Online tool to measure socio-economic changes in communities

August 2012June 2021
The online toolkit provides an adaptive assessment and monitoring framework to help inform decision making among stakeholders and help attain socioeconomic benefits for the region.

Online tool to measure socio-economic changes in communities

This research developed the UQ Cumulative Impacts online Tool Kit to provide stakeholders with information about changes across regional towns. The use of this tool kit across multiple sectors will foster a common understanding of socio-economic cumulative impacts of CSG and identify methods to address them.

The CCSG Socio-Economic Indicators project employs a suite of metrics developed to measure change in communities undergoing relatively rapid change, specifically - population, unemployment, income, housing costs, and crime rates.  These metrics were originally selected to assess cumulative social and economic impacts of CSG development in towns in the Western Downs regional council area, the heart of Queensland’s CSG development.  The project found significant dynamics accompanying CSG development – such as increased migration to, from, and within the Western Downs with effects on each town’s “social capital”.  

The method of analysis resulted in an online toolkit. The UQ Boomtown Toolkit enables defining, collecting and analysing town-level indicators to inform strategic planning and decision-making. This Toolkit approach is now being employed to characterise changes in a total nine towns across four local government areas where CSG development is occurring in Queensland.  Elements have also been adopted by the Queensland government.  

These indicator metrics were developed – and employed - through extensive engagement with regional communities and other stakeholders. As such, they are ‘agreed indicators’ rather than merely abstract, desk-top indicators selected by experts.  They feature town-level measurement, a level of granularity needed for practical and political reasons.  That has enabled identifying migration of low-income families from towns where rents were rising to areas with lower rents.  Then, when rents fell below their historical trend lines in the ‘boom towns’ when CSG construction ended, due to ‘too many’ houses being built, low income families migrated to these towns to take advantage of the lower rents. That has had spill on effects for local schools.   

This annual reporting project has made trends in these indicators visible for the period of 2001 to the present through online plotting software.  Analysis of these trends, and comparison of changes in different towns, is contributing to an annual update for the regions covered.  The update has feature articles on key issue areas, such as housing and small business.  Additionally, the project team are pursuing widespread uptake of the online information to support decision-making by local businesses, community organisations, various levels and departments of government, and the CSG industry.

This project aims to improve the capacity to monitor, assess and predict cumulative socio-economic impacts of rapid changes in regional communities, CSG development included.  It helps to distinguish between short-term impacts and long-term trends. More importantly, it is meant to put industry, community, and government ‘on the same page’ about actual effects being seen in towns.

This project:

a) Tracks impact over time at town and regional scale.

b) Builds capacity via the information provided in an annual reference report to be used across sectors in the Queensland CSG footprint.

c) Builds capacity in "systems thinking" and support more effective planning.

Driver for developing the tool

Identifying mechanisms to understand, measure and respond to cumulative socio-economic impacts of resource development are a priority area for The University of Queensland Centre for Coal Seam Gas.These cumulative impacts are the successive, incremental and combined effects (both positive and negative) on communities and their environment from multiple projects in a region. In this case, we are tracking impacts of the CSG mega projects on the Western Downs of Queensland.

Cumulative impacts present significant challenges for regulators, who historically have focused on project-by project approval. Project proponents in an area typically have their impacts and reputations entangled with those of a range of other players, both other businesses but also nature, for example, extended drought. Residents and businesses in communities and regions can face impacts that are unexpected and seemingly disproportionate to the resource development that they were told to expect. Among these stakeholders, government has an interest in greater coherence and efficiency across agencies. Industry desires certainty and increasingly needs to accommodate coordinated effort across companies. The community seeks trusted counterparts and a voice in decision-making.

These challenges are particularly evident in the Western Downs region of Queensland. Large-scale development is proceeding at what a number of stakeholders perceive as a rapid rate. Dealing with the challenges presented by cumulative impacts requires identification of salient and credible indicators of impact at the regional scale. One also needs to ensure that this information is used to inform the decision-making of key actors. For example, an unusual spike in housing prices during the project's construction phase must be seen as an anomaly, not to be expected during the coming operations phase.

‘Salient’ indicators are those that draw on appropriate data and suggest important implications for industry, government, residents, and others. ‘Credible’ indicators are those that are accepted as legitimate, reliable, and believable by key stakeholders. In developing indicators that meet these criteria, the project has two key aims:

  1. Limit the negative impact of ‘consultation fatigue’ in impacted communities; and
  2.  Develop mechanisms for bridging a gap between the measurement and forecasting of impacts (a research process) and ongoing governance processes (decision-making processes). That is, we are working to identify mechanisms to ensure that cumulative impact can be calculated and reported on. At the same time, we are seeking to make the understanding of cumulative impacts an accepted frame of reference for ongoing, collaborative decision-making in the region.


Online tools



  • Project status: Current
  • Project leader: Dr Katherine Witt
  • Research team: Dr Katherine Witt, Associate Professor Will Rifkin, Dr Vikki Uhlmann, Dr Jo-Anne Everingham, Kylie May
  • Research group: The University of Queensland Centre for Natural Gas (formerly known as The University of Queensland Centre for Coal Seam Gas) & The University of Queensland Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining
  • Timeframe: Phase 1 August 2012 - June 2016, & Phase 2 August 2015 - April 2020
  • Project funders: APLNG, Arrow Energy, QGC, Santos, University of Queensland


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