The PolicyHack Experiment – A Futurist vision

policyhack pano shot

PolicyHack happened – just like that!

It was the courage of a newly appointed Assistant Minister for Innovation the Hon. Wyatt Roy MP and his bold vision to hack for change that led to one of the most sought after event tickets in town.

The Policy Hack experiment was about challenging the way bureaucrats collaborate and encouraging them to engage with the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem to develop better policy and deliver better outcomes.

It was a brilliant exercise that demonstrated the capacity and appetite of entrepreneurs to come together with those from academia, corporates, capital, advisory firms, civil society and the tech and start-up sector to collaborate and develop innovative policy options for government.

PolicyHack had its fair share of critics. A number of blogs and articles appeared immediately prior to the event. They commented on the lack of planning and process, its haphazard development, its ‘exclusivity’ and the likelihood that it would produce no real outcomes in just one day.

In part they were right. However, in its defence, it was an experiment in innovation, pulled together quickly with no funds, a lot of goodwill, the generosity of a community and an enormous desire to show government that embracing the tools of innovation and entrepreneurship could deliver better outcomes. The Hack was well supported with mentors from Disruptors Handbook and Pollenizer and many others.

It was very brave of the Hon. Wyatt Roy MP , BlueChilli andt StartUpAus to take this on and push past the critics. Their chutzpah was rewarded. The energy was infectious with 150 participants, ten teams and champions – 60% of those women – generating 10 ideas in 6 hours.

Was it perfect? No. Is that a problem? No. We know how to make the next one better.

Innovation is never perfect and neither is the current approach to policy design.

Innovation is agile, it’s iterative, it’s responsive and above all else, it’s nimble. It doesn’t stand still while ever there is a problem to be solved.

Compare this hack philosophy to the current approach to policy development. This requires the development of an evidence base (by the time it is gathered it is often out of date), it draws input from the usual suspects, often involves expensive reports from well-paid consultants, has to pass the front page Daily Telegraph test to avoid upsetting vested interests and frankly as a result, often fails.

Is it any wonder then that so many programs cost what they do and deliver so little to the end user they were meant to serve?

I am a firm believer in supporting initiatives that disrupt the status quo for the better and was blown away by how well PolicyHack turned out.

 PolicyHack was about demonstrating that there is a better way.

Champions 60% women

The Vision 

Assistant Minister Roy spoke about the need for us to be diligent in our expenditure of public funds and observed

“We are going to be fearless and embrace the future. Help shape the vision for how our country can be a hub for entrepreneurship and Innovation.”

Wyatt Roy, Assistant Minister, Innovation 

The Assistant Minister made it clear that PolicyHack was an experiment that allowed us to collaborate. He explained that this was the first of many PolicyHacks.

Assistant Minister Roy left no one wondering about his aim to encourage all members of the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem to leverage our capital and support government to deliver better outcomes for our society and economy.

Who won?

The winning pitches at PolicyHack were Erin Watson-Lynn’s Digital Innovation Creative Entrepreneurial Kids (DICEKids) an educational program for school children that prepares the next generation entrepreneurs and Nicola Hazel’s NEIS 2 Entrepreneur accelerator, in effect a revitalisation of the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme.

These are both simple to implement immediately and can create our new generation of entrepreneurs in a relatively short time frame without any significant hit to the budget.

A quick diversion – the NDIS

The last time I got excited about policy was the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  I worked for the NSW Minister for Ageing and Disability, the Hon. Andrew Constance MP and he, like Wyatt Roy, was enthusiastic for change and drove an innovation agenda.

We co-designed the policy with people with disability and their carers. Living Life My Way was a policy hack of sorts where government collaborated with service users and service providers. Where it didn’t meet expectations was that little actually happened after the ideas and exchange.

It ended up being a great big expensive exercise with good intentions but little change. A few years later the outcomes of the scheme remain underwhelming.

Last year in the AFR, Laura Tingle highlighted the frustration with the burgeoning costs of the NDIS trial sites growing out of control. We hear that bureaucrats are hiring more consultants, commissioning more reports and there are concerns about how a scheme of this magnitude will be managed out of State and Territory governments in the next year or so.

Let’s deliver outcomes

In my humble opinion, the current set of bureaucrats working on the NDIS need to meet Paul Shetler, CEO of the Digital Transformation Office (aka the PM’s Tsar) and his team as well as Pia Waugh of @AusGovCTO. They need to invite Paul and Pia to facilitate innovation dialogues to help the NDIS get back on track with the help of hackers from the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Hackers who will apply their smarts and collaborate in order to solve this wicked problem without needing to spend any more money.

If anyone is listening we need to hack for disability to see how we can stretch existing budgets to extract more and deliver better outcomes for people with disabilities, their families and carers.

A similar idea was generated last year by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) and UTS called Enabled by Design a design-a-thon bringing together people with disabilities and designers to hack practical solutions for accessibility, usability and desirability. We have some incredible minds in the innovation space that have done much for health and disability – Prof Hung Nguyen and Dr Jordan Nguyen are transforming health technology with their engineering, artificial intelligence and tech driven focus.

 Delivering PolicyHack

StartUpAus will curate the content of the OurSay platform and the hack and Assistant Minister Roy and his office will deliver packaged outcomes and suggestions to relevant agencies for consideration and action. Policy Hack is a brilliant initiative and with a bit more notice and planning we can make an enormous impact on any big spend issues and, I believe, bring more efficiency and innovation to government.

The PolicyHack model presents a powerful method that can solve a lot of wicked problems for government. PolicyHack can be the darling of Expenditure Review Committees and razor gangs because it gets bureaucrats thinking outcomes not just process. It gets them collaborating to make change not compromises and it delivers breakthrough ideas that solve problems and create opportunities. Which as we know sits at the heart of good policy.

What next?

The challenge now is what happens next?  Craig Thomler says “the devil is in the delivery and while perfection should not be the enemy of trying, communication is key, transparency about the process, outcomes and community engagement is integral to the process.”

We haven’t nailed it yet. I think we need to invest some time in doing that. Coming together is the beginning. While we generated amazing ideas, I don’t know what will happen to these ideas post hack. Go to any of the hack sites and you see the promotion and maybe the winning ideas and teams but no further info beyond that.

My proposition

Here are four steps we can take to deliver an outcomes driven hack.

  1. Start with cross sector thought leadership groups to design the parameters and set the policy agenda.
  2. Align the right agencies (State and Commonwealth) with innovators in teams to co-design solutions.
  3. Set up a Post Hack Incubator so that the ideas can be further developed and piloted. These pilots must be supported both by government (through recalibrated funds and resources) and the innovation community.
  4. Keep talking to ensure all stakeholders remain engaged and informed by sharing the process, the results of implementation and the success or otherwise of outcomes.

We should be so lucky

I for one want to thank the Hon. Wyatt Roy, who, backed by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary Senator the Hon. Arthur Sinodinos AO, the Hon. Paul Fletcher MP Minister for Territories, Local Government and Major Projects and a growing number of Ministers, Members and Senators including  (Fiona Scott MP and David Coleman MP) our champions of change, have seen the constellation of government, corporate and the innovation community align.

We need to deliver outcomes from PolicyHack and develop an ongoing program of hacks for change because it is time that we did things differently and moved into a new paradigm where collaboration is key and where we get shit done, because our communities, economy and ultimately, our future depends on it. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

Read more about the mechanics of PolicyHack in Gavin Heaton’s blog Wyatt Roy’s Policy Hack – A view from the inside.

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

Anne-Marie has recently joined the Board of the Australian Open Knowledge Foundation.

Follow Anne-Marie’s  journey of disruptive social innovation on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter or visit 

This blog was first published on LinkedIn Pulse on 18 October 2015  

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

Innovation is key to shift social disadvantage

Last year(2014) a friend whom I call the goddess of Start up – Nicole Williamson – introduced me to the parallel universe of tech and start up – I was mesmerized by the innovation and the hunger for creation. I’m so grateful to Nicole for introducing me to her world and being so generous to take me along to the numerous events occurring in Sydney that foster, inspire and nurture innovation. It got me thinking how amazing it would be to apply these worlds and their methods to solve wicked social problems?

Id spent many years (almost 30)  in the vortex of policy, government, NGO and social disadvantage – getting frustrated at the seeming futility of hundreds of billions of dollars being plowed into disadvantage with little result – even worse I started to see that the return on investment (ROI) really sucked! Even worse – people’s lives are at stake and disadvantage is growing exponentially despite the investment of money, programs and attention.

Innovation is key – really, there is no other way because we have enough and we definitely can do better to protect the most vulnerable people. Solutions are really not that hard, they just require new thinking, thought leadership from across sectors and disciplines to apply their minds to these messy problems like domestic and family violence, recidivism, homelessness, disability and unemployment. Our current approaches are failing, even if some would argue that there has been some progress, its too slow and too many people are falling through the cracks.

This week, April 2015,  NSW Premier Mike Baird announced a new Ministry, most exciting for the startup and tech communities was the re-appointment of the Hon. Dominic Perrottet as Minister for Finance and Services and the new appointment of the Hon. Victor Dominello as Minister for Innovation.

Its not enough to get NSW moving without some bold moves including the lease of poles and wires to fund long overdue infrastructure and the commitment by the Premier, Brendan Lyon, CEO of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Tracy Howe, CEO of NCOSS and the Minister for Family and Community Services to contribute $1b to social housing. Its exciting to think of the opportunities that lie in exchange of ideas across sectors as to how we could turn that $1b into ten times more to create new solutions to social housing, shelter and homelessness

“Innovation is a hard, messy process with no shortcuts. It starts with making something that you’d like to use and that might make people’s lives better.”  Guy Kawasaki

The fact that innovation is messy makes it hard for risk averse public servants to embrace its tenets – risk, failure, courage, disruption. However there seems to be a growing appetite for innovation in the public sector like the Premiers Innovation Initiative (NSW), Transport for NSW Customer Central innovation hub Andrew Kendall showed me, the endless open data, open government initiatives by NSW Minister for Finance and Services Dominic Perrottet’s Finance and Services and  Apps4NSW and Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s GovHack,

I believe having a Minister for Innovation brings all this together – its an opportunity for Minister Victor Dominello to identify and implement innovation across public sector agencies. It demonstrates a desire and necessity to innovate our responses to big problems, including wicked social problems. It will be great to have an innovation lens applied across portfolios, can you imagine the possibilities of new thinking? I can – I have been inspired by so many individuals and companies out there applying their talent to help people.

I recently met UTS Professor Hung Nguyen who is inventing amazing enabling tools such as the aviator smart wheelchair ( see Youtube Clip here), his contribution is leveraging design and technology to innovate solutions to social care including falls prevention, diabetes and more! In March 2015, Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd., Fujitsu Ireland Ltd., and Fujitsu Limited announced they have “developed a technology that uses sensors, embedded in smart houses and worn by patients, for the early detection of abnormalities in motor functions that might otherwise go unnoticed.”

“Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity.” Michael Porter

Traditional thinking has only taken us so far in being able to reduce social exclusion, marginalization and increase opportunity for disadvantaged people. Globally we are seeing a number of innovative solutions such as the rise of social entrepreneurship, of cooperatives and mutuals and of greater emphasis on collaboration. My hero – Ben Hecht CEO of Living Cities is a constant inspiration in his vision to connect opportunity to disadvantage that is transforming lives in some of the most vulnerable people in the USA.

“We take risks, catalyze fresh thinking in order to test new approaches in order to creatively disrupt the status quo.” Living Cities

We can learn a great deal about how to emulate this to extend the $1billion anticipated for social housing in NSW and address the valid concerns of the homelessness and housing affordability sectors to ensure that we can really do something that will meet growing challenges!

So I hope that this trend continues and that we as a society continue to look outward, that we collaborate and innovate out of any problem!



Pronunciation: /dɪsˈrʌpʃn/
According to Oxford Dictionaries, the Definition of disruption in English:
noun Disturbance or problems which interrupt an eventactivity, or process

My relationship with disruption started early – in primary school my parents received report cards with comments like “Anne-Marie is disruptive in class.” Luckily I never really took this in a bad way, you see I was disruptive because I wasn’t a sheep, I had a very different learning style which was more collaborative and learning from others than from learning by rote!

