In 2021 RASA facilitated the development of a Strategic Plan for Amateur Radio in Australia.
Here is a text copy of that document. As always, we invite feedback and suggestions.
A Strategic Review of Amateur Radio in Australia
30 November 2021
Copyright © RASA 2021
Society has changed a great deal in the last 20 to 30 years. Mobile phone technology, the internet, and changes in the way we work and engage in recreational activities have had a marked impact on the hobby of Amateur Radio.
Amateur Radio has a proud tradition of technological development and has led to some of today’s popular technologies. Sadly, contemporary public perception (where it exists) is that it is now a quaint but out-dated pastime. Technology development has accelerated, and our hobby has not been able to keep pace with commercial investments or interests. Amateur Radio is (for the most part) no longer at the forefront of technological development.
Many of today’s youth are attracted to robotics, gaming and internet-based interests.
Employment models have changed, and many people have less time for recreational activities. Previously “Amateur Radio friendly institutions” like universities, public utilities and large corporations provided a foundation for an interest amateur radio. (e.g. Universities, Telecom and IBM once had active AR clubs).
Even our regulator, the ACMA has very few licenced Amateur Radio enthusiasts in its ranks.
More densely populated housing, smaller residential blocks, and local RF Interference (QRM) have all had a detrimental impact on Amateur Radio participation rates.
AR’s emergency and public service function has become less relevant. Government emergency agencies now operate robust, redundant, and wide-reaching communication networks.
For many years interest has been waning, numbers are in slow decline and our demographic is ageing. Our hobby has no strategic, publicity, or education plans. Whilst the Foundation Licence arrested the decline for a while, the trend continues downward. Nothing illustrates this better than the WIA’s own membership decline; their membership base is declining faster than the AR numbers; 30% versus 3%.
Source: WIA Annual Report 2020
There is no clear leadership, and the hobby is often divided by politics; the two national bodies are often at odds.
To this end, the RASA Management Team initiated a Strategic Review of Amateur Radio in Australia.
- explore the future of Amateur Radio;
- retain existing amateurs within the hobby;
- attract newcomers to the hobby;
- promote the interesting and exciting elements of the hobby and encourage greater participation; and
- promote the hobby from within as being inclusive, friendly and engaging.
- convene a small group of amateurs (a Panel) to participate in the process;
- utilise well known methods to drive an effective outcome;
- conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis;
- focus on identifying and addressing the key weaknesses and threats to our hobby;
- playing into our strengths and leverage opportunities; and
- develop a series of recommendation to present to key stakeholders.
The SWOT analysis methodology is described overleaf.
Strengths are something we’re good at. They usually come naturally and may be unique to our business. We need to play into our strengths and build on them. Strengths can also present opportunities.
Weaknesses are something we’re not particularly good at… quite often they’ll be something we don’t want to acknowledge or would prefer not to do. We either need to address our weaknesses or accept their existence and act accordingly. Weaknesses will almost certainly require specific actions. They are usually a weakness because we’ve avoided taking action in the past.
Opportunities are untapped… they can be visionary and may be regarded as a quantum leap. But opportunities can turn a failing business or association into a success. An opportunity will require specific actions.
Threats are usually external to the business or organisation. They may also form an existential threat; and this is where an threat may need to be acknowledged… as unpalatable as that may seem. Threats either need an action plan to address or we need to accept their existence… just don’t avoid threats because they make you uncomfortable.
|Amateur Radio offers the ability to interweave in with other interests. For example, travel, outdoors, hiking, astronomy, electronics, makers, contesting, orienteering, experimentation.|
|Technology – Amateur Radio offers an extensive array of interesting new technology – if you like playing with new technology this hobby is for you. The hobby and tech are constantly evolving.|
|Amateur Radio is a diverse hobby. There is something for everyone (construction, SOTA, contesting, digital modes, EME, satellites, morse code, video/pictures, DXing, LW, MW, HF, V/U/SHF, refurbishing old gear, WSPR, SDR, Arduino, Raspberry Pi)|
|Amateur Radio requires learned and practiced skills. These can be developed at your own pace and interest level. It is a very rewarding hobby and can provide feelings of satisfaction and achievement. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. You can build your own equipment or buy off-the-shelf gear.|
|Amateur radio can be a very socially stimulating hobby. It provides many opportunities to break through social barriers, geographical isolation and other issues associated with loneliness. (e.g. interest in the hobby has soared during Covid-19 lockdowns – what can we learn from this?)|
