Is agile Government an oxymoron?

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Times are changing – whether in government or private sector we need to act swiftly and respond to opportunities – and they are coming thick and fast.

Take the start up community – growing exponentially in every corner of the globe, they are driving innovation and are becoming a force to be reckoned with in terms of their financial contribution to the economy. In a 2013 report commissioned by Google, PWC found that “Australian startup sector has the capacity to deliver $109 billion to the economy and create 540,000 new jobs by 2033” and that Startups may be missing ‘bigger picture’ opportunities for growth in the Finance and Insurance, Manufacturing and Health Care and Social Assistance industries.”

This is mind blowing right ? So why is it that two years on from this report little has actually shifted from the side of Government apart from good narrative from state and federal ministers about the need for innovation and the resounding support of small business and start up? Is it enough that Ministers talk about responding to the burgeoning ecosystem without the ability of government, at all levels, to match the narrative with action?

It got me thinking is agile government an oxymoron? I think anyone who has had the privilege of working in, around and with government can tell you it’s a “process” driven beast. So despite the dutiful nods and the encouraging reports, strategies and plans there is still an enormous gap between rhetoric and reality.

In the last year we really have seen a plethora of great ideas and initiatives being announced by NSW Premier Mike Baird and his cabinet colleagues – Minister for Industry, Anthony Roberts Minister for Finance and Services, Dominic Perottet, Minister for Small Business, John Barilaro and Minister for Innovation, Victor Dominello.

Some ideas seeded included the Premiers Innovation Initiative launched in August 2014 promised to draw out innovative responses to some key pain points for the NSW Government, namely Social Housing, Congestion, Open data and Open ideas priority areas. A year down the track and those that didn’t make the cut received a nice letter saying they missed out but we still haven’t heard of who won the challenge and what they are doing. I suspect that because of the PROCESS – flick to the section on selection and negotiation and you see the tai chi in cement forming nicely – a process that has obviously taken more than 12 months of selecting the successful innovation initiative including a steering committee, has been less than innovative in itself.

So here we are a year later still waiting to hear about where this got to – I wonder if the selected innovation is still as enthusiastic as they were a year ago – will they be gob smacked if they get a call that this initiative was still on the table – anyone’s table?

What I see in our innovation community are people on the go, constantly moving to the beat of a different drum than the public sector. They are agile, adaptive and responsive to the constant changing environment and my very deep concern is the missed opportunities that could very well improve tipping point problems if we could help bureaucrats think differently?

Think for a moment how expensive it will be to buy into the game when the music stops and everyone has a seat? How close is that? Very.

This week ten Israeli startups in Tel Aviv pitched to a room of invite-only Australian investors sitting in Sydney at BlueChilli. . It was a terrific opportunity to build bridges and learn from one of the world’s largest innovation ecosystems. It is also a clear example of what will happen if we don’t innovate. Someone, somewhere else will, Australian capital will follow it and soon Australian jobs. This isn’t an isolated incident. Just the other day, we had a visit from the British Government, which is trying to lure fintech hubs to the UK , and to keep them, it has committed $431 million to fintech firms through the British Business Bank. Why? That’s a good question. Maybe it’s because in just 5 years London has become the FinTech capital of the world employing 44000 people.

A more recent announcement by Premier Mike Baird on the formation of new Fintech Stone & Chalk in March 2015, and the project is supported by the NSW Department of Industry through its Knowledge Hubs Initiative. Even better was the further announcement by the Premier of Jobs for NSW, an innovative body that will drive the creation of 150,000 jobs over four years, to be Chaired by former Telstra CEO – David Thodey augers well for the initiative. The Jobs for NSW fund is expected to deliver the NSW Government’s commitment of $190 million over four years to support business development. Jobs for NSW will target the jobs of the future and guide the NSW Government on how best to maximise the state’s resources, talent and potential. Minister for Small Business John Barilaro was exceptionally enthusiastic that 30 per cent of the Jobs for NSW fund will be dedicated to regional job creation, and regional businesses will have a guaranteed voice on the jobs for NSW board.

So we really have to think how can we support the many innovative bureaucrats who are trying to shift but are equally stifled by tai chi in cement processes?

After all, many bureaucrats are attending stellar conferences, design innovation workshops, even completing MBAs – yet how is this higher learning actually shifting the monolith of bureaucracy they inevitable must face? They are also spending millions of dollars on consultants – to what end? I think the use of consultants is a tad misaligned because what I have seen is a de-skilled public sector as a result and very costly reports that don’t really change much by way of process. So we really have to think, how can we support the many innovative bureaucrats who are trying to shift but are equally stifled by tai chi in cement processes?

So my next question is how are we building the capacity of the three levels of government entwined in job creation and really make this idea fly?

Stone & Chalk launch with stellar line up of Ministers  including Stuart Ayres, Anthony Roberts, and and Parliamentary Secretaries, Paul Fletcher and John Sidoti, pictured with Christine Forster (@resourcefultype) and Aex Scandurra from Stone and Chalk, and  ALP’s Jason Claire and Ed Husic.

