone. While there is a need to ensure investors have a high level of confidence in the capacity of the regional NRM organisation to deliver on expectations, care needs to be taken to ensure all review processes actually add value to the regional body and not simply add more burden on limited staff resources available.
The ‘Performance Excellence Guide for Regional NRM Organisations’ was first published in 2004 and a second edition was published in 2008 (the Guide). The Third Edition of the Guide has now been released to ensure its content is up-to-date and that it reflects recent changes in in emphasis and focus within the NRM sector. It is my vision that this Guide will continue to provide a reference for driving on-going improvement at the organisational level and across the NRM sector as a whole. I would also hope that audit and review processes imposed upon regional bodies will continue to have a primary focus on ‘improvement’, rather than ‘compliance’, which has too often been the case in the past.
The Australian Government has recently released a set of ‘Performance Expectations’ that define practices expected of one of the principal investors. While the scope of the Performance Excellence Guide covers all of the Australian Government’s requirements, the Third Edition of the Guide has made some of these requirements more explicit.
Changes contained in the Third Edition of the NRM Performance Excellence Guide include:
- A simplified layout of the assessment criteria for ease of use.
- An increased emphasis on practices relating to Community Engagement and a focus on NRM outcomes.
- Greater emphasis on the role of ‘Partnerships’ as an important aspect of Community Engagement and achievement of NRM outcomes.
- Incorporation of specific criteria contained within the Australian Government’s ‘Performance Expectations for Regional NRM Organisations’ that will enable reviews conducted against this edition of the Guide to accommodate performance assessments against the Australian Government’s performance criteria, thereby reducing the number of reviews/audits of regional NRM bodies.
- Incorporation of recent developments with generic globally recognised Performance Excellence Models to enable benchmarking with best practice organisations outside the NRM sector.
- Retention of the structure of the criteria and scoring conventions to enable this edition of the guide to continue to be used to monitor progress over time.