Local govt at the heart of digital economic recovery – Anne Lawrence, Head of Industry Advancement, Moreton Bay Regional Council

Anne Lawrence Moreton Bay Council

Not every government program that gets developed needs a formal plan and a budget at the outset. Often good ideas emerge, and good people discover how to progress them, using discretionary effort. 

As Head of Industry Advancement, Lawrence plays a foremost role in nurturing the Moreton Bay* region’s economic and social development. At the coalface of change for her community, Lawrence has fast come to appreciate the indispensable role of technology and tech partnerships in driving regional economic growth, particularly in a post-Covid recovery, and in creating a responsive, adaptive and constituent-centric local government (though there are always limits to is usefulness).

In the lead up to our FST Government Queensland event, our conference chair weighs in on  Queensland councils’ innovation ecosystem, exploring current trends shaping local governments’ digital innovation agendas, getting the most digital innovation bang out of limited council bucks, and why the one-stop-shop online citizen portal might not always be in constituents’ best interests.

FST Government: You moderated our FST Government Queensland event last year and we’re privileged to welcome you back again for 2022. In a year of intermittent Covid lockdowns, new working realities, and global challenges, what particular trends or new pressure points have you recognised within local government? And how do you see their digital agendas evolving in response?

Lawrence: We are all adapting. Yesterday’s mindsets (those obsolete frameworks and outdated assumptions) are in the past.

Standing side by side alongside our leaders, those who are delivering digital change and technology agendas are at the forefront and remain agile and fully aware of the context of each and every situation.

As we all know, Covid gave the working from home agenda an accelerated jolt, placing significant pressure on processes, systems and the underpinning digital infrastructure across both the private and public sectors. This has had larger longer-term ramifications on workforce trends, including higher competition for digital talent.

Focusing on retaining and attracting digital talent should remain high on the agenda for leaders across government, as it is certainly the focus of the private sector.

FST Government: Paint us a picture of what, ideally, an innovation ecosystem should look like for councils. Ultimately,
what should such an ecosystem realise for constituents?

Lawrence: This term gets used a lot and means so many different things to different people. For me, an innovation ecosystem is the symbiotic relationship between so many different components of a high performing local economy, inclusive of our start-up and technology business leaders, technology infrastructure, events and skills development programs, access to capital including angel and venture funds, open data, meetups and informal groups through to traditional businesses exploring innovative new product and process development.

And let’s not forget the very important extra-curricular education initiatives helping to stimulate the bright minds of the future, all focused on continuous improvement and supporting one another.

I tackle this topic specifically from an economic development perspective and work alongside my colleagues in many areas of government on the role that they can play from a leadership perspective.

FST Government: What do think holds councils back from being innovation leaders? Are there any stand-out challenges or gaps that have opened up over the last year that could hamper local governments’ innovation capability?

Lawrence: It is very hard for local governments to be leaders in innovation, as we don’t have the same burning platform that the private sector has.

The private sector has to adapt or die, and ‘competitive advantage’ is one of their priority focus areas. Governments of all types don’t have that same focus, they have a more holistic compliance and regulatory focus.

Governments, therefore, have to work extra hard at creating innovation cultures internally to support best practice and continuous improvement.

FST Government: One of the key priorities of your role is to engage with and encourage local industry.

What role can and should councils play in stimulating the digital economy – both at a local level and state-wide?

Lawrence: Councils can play any number of roles, based on the skills of their teams and the resources they have at hand.

At its simplest, stimulating connections between business and industry leaders on the topic of digital economy leadership will unearth all manner of ideas and opportunities. Then, building on the passion and commitment of the local networks that get created, partnerships can form and ideas can come to life.

FST Government: Councils aren’t known to be blessed with the budgetary, technology and human resources of ‘higher’ tiers of government.

How can local governments best stretch their limited resources to meet constituent demand?

Lawrence: We need to tap into the passion and expertise of our staff through performance frameworks that support out-of-the-box thinking.

Not every government program that gets developed needs a formal plan and a budget at the outset. Often good ideas emerge, and good people discover how to progress them, using discretionary effort. 


Reward that effort and insight by building programs and opportunities around them, after market-testing the idea.

FST Government: While still vital to leverage in-house talent and resources, partnerships have become indispensable for all public sector innovators today.

How can councils get the most out of their external partnerships to support their unique objectives?

Lawrence: Partnerships are indeed critical. They demonstrate the legitimacy of their idea or vision; they also demonstrate credibility as well as the likelihood of success. Educational institutes, large corporates and industry or business groups all make excellent external partners.

Structuring good partnerships at the outset by aligning project outcomes to each other’s strategic interest and carefully scoping each other’s roles in the process are fundamentals for success.

FST Government: Walk us through some key priorities within the Moreton Bay Council (MBC) and opportunities for positive transformation over the next year.

Lawrence: We definitely have some exciting announcements where large innovative companies are planning to set up their headquarters in our region (but I can’t let the cat out of the bag yet!).

More broadly, building off the partnerships being formed with industry and universities like the  University of the Sunshine Coast, we will have more advanced manufacturing ‘sandbox’ test and trial initiatives, more demo and pitch days targeting specific industry verticals with a digital creative industries-focused event planned for 4 May in Caboolture [on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast].

We’re also offering more support for GovHack this year and increasing the reach of the #TeamMoretonBay results from last year, as well as many more exciting initiatives aligned to our Regional Economic Development Strategy (REDS).

FST Government: In your unique role as Head of Industry Advancement, what have you been particularly proud to deliver?

Lawrence: I am super proud of my team, my colleagues within Moreton Bay Council and my partnership network. There is no other way to put it.

We can’t do these wonderful things by ourselves and my pride isn’t in the programs or initiatives that have been developed, it is in the relationships that have been formed which have been aligned to supporting our communities.

FST Government: Digital transformation programs today, at least at the customer-end,  often culminate in ‘one-stop-shop citizen service’ portals. Is this a priority for Moreton Bay Council?

Lawrence: When talking with our Customer Response teams, I know that they pride themselves on delivering personalised responses.

This trend towards one-stop-shops isn’t necessarily improving the customer experience, and at times they can weaken customer satisfaction and push all the onus and responsibility onto the customer.


Because each and every stakeholder in our community is a customer of ours, we always need to think about how best to meet their needs. We even have a tailor-made customer service charter within our Economic Development Department, and treat not only external customers with priority and respect but also internal customers, such as our colleagues, in the same way.

FST Government: Digital twins, combined with IoT technologies, have become increasingly attractive prospects for local governments, offering unprecedented insight into their local environments and development potential.

Is MBC exploring any use cases for digital twins?

Lawrence: Jackie Frost, who heads up Moreton Bay Council’s Asset Maintenance and Innovation programs, could certainly offer more insight on this. However, I can tell you that she and her team are already leading the field with some very innovative programs.

Her team affixed road scanning technology to garbage trucks to capture real-time intelligence on the quality of road surfaces to support quality decision making. They have been doing some other really cool stuff and there is more to come.

FST Government: Finally, in one sentence, how can local governments be better service providers?

Lawrence: By keeping a continuous improvement mindset and not a fixed, old-world mindset – always learning and always striving to do better!

Anne Lawrence will chair our upcoming FST Government Queensland conference, covering key issues in the Queensland Government’s digital innovation ecosystem, from the state’s post-Covid response, front-line services transformation, ‘digital by default’ objectives, and cybersecurity in a period of growing geopolitical crises.

*Correction: Previously listed as ‘Sunshine Coast’. Anne leads development for the Moreton Bay region.