How can government with its process laden structures respond to such swift changes ? Frankly – it can’t. To be responsive and agile requires a new way of thinking – outcomes focus rather than process driven and it requires outward facing government. We have a long way to go but it’s not impossible.

In NSW we have a dynamic cabinet led by Premier Mike Baird – he is responsive, agile and courageous – his Ministers are too, or at least they are trying to be. Sadly, there appears to be some resistance from the bureaucracy that pares everything back to a snail pace because of process.

Honestly how important is process in the face of opportunity – are the risks greater in being agile than in remaining the same? Personally I think there is a greater risk in staying the same – slow and sluggish is not in the narrative of futurism or the new millennium.

Baird, Roberts, Barilaro, Perottet and Dominello are among the Ministers changing things, they are coming out with a more enthusiastic narrative about what they want to see in their respective patches, I feel for them and their advisers on the optimism trail – delving into different spaces and connecting new paradigms to their departments but there is still work to do, a lot of hard work to change the direction of the public service ship – its suck in an iceberg of process and requires agile and responsive thinking to flip the model to a new place where we are more concerned with outcomes rather than outputs. Even great initiatives like @ALP4Innovation supported by Jason Claire and Ed Husic won’t go far without systemic change in the way bureaucracy works.

Ministers Dominello and Barilaro at the Sydney GovHack awards at Fishburners.

In fact Gavin Heaton (@ServantofChaos) speaks a lot about the need for a recalibration of efforts to an outcomes focus. Gavin’s Disruptor’s Handbookprovides numerous insights and ideas of how to shift and a more recent free e-book by Joanne Jacobs provides tools and tips on How to innovate like a startup. These resources are freely available and are well used by start-ups and small business but haven’t quite reached the consciousness of government, yet!

A recent blog by Tony Featherstone from the Sydney Morning Herald  asked Why aren’t councils supporting start ups? I loved the article and felt myself nodding throughout except that I know that there are efforts to shift State and local government to be more amenable and integrated in start up, even more importantly Minister for Small Business, John Barilaro is deeply committed to innovating the way NSW supports the transformation of Small and Medium enterprises and start ups.

Another article by legendary Pete Cooper (@pc0) from Start up Society today said it even louder, he says “Government At All Levels Has Failed The Tech Startup Ecosystem”  and again I found myself in agreement with his frustration at the lag between rhetoric and action because that means we are losing. The Start Up Society has a grand vision “Our vision is for 2 to 5 thousand tech startups around every major population centre and major university. Today it is less than one tenth of that even in the major cities.”

So how do we get there? Pete suggests consolidating our efforts and holding a Start Up Summit – what a splendid and overdue idea – personally I’d like to see the Summit held in NSW where I see the Premier and NSW ministers for Innovation, Small Business and Industry becoming a more visible part of start up events and ecosystem.

As an Associate of the Centre for Local Government  at UTS,  I am working with Roberta Ryan to design a Master Class on Innovation for local government. Roberta is a key innovator globally, around transforming local government to better leverage research, design and innovation to meet growing challenges and very complex communities. Roberta is cognizant of the pressures on local government and the need to support their pivotal role in being more than they have before with fewer resources, this is only possible by leveraging the social capital in the community.

I think what is needed is more opportunities for government to immerse themselves in parallel paradigms outside government. Bureaucrats who aren’t on board yet need to see the world they may be missing out on. They need to know they are welcome to collaborate with the start up community – I’d hate for them to miss out on the growing numbers of starts up that are supporting government in some way – take Alan Mont’s blog @MuniRent showcasing 40 start ups that are helping government in the US – they range from legal platforms to make litigation on minor offences simpler right through to sharing government resources through procurement platforms.

I’d like to see a Government Innovation BootCamp – a day of reckoning with a virtual reality experience of their process and their data. I would love to see each head of department in a the UTS Data Arena surrounded by their data – I would show them two scenarios – 1 with their pain points and current responses and one with agile response – I imagine seeing their behaviour in this way will be more impactful than seeing a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet. In the new world, data is your friend and it represents people, communities, and people’s lives – not just a bunch of numbers. And those wondering do we have the technology for that – YEP, we’ve had it for a while in many universities and at the National ICT Association (NICTA).

UTS Data Arena

Perhaps in this space they will see the very real consequences of loading up process and that life is no longer predictive and ordered in fact we know that our world is more complex and we understand that solutions to job creation and economic growth is no longer the domain of government alone – they require cross sector collaboration to shift something.

That’s why we are seeing more private sector involvement in the establishing NFP entities like Google and Optus funding Fishburners. Like Telstra funding muru-D and CodeClub they aren’t waiting for government – they’ve gone and done it anyway – so how is government going to leverage this extraordinary talent and connect with them in a meaningful way? Well we have clue with the not-for-profit Stone&Chalk launched last month. This a fabulous new model that brings together government, big business and think tanks to develop the Fintech ecosystem in Sydney. With over 50 startups co-located, many well along the way, they haven’t had to wait long to trumpet success. AMP has already taken equity stakes in Macrovue and MoneyBrilliant.