|Amateur Radio in Australia has no vision for the future. What will our hobby look like in 5 or 10 years? Who is leading the way with vision & strategy?|
|Amateur Radio has a real public relations problem with society in general – perceived as being mid-20th century, older men, engineers, and introverted behaviour.|
|Social Media is often counter-productive. Much of it is characterised by stupidity, negativity, slurs, defamation, politics, and bullying.|
|There is no central (national) body to oversee the educational resources. This makes it difficult for clubs and individuals to offer consistent education and/or exam preparation classes. It also places the burden for class material onto limited club or private resources.|
|Some Amateur Radio enthusiasts are unwelcoming to minorities and new hams. There is a reluctance to embrace new ideas and changes to the way things are run. Potential recruits are sometimes ignored…. particularly if they are perceived as different. Amateur Radio can sometimes look like an “old man’s secret society” from the outside.|
|Entry points for examinations and callsign administration to AR are less than ideal. The hobby and ACMA’s service provider, the Australian Maritime College (AMC) have suffered reputational damage during the first two years of the new arrangements with the ACMA. Much of this damage is due to slow implementation of services and inadequate communication with the sector. There is a perception that AMC are not focused on the needs of the AR community or prospective amateurs.|
|Some clubs fail to offer a consistent and welcoming image to potential new hams. Entry for newcomers can be a bit “bit and miss”.|
|There has been a membership decline in many organisations and clubs. This trend is likely to continue and impact their ongoing viability.|
|Young people and women are underrepresented in Amateur Radio. Is it because the hobby doesn’t appeal to those demographics?|
|The public at large has no real knowledge or understanding of Amateur radio. Many are surprised that people have to study technology to obtain a licence. (When was the last time a movie correctly portrayed Amateur Radio?)|
|The broader community have the wrong impression, (or none at all), of Amateur Radio. We have an opportunity to grow the hobby by increasing community awareness of its existence, attractiveness and benefits.|
|Exams should be delivered online – this will streamline processing and result in vastly improved service delivery for new candidates.|
|There are opportunities to grow numbers and participation levels by promoting Amateur Radio in with other interests. For example, travel, outdoors, hiking, astronomy, electronics, makers, contesting, orientation.|
|Amateur Radio really can be an interesting an engaging hobby – something for everyone – when you grow bored of one facet there is another to investigate|
|There is an opportunity to build a modern support and marketing structure: Positive PR to the general public;Support for all new and existing amateurs; Development and delivery of programs to target youth, women, families, etc; and Learning from overseas successes of groups in NZ, UK & USA.|
|If pitched positively, Amateur Radio is an interest that can be shared with other family members, friends, and associates. For example, the latest generation of compact HF equipment/antennas makes portable operation interesting and fun.|
|There are missed opportunities for some clubs to present a consistent and welcoming image to members and potential new hams. There are virtually no best-practice resources or support for clubs. For example, financial management, exams & education, operating procedures, mentoring new members, meetings & governance, committee structure, web-site content, membership management, bullying etc.|
|Lack of vision and cooperation from WIA, RASA and the larger clubs with resources: AR NSW and AR Vic and some of the larger local clubs. Amateur Radio is riven by politics at the representative level, to the detriment of all amateurs and our relationship with the ACMA. This can be seen in the failure of the Syllabus Review Panel and the rejection of the 60m band.|
|Government policies and competing workloads see the regulator with less focus and fewer resources committed to Amateur Radio. There have been some inconsistent and poor policy decisions over the past two years. The regulator has a lack of in-house expertise and has been reluctant to consider impartial advice. Government is driving a policy to move to greater self-regulation and less oversight by the regulator. All these influences will have an impact on the future of Amateur Radio in Australia. (e.g. RFI & QRM, Enforcement of policy, delegation to third parties)|
|More high density living detracts from some aspects of AR (eg. HF antennas). It is very rare to see a tower and a tri-bander in suburbia these days.|
|Our numbers are dropping every year. Natural attrition through SK, but also many just walk-away… do we know why? What can be done?|
|QRM – RFI is having a significant negative impact on people’s ability to get on-air and enjoy noise free operations|
Recommended Strategies & Actions
The following list of strategies and actions have been drafted with a focus on the SWOT analysis, ensuring that:
- We play into our strengths
- We aim to address our weaknesses
- We seize opportunities
- We acknowledge and investigate how we can mitigate threats
Whilst the list is not exhaustive, we believe it addresses the most pressing issues facing our hobby and those raised in the SWOT analysis.
