Innovation, government, and #policyhack

@kcarruthers
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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 ?

policyhackIn 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?@kcarruthers
  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.

policyhack-2Building 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.”

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Social media for social good #socent

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I discussed Social Media for Social Good at a City of Sydney Talk on 27th June 2012.

It is an important issue.  There are many decrying social media for increasing isolation and disconnection between people.

Social media can be used as a force for social good and social inclusion. Social media is not just about ephemeral amusement, it is also an important way to harness forces for social change and social innovation. In short, it is an excellent platform for activism.

Many people are using social media to create platforms for change around the world and here in Australia.

Probably the example of this that is closest to me is Social Innovation Sydney. Started by three women about two years ago, we’ve hosted events that have connected hundreds of change makers with each other. Our goal was to use social media to find people who are interested in social innovation, and then to hold events that got the change makers together in real life.

We’re not the only ones doing it.  Some other good local examples of social media for social are listed in my slide deck below.


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Interesting new initiative: #Solved by TACSI via @stokely

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Just saw announcement by TACSI that they’ve launched a new campaign. It seems like a really interesting idea, and one that definitely supports social innovation:

Why Solved? Sometimes when tackling social challenges, we focus too much on searching for new ideas or solutions, and overlook things that are already working. Maybe you set up a scheme to help local kids eat a healthy breakfast in Broome, and someone in Newcastle is searching for a way to do just that. By sharing what works on the Solved map, we hope these solutions can help more people across Australia.

Big or small, it doesn’t matter. It can be something done by an organisation, or one person. My dad did a lot of work to help build a Men’s Shed in Sheffield, Tasmania to create a place for men to get together, and overcome loneliness, social isolation and depression. The work my dad did, and the impact it’s having on people in his town, is what inspired me to create Solved.

Solutions to social problems are worth celebrating and worth sharing. It’s a great opportunity for people or organisations doing good stuff to let people know about it – or to give a shoutout to their favourite local solution.

How you can help: The number one thing you can do is to notify your network of social changemakers about Solved, and encourage them to add their solutions to the map. If you’re sending out a newsletter, we would appreciate it if you’d include a brief plug for Solved! The campaign is running until December 16, but the sooner you can let people know, the better.

We would also love it if you would follow Solved on Twitter and Facebook, and help your followers there discover Solved.

You can do this by:

  • Following @SolvedAustralia on Twitter.
  • Retweet the following: RT @SolvedAustralia: #solved is an Australia-wide search for social solutions that work.
  • Seen or done something that’s helping? Tell us about it: solved.org.au
  • Like the Solved in Australia page on Facebook.
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Robert Kiyosaki drops in to visit @ValerieKhoo & shares some insights

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It always delights me when friends get to meet interesting people. Thus I was pleased to see that Valerie Khoo, founder of the Sydney Writers’ Centre, recently had a visit from Robert Kiyosaki.

It is worth watching the entire video as Kiyosaki shares his thoughts on business, the economy, and some possible responses (and he does talk about his new book, Midas Touch: Why Some Entrepreneurs Get Rich – And Why Most Don’t).

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Building community #sibsyd #sydstart

Social Innovation Sydney
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On Thursday I spoke about Social Innovation Sydney at SydStart along with Selena Griffith, Michelle Williams, and Kim Chen.  Apart from the Social Innovation Sydney team there was an illustrious line-up for SydStart – you can see the list here.

My brief talk was focused on the approach taken to build community around social innovation, and I will expand on it a little here. As I said:

“Our approach is simple. Community is about real people making real connections in real life. We use technology to enable those connections.”

I firmly believe that the power of online connections and networks is given a new depth when we meet in real life. Social networks are wonderful, and I find them to be amazingly useful. But it is when we finally meet the real human being and look into their eyes that the real magic happens. It is when the heart-to-heart connection between genuine people takes places that we see the alchemy.

Looking to the meaning of the word community gives an insight into what I’m talking about:

community
late 14c., from O.Fr. comunité “community, commonness, everybody” (Mod.Fr. communauté), from L. communitatem (nom. communitas) “community, fellowship,” from communis “common, public, general, shared by all or many,” (see common). Latin communitatem “was merely a noun of quality … meaning ‘fellowship, community of relations or feelings,’ but in med.L. it was, like universitas, used concretely in the sense of ‘a body of fellows or fellow-townsmen’ ” [OED]. An O.E. word for “community” was gemænscipe “community, fellowship, union, common ownership,” probably composed from the same PIE roots as communis. Community service as a criminal sentence is recorded from 1972, Amer.Eng. Community college is recorded from 1959.
Source: Online Etymology Dictionary

Thus community is about building “fellowship” and is something that is “shared by all or many”. To achieve it we must bring people together. And one way to bring people together is to have them all focus on an object or objective, in much the same way as we have with Social Innovation Sydney.

Our use of social media and social networking is merely part of the mechanic. But these tools are not the focus, instead they are a mechanism for reinforcing the community that is formed through action, and by conversation and exchange of ideas.