And it’s not all at the big end of town. Firms like Swaab Attorneys  are connecting the high net worth individuals and small-to-medium enterprises that include some of Australia’s most successful family businesses to startups both as customers and as potential investors both here and overseas.

The biggest flaw at present remains the process of government that is so jarred that little gets done and responses are in time delay – long after that ship has sailed, we are all wondering what really happened?

Government process happened and we need to reach out to our fellow disrupters in government and help them see what we see – help them readjust to face outward and see all the opportunities around them, take away the fear of failure because failure is getting closer to success and there’s a whole ecosystem out there willing to collaborate to get NSW cracking as the innovation, start up State. The conditions are right, the stars are aligning so there are no excuses left.

The Ministers are talking it up so now we (every one of us who are disrupters, innovators and alchemists) have to help the public sector deliver on the promises – otherwise we are well and truly behind the eight ball.

Anne-Marie Elias is a consultant in innovation for social change. She is an honorary Associate of the Design Innovation Research Centre and the Centre for Local Government at UTS.

Follow my journey of disruptive social innovation on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter

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Path2Digital for Indigenous Tech StartUps is here and now

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The complexities of Indigenous disadvantage are too great for any single solution, what I know in my heart is that social enterprise and digital are the future and well worth trying to address closing the gap. Where there are no jobs, create them, where there are gaps, there are opportunities to design solutions, tech can be leveraged to give life to a myriad of solutions. I am so glad I don’t accept the status quo, I am consistently blown away by what is possible and the generosity of Tech to embrace anyone who wants to, to get on board. So when the opportunity arose to collude with muru-D to set up an Indigenous start up weekend – I naturally dived in. Any chance to create the space for people to access untapped resources and opportunities is frankly a privilege.

The status quo had kicked in…warning it couldn’t be done, it would be a process, it would take months, years, even generations to find the Indigenous digital entrepreneurs of Australia. Clearly and thankfully they were mistaken, Indigenous Tech entrepreneurship is here and this is just the beginning, they came from remote, regional and urban areas and they just needed a workshop to get them started and connected.

It all started with a desire from Annie Parker founder of start up accelerator muru-D – an innate calling borne of its name in Aboriginal language – muru – path to and D for digital. Annie tweeted the call out for Indigenous entrepreneurs. The rest was a series of actions to get the word out including Annie talking on Lola Forester’s Black Chat program, and partnership with the National Centre for Indigenous ExcellenceIndigenous Digital Excellence hub, and Pollenizer turned out 11 Indigenous entrepreneurs from Perth, Cairns, Bathurst, Sydney and NT who had an idea that was either somewhat developed or undeveloped. The ideas would be curated with the support of coaches, tools and mentors over Saturday and Sunday.

Pollenizer’s start up science workshop gave participants a number of tools like the lean canvas to form their ideas and solutions. A big focus is on validating the idea with potential customers and on being adaptable to meet market needs. Great tools on developing an elevator pitch and pitching to your audience.

Two days, eleven entrepreneurs resulting in 5 pitches – that’s a pretty incredible result. The five pitches were developed over the weekend as teams naturally formed around areas of interest – the arts and culture team , the legal platform team, the wearables security team, the Indigenous accreditation team and the Aboriginal health team.

The transformation from Day 1 to Day 2 was amazing to watch, people coming out of their shells, getting more confident, more deadly, getting clearer about their ideas, their customers and developing their ability to pitch and their capacity to monetize their enterprise.

After various hustles the teams gathered their post it notes, laptops and presentations and delivered the deadliest pitches on Sunday afternoon in Redfern.

  • Reece pitched Culturally appropriate health messages for pregnant Indigenous women.
  • Zoe, Brooke and Eddie pitched Wearable technology for security (sunglasses, handbags, wallets).
  • Nancia, Angie and Mikaela pitched BlackMarket linking art to artist’s culture and stories through augmented reality.
  • Brian and Michael pitched LawMart – legal market place to connect people with specialist lawyers.
  • Torres and Shelley pitched Rating Indigenous friendly corporations.

The pitches were excellent – clear and concise, delivered with quiet confidence. I was privileged to be a part of witnessing this workshop, the learning all round was simply amazing.

I learnt that there is a humility in understanding first people’s way and wisdom,

their connection to country, family and community. 

On the last day one of the participants said he really missed his family and the calm of the country, he found Sydney too hurried and busy, I had to agree and I learnt that there is a humility in understanding first people’s way and wisdom, their connection to country, family and community. I learned about Pollenizer’s start up science teachings and tools and their ability to adapt a workshop to meet participants’ needs. I learnt that there is a desire to support Indigenous digital entrepreneurs access the resources, tools and programs they need to get their start ups going. I already knew muru-D’s commitment and was chuffed they asked me to be a part of it. I did learn they are willing to do whatever it takes to get this right and have Indigenous people part of the development of this workshop.

