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 This requires the development of an evidence base (by the time it is gathered it is often out of date), it draws input from the usual suspects, often involves expensive reports from well-paid consultants, has to pass the front page Daily Telegraph test to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

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

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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.

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