Friday, October 30, 2015

Come along to IAP2's November Canberra session on 'Introducing collaboration into the process of planning online participation'

I will be presenting at November's IAP2 session in Canberra from 6-8pm on 'Introducing collaboration into the process of planning online participation'.

The session will look at how to get internal stakeholders onboard and on the same page for an online participation process, particularly when they have disparate experience and understanding of digital approaches.

Using real world examples, and an interactive session involving Social Media Planner, attendees will get to work through the process of aligning stakeholder expectations and needs while building their understanding and support for an online engagement approach.

Presenter: Craig Thomler, Director, Social Media Planner
Time: Tues 10 November 2015, 6 for 6.15 pm (finishing about 8 pm)
Venue (TBC): Canberra Innovation Network, Level 5, 5 Moore St Civic

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fostering Entrepreneurship and innovation in Australian universities

Last week I was privileged to be invited to speak at the Canberra Startup Showcase, run by the UC Advertising and Marketing Society and EntrepreneurshipUC Society at the University of Canberra.

Together with three other entrepreneurs, Mitchell Harmer of Sign On Site, Dawn Hayter of Urban Providore and Joe Mammolita of iCognition, we discussed our journeys and experience in entrepreneurship and answered the questions of the gathered students.

It was an awesome experience. Each of the entrepreneurs had a very different background, and were at different stages in their company development, providing a broad cross-sectional view of what it's like to found and build a business in Australia.

Fostering entrepreneurship at Australian universities is critical for Australia to build future businesses and grow the economic opportunities for all Australians. The level of interest from attendees, including several who were already seasoned entrepreneurs while still in their early twenties, demonstrated that passion for entrepreneurship was alive among young Australians.

All they needed was the knowledge and tools to realise their passions, avenues to learn from more experienced business owners and access systems that can leapfrog their learning and avoid at least some of the pitfalls.

While I was expecting some interest from the students in Social Media Planner as a tool to support an aspect of business planning, I didn't anticipate how popular it would be - several students bought decks on the spot and more have followed up after the event.

This suggests to me that tools like Social Media Planner have a valuable place in helping our future entrepreneurs to define, refine and test their ideas, preparing them for the business landscape of the future.

I'm glad I could provide some knowledge and support to the students of the University of Canberra, and hope I can continue to support younger people in their journey towards entrepreneurship for years to come.

I hope governments, corporations and universities also recognise where and when our education system needs to be supported by relevant business experience and appropriate business tools.

Without appropriate support many potential Australian enterprises will fail, or not achieve their potential success, restricting Australia's economic development and success.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Innovation, the International Space Station and horses arses

The International Space Station (ISS) orbits Earth about 15 times a day. As the largest human-built structure in orbit, it is visible to the naked eye when it passes over, only 330-430 kilometres overhead.