|Vision & Strategy||It is essential that the two National Bodies overcome their differences. We all want what is best for AR. Meet regularly, discuss mutual goals and look for areas of cooperation. This would allow far better use of limited resources across the Amateur Radio community.|
|Vision & Strategy||Create a national strategy to develop a vision for our hobby. This will require a working relationship between RASA, the WIA, AR NSW, AR Vic and ideally, some of the larger clubs.|
|Vision & Strategy||Create a strong association between the national bodies and Clubs, and special interest groups. It will require a working relationship where ideas are shared, problems discussed and tools developed that support the operation of the clubs, their members and newcomers.|
|Vision & Strategy||Understand that the arrangements for the management of Amateur Radio have changed over the years and will change again. What can/should we be doing to consider a regulatory environment where self-governance may play a bigger role. What can we do to better assist ACMA and AMC in reducing the burden of AR regulation and administration?|
|Publicity & Marketing||Develop a publicity and marketing capability to be managed by a central national body to promote the hobby. Materials available for free to all clubs and individuals. A small team of certified amateurs can be available for press, clubs, and lobbying/liaising with stakeholders|
|Publicity & Marketing||Identify the target audience categories for those who may be interested in amateur radio – target them – e.g. Grey nomads, retirees, people who live in remote locations including islands – rock climbers, hikers, marine, people with disabilities. Promote Amateur Radio in specialty magazines. Make a short film on AR – it is not that hard can be done professionally – does not have to cost much. There are groups starting out in film looking for starter projects. This recommendation would require a well-resourced national association to respond to enquiries. E.g. well designed web site, staff/volunteers to respond to enquiries, clubs to be ready to respond etc.|
|Education & Training||Create a national education and training package managed by a central team (or association) for all clubs and trainers to use at no charge. The package needs to include modules for face-to-face study as well as remote study. It must be aligned with the syllabus and updated as required. It must also include modules for different study styles.|
|Education & Training||Build and deploy QRM education and support materials – integrate this into the national syllabi|
|Education & Training||Exams must be taken to an online environment. This will make the process faster, friendlier, and cheaper.|
|Club Support||Encourage clubs to engage new members – loan equipment – perhaps a pamphlet for clubs. Anything to encourage club activity – Not everyone is interested in radio contests. Awards (recognition) for Trainers/Mentors. Consider a survey or study to better understand how clubs can be more successful at attracting and retaining members.|
|Club Support||Build and deploy QRM education and capability – make resolving QRM a part of club activities. Clubs can help fight QRM and increase participation levels.|
|Club Support||Develop a national service to engage directly and regularly with clubs to assist with: SurveysEducation & Training supportConnecting new amateursPublicity & marketingKPIsContinuous improvement feedback|
|Radio & Operating||Consider sponsorship for remote HF station(s) to improve accessibility for those unable to establish a station at their home location.|
|Radio & Operating||QRM Guru – keep improving – promote, get clubs on-board to help locals resolve their QRM issues.|
|Radio & Operating||Develop strategies that deal with the difficulties of suburban Amateur Radio.
Clubs, groups and individuals encouraged to provide remote access to Amateur Stations away from Urban issues and constraints.
Work with clubs, groups and individuals to develop skills in identifying and resolving QRM/EMC Issues for both for Amateurs and the General Public.
Lobby for the enforcement of standards and for a less polluted electromagnetic spectrum by pointing out the benefits to all spectrum users.
Educate all that QRM and EMC issues are often caused by equipment prior to failure or radiated as wasted energy.
Further promote portable and mobile operation by internal and external publicity and marketing. Icom, Yaesu, and several Chinese manufacturers have portable products and there are some kits and home-brew projects. This is a younger (physically able) facet of AR.
|Radio & Operating||Sponsor challenges/rewards for new achievements to encourage technological development – for example we have had 100kHz bandwidth allowable on 2 metres and done nothing with it – put out challenges|
|Understand, develop & improve||Collect and analyse data to better understand; Why People get into AR?
What people expect from AR?
Understanding why people leave AR?
This may require professional services as the usual surveys conducted are not getting results.
Using this data to develop strategies and tools to improve AR.
|Understand, develop & improve||Develop a basic set of measurements (KPIs) to track and report progress of an improved Amateur Radio culture & participation rate in Australia|
For any meaningful progress to be made, the Amateur Radio community must band together. RASA does not have the resources or reach to undertake all of the work required.
We are seeking the support of the amateur radio community and the larger clubs to consider how these strategic recommendations can be implemented.
We believe the single largest challenge will be finding a pathway to work constructively with the WIA Board. The WIA is still the largest representative body with the greatest national reach. However, the Board has refused to work cooperatively on solutions like QRM Guru VK Regs or Amateur Radio Tech Support. They refuse to even promote these resources, thereby denying their own members the benefits of participation and development.
The WIA Board must evaluate its culture, reinvent itself, and be willing to work with others for the benefit of all amateurs. Their infighting, inability to make progress with any initiatives, and lack of focus on members and the hobby must change.
More broadly, we extend an invitation to all clubs to consider how they can contribute to these proposals.
RASA has sent this report to the three largest associations in Australia, and we have invited them to review and provide feedback:
- Wireless Institute of Australia;
- Amateur Radio NSW; and
- Amateur Radio Victoria.
As with all our publications, we invite feedback and comment from clubs and individual amateurs. Please send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
This document may be shared between clubs and individuals.
We will provide updates via our e-bulletins, website, social media and our e-magazine QTC early in 2022.
On behalf of RASA, we thank the Panel volunteers who contributed so much of their time to this strategic review.
RASA, November 2021