The 11 entrepreneurs have tapped into the entrepreneurial ecosystem, they have the tools and networks to keep developing their ideas. They are now plugged in to the vast amount of startup and tech resources available through muru-D and Pollenizer’s extensive networks. They will guide the refinement of the workshop so that other Indigenous entrepreneurs may access the same in other locations and settings. At the end of the workshop, Annie Parker said “Keep working at your ideas, look what you achieved in 2 days, take the criticism as learning and I look forward to seeing you back here in 6 or 12 months time and see where you are at, hear your stories and see your achievements.”

I too can’t wait to see where these deadly entrepreneurs go forth and do good – they showed us a glimpse of what they are made of this one weekend in Redfern in July 2015, I know no matter what, they will continue to inspire and thrive. Follow these innovators on Twitter @murudau @theNCIE @IndigenousDX @pollenizer

Anne-Marie Elias is a consultant in innovation for social change. She is an honorary Associate of the Design Innovation Research Centre and the Centre for Local Government at UTS.

Follow my journey of disruptive social innovation on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter

Next Generation Open Data

This week the NSW Minister for Innovation, the hon. @VictorDominello announced the NSW Data Analytics Centre (the DAC) – a place where government, business and NGOs can go and leverage the volumes of data that we collect but rarely manage to make use of. The launch took place at UTS, in a spectacular space with demonstrations of Prof Hung Nguyen‘s robots and thought controlled wheel chair and Ben SimonsData Arena.

Minister Dominello has been working on this for some time and should be applauded for his courage and commitment to see better collection and use of government data to improve lives, community, business, planning and environment. A bold move which will have its challenges but will create the right conditions for innovation and better coordination and delivery of profound social change. The DAC presents a very interesting journey for government agencies, to understand the limitless possibilities of sharing data to solve very complex problems.

The Minister’s vision to establish a next generation whole-of-government data analytics centre, the first of its kind in Australia, is massive and rests on the success of jurisdictions like New Zealand, New York City and the State of Michigan which have used data analytics to improve the lives of citizens through better targeted and more coordinated government service delivery.

Data is one of the greatest assets held by government, but when it’s buried away in bureaucracy it is of little value. 

Minister for Innovation,  Victor Dominello

At the launch, Minister Dominello said ” Whether it’s tackling crime, combating obesity or addressing housing affordability, we cannot hope to develop solutions to the long-term challenges that our state faces without an effective whole-of-government data sharing platform.” I believe the Minister has created the perfect arena for this through the DAC.

The most spectacular display of Minister Dominelo’s vision has to be GovHack – this year over 2000 participants across Australia and New Zealand who produced 400 prototypes over 48 hours. I was privileged to be part of the Sydney organising team and humbled we had the support of the Minister for Innovation , Victor Dominello and Minister for Small Business, John Barilaro at the Sydney awards night 31 July at Fishburners. The Ministers stayed long past proceedings and enjoyed the company of a very diverse and talented crowd of tech’s and start ups. They could see the intricate understanding of the power of data to solve social problems and the enthusiasm of an eclectic group of coders, designers, social engineers and techs more than happy to show the world the infinite possibilities of data analytics.

You see, hackathons are the harmonic convergence of data, science, technology and social design, and the results are astounding, just check out the winners and runners up of Sydney GovHack:

ClearGov – an engagement platform that makes government and political information more accessible and transparent for citizens, journalists, policy makers and anyone who has an interest.  It won most innovative tech platform awarded by Fishburners’ CEO Murray Hurps.

CareFactors is a measurement tool that brings together environment, social, health, demographic data by LGA so you know how your suburb stacks up against things that mater to you. Care Factors won Best use of NSW data and Most Innovative Hack to engage community and environment. It even lets you see what services and charities are in your area so you can connect, volunteer or donate to local causes.

NizViz won the best use of  Sydney Water data for its mash up of water, air, environment and demographic data by LGA. Runner up Sydney Water Dashboard developed a consumption tracker by LGA. I congratulate Sydney Water for participating this year – we need to find more bureaucrats like you who want to give a try and realise the benefits far outweigh the concerns of hackathons and open data.

For those new to GovHack, Craig Thomler wrote a great review of GovHack projects in the Mandarin recently, with a useful glossary of GovHack terms like Mashup, data custodian, open data and hack. A recent article in The Australian about founder and goddess of GovHack Pia Waugh underscores the importance of GovHack in driving open data and open government for the betterment of all.

This year GovHack saw more commonwealth agencies, local councils and state agencies involved in sharing data, evidenced by the array of prizes and 7000 data sets from over 30 agencies including the ABC, ABS, Australian Charities and Not for Profits, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Aboriginal Affairs, ATO, Veterans Affairs and the CSIRO. Hopefully, the increasing attention on GovHack will demonstrate the potential of leveraging social hackers to create effective solutions to local and global problems, will encourage more agencies to get on board next year.

I believe the planets are aligning on this, Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Digital Transformation Office and Minister Dominello’s Data Analytics Centre are significant steps in the digital disruption of government and its quite exciting to be working in this space at this time with some extraordinary people driving the change in government. My pledge and hope is to drive as many social hacks as possible, we will hack for DV, homelessness, regional and remote communities and anything else that seems insurmountable, because the collaborative data conditions are perfect right now.

And a really great idea would be if Ben Simons (main picture)  from the UTS Data Arena could invite agency heads to the Data Arena and shown the possibilities of how their data will come to life, save money and generate better outcomes for them and the community they serve through the DAC ? Maybe even demonstrate some of the GovHack winning entries to be announced at the GovHack red carpet awards on September 5 in Sydney.

Follow my journey on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter

Anne-Marie is a consultant in innovation for social change, Honorary Associate of the Design Innovation Research Centre and the Centre for Local Government at UTS.

Rapid prototyping social change

“We have enough, and we can do better, so why is it so hard to cause social change? “

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I believe it’s because we wade through bureaucracy and stifling processes that take forever to be signed off and implemented. It’s no coincidence that I became fascinated with rapid prototyping, a process I’ve witnessed at Hackathons where participants have 48 hours to identify and develop a prototype and pitch it to an audience. I have seen the outcomes which are astounding, like one of the apps that came out of GovHack created by teenagers called Disaster Master to mitigate risks and provide safety tips and advice on dangerous zones based on past data and predictive analytics. It made me wonder how can we get results like that in other paradigms.I believe that rapid prototyping should be applied to urgent social problems, to systems change and reform, to service design and delivery. Because in our business, people’s lives are at stake and the faster we come up with innovative, adaptable solutions, the better it is for our community and our society.

This journey into disruptive social innovation (the proposed topic of my PhD) has been amazing, I am looking at the areas of design, technology and start up to see if there are methods that can be re-purposed for innovating our responses to social disadvantage. I do this because whatever we are doing is just not cutting it, more and more people are falling through the cracks of suicide, poverty, homelessness, domestic and family violence, unemployment and mental health (Poverty in NSW,  Council of Social Services, 2014).

I recently trialled a Social Innovation Pitch event in Broken Hill where we got communities to pitch an idea to an audience of business, government and NGOs. The result was a strong desire to continue running the event including inviting more pitches and community stakeholders. Simply the event created the space for greater collaboration across sectors and connecting people from parallel paradigms.  The result, new partnerships and a great deal of good will to help people make things happen for the social good of the community.

Last week I ran an Innovation workshop for Partners in Recovery (complex mental health services) where we went through an immersive process to understand how to innovate and apply innovation in our work. Another way of looking at it is creating the space to unleash the maverick in a group of people who work tirelessly to improve the lives of people with severe and persistent mental illness and complex needs. They are often dealing with the most vulnerable people in the community who have high support needs that cross many agencies health, housing, mental health, and employment.  When do we afford ourselves the time to dream and create, to be unencumbered by process and to have a limited time to produce a result, to be bold and not fear failure?  I decided to try something – Could we rapid prototype solutions to create better,more innovative and cost effective responses to complex mental health?

So I started to look into rapid prototyping and found Google’s Tom Chi who rapid prototyped Google Glass in one day and Gavin Heaton in Australia who runs a number of innovation projects, hubs, hackathons and workshops.

“Rapid prototyping is a time limited process to develop and idea or solution to a problem, it based on finding the quickest path to a direct experience and on the basis that doing or action is better than  thinking.”

Tom Chi

An Australian innovator and disruptor – Gavin Heaton (@servantofchaos) has been doing this through his Disruptor’s Handbook a painless guide on how to “thrive through change”. In a parallel universe, to me Gavin has been delivering innovation to corporates, government and NGOs  who have the chutspa to be disrupted.  He has been looking at the worlds of business and start up and seeing how they can learn off each other and extending these methods to government and NGOs. He is one of the people behind the recent QantasHackathon and VibeWire (nurturing young change makers and entrepreneurs). Gavin is passionate about the potential of start up and tech to transform the way we think and work in a number of paradigms.

Tom Chi has been trying an experiment (Fast solutions for a brighter future) “to see if the concept of rapid prototyping could be used to reinvent entrepreneurship and possibly all of business.” He applied this  concept of “reduce the time to try” to generate new ideas,  to four businesses where they reinvented their business, and increased their profits in one day, in what would have been achieved in three months under normal processes (meetings, working groups, processes that take months).

Tom Chi’s experiment was also applied to an impoverished community in Mexico, he took students to run a similar process adapted to a community. The students, in collaboration with the community centre, helped find new sources of employment to subsidize their meagre income.  In three hours they developed new streams of business that would treble incomes and filled unmet need in the community. Just by connecting people and finding the opportunities through networks.

Testing the idea of rapid prototyping for mental health support solutions with Partners in Recovery was insightful. The workshop outlined the foundation of disruptive social innovation 1. Flip the problem – don’t try to improve what is, find the gaps in the system 2. User centred – think of the end user 3. Collaborate Widely – leverage the untapped resources and social capital in the community 4.Be bold – embrace failure as learning and improvement. Participants were also asked to think of the features of innovation as resourceful, reflective, creative, collaborative and disruptive. We often think innovation as costly, it doesn’t need to be if you leverage the time, talent and resources of your stakeholders and community.

The teams collaborated for under 2 hours to produce four innovative projects that could change the face of mental health support. They then presented their ideas in the form of a pitch 1. What problem I am trying to solve 2. The solution that will fill that need 3. Ask for what is needed to kick start the project. All pitches were refreshing and innovative, as in any pitch event there could only be one winner and that was J.O.B an employment project that focuses on repackaging skills, ability and aspirations of people with mental health and enrolls employers to support mentoring, career and employment opportunities for people with complex mental health. The project will leverage other community, government, NGO and private sector partnerships in order to provide holistic services to support placements. The project will also leverage the ideas in the other pitches (the veterans and ex-soldiers as trainers) to further develop the prototype.

Rapid prototyping innovation in mental health

Rapid prototyping innovation in mental health

The feedback was very promising, participants loved the process and found it inspiring, the teams had a skip in their step in realising their capacity to cause social change in such a short time frame. You see their have the expertise and the knowledge, they just needed the opportunity to innovate.

This is proves the power of collaboration and rapid prototyping – the same machine that drives hackathons. When you think about it hackers try to solve a problem through rapid brainstorming, prototyping, testing, refining in 48 hours.

The idea of rapid prototyping and pitching for social change really excites me, these methods work and given the state of emergency on disadvantage in this country, they are desperately needed to transform the way government and NGOs design and deliver services. Let’s rapid prototype for DV, unemployment, inclusion, housing affordability, homelessness and any other social issue that we need responsive, reflective and innovative solutions.

Follow my journey on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter

Anne-Marie is a consultant in innovation for social change, Honorary Associate of the Design Innovation Research Centre and the Centre for Local Government at UTS.

Sparking social change

Don’t you just love a crazy idea? It takes a lot of courage to try something new, especially something that you don’t know will work, yet entrepreneurs and start ups pursue crazy ideas every day and thank heavens they do. How else would the likes of Apple, Uber or AirBnB come about? I love and admire the hunger of start ups, the pure unadulterated desire to make shit happen, because their life depends on it. Their belief in an idea that overrides all the set backs and even failures that pummel them, their ability to experience this yet keep their eye on the outcome enables them to adapt and do whatever it takes to make it happen.

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I have worked in the field of social disadvantage for three decades – I started at the age of 16 as youth advocate, every job I have had was about finding a place to make a difference – journalism, policy, ministerial, state and federal government and NGO. While every one of those roles have a realm of influence to do good, I was always left wanting and believing that bureaucracy kills innovation and that we can do better.

I learnt long ago that in our ‘business’ , peoples lives are at stake and that means we’ve got to get moving to do all we can to innovate solutions to social disadvantage. I feel a sense of urgency with the state of social disadvantage in Australia, things a re getting worse not better and it seems despite the hundreds of billions of dollars and efforts we are not winning any ‘battles” against drugs, family and domestic violence, recidivism, suicide, child protection, poverty, homelessness and on and on. According to the Australian Council of Social Services “Poverty is on the rise in Australia, with more than 2.5 million people – and one in six children – struggling to fulfil their daily basic needs…” ACOSS, Poverty in Australia, 2014

I’ve seen it first hand in the state of NSW where remote communities are living in abject poverty, I’ve seen it in Sydney where thousands of passers by walk past a central park dotted with tents and a community of homeless, the people that have fallen through the cracks of a system that has failed its duty of care.

So rather than dwell on the system failures or limitations I want to give my heart and soul to finding solutions and showing government and NGOs a new way of working, empowering communities to collaborate for social change. For the past few years I have been developing a new way of working and I’m calling it Disruptive Social Innovation, a blend of social innovation, rapid prototyping and digital disruption. The status quo is unacceptable and I believe cross sector and discipline collaboration is the only way we can really make a difference to peoples lives.

“A social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than present solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.” (source Stanford, Centre for Social Innovation.) 

On the 7th of July 2015 in Broken Hill NSW we tested a new way of working with social disadvantage, Kathryn Greiner AO facilitated and chaired the first Social Innovation Pitch Event.

The event was shift in usual practice of forums and consultations that repeat a status quo approach of talking about the problems leaving little room for solutions. The concept drawn from start up pitch events where new business ideas are generated and pitched to venture capital and angel investors. The format of these pitches are simple and clear – they start with a problem, and idea that is a solution and a clear ask of resources.

The event replicated this and tested the method in community setting where people from three communities were invited to pitch to local stakeholders (business, NGOs and government). Those pitching were briefed on framing their pitch and stakeholders were asked to be generous in offering time, talent and resources to support the local projects. The key to the event was shared understanding of local needs and a desire to collaborate for social change.

Each pitch focused on improving communities, in particular employment opportunities and young people. Maari Ma focused on digital inclusion and education of children and young people. Menindee Central School focused on vocational and training opportunities for young people. Out back Astronomy focused on Astro tourism, Aboriginal cultural tourism development and social enterprise in arts and local produce.

The social innovation pitch event covered three footprints – Wilcannia, Menindee and Broken Hill. This initiative has set a new benchmark to support community aspirations and change the way we manage and address social disadvantage in the region

.Social Innovation Pitch Event Format

The design of the social innovation pitch event is disrupting the way communities drive change, it disrupts funding cycles and the notion that government is the only answer. My hope is that we encourage this type of disruptive  social innovation because it innovates the way we create social change and it flips the top down to bottom up – so the community decides what to support as a whole and government can get on with providing the right conditions for people to help themselves.

PITCH 1: Maari Ma – Wings Youth Centre Wilcannia

Wings Youth Centre provides an important service for children and young people in Wilcannia, a safe haven and a hive of educational activity. The young people love using the computers but they are old and there aren’t enough. The Centre has a mix of primary and high school aged children and expressed a desire to get tablets for the older children for privacy. They need programs and apps that support nutrition, health, well being, cyber safety and sex education.

shout out Maari Ma

We designed the pitches in a way that only asked time, talent or resources to help achieve a goal. People are willing to give in kind, participants were surprised how easy it was to help a project get off the ground, assist with writing proposals or sourcing the right avenue. As always when you bring people from different areas together, new partnerships and alliances emerged  and even those pitching could help each other. For example Outback Astronomy is now going to take the kids from Menindee and Wilcannia on a tour, Family and Community Services will purchase the periscopes so the kids have them to use when on excursion; the PCYC has offered accommodation for the kids whilst in Broken Hill.

The pitch event was incredibly well received, initially with a healthy dose of skepticism, but with a determination to continue to the conversations with the whole community. The event brought a renewed sense of common purpose and collaboration and unlikely alliances and partnerships. It gave those pitching an opportunity to gain a wider audience and it gave the businesses, NGOs and government the opportunity to support community initiative. It expanded every person’s view of their community and the untapped social capital around them.

I love bringing together people from different paradigms – the Mayor, the chamber of commerce, all levels of government and NGOs, the corporate sector rarely get the opportunity to mix it up and exchange ideas – this is the alchemy of collaboration and it inspires innovation and it works when applied to social disadvantage.

I’d love to hear your feedback. I hope you will continue on this journey of disruptive social innovation, follow me on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter

The Alchemy of Collaboration

In the world of social care and social disadvantage we are losing badly, despite countless efforts and $250 billion dollars spent annually, disadvantage is growing and we are seeing increasing instances of domestic violence, child protection, mental health and homelessness. In fact in this ‘lucky country’ one in seven Australians live below the poverty line. Social sectors are  largely separated and siloed so no-one ever gets the full picture and our solutions are merely band-aid and reactive. Collaboration exists as a means to an end rather than embedded within the culture, in the core of our work practices. I think it is imperative that we do something differently because in the end, in our ‘business’, peoples lives are at stake.
 Collaboration : Cooperative arrangement in which two or more parties (which may or may not have any previous relationship) work jointly towards a common goal.
Many of the large tech companies have started embedding collaboration days in their calendar, such as Atlassian with their ShipIt day  where staff get 24 hours to work on any project that they are passionate about with a team. Google give their staff one day a week to pursue their passion and 3M give their staff 15% of their time to work on innovation – in all these cases staff are happier and they often work on something that saves the company money or innovates a product such as 3Ms post it notes. Howard Baldwin from ComputerWorld says the frequency of these innovation days range from weekly to quarterly. The reason being that innovation slips off the radar if we don’t create the space for it. I suspect the same goes with collaboration.
My fascination with design, start up and tech is the effortless collaboration and the focus on solutions. This is where innovation thrives, bringing together different minds and perspectives to see the problem differently and imagine possible solutions. People and teams that are thrown together for an event maintain ties,
When I found out about these methods I was inspired by the intensity and creativity, by the focus and action oriented nature of the events and the longevity beyond. This is the alchemy of collaboration that I want to reignite in breaking social disadvantage.   So I started running thought leadership groups where we invite cross sector innovators with and without vested interests to keep things real.