The ISS serves an important purpose as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology and other scientific fields. It also is crucial in exploring the technologies needed to take humans back to the moon, to Mars and, eventually, the stars.
The ISS was built from a number of parts carried into orbit on different space missions, including a number of components carried on US Space Shuttles while they were in operation.
When the Space Shuttle was being constructed a number of its parts were contracted out to various companies across the US and other nations.
In particular the large booster rockets, which carry the shuttle to orbit and fall away for reuse, were contracted to a company in Utah, which built them onsite and transported them by rail to the launch site.
The engineers that built these boosters wanted to ensure they were as large and powerful as possible, but had to keep in mind that they had to be transported through a train tunnel, which was built to US rail specifications.
The US rail gauge is 4 foot 8.5 inches and was defined by the manufacturers of steam trains, who reused the standard they'd used in their previous work developing horse-drawn trams in the 19th century. The standard used for these trams was, in turn, based on the standard for building horse-drawn wagons, which was the former occupation of tram-makers.
The width of wagon wheelbases was, in turn, based on US road widths, which had been imported to the New World by the English, drawing from UK road standards.
The reason it was important for wagons to have standard width wheelbases in the UK was because of the ruts cut into the roads by hundreds of years of use. Make a wheelbase too wide or narrow and wheels would break more easily and often.
This was because the UK road standard had originally been defined by the Roman Empire, which built the first continent-spanning road network in Europe. The Romans built these roads both for trade and for easier passage by their armies, which included war-chariots drawn by two horses.
As a result, the gateway to humans exploring the solar system, the International Space Station, was designed on a thousand-year old standard from the Roman Empire, the width of two horses' arses.
Now what does this have to do with innovation?
Clearly there's been a long process to get from two-horses arses to the International Space Station, but at every stage many of the core technologies have been designed iteratively on those that came before them.
All the innovations that have occurred in that process occurred within a set framework, which both enabled and limited progress.
When thinking about innovation it is important to be conscious of the frameworks we operate within, personally and institutionally.
Our capacity to innovate is often shaped by our education, experience and environment. Often what we may call innovation is actually iteration - taking an existing model and improving it in some way.
Innovation in the purest sense occurs when there's a break from a past framework. These breaks are often highly disruptive as they force people to rethink all their assumptions and reframe their experiences in light of new ways of seeing the world, or a given problem or situation.
Some of these major innovative breaks include such things as the Theory of Evolution, the Industrial Revolution, the invention of the printing press (with movable type) and the creation of the Internet.
It's true that each was built on knowledge that came before it. Dinosaur skeletons were discovered long before Darwin and his peers conceived of evolution and books existed for thousands of years before movable type.
However in each of these, and similar, innovations, the way people saw the world shifted. Industries rose and fell, as did nations and societies. These new ideas and inventions weren't simple iterations on previously accepted wisdom that saw society make minor adjustments but continue on its existing course.
Often when organisations seek to be 'innovative' they are actually focused on being iterative, to improve what they do in order to maximise their success within the current social and economic environment.
There's nothing wrong with this but it doesn't necessarily require the same approach as actual innovation.
Actual innovation is about overturning what is considered normal, breaking from current practice and finding new approaches which redefine how we see and behave in society and our economic, political and social environments.
This type of innovation is hard. It involves lifting people out of their unconscious patterns and creating lasting change, often overcoming fears of the unknown and the well understood and comfortable lives people and organisations have created for themselves.
In fact humans are biologically wired against too much, or too fast, change. Scientific research has established that our brains reside in a lower energy state when supporting or defending the status quo than when we try to actually change our thinking. 
While we can, and do, change, it's far easier to consider innovative change when we're fresh, fit and fed rather than when we're stressed, tired and hungry.
So it's important when seeking to create or support innovation to create the right environment to foster innovative thinking, picking or designing appropriate locations and times for change to occur.
It's also important to use the appropriate systems and tools to support innovation. These need to help people step out of their comfort zones as comfortably as possible, to give people a change to play with ideas and approaches in non-threatening ways.
When people feel comfortable and safe they're far more capable and open to new concepts and approaches and able to consider the flaws in current situations in a far more objective way.
While I didn't realise it when I invented Social Media Planner, my card-based game-like system for helping people to design effective social media strategies around a table, over years of testing I've found that it fosters this innovative thinking. By taking people from a digitally-focused space to a collaborative tabletop environment they are better positioned to objectively play with different and innovative approaches and concepts.
When I observe or work with individuals and groups using Social Media Planner, they rapidly shift into an innovative state of mind, considering new options, devising new ideas and working together to develop and assess them to design new approaches to their social media engagement.
This is of course one small corner of innovation, but it has shown me the power in giving people a familiar and flexible tool, the physical playing cards used in Social Media Planner.
Through fostering an interactive physical activity in a low distraction environment with game-like goals and limits, individuals and group find they have the space to experiment, brainstorm and reflect.
The approach also addresses the 'blank page' issue, where people struggle to find a place to start on solving a problem or finding a solution. The scenarios included in every Social Media Planner pack allow people to safely learn the system without feeling foolish or lost.
The card-based approach also addresses the challenge of holding complex models in one's head. Most people typically can retain 5-9 items in their short-term memory at a time, however with the Social Media Planner tools cards laid out on a table it's easy for individuals to access 40 different concepts without relying on their short-term memory and interfering with creative thought.
If your organisation is seeking to innovate - or even to iterate - it's worth investing in the systems and tools which will help your teams do so in the fastest and most successful ways.
I've used Social Media Planner as an example of these types of tools because I designed it, tested it and have seen how effective it can be for organisations planning their social and digital media engagement. 
There's many other tools useful when innovating that are worth considering, as well as organisations experienced at fostering the spaces and mindsets that foster effective innovation and change.
So if your organisation needs or wants to change, to improve how it operates, to become more effective at serving its customers, clients, citizens or stakeholders, invest in tools that will help your people to innovate, accessing the creative potential every human possesses.
Don't simply put in place frameworks and processes to refine and proceduralise innovation and change, also invest in the environments and tools that foster innovation.
You'll get better outcomes, faster and more cost-effectively. And your people will be happier and more productive by being part of the journey.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

PolicyHack review by guest blogger, Anne-Marie Elias: The PolicyHack Experiment – A Futurist vision

This post is republished from LinkedIn with the permission of the author, Anne-Marie Elias, who attended PolicyHack as Champion and Facilitator for the Incentives To Develop Social Enterprises stream.

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 and 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) andUTS 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 

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