An important element of the Islander Way regenerative tourism project has been to flip thinking and experiment with new ways of working. From the very outset, we heard that the island's residents did not want "people from away" telling them what the solution should be. Instead, they wanted to take part in the process of identifying and developing appropriate actions.
This is a different way of working.
Photo: Maritime History Symposium 2022, Emergence is a way of working where the issues are progressively understood through deep listening, hosting good conversations and working/experimenting with the dynamic parts of an ever-changing context
All too often communities wait for governments to come up with ideas and solutions, then criticise those actions when they are implemented. Community consultation can be superficial and may not value the deep knowledge and lived experience existing within the local community. Community members are not often asked to participate in identifying actions or being part of 'the solution'. As a result, solutions are not owned by the community, which in turn makes the task of generating community 'buy-in' more difficult. The idea of encouraging the community to own the Islander Way project was the FIRST of several innovative elements that this project has adopted.
The Islander Way project sought to flip this traditional thinking on its head and to value the deep knowledge, sense of responsibility, and stewardship that the local community feels towards their Island, their home. The approach was to encourage the community to identify ideas, projects, and collaborations that would address the challenges that they experience and would like addressed. The approach to tap into the ingenuity, creativity, and depth of local knowledge was a SECOND innovative element adopted in the project.
Of course, communities (and we adopt the widest and most inclusive idea of 'community' to include anyone on and off the Island with an interest in tourism and Island resilience) are diverse. Getting the community to understand this innovative thinking, especially when old established patterns and expectations are deeply embedded, is not an easy task. More about this later.
Tourism as part of a bigger challenge
The THIRD innovative element was to position tourism within its larger setting. Tourism is the lens through which we could see and understand the complex change on the Island. Overtourism was the initial trigger point for this project, and it may happen again. Indeed, it is more likely to happen if we don't establish a shared vision for the future.
From the community engagement we were able to map the breadth of issues and challenges identified by stakeholders on and off the Island As we continue to explore the issues, a range of intersecting challenges and trigger points became more apparent. Everything from food security, waste management, environmental protection, community services, visitor management and economic diversification affect tourism. As a result, it has become impossible to separate tourism from bigger questions about the Island's long-term resilience and well-being.
The visitor economy touches on so many aspects of Island life and is widely acknowledged to be part of a resilient economic and social future. Moreover, it is impossible to think of hosting visitors if fundamental issues such as food security and waste management, that determine the Island's resilience, quality of life, and well-being are not addressed. The adoption of a systems approach is the FOURTH innovation that has been adopted in this project.
Unlocking local ingenuity
Figure 1. Community engagement activities (April-September 2022)
The community engagement process has been discussed here, here, and here. From the infographic above, it is clear that the engagement has been deep, sustained, and unlike traditional community engagement in tourism. This is the FIFTH element of our approach which we might call innovative. Given the amount of change that has taken place at the local level, from the resignation of the previous mayor, local council elections, and the election of a new chamber of commerce (Flinders Island Business Inc (FIBI) board, it has been difficult to find an opportune time to share the community consultation findings and receive feedback.
While waiting for the opportunity to share these findings, we proceeded with a subproject incubator program. This subproject incubator program, the SIXTH element of the innovation in the regenerative tourism living lab has been designed to assist the community form groups, developing their ideas, and moving from broad project concepts to detailed designs. At the same time that the community groups have been working on their subprojects, the Islander Way team has been seeking advice and working to build awareness across relevant government agencies. The aim has been to understand how these subprojects (1) fit with emerging government priorities at a time when significant change is taking place, and (2) what similar projects are going on that we can learn from.
This approach is a dynamic and emergent way of working and is the SEVENTH element of the Islander Way's innovative approach. That is, instead of designing a set of outcomes at the beginning of the project, that would no doubt have been redundant given the significant and sustained change that is taking place as we emerge into a very disrupted post-covid world, we have instead worked using an emergent approach to address our evolving and shared understandings of the challenges faced by the Island.
In this way, we are best able to respond to the emerging priorities set by the government, such as the Tasmanian Government's recent commitment to a well-being economy and Tourism Tasmania's commitment to positive impact. This approach has also allowed interactive awareness-raising and learning cycle between the Island community and relevant government agencies. In this way, the projects are responding to the shifts and changes taking place as we emerge into a post-covid world.
Figure 2. The range of interconnected issues directly and indirectly impacting on the future of tourism on the Island.
Uneven progress is ok
As expected, given the various levels of buy-in, ownership and expertise within the groups, the subprojects will develop at different rates. Conditions and contexts are different depending on whether the project is addressing waste or visitor management, for example. Opportunities for funding will emerge at different times, and the development of business models and potential revenue streams for the projects will take time to explore.
