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 This requires the development of an evidence base (by the time it is gathered it is often out of date), it draws input from the usual suspects, often involves expensive reports from well-paid consultants, has to pass the front page Daily Telegraph test to avoid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  

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.


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.