Sadly Government and NGOs rarely get the opportunity to collaborate more widely than usual suspects, and are entrapped by the internal the vortex of meetings and workshops with the same people over and over again. Even the occasional exciting conference and forum ends there and we go back to our status quo ways and habits to talking to the same people but expecting a different result.
So I think Atlassian, Google and 3M are on to something that can shift the way we currently manage social disadvantage and takes to a new place of collaborative alchemy. The idea of ‘rapid prototyping’ solutions to social disadvantage is exciting and worth doing, it is happening anyway in parallel universes and its mobilising end users, tech’s, designers, policy makers and coders to co-create solutions that disrupt the status quo.
Collaboration quote - together we are brilliant
While we are dwelling on the problems and narrow casting solutions we are limiting our ability to be brilliant. Collaboration is the harmonic convergence of ideas from stakeholders and disruptors that share a purpose. Start ups, design and tech provide a structure to vision and rapid prototype solutions. It seems these methods are being adopted more across sectors. Coming up in August – SW/TCH a festival of collaboration to solve big business problems.  Founded by Mark Zawacki and Catherine Stace This is collaborative innovation on steroids with a range of cross sector and discipline disruptors and leaders. I wish that social problems were on the agenda as well. Imagine those great business minds applying their time and talents to solve some of our deepest intractable societal problems? We desperately need that cross pollination of disruptors and business leaders to think about improving the ROI (return on investment) on social disadvantage.
I am heartened to see that people are embracing the merits of disruptive innovation for social good. In the US San Quentin prison is running a tech incubator for prisoners to reduce the recidivist rate. A splendid idea given that recidivism is a product of failed rehabilitation and re-education in prison. Recently the Australian Government and People against Violent Extremism sponsored  CVE Hackabout to identify social impact solutions to extremism. The competition replicated a hackathon and sought collaborative projects that  could be deployed and iterated. Similarly Random Hacks of Kindness brought together techs with NGOs to help them design tech solutions, the winner BenJam – an app that a dad designed for his non-verbal son to communicate with the world.
In July I am trialing a social innovation pitch event in a remote town in NSW. A pitch event for community action where community pitch ideas to solve a local project. The aim is to identify project teams that will meet up beyond the event to develop and implement the project. The idea is to seek re calibration of existing efforts and funds to support community driven initiatives and to support the community to help themselves.  I am also excited to be on the organising committee for GovHack Sydney where we have been encouraging government and NGOs to participate. Rapid prototyping and Hackathons have collaboration in their DNA, they create the space for collaborative alchemy and new solutions.
The challenge with any collaboration is sustainability so ideally any event for social impact would be billed as a platform for ongoing engagement and collaboration. With the work in remote areas distance and lack of connectivity remains a concern. Establishing a blend of face to face and virtual communities of collaboration is important to sustain the excitement and practice. I was recently introduced to the world of google groups and google hangout free collaboration platforms and know these can be leveraged better by communities. I see a lot of opportunity for disadvantaged communities to benefit from cross sector collaboration and cast a wider net to stakeholders, innovators and disruptors that can facilitate their aspirations.
Stay tuned on my innovation for social change journey, follow me on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter

A Social Innovation Experiment

Twitter is a wondrous place, I believe it is more equal than Facebook and LinkedIn and it seems anyone can get traction on an issue with a little help from clever hashtags and virtual friends. I recently thought I would try a social innovation experiment, I tweeted “Who wants to help me organise a  Hackathon for disadvantaged youth in Wagga Wagga. In a matter of hours, with a little help from two new twitter friends – Dez Blanchfield @dez_blanchfield and Dev Mukherjee @mdevraj we started #WaggaWaggaHackathon and a google document, in a week we had eleven people including the Dean of Science at Charles Sturt University – Tim Wess, Wagga Wagga Mayor – Rod Kendall, and representatives from NICTA, Telstra, Google, NSW Government, CodeClubAu, and others. The list of stakeholders is growing and we now have the start of a roadmap to get young people, NGOs and community prepared to participate in a Hackathon in Wagga Wagga in October this year. The Hackathon is not the end game, rather it is the platform for new partnerships and collaboration and a demonstration of how technology can support innovation in solving social problems. It presents an incredible opportunity to empower communities to co-design solutions. The journey to the October Hackathon starts in July with a launch meet-up to explain the process of a Hackathon. Communities have to prepare to identify and pitch their “problem” , monthly meet-ups around the problem will identify the data needs and the types of project teams needed. We want to include a range of experts to support community ideas which could range from starting a social enterprise to developing and APP. I call this a Social Innovation Hackathon because its focus is beyond technology. The amazing experience for me and my colleague Donna Argus @Dargus is that people care, they want to help and are incredibly generous of their time, talent and resources to make things happen. Each stakeholder has a different skillset and without the likes of Dez Blanchfield, Tim Wess and Dev Mukherjee we would have found it difficult to progress the technical logistics of such an ambitious event. While we are definitely agile in our thinking there are stakeholders to manage – community, government and private sector who also have their needs and this prototype will help us show stakeholders the magical possibilities that come from cross sector collaboration for social good. Those that know me know how passionate I am- but this experience has blown me away, I am humbled beyond words at the generosity and willingness of people in tech to help those disadvantaged communities – especially in regional areas. As far as I am concerned this is just the beginning of limitless opportunities of a prototype for social innovation and ultimately social change. It is bringing together unlikely partners and collaborators that are willing to give this idea a go. Frankly I have no idea what this will look like but what I can say is that the journey is opening the hearts and minds of so many people to overcome usual constraints and barriers and to work together to improve the lives of disadvantaged young people in a regional area. If you want to get involved, connect with me on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter or follow our hashtag on twitter #WaggaWaggaHackathon Trsust and see what happens