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Innovation, government, and #policyhack

Can a government really change the way it does innovation by doing a #policyhack ?

It was refreshing to hear the Turnbull government immediately turn around the depressingly negative rhetoric of the Abbott era and start talking about innovation, agility, and action. And it was a nice surprise when Wyatt Roy MP announced that he was hosting a #policyhack in associating with well-known startup incubator, BlueChilli.

What is a #policyhack ?

In about two weeks the staff of Wyatt Roy and Blue Chilli pulled together a good quality event called #policyhack. The idea was simple:

“Ideas for policies that could grow innovative, globally competitive industries in Australia

Policy and industry experts collaborate in a one day policy hackathon.

Along with Assistant Minister for Innovation Hon. Wyatt Roy MP, BlueChilli will bring together representatives from startups, VC funds, accelerators and other components of the innovation ecosystem, with policy experts from government departments to collaborate in a one-day industry policy hackathon in Sydney, Saturday 17 October 2015.

We’ll use the hackathon methodology to nominate, select and work together in mixed teams on new government policy ideas designed to foster the growth of innovation industries including tech startups, biotech, agtech, fintech, renewables and resources.”

The judging criteria for the ideas were simple:

  1. Value proposition – Does the proposal address a clear and present problem in the innovation ecosystem, and has the problem been clearly articulated?
  2. Impact – Does the proposal contribute to making the innovation ecosystem stronger?
  3. Implementation – Is the proposal practical to implement; has the proposal identified required resources (public and private); has the proposal indicated who would be the relevant stakeholders? Is the proposal practically achievable in realistic timeframes?
  4. Value for money – Has consideration been made to proposal’s potential costs?
  5. International comparisons – Has anything similar been done internationally?

Initial policy ideas for consideration on the day were crowdsourced from the public via the  OurSay online forum prior to the event.

I signed up, partly out of curiosity and partly out of a desire to see government try something a bit different to develop new policy approaches. I have had previous experience of hackathons and design jams, mostly in a tech startup or service design context, and was interested to see how well the hackathon model translated for rapid policy development. I ended up working with the always disruptive Anne Marie Elias, along with the amazing Annie Beaulieu and Cass Mao on a social innovation idea for reshaping the existing welfare model for disadvantaged communities.

Was it worth doing #policyhack ?

It was a great day. It was a place full of interesting and engaged people who were working collaboratively to change the way Australia does innovation. Lots of Federal public servants were also there. I hold out hopes that many people who participated can see the value of this kind of rapid design process for use in policy development. It was also good to get the public servants out of their Canberra eyries to meetup with real entrepreneurs and folks who are doing innovation everyday in real life. Exposing government and bureaucrats to the lean and agile approaches for getting new ideas off the ground at minimal cost and effort, that are already used successfully across the global startup community, is a benefit.

Having worked in state government and been involved in policy development over the years I can see that this is an area that is ripe for disruption. Approaches to policy development, like #policyhack, might just be part of the equation for renewal of the government’s policy development framework.

Building connections between Canberra types and entrepreneurial types working together with a common focus is one of the best outcomes. We need to develop more informal ways for government and public service people to continue the dialogue with the startup community. StartupAus is a good start.

But to make it real, it is up to Wyatt Roy and his ministerial colleagues and their departments to be brave and turn these ideas into reality. I await the next steps with great interest.

The whistling winds of change are possibly just about to reach Canberra, and we might all be the better for it. As my colleague, Gavin Heaton summarised it neatly: “The new MVP – minimum viable policy.”