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The business of social business

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Social business is the new trend following on from Enterprise 2.0 – but underlying it is an essential conflict between two different styles of doing business.  The conflict is between businesses optimized for efficiency and those optimized for the creation of value.

Greg Satell encapsulates this conflict neatly in his 2010 post Creating Efficiency vs. Creating Value. He raises the notion of Kuhnian paradigm shifts and open innovation as a key part of creating value.

However, I suspect that Geoff Livingston is right when he argues that we are actually facing the post social media revolution era.

These two ideas – that we have entered the post social media revolution era and; that we need to create value as opposed to efficiency – frame the challenge of the next few years for business.

With the decline of the verities of the economic system that we’ve taken for granted over the past 30 years we are now faced with a new economic landscape within which to create and grow businesses.

In an environment of reduced consumer power, restricted credit and the prospect of sovereign crises, businesses need to find ways to harness creativity to generate revenue. This means we must diversify our efforts from a focus on efficiency and cost optimization. It means that we need to create mechanisms for creation and sharing of value.

We need to find new ways of doing business that do not merely follow the ideological constraints of what has gone before. Instead it is time to bring all of our commitment and determination to find new ways of doing things.

It will be insufficient to merely put the word ‘social’in front of our business activities. It will be necessary to find out how to embed social processes and technology within our businesses to meet the demands of these challenging times.

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What kind of zombies have we created?

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I was reading Bill Bonner’s recent post Zombies Born of Government Spending where he posits the notion of zombies in our economy. As Bill defines it:

“In economic terms, a zombie is a parasite. He contributes less to the economy than he takes from it. He lives at the expense of others.”

His argument is that social welfare programs as practised by most of the developed world only work during good times. As he argues:

“It’s relatively easy to turn people into zombies. And it’s fairly easy to support them when an economy is healthy and expanding. But when an economy goes into a contraction, you can no longer afford to give the zombies their meat. Then what?”

This is an interesting question. Western societies have created a group of people with few skills and no means by which they might generate value to exchange.  Nor do many in this group appear to have bonds to the society within which they exist and they exhibit few loyalties to ideas or ideals outside of mere existence and consumption.

But the real issue is how we create a new economy, one that is founded on creation of real value and its exchange, and not ephemeral things (like hybrid securities and CDOs). One that sustains and nurtures community rather than destroying it through extreme competition and crazy ideas like the priority of shareholder value above all other things.

This raises some important questions:

  • If the government can no longer sustain them (or us) then what happens?
  • How do we create ways of connecting people with skills to share with those who want to learn?
  • By what mechanism can we develop shared values that support the creation of valuable skills?
  • How do we create communities of people that choose to contribute and collaborate for the common good?

We don’t have to let what’s happening in other places happen here. We have the choice. We can create communities where real value is exchanged between real people. Not what passes for value in the some places – faux celebrity, immediate gratification, and continuous consumption – but sustainable and sustaining value.

There used to exist such things as commons in the past – commonly held land and other resources. But we have few of these remaining to us nowadays.  It might be times to create some new common resources to share in a fair and equitable manner?  We have already seen the rise of new forms of sharing and common ownership through Creative Commons on the internet. It makes me wonder what other things for which this approach will work. I suspect that Mark Pesce’s work on his Plexus innovation is a beginning in this quest.

It is worth considering how we can each begin to nurture collaborative behaviour and thinking in our local spheres to work against the zombie world view.

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How do we create and share value in a jobless economy?

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Jeff Jarvis sparked my thinking on this recently with his post on The Jobless Future. As Jeff so bluntly stated:

“We’re not going to have a jobless recovery. We’re going to have a jobless future.

Holding out blind hope for the magical appearance of new jobs and the reappearance of growth in the economy is a fool’s faith.”

If that is the case in the US, and we have riots on the streets in the UK, Spain, Greece, north Africa and the middle east, then things are not looking good in large portions of the world. There will likely be flow on economic and social effects around the world, especially since Richard Florida is pondering if riots could come to Canada too.

Nouriel Roubini may be right in his assertion that “Karl Marx had it right. At some point, Capitalism can destroy itself.”

The inherent instability of markets in the US and Europe mean that jobs are going to be harder to come by, especially for the less educated and the less skilled.

All of this got me thinking about what skills are really useful in this new world that is developing before our eyes? What kinds of businesses and communities will be more resilient in the face of changing economic verities? How do we need to recast our expectations and aspirations for this new world that is unfolding?

That kind of thinking led me over to John Robb’s blog and one of his recent posts, Entrepreneurs and Open Source Hardware. Perhaps we are all about to become open source entrepreneurs?

The kind of economic environment that is emerging is one where sustainable and ethical business models can come into their own. Not large scale, top-down, industrial operations. Rather there is an opportunity to develop peer-to-peer and networked organisations. Social innovation, social enterprise and ideas like collaborative consumption become significant, and a return to older ways of organising businesses – like co-operatives and mutual associations – become critical.

