Regional Context Analysis

Place based methodology for developing future directions for the Orbost district.

In November 2019, the Victorian Government announced the Victorian Forestry Plan. Under this Plan, commercial harvesting of native forests is to phase down from 2024, and all native forest harvesting will cease from 2030.

Drawing on experience with energy transition in the Latrobe Valley, it was agreed that the Orbost district might benefit from early intervention to facilitate transition. The Latrobe Valley Authority’s (LVA) Smart Specialisation methodology was seen to be a useful approach for developing a roadmap for the future of the Orbost district.

The regional context analysis uses demographic and descriptive data to understand the current community, business and population characteristics and activities in the Orbost district. Interviews with some 60 stakeholders from business, education/research, government and community have provided insights to the ways of working in the region, perceived strengths, the relevance to different kinds of supply chains, and possible innovation activities.

In 2019, the three main sectors in which people were employed were agriculture and forestry, education, and health. The data indicates that in the past decade (as compared with the 1990s), Orbost is best characterised as an agricultural centre again, rather than as a forestry town.

Without exception, people commented on the quality of the natural environment, particularly the rainfall, soils and climate, and the opportunities for more to be done, other than dairy and beef farming. Growing vegetables was seen as a sector where there was considerable potential for value-adding and trying new ways of working.

The Orbost district’s long history with growing maize, sweet corn and popcorn was reflected in businesses focused on either plant breeding for these products, or in the production of seeds for various global maize/corn production companies. The two key companies both have global connections, one being owned by a US-company, and the other owning a subsidiary in New Zealand.

DELWP are about to commence the development of new forest management plans for Victoria with a Gippsland section aiming to revitalise policy and use with respect to public land. In particular, they are exploring more accessible infrastructure on public land, but this will not cover land managed by Parks Victoria. VicForests are alert to the consequences of the end of logging for the issue of maintaining forest roads, particularly to support firefighting. These operations require specialised equipment and specific skill for safe management.

There is no shortage of interesting ideas, and potential market opportunities for new ventures in the Orbost district. The economic data demonstrates the strength of existing agricultural activities and the strength of expertise which underpins the performance of that sector.

Given the importance of identifying the uniqueness of assets that can support innovation opportunities, the interviews with stakeholders have been crucial in illuminating the underlying substance and diversity which exists in the Orbost district economic and natural environment.


The "double diamond" diagram below describes the design process that the project is moving through, with the regional context analysis forming part of the initial "Discover" phase of the project.


Regional Context Analysis Report

On 23 June 2021, approximately 60 community members (30 in person and 30 online) who had contributed to the preparation of the Regional Context Analysis attended a forum at which they were provided with an overview of the report by Bruce Wilson, RMIT and Tim Cotter. An introduction to the 9 topics which could be the focus of EDP workshops were explored, as provided in the slides below.

This report will be shared with those who have partcipated in the project to date, and with other key stakeholders from business, government and education / research whose participation will be critical to the longer-term outcomes for the Orbost district. It informs the process of making decisions about the particular topics that will be the focus of the EDP workshops.

The Regional Context Analysis Report is available to download below.


Regional Context Analysis Presentation

Presentation Slides from the Community Update sessions held on Wednesday 16th June 2021.

Innovation and Opportunities

All participants in this process have been committed to seeing the Orbost district and its citizens prosper, and most have valuable ideas about initiatives that would contribute to a dynamic future. Many of these ideas build on established activities or draw on the example of great projects elsewhere. Of course, these should be encouraged and supported as well as possible through existing processes (such as those offered by Regional Development Victoria).

However, the context analysis has revealed a small number of distinct innovation opportunities that warrant scrutiny through an Entrepreneurial Discovery Process. There are also specific opportunities that can be pursued in conjunction with other Gippsland-wide GS3 innovation groups that are working under the auspices of Food and Fibre Gippsland (FFG), Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN) and Destination Gippsland (DG). Furthermore, the conversations with local stakeholders drew attention to significant local natural assets which could be the basis of innovation opportunities.