In fact if the teachers bothered to look behind the ‘disruption” they would have been able to harness this “disruptive behaviour” for good, yet they didn’t and I guess they thought this little girl would be put back in her box – that of a dutiful, compliant primary school student. They were wrong!
Although my subsequent years were spent playing the game of compliance, I never really fit in, so it came as a surprise to even me,  that some 40 years later I would own that word and claim it as a title – my twitter handle is @ChiefDisrupter and my blog disrupter4change. So my journey of disruption began with that seed in the mid to late1970s, a seed that struggled to thrive in the face of limited teachers, and limited structures but somehow this little seed decided that it would learn to thrive in these conditions. I went from “surviving” the term to living it and “thriving”.
You see in my 30 odd years of advocacy and work in disadvantage I can promise you the status quo absolutely and passionately has to be disrupted, we as individuals can no longer be complacent and wait for some miracle to happen – it won’t! My life mission, my vocation now is to spread the gospel of disrupting the status quo and innovating our responses to wicked social issues through cross sector and discipline collaboration. My mantra is collaborate or perish, disrupt or see more of the same.

So why does the word disruption have such a negative connotation? I believe the meaning has in fact evolved to be something at times necessary and positive to move forward and to innovate!

The Christensen institute explains the positive side of disruption: “The theory of disruptive innovation was first coined by Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen…The theory explains the phenomenon by which an innovation transforms an existing market or sector by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complication and high cost are the status quo. Initially, a disruptive innovation is formed in a niche market that may appear unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents, but eventually the new product or idea completely redefines the industry.”

A friend recently tagged me in post of an article in BBC News “Can Soup change the world” which highlighted a movement, in Detroit USA, generated by people to solve social dilemmas (, a dragon’s den style where people pitch solutions to social problems – music to my ears. You see these folks aren’t waiting for government coffers to stump up the cash for good ideas, they are collectivising efforts and getting the community to sponsor the ideas – innovation is born because as you would guess it’s not the usual suspects coming up with the same old solutions.

Check out the story on BBC Can Soup Change the World 

Detroit Soup is an innovative crowd-funding dinner which is bringing people together to raise thousands of dollars for community projects in Motor City. Since it launched five years ago, it has helped launch a range of start-ups working in areas such as urban agriculture, social justice and education – projects funded by and for the people. But could this model work in other cities? For the BBC’s A Richer World season, the BBC takes Detroit Soup founder Amy Kaherl to Nepal, to start a new crowd-funding culture Kathmandu-style.

Let me know your views on Disruption or on twitter @ChiefDisrupter

Time for a new way of working

I find it incongruous we have so much wealth yet more people are falling through the cracks. For some there’s an abundance of food and water and others don’t have enough.

Would you be shocked to know we have children in Sydney going to school without food, families going hungry?

Would it shock you that we have communities living in shanty towns in the state of NSW?

Would it make any difference to know that while we waste water in some parts of the country – there are Australian communities that don’t have access to clean drinking water?

Personally I think at some stage we lost our way from being community centred to government and NGO centred. Somehow we believed that anyone outside community was the key and we saw bigger government and bigger NGOs often dislocated from the heart of the matter – community.

We stopped listening to the very people we are here to serve and only spoke to each other, we set up structures to distance community with layers of community leaders, advisers and committees between those that make decisions and the people ultimately affected by these decisions.

I think we can agree that on their own government and NGOs are not the answer  – despite enormous efforts and   investments across sectors (business, philanthropy, government, fundraising) to support vulnerable people and communities – estimated at $250 billion per year (Centre for Social Impact 2014), disadvantage is growing with 1 in 7 Australians living below the poverty line (ACOSS, 2014).

I believe 2015 will be the year of community, we need to re-engage with the people in communities – not just the leaders, we have to get over our need to have processes and structures that don’t work and move closer to understanding and collaborating with affected communities. We have to stop giving out fish and start giving out fishing lines, so communities can be the change so desperately needed.

My dream is to pull decision makers together and talk more sense than platitudes – why can’t we move the water from here to there? Why can’t we ensure that no child or family goes hungry by more effectively redistributing the food that is often thrown away? Food Bank and Oz Harvest are brilliant redistribution services but somehow they are not reaching all those that need, how do we create market gardens so people have access to fresh vegetables? How do we give families a chicken so they may have fresh eggs?  How do we facilitate these initiatives, which by the way are happening in some communities but not others?

I believe we do this by disrupting the status quo – stop whatever we are doing that isn’t working and start collaborating across sectors – if we are dead serious about social change – we have to work differently, with community at the centre and we have to start owning our failures (1 in 7 Australians below the poverty line) and start listening to the very people we are here to serve.

Anne-Marie Elias is @ChiefDisripter

of The Collective NSW a social impact model which brings together business, community, NGOs and government to collaborate on social disadvantage. To see our stories, visit The Collective NSW YouTube Channel.