Planning for the future: FRDC's RD&E Plan 2020-2025

Much has changed since the FRDC developed its first strategic plan in the early ‘90’s. 

There has been widespread digitisation of enormous amounts of information, development of smart systems that communicate interdependently, a huge decrease in cost and increase in power of computing, increased communication of rich content around the world, and all this has shaped, and been shaped by, shifting societal values, politics and business practices. The result has been increased complexity, uncertainty and unpredictability.

Scenario planning  uses cutting edge methods well suited to planning in an uncertain environment . We have been using this approach to work with a broad collective of innovators and leaders from across the wild harvest, aquaculture, recreational, indigenous and post-harvest sectors, as well as fisheries management and research communities, to co-design elements of our next strategic research, development and extension plan for 2020-25.

The System Map

Led by a diverse collective of our stakeholders, we set out to build - for the first time - a system map of the fishing and aquaculture landscape. 

The map describes key drivers affecting fishing and aquaculture in Australia, and the relationships between them. Building this map sparked deep discussion among the diverse sectors of how our shared world works.

We built a shared understanding of the landscape we all work in, and established a common language we can use to describe the forces we all feel affect our lives.

The system map provided the groundwork for stakeholders to identify the most critical drivers, which if changed, would alter the entire operating landscape for fishing and aquaculture in Australia.

Four futures

These drivers formed the foundational dynamics for the development of four alternative possible futures :

1. A world in 2030 wherein the prevailing motivation is confidence, and influencers are largely unifying and inclusive
2. A world in 2030 within which the prevailing motivation is fear, and influencers are largely polarising and divisive
3. A world in 2030 wherein aquatic systems are managed sustainably in an integrative manner, and key environmental impacts are largely known, measured & managed, and 
4. A world in 2030 within which government policy is driven by populism, and key environmental impacts are largely unknown, unmeasured and unmanaged. 

Participants then worked together, over several workshops, to consider the implications of each possible future for fishing and aquaculture in Australia. 

Of course fishing and aquaculture is only one component of a larger connected system, and so this process also required participants to consider trends relating to shifting social values, climate and the environment, economics, geopolitics, population growth and movement, technology & innovation, and global trade, among others.

Stakeholder workshops

A series of regional workshops were convened across Australia to grow the conversation, encouraging a diverse cross-section of Australia’s fishing and aquaculture community to come together and explore each scenario, documenting insights relevant to the future of fishing and aquaculture. 

Data collected was then presented, complete and unfiltered, to a workshop involving all sectors on 20 and 30 October, during which they made sense of data collected, organising into themes, and used the information to develop a strategic intent of FRDC’s 2020-25 RD&E Plan.

Identifying priorities and developing models for the future

Working with Dr Kirsten Abernethy from our Human Dimensions Subprogram, we undertook a detailed analysis of priorities identified in existing plans developed by Research Advisory Committees (RACs), Subprograms and Industry Partnership Agreements (IPAs), as well as the Federal Fisheries Minister’s National Fishing Advisory Council, National Marine Science Plan and Australian Fisheries Management Forum, to map common themes identified, and compare to priority areas identified from this extensive consultative process.

FRDC has also been working with CSIRO to take the system map developed by FRDC stakeholders, and integrate key elements into a computer model. This is an experiment to see whether it might help inform discussions on possible investments to deliver impact, and what to measure to track progress. 

Preliminary results have been promising, with the model shown to be able to explain a high proportion of the dynamics within the fishing and aquaculture environment. It is hoped that we might also be able to use the model to monitor how the future unfolds in comparison to scenarios developed.

FRDC has also engaged independent consultants to liaise with FRDC stakeholders to review the consultative structures that we use to inform our business.

A shared vision

This extensive consultative process helped define a shared vision for the future of fishing and aquaculture in Australia, owned by Australia’s fishing and aquaculture community: Indigenous, wild harvest, recreational, and aquaculture sectors, and the industries, services, agencies and organisations that support them. This vision is laid out in the draft document, Fish Forever, which describes what our stakeholders want fishing and aquaculture to look like by 2030, and how we can work together to make it happen.

Some of the key insights this process has revealed are summarised below:

There is a critical need to improve unity among all sectors. This will require investment of time and resources to enable the building and maintenance of relationships between all sectors. There is also a need to do so with other key players, including Environmental Non-Government Organisations (ENGOs).

Mutual trust and respect must be foundational. Engendering broader community and consumer trust would require (among other things) an effective strategy to communicate the positive attributes of Australia’s fishing and aquaculture community. 

Equitable and secure allocation among all sectors was likely to have played a critical role in easing inter-sectoral conflict in all future scenarios. There is merit in considering the capacity of all actors to influence this outcome given its critical nature.

There is a need for a sophisticated communication strategy to deliver a shared narrative to the Australian community and consumers. This will require investment in capacity building for all sectors, noting the present capacity deficit in this area.

New approaches to extension of R&D were required – by FRDC and others, including a need to reduce scientific nature of extension activities.

The Indigenous sector is likely to be in a strong position as a result of their social licence. There is value to be gained in considering traditional ecological knowledge along with other forms of knowledge that are more commonly integrated into decision-making processes.

Science was noted as a tool of variable effectiveness in different operating environments, of limited use in a populist world.

Australia is in the process of losing small operators. This trend is enabled by prevalent systems of management, and this would need to be addressed with urgency if this trend is to be addressed.

Future scenarios which delivered positive outcomes for fishing and aquaculture were noted to have high levels of cost and regulation. Participants noted this to be a likely to be a necessary precursor in order to achieve the high levels of transparency, compliance, and evidence to underpin a fishing and aquaculture community that is highly regarded and well supported in future.

Fish Forever is being used to directly shape FRDC’s strategic 2020-25 RD&E Plan. 

The new planning approach used to derive FRDC’s 2020-2025 RD&E Plan has generally been well received by participants, with many commenting favourably on the way it encourages participants out of their traditional sectoral views to take a shared ‘big picture view’. It is hoped that some of the tools, methods and insights developed to inform FRDC’s 2020-2025 RD&E Plan will also be of use to individuals, businesses, and organisations throughout the fishing and aquaculture community as they contemplate and prepare for the future.

Future developments

As the 2020-25 RD&E Plan is developed updates will be available on this page and published in the quarterly FRDC Stakeholder Briefings and FISH Magazine.

Feedback on the RD&E Plan

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