I have spent 33 years searching for the holy grail of social change and I believe I found it a few years ago through tech and startup. I immersed myself in the ecosystem, attended every hackathon, event and co-working space in Sydney. I joined Fishburners and found a community of entrepreneurs who eagerly shared advice and gave support in those dark moments of self doubt.
It was an experience that changed my life, it gave me a network of smart, driven people and access to a methodology that is desperately needed in government, NGOs and social change. It helped me design a journey map to social innovation which the key to shifting to a new paradigm to solve complex social problems.
A few years ago I started designing the collective model to engender collaboration across sectors and disciplines to solve social problems. The model is about building the capacity of all stakeholders to engage in the new paradigm for social change, provide the opportunities, networks, skills and resources to collaborate across sectors to solve seemingly intractable problems, leveraging our most important asset – our people, service users and staff.
Connecting the dots
We need to redistribute and redirect resources and energy to public sector disruption and collaboration – it’s how we get shit done and stop the endless waste and procrastination resulting from holding on to a very broken system perpetuated by the status quo.
This is what will allow our intrapreneurs to shine and break free of the shackles of an unyielding process driven system that is placing more and more people’s lives at stake.
We are not quite there yet in Australia. While we are recognising that tech and startups are a key part of the innovation mindset, government is not shifting attention from the usual suspects of advisers and consultants to really look at the emerging socially-minded ventures in the ecosystem doing it anyway.
There are an increasing number of startups emerging in social change, a number of these initiatives are disrupting the way we design services to empower people. There’s also a huge desire from the likes of muru-D and Pollenizer to create the space for diversity and support social change initiatives.
This is heartening but there remains a disconnect between those doing good across public and startup and tech sectors. My view is that innovation can only come from cross sector and cross discipline collaboration and that tech and startup is key to injecting a new method that is outcomes and impact driven, not process driven.
Process is what is stifling the creative process which is messy and uncharted but leads to new ways of tackling problems.
So how do we unleash the innovation mindset in our public servants when the bureaucracy is intrinsically driven by process ? How can we get the public servants together with the change makers in tech and startup and build their capacity to achieve outcomes and impact and inspire them to work differently?
In a recent trip to London I had the opportunity to become aware of initiatives creating opportunities for tech and startups to help government shift to the new paradigm. Concern about growing budgets, fewer sustainable outcomes and growing disadvantage is at the core of these initiatives, whether driven from public, private or startup they are raising the bar of how we work in delivering social change.
Thanks to muru-D’s Annie Parker I got to see the work of Wayra UK, a startup incubator that is collaborating with councils to develop Digital Enterprise Hubs to inspire startups. Chelsea Pompadur of the Partnerships Team at WayraUK took the time to talk to me about the exciting Health initiative with Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited (MSD), a global healthcare company that is transforming healthcare through partnering with Wayra Open Future, Telefonica’s digital start up accelerator, by investing in digital innovation in healthcare.
I feel we have a longer way to go to get this level of private and government investment and collaboration. Our tardiness in getting on with it, and the obvious necessity to change the way we work together and solve complex problems, is to the detriment of people who are falling through the cracks of