We also need to find ways to create and exchange value in an environment where traditional mechanisms might no longer be available to us. This means creation of new means of value exchange, or even new kinds of currencies. Reverting to gold is not really feasible, after all it’s rather heavy to tote around. Thus virtual currencies might even come to replace some of the existing ones

If you consider it unbelievable that major currencies can fail then it’s time to go read some history. Just to put it in perspective there’s a great visual post by Jeff Clark over at The Daily Reckoning that illustrates the risk rather neatly: A Thousand Pictures Is Worth One Word.

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Business, boring jobs and social good

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Over the past 150 years businesses have dealt with the challenges of increased scale by optimizing processes, resource allocation and expenditure. However, there is a limit to how much one can optimize a business and not damage the society within which that business exists.

I have spent a goodly part of my career working on optimizing large scale businesses and increasing productivity.

The main way to achieve that is by automating routine and repetitive tasks or outsourcing them to lower cost regions, thus making low paid jobs redundant. That process generally takes bottom line cost out of the business and increases productivity as a by-product. Where it does create new jobs they are rarely suitable for the workforce that has been displaced through this process.

Many older workers have been pushed out of the workforce due to the disappearance of these types of jobs. For them it seems too late to re-train, and many face ageism from employers who are unwilling to give them a chance at different roles.

Thus we are wasting the talents, energy and skills of many older workers who now languish unhappily on welfare payments.

But it is also interesting to consider this: if the many young unemployed people across the western world had been born twenty years earlier they would be doing those repetitive jobs and earning an income. Those jobs have disappeared. And they have disappeared either due to optimization and productivity improvements.

So what do we do with all of the people who used to do those old jobs? In most western countries (except the USA) we pay them some kind of social welfare benefit. That allows them to subsist. But what do they do with their time while subsisting? Are they included somehow in the community? Do they have a role, apart from being passive recipients of welfare, that make them feel part of society?

A boring repetitive job is boring for many young people. But it does provide some benefits: they earn an income; they learn real-world work skills; it gets them out of the house; it gives them some kind of purpose outside of themselves; and it is really a good way to get them thinking about what else they can do with their life.

My first job was utterly dull and boring. It gave me the impetus to get back into study and work out ways to never have a job that dull again. It also gave me a perspective on how business works, and it is a perspective that I could not have achieved from outside.

But now most of those entry level (boring) jobs have gone. And many young people do not want to take them even if available. That is a bit sad.

We seem to have mostly banished boredom in our society, and that might not be an entirely good thing. The social benefit provided by those lost jobs has not been replaced.

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The jobless future and social innovation

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I have argued previously that capitalism is broken and that we need to find new approaches that are good for people, animals and the planet.  Further I asked if social innovation might be part of that new approach.

The world is facing an unprecedented financial crisis that is creating a future in which traditional jobs are being destroyed.  Jeff Jarvis outlines this future well in his post The jobless future. Before our eyes entire industries that thrived during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are disappearing.

The consumer driven economy of the late twentieth century is teetering due to:

  • the demise of the debt fuelled growth to support consumer spending, and
  • a lack of jobs to provide the income for consumers to continue acquisition of goods and services.

In the period 2008-2010 the car industry is a good example.  A confluence of high fuel prices, a global financial crisis (GFC),  tightening of credit markets, and job losses across Europe and North America meant that demand for new vehicles dropped to historic lows. This in turn drove job losses in the car industry around the world.

But the car industry has for many years produced more new cars than the world really needs to replace old or damaged ones.  Driven by consumer leasing arrangements that saw people acquiring a new car every few years, debt was fuelling an artificial demand.  And when that debt fuelled demand dropped away during the GFC, demand levels for new cars fell back to more ‘real’ levels. With demand down, jobs will go in this industry.  It is unlikely that the lost jobs will return.

This is a strange situation.  Motor vehicles are a great social good.  They have enabled us to achieve mobility to move people and goods in ways that our ancestors could not even imagine.  But even a social good, when inflated by debt driven acquisition, might not be good for us.

Faced with the kind of jobless recovery and jobless future that the US is so kindly modelling for us we need to consider what means of value creation and exchange need to be created to replace the old models. In some places we are even seeing tent cities arise for those who have lost access to traditional housing and jobs.

One response is a top down Keynesian approach, with centralisation and extensive government intervention.   However, the scale of the economic crisis facing us today means that governments simply do not have the resources for continued intervention.  After a variety of interventions in the US and Europe the first world governments cannot afford to keep spending.

But another response is a grass roots and bottom up response that finds different, diverse and sustainable ways to re-create an economy.

It is here that the notion of social innovation comes into its own. It is the notion that we can create innovative businesses and business models that generate value for us from both a social and economic perspective.

Just repeating the same old models will not get us out of this situation.  It is time to broaden our perspective and look to each other, to our local communities for sustainable and ethical ways to generate value.

An interesting place to start thinking about this is the work that is being done about resilient communities:

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