The following subprojects have emerged, and while there remain a number of other smaller initiatives that we continue to work on, these larger subprojects continue to develop:
Local waste hubs
This project aims to achieve zero-landfill and a 50% reduction in hard waste on Flinders Island within 10 years, by reducing household and rental accommodation waste, recycling, and education strategies.
The project proposes that the local Killiecrankie and Lady Barron transfer stations become sorting and recycling hubs to assist in the aim of reducing landfill and becoming a more resilient community.
This project addresses the Island's waste challenge in a holistic way by minimising waste, sorting, repurposing, and recycling as well as incorporating revenue streams and employment opportunities. This transformational project is aimed at improving island resilience while delivering meaningful benefits to local residents. It will showcase circular economy innovation, provide materials for the Island's makers and craftspeople, generate employment, and offer visitor experiences.
This project aims to deliver a multi-day scenic walk on Flinders Island encouraging both residents and visitors to actively engage with the environment. The project showcases the Island's natural beauty and contributes to community cohesion, health, and well-being. This project is intended to contribute to the long-term showcasing of the Island’s unique environment, and provide recreation and adventure tourism opportunities that are consistent with the Island's values and aspirations for the future.
The project aims to reduce reliance on external food systems and increase the domestic supply of fresh produce to the Furneaux Islands to a 50:50 ratio by 2030. The project will be achieved by developing a deeper understanding of the Island’s food system; increasing local production; establishing a community of growers and producers who educate and promote sustainable food values; and educating visitors and residents about healthy living local food systems to align availability, seasonality, and expectations.
Furneaux Maritime History Centre
This project involves the design and development of a self-sustaining Maritime History Centre to showcase the nationally significant maritime cultural heritage of Flinders Island and the Furneaux Group. In addition to a maritime display area, the Centre will include multi-purpose community facilities and services for visitors. The project will contribute to the regeneration of the islands’ maritime and cultural history. It will collaborate with the Furneaux Museum strengthening local visitor and resident opportunities.
Initially, this project will establish a virtual footprint to support the delivery of community, place, and nature-positive tourism experiences, tourism businesses, and nurture genuine relationships between Island hosts and guests. At present, the lack of support for small and micro tourism businesses so that they may develop nature, community and place positive visitor experiences and a stronger and more connected business ecosystem have been identified as potential functions of this hub. If the virtual hub is successful, a physical hub (potentially through the repurposing of existing space) would offer additional opportunities including a multipurpose co-working space to host mobile working, start-ups, and be a community space for Island arts and innovation. Such a facility could play an important role in attracting a younger workforce to the Island.
Figure 3. Word cloud created from survey data "What are the top three values you would like to see reflected in the visitor economy of the future?"
What have we learned?
1. Progress is not linear. We have learned that progress is never straightforward but when the right people are in the room the energy and creativity can be contagious! Local communities have creativity, ingenuity, and a love of place that should be valued and unleashed where possible.
2. Fear of change can generate pushback. Even when our approach makes good sense, there are always those who fear change and new ways of working. New ways of working inevitably mean new voices and the disruption of old power structures. Exercising mindfulness and responding with clarity and intention are important skills. Turn the documenting and addressing of such complaints into constructive learning conversations with those who really want to learn, engage, and for the project to succeed.
3. Everything is related to tourism. Visitors need to understand their impacts on waste and food security, especially on a small Island, so stretching our imaginations to incorporate these projects has been core-shifting for everyone involved in the project.
4. There will always be those who say they have not been consulted. Community engagement is a two-way obligation and an opportunity that citizens in many other countries do not enjoy. Our commitment is to be accessible and available (which over a period of two years is an enormous ask) has involved workshops, public meetings, interviews, surveys, round tables, and an incubator program. Exceptionalism, competition, and individualism are elements that erode a shared vision and diminish collective work. Luckily the participants on the subprojects understand and actively demonstrate a shared vision for the Island.
5. Innovation is about demonstrating how to work differently. Drawing from the above discussion, the innovative practices that the project brings to life, include:
FIRST, encourage the community to own the project.
SECOND, tap into the ingenuity, creativity, and depth of local knowledge.
THIRD, position tourism within its larger setting to understand wider dynamics at play.
FOURTH, related to the above, adopt a systems approach acknowledging that hosting visitors can only happen in a healthy and flourishing system.
FIFTH, pursue deep sustained community engagement with the widest range of stakeholders.
SIXTH, implement an incubator program that supports the development of community-led and/or business projects. This should not be confused with a business accelerator program.
SEVENTH, work in a dynamic and emergent way to understand all the challenges within context (and not diagnosed from afar).