This report suggests 9 topics which could be the focus of Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP) workshops. These EDP workshops provide a means of undertaking an intensive initial review of innovation possibilities and determining whether or not they warrant further investigation by an Innovation Group (which might take a few months to resolve the real nature of the opportunity).

Community Input Report

On 30 June 2021, approximately 40 community members who had contributed to the preparation of the Regional Context Analysis attended a forum at which they were invited to share their thoughts on the 9 topics which could be the focus of EDP workshops.

Substantial feedback was received on each of the opportunites. This document presents again the detail of each propositon that was outlined in the report, together with a summary of the feedback offered in the forum.

This report will be shared with those who have partcipated in the project to date, and with other key stakeholders from business, government and education / research whose participation will be critical to the longer-term outcomes for the Orbost district. It informs the process of making decisions about the particular topics that will be the focus of the EDP workshops.

The Community Input Report is available to download below.


Progress Report - April 2022

In February 2021, the Latrobe Valley Authority (LVA) invited a team from the University of Melbourne and RMIT University to assist the Orbost and District Chamber of Commerce & Industry in a pilot project, using Smart Specialisation (S3) to develop a roadmap to guide the future development of Orbost, in the wake of the Victorian Government’s decision to transition away from native forest harvesting by 2030.

The project team has provided support through close collaboration with the Orbost Project Manager and the Steering Committee, specifically through:

  1. Preparation of the Regional Context Analysis, which identified nine innovation opportunities.

  2. Supporting community engagement on the Regional Context Analysis for the purposes of validation of findings and selection of the Innovation Opportunities to be investigated in the Entrepreneurial Discovery Process.

  3. Conducting Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP) workshops on five opportunities.

  1. Assisting with regular communication with the local community and key stakeholders, through Networking Nights, Conversation events and newspaper articles, and

  2. Preparation of this progress report and setting out the parameters of the emerging Roadmap.

This Report summarises the learning from these activities and foreshadows the Roadmap for next steps in 2022. The project has involved significant further learning about the relevance of Smart Specialisation for regional transition in Australia. While it drew heavily on the experience of the Gippsland Smart Specialisation Strategy (GS3) process which began in 2017, the focus on a district around a small town has contributed important new insights.

The Progress Report is available to download below.


Prospective Innovation Opportunities

National Seeds Institute

Orbost district businesses demonstrate globally significant expertise in the breeding and production of seeds for maize, sweet corn and popcorn. In addition, other organisations have extensive expertise in forest seeds and other plants. This expertise could underpin a national seeds institute with global standing in seed breeding and production.

Agricultural Opportunities

There are several examples of high value-add or specialist agricultural opportunities, including protected cropping, new products (samphire, insects, black garlic, edible botanicals, native grasses, seaweed), and a cooperative malting facility, that could prompt innovation. The third of these is already the subject of a Food and Fibre Gippsland (FFG) GS3 Innovation Group. Other relevant FFG activities might include vegetable waste processing, insect farming for protein, and seaweed harvesting. Some Orbost district stakeholders are involved in those activities already.

Forest Management

Native forests are an important environmental asset that will require careful management following the end of native timber logging. Promoting biodiversity, particularly supporting threatened species, has been a key part of the decision-making underpinning the Forestry Plan. Access into the forests will have to be constructed and maintained whether for ongoing care, use, visitor economy, or for disaster management. Work in Europe on a similar agenda could be very useful in prompting innovation opportunities in forest management, research and protection activities, and use of forest resources.

Visitor Economy

Destination Gippsland (DG) have extensive work underway on tracks and trails with Innovation Groups focused on technologies that could enhance the visitor experience, and on setting up a social enterprise that could employ unemployed forest contractors and workers and disengaged young people in trail construction and forest management. There are also opportunities for research to suggest new markets; in addition the coastal parks along Orbost’s nearby coastline are a stunning natural resource, accompanied by off-shore fishing, hunting and diving resources that attract international visitors.

P13+ Education

The development of a ‘13+’ learning facility which provides for articulated education and training opportunities spanning Certificate 2-Bachelor programs relevant to emerging local enterprises. The facility would be supported by DET, TAFE Gippsland and Federation University, offering personal learning support for a mix of programs.