Accelerating a data driven future


I’ve had a love – hate relationship with data all my life. I was never any good at Math, yet as a social change advocate data was my ally and best friend. I also became increasingly frustrated that despite collecting volumes of data across government and NGOs, we don’t really make the most of it.  We don’t plan ahead, share data or collaborate enough. We are seriously lagging behind in terms of embracing data and digital and creating the space for experimentation and innovation.

I grew to love data in a new way when I attended my first GovHack in 2014, I met Natalia (@natalieasis), a data scientist who made me realise that data is a symphony for those who can unravel it.

Natalia says “For a data scientist, data is alive. When you learn how to *talk* to it, you start seeing beyond Matrix-like rows of numbers and discover a whole new universe of truth and beauty.”

Natalia believes that data is a medium for discovering patterns, she says “Everything in the world has an underlying pattern, be it planetary movements, history, financial markets, or what fascinates me the most – human behaviour.” She believes that data scientists are the modern shaman who “should dedicate years and years of training to learn how to talk to beautiful powerful omniscient data ‘spirits’.” Natalia loves investigating and interrogating the data and finds it rewarding “you experience the pure joy of finding things out and understanding how the world works – and thus gaining wisdom.”

 So how do hackers make meaning out of data – how do they extract life out of numbers and how can we get a glimpse of what this means for government and community?

GovHack is probably the best demonstration of how data is our friend and how easy it is to innovate solutions – the annual weekend competition is all about making meaning out of the reams of data collected by every level of government every single day. It has a devoted following of people like Natalia who live for finding the patterns and meaning out of a bunch of numbers, as well as tech, start ups and entrepreneurs.

David Bartlett, former Premier of Tasmania MCd this years GovHack Awards in Sydney said “GovHack brings to life the abundant government data that sits in largely idle form.” Having worked across state and federal government I can attest to this, we don’t work with data very well. GovHack is the best vehicle to acclimatize government and NGOs to see better use of data. The 2015 competition attracted 160 volunteers supporting 2,200 partcipants, over 100 teams and 6000 data sets in 31 cities across Australia and NZ that generated over 300 projects in little more than 48 hours.

Goddess and founder of GovHack, Pia Waugh, spoke passionately at the Awards about this year’s “epic GovHack continuing to have a community feel, it’s not a corporate or government event, it’s led by volunteers and it’s the best hacker community in the world.” And she’s right it’s a community owned and volunteer run family that keeps growing and increasingly attracting attention from politicians.

PM Malcolm Turnbull gave his attention and sponsorship to GovHack as Communications Minister, The Hon. Senator Arthur Sinodinos spoke at the GovHack Awards and gave a powerful speech about what he saw in this rich and diverse hacker community (see video here), In NSW Ministers for Innovation and Small Business have attended local events. I am confident that in 2016 GovHack will continue to amaze and inspire more politicians and bureaucrats to join the growing community of champions, sponsors and hackers.   Pia Waugh rightly said “ Dominello and Sinodinis are trailblazers in government and represent a great hope for our democracy, of which GovHack is a very important part of the architecture.”

NSW Minister for Innovation, Victor Dominello was blown away at the ideas that solved community or government challenges at the Sydney GovHack awards. At the national awards he said,

 “NSW Government is backing you all the way. We need more than ever collaborate more with you, you are fearless, cautious risk takers, you are the ones who have the potential to change the world like no other time before. “

The Minister recently announced the establishment of a one stop shop for data, the Data Analytics Centre (DAC) will pull the data together across 144 different agencies,152 councils and state owned corporations.  He has ensured the DAC has the legislative power to pull the data together so that we can get things done around some big government costs.

The newly established Digital Transformation Office (DTO) is a great initiative established by Turnbull to bring the digital revolution to government. It will fast track and drive a culture of innovation through greater cross sector and discipline collaboration with emphasis on leveraging academia, open source, SMEs, private sector, design, tech and start up.

Pictured – Paul Shetler, DTO at the 2015 GovHack International Awards , Sydney

At the GovHack awards, Paul Shetler was bold and unapologetic about his agency’s responsibility to transform the face of public services to be more relevant and responsive to its users. He said “It is no accident that the DTO’s first public initiatives is its relationship with GovHack. You want to work on stuff that matters.”

GovHack is a safe place for agencies to learn by doing and dip their toe in the water of civic hacking, learn how to collaborate in bold new ways. Agencies should encourage their staff to get involved in GovHack.

Paul Shetler, Digital Transformation Office

I recently joined the Board of the Australian Open Knowledge Foundation and have the privilege to work alongside data experts and enthusiasts who care about citizen engagement and are leading events like GovHack and Health Hack, I am the sponsor of an incubation stage project HackforDV . Our goal is to collaborate with the peak agencies and users of DV services, government and hackers to co- design solutions.

I believe civic hacking is the future, a balance of crowd sourcing solutions , thought leadership conversations, solution driven and outcome focused collaborations are key. This will change the way we solve problems across finance, health, systems, sectors, services . You are welcome to join the experiment

Three tips to get more out of data and in to hacks

It seems the planets are aligning and the constellation (GovHack, the DAC and DTO, and initiatives like Open Knowledge Foundation and Code for Australia and others) is accelerating the opportunities to engage with the data driven future, that is ultimately inevitable.

Anne-Marie Elias is a speaker and consultant in innovation 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 in LinkedIn Pulse published 10 October.


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