Climate change, COVID-19, disconnects between industries, communities and individuals – these are some of the biggest challenges we’ve uncovered and grappled with when tasked with designing an innovative cluster network in Central Queensland, Australia.
The Food and Fibre Plus program is a ground-breaking initiative that aims to drive sustainable innovation and industry development across the Central Queensland region, by assessing the appetite for the creation of cluster networking systems to enhance business and community resilience.
The project was initiated by the Central Highlands Development Corporation (CDHC) and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), and supported by a number of regional partners across The Fitzroy, Mackay Isaac Whitsunday and Central West Queensland. The Sunshine Coast Regional Innovation Project Team (SCRIPT) was used as a benchmark.
The aim of the project was to drive the development of essential connections and networks across Central Queensland – but there was one thing missing, someone to bridge the gaps between government, industry and community. To create the foundation for meaningful collaboration. This is where we stepped in - our role was to support the project management team with strategic facilitation towards effective collaboration.
How we used Design-Led Thinking to Foster Collaboration and Sustainable Innovation
Right from the beginning, our role was to facilitate the creation of authentic connections to problem-solve and innovate. Our approach involved our own spin on the classic design thinking model, incorporating principles of empathy mapping to genuinely understand and define problems from stakeholder perspectives.
Empathise with Stakeholders and Define the Problem
To kick off the process, we emphasise with stakeholders to identify the problems from their perspectives via in-depth interviews and empathy mapping techniques.
Our reference group consisted of ‘skin-in-the-game champions’ from across the Central Queensland region: individuals across the private and public sectors, community group leaders, and pioneers in business and innovation who are driving real development in regional industries.
After conducting interviews, creating empathy maps and analysing over 60 reference documents (past plans, strategies and project summaries) we were able to clearly define four key areas of focus for this project:
- Circular Economy Opportunities
- Sustainable Land Management and Water Security
- Supply and Value Chains
These four themes were highlighted as the most important areas for investigation by the group as they were considered key to further economic and community development across the partner regions.
These four themes formed the foundation of our work and guided the exploration of particular pain points and potential collaboration opportunities.
The Food and Fibre Plus project came to life at our Kick Off Workshop, on Oct 6, 2020. It allowed every one of us to begin visualising the possibilities for development that could materialise based on the cultivation of highly collaborative ways of working.
This preliminary virtual event allowed us to gauge perceived importance of the four key themes from the perspectives of the reference group, and confirm the identified pain points and gain points, via ZOOM discussions and polls.
This workshop also set the foundation for our first big virtual event, on Dec 9, 2020:
‘Food and Fibre Plus – Getting the Specifics Right’ was also hosted via ZOOM and was designed to elicit high levels of engagement from participating stakeholders. It involved a grittier diagnosis of key issues, industry chokepoints and gaps in communication – and conversely, provided a forum to explore opportunities for collaboration and inter-regional connection in much greater depth.
Prior to this workshop, participants also received a report detailing our findings so far – from research work, interviews and the Kick Off Workshop. It served as a comprehensive summary of all that we had uncovered from the inception of the project, to date. We set the base for each thematic section of the workshop by reasserting the ideas detailed within this document; but this virtual discussion was designed to be very much participant-led.
For each of the four themes – the bulk of the session consisted of ZOOM break out room discussions, within which stakeholders explored key issues and opportunities in smaller groups and shared discussion highlights back to the rest of the forum. These break out discussions saw fresh perspective brought to ongoing issues – from which innovative solutions and tangible ideas for industry development emerged.
Refining and Prioritising
Finally, last week between Jan 27-28, 2021, we held our most exciting Food and Fibre Plus event yet. Our Food and Fibre Co-Design ‘Refining and Prioritising’ Workshop was hosted in-person in Emerald and was virtually friendly as well.
This event (made possible by our regional partners, the Queensland Government and the Department of Innovation, Tourism and Industry), was a real indicator of the collective passion and drive propelling this project forward.
We were joined by key collaborator, innovator and supporter of the Food and Fibre Plus initiative: Dr. Sarah Pearson, who led a discussion on Circular Economies and brought to this project a level of depth and enthusiasm that inspired our entire group.
This workshop allowed us to ground the theoretical in reality: on day 2, we focused on using a WIIFE (“What’s in it for Everyone”) way of working – a model centred around fostering a spirit of collaboration and considering the ways in which proposed ideas could draw upon the strengths of, and provide returns to the various stakeholders involved in a given project.
We particularly enjoyed this part of the session; the discussion really demonstrated the ways in which plans and proposals ideated could have the potential to come to life.
Throughout this process, there has been a strong appetite for collaboration. Every member of the group who was present expressed their desire and passion to build stronger bridges between industries, markets and regions to achieve better collective outcomes for communities and groups across the Central Queensland.
This workshop marked the culmination of Phase 1 – and set the stage for Phase 2: to align goals and objectives, build business cases and set achievable benchmarks and concrete targets to begin working towards.
The work we carried out across Phase 1 of Food and Fibre plus was instrumental in terms of uncovering a network of potential connections between individuals spanning communities and sectors across the region, to mobilise real opportunities for sustainable development across Central Queensland.
Our Food and Fibre Plus experience so far has been exhilarating, and we’re sure even greater things yet to emerge. Imagine a future where we shift away from selling commodities to value adding by ultimately selling and leading sustainable food systems. Now that's exhilarating!
Our approach to co-design using specialised collaboration techniques, digital tools and empathy mapping has made collaboration across distances and through unforeseen adversities, virtually seamless.
The connections forged through each of the workshops, and the ideas unearthed during our collaborative co-design sessions will pave the way for incredibly exciting developments as we venture into the next stage of this project.