Australia’s only not-for-profit peak body representing the interests of smart communities throughout the country, the team at Australian Smart Communities Association (ASCA) have worked to advocate on behalf of governments since the organisation’s establishment in 2006. What began as a small working group in Southeast Queensland that brought together local governments and regional organisations to help them understand the digital economy in the context of local communities evolved into a national organisation in 2008, which allowed ASCA to expand their reach to all layers of government in all states and territories. Following the beginnings of a global movement towards the development of smart cities and communities in 2010, ASCA began to champion the leveraging of technology, data, and innovation across all levels of government and industry to improve efficiencies, increase quality of life, and support sustainability.
Today, the association works closely with members to solve problems through smart solutions and enhance policy, capacity, and confidence across Australian smart communities. ASCA’s members in government, industry, and academia have access to a range of services and benefits including representation & advocacy, policy & research, sector development & learning, partnership & networks, e-news promotions, event listings, and more.
President Laura Baker begins, “Smart communities bring together the best of data, innovation, and digital technology to drive transformation across Australia. We work with our members with the aim to connect, support, engage, and share to expand the opportunities and benefits available to our local communities. Our association brings people from all over the country together to understand the complex issues that smart communities face. The common thread throughout our history has always been to build strong knowledge bases with a variety of interested stakeholders and use that knowledge to develop better capacities for change. Each community is unique, so it’s important that we provide the opportunity for learning in their own context, at their own pace, and in ways that will benefit their specific environment.
ASCA values community, collaboration, inclusion, data, leadership, and independence. Ms. Baker explains, “There are a lot of challenges that face our members and the communities they support, in connectivity, infrastructure, education, cost, policy, etc. For example, as we see 5G continue to roll out, our communities and their local governments will need to grapple with infrastructure changes and ensure that coverage is appropriate for their population. But the biggest issue facing our communities and their leaders is simply staying up to date- keeping up with cyber security, understanding technical knowledge, managing the data and insights from smart technology, and managing the change associated with technology. Our role in this is providing a voice for these communities and supporting them with resources, tools, and networks. It’s quite easy to place a sensor that relays information, but we have to break that data down in a way that is manageable and digestible for everyone, then use the resulting insights to change behaviour at a local government level.”
Collaboration is key for ASCA and their members. Their network includes the Smart Places team. Run by the New South Wales state government, Smart Places is an initiative that uses technology and information to improve social, economic, and environmental outcomes for people and places. Smart Places outlines their vision as, “to deliver outcomes for citizens and businesses by applying for a consistent, seamless, place-blades approach to Smart Places implementation in New South Wales”. The initiative’s official strategy, outlined in 2020, aims to deliver outcomes in skills, jobs, and development; safety and security; environmental quality; equity, accessibility, and inclusion; health and wellbeing; collaboration, and connection. Ms. Baker explains, “We have a rich history building out the strategies outlines by Smart Places and working with them to identify challenges, opportunities, and resources for smart communities in New South Wales. They have done some amazing work embedding smart technology, data, and innovation into metro and regional spaces across the state. We consider them to be leading the way in how state governments can introduce and implement smart city and smart community thinking throughout a range of jurisdictions. The team has also just released a Smart Innovation challenge, which is well worth a look at.”
ASCA also recently worked with Maribyrnong city council for the launch of their smart city framework. The council recently rolled out a strategy asking members of the public to identify how they use technology, gaining insights to build a digital ecosystem that uses smart technology in securing better outcomes for the Maribyrnong community. Ms. Baker shares, “We have over 50 members across Australia who are doing things like this. It’s wonderful that we can be a part of these studies in their development. It allows us to build great lasting relationships with committed individuals by promoting their efforts and providing feedback on their frameworks and strategies to help them achieve optimal results.”
ASCA operates under a volunteer board of industry professionals who are all passionate about investing in the sector to spur its development throughout the country. Working as a remote team, the board has direct representation in New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, and Victoria. The association aims to have representation in all Australian states and territories as soon as possible, Ms. Baker says. “We want to have a board member representing all local communities across Australia, so that we have a strong local presence in every major area. We plan to start in Queensland, with Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory to follow.”
ASCA developed their first ever strategic plan in 2021 to identify key priorities for the future. Ms. Baker concludes, “Our priorities moving forward are to support our members through knowledge, insights, capacity, resources, and networking, and to influence the sector through education and advocacy. We have worked on our election platform, which outlines documents that state our priorities and the priorities of our members in accelerating smart community development. It also highlights the role that federal government needs to play. Our team are always looking at how we can reshape our value proposition to maximise what we can offer to members in terms of events, education, networking, and more.
The next few years are going to be really important and interesting for smart communities all across Australia. At ASCA, there is going to be a huge push for us and our members to think creatively, innovatively, and collaboratively in response to that hyperlocal focus. We are also currently in the process of creating an exclusive content series call Smart Communities in Action, which is a collection of case studies of ASCA members all around the country to showcase the work that they’re doing and their successes. By accessing this content series, our members can have a look at what has or hasn’t worked for other community leaders as they role out pilots and design new innovative ventures. Overall, we are excited to continue pushing ourselves to support our sector, and we believe that the best is yet to come.”
For more information, visit: https://www.australiansmartcommunities.org.au/