Don’t take my word for it – in the last week these concepts have been firmly stated by none other than our new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull and my favorite Australian Senator and newly appointed Cabinet Secretary– Arthur Sinodinos AO.
In fact the Prime Minister’s new cabinet signals 21st century thinking with innovation at the core. It is fresh, disruptive and recalibrates efforts towards science, the digital economy and startups.
The best example of what the PM’s talking about is GovHack – an annual competition that “brings together geeks, digital creatives, data analysts, story tellers, entrepreneurs and civic society enthusiasts to work together in teams over 46 Hours to explore, mash up, ideate and communicate concepts using open Government data.” GovHack brings to life the voluminous dormant government data that is dutifully collected by every agency across government but sits in largely locked bureaucratic vaults.
Senator Sinodinos attended the International GovHack Awards and made a compelling speech about the future as he sees it. Sinodinos is one of the most visionary people I have ever met. He gets innovation more than most. This is the man ran the longest serving Prime Minister’s Office (the Hon. John Howard) for over a decade with determination, open channels and purposeful intent. I admire his discipline and intellect and his capacity to be agile and adapt to the fast paced changes around him.
I met the Senator in 2011 where he came to address the hundreds of new staffers in the O’Farrell Government to help us get our heads around transition to government (after 16 years in opposition there wasn’t a lot of expertise in running government). He taught us how to support our Ministers and how to manage the natural tensions between Ministerial offices and the bureaucracy. He taught us to lead and to be responsive.
So it was natural for to me to bring him into GovHack as a champion – I knew he would be curious and cautious and that his impressions would make a world of difference in showing his parliamentary colleagues and government the enormous benefits of this initiative.
For Sinodinos, GovHack was a spectacular display of passion and commitment, he said “this initiative is something anyone from all sides of politics should be supporting 110%…Not all wisdom resides in government and increasingly government is realising that IT has democratised the distribution of knowledge and power and that the wisdom of the crowd will give the solution to intractable social and economic problems.”
Dead right – I have seen it in all my travels across the hackathon ecosystem – weekend after weekend – a devoted bunch of geeks follow the hackathon trail to contribute their time, talent and skills to solve wicked problems – social and local. They congregate in start up hubs, and co-working spaces and what they produce is spectacular.
More importantly Sinodinos also recognises that old world structures are gone no longer as useful as they once were– he said “ This idea the old world – top down, command and control, working in silos to solve these things is gone. Now you get people with diverse experiences in a room kicking ideas and that’s how you get things done. Too often in Government spend billions on building something from scratch – how much more effective would it be to get a group of creative people together at the start to look at what can be developed from what is there already, scaled up, getting a result.”
Sinodinos saw, in one night, that GovHack “represents the interactive, democratic the way of the future, the workplace of the future will not be too hierarchical, it will be collaborative and diverse, innovation is the way of the future –its great to meet people leading edge of ideas and innovation.”
” You are insurgents, you are changing the culture in which government operates and the role of politicians is to promote that insurgency , all strength to your arm.” The Hon. Senator Arthur Sinodinos
He also went one step further and sent a clear message to government “You have permission to fail, its not always about being risk averse, you (GovHackers) are insurgents, you are changing the culture in which government operates and the role of politicians is to promote that insurgency , all strength to your arm.”
Can you believe this? I can. Sinodinos is a futurist and a pragmatist. He understands the importance of being frank, fearless and courageous. He is no doubt our ally and friend, and that is very comforting.
” We have to recognise that disruption… is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it.” The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia.
Sinodinos is not alone , the Hon. Malcom Turnbull, 29th Prime Minister of Australia fronted media after being elected as Liberal leader this week and said that his government “will be focused on ensuring that as the world becomes more competitive and greater opportunities arise, we are able to take advantage of that. Australia as a nation has to be agile , innovative, creative, we cannot be defensive and future proof ourselves. We have to recognize that disruption driven by tech , the volatility and change , is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it.”
Turnbull would know – he was at the forefront of the digital revolution with his early investments in tech and continues to be a friend of disruption and technology. He established the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) in Canberra and launched it with an agile, lean crack team of the brightest minds led by Paul Shetler. The DTO has whole of government responsibility petite and it was no accident that its first public initiative was GovHack. Paul Shetler says DTO will“drive a culture collaboration across sectors, open source community, academia, start up scene , SME, public and private sectors. We will deliver quickly, iterate wildly and get a viable product.” Paul recognizes that 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.”
The PM has seen the cumbersome legacy processes of government that were designed for another time and I believe he will bring about a new culture across government and parliament, with a little help from Sinodinos and others who understand that this is the future.
The Prime Minister was right when he said “ There has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today, and never been a more exciting time to be Australian. We will ensure that all Australians that their government recognizes the opportunities of the future and are putting in place the policies and the plans to enable them to take advantage of it.”
I know the PM and his new Cabinet, announced this week, will hold on to this vision and start shifting the bureaucracy towards new heights of disruption. To do it better, faster, leaner and more innovatively for the people of Australia.
Anne-Marie Elias is a consultant in innovation for social change. She is an honorary Associate of the Centre for Local Government at UTS.
Follow Anne-Marie’s journey of disruptive social innovation on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter