Clockwork and Network: Getting Things Done in a Rural Town
Eversole, R and Scholfield, K, Clockwork and Network: Getting Things Done in a Rural Town, AUCEA 2006 Proceedings, 25 - 27 September 2006, Melbourne Park Function Centre, pp. 2 - 7. (2006) [Refereed Conference Paper]
This paper explores the tensions between informal and formal institutions of governance in rural towns, in order to reveal some of the stresses and contradictions of attempting to create partnerships between governments and communities. Drawing on published accounts, ethnographic observations, and conversations with a group of rural-based co-researchers working in government-funded local programs, the paper emphasises the importance of informal, personal, and extra-bureaucratic networks for ‘getting things done’ – from immediate problem solving to long-term strategic planning.
Government departments, particularly at State level, are increasingly recognising the value of local networks as innovators. Yet as large, formal bureaucratic institutions, they are incapable of engaging with informal networks on their own terms. Partnerships must be formally established, policies observed, and decision-making about new initiatives must pass through formal institutional protocols. Networks are expected to function like ‘clockwork’ – that is, to follow a managerial, rather than a community, model of governance. Meanwhile, government policy at local, State and Commonwealth levels increasingly limits and channels informal action by formalising and regulating it. This paper argues that the meeting point between government and community institutions is a very tenuous one, and any serious attempt at partnership must acknowledge the importance of informal institutions and resist the temptation to change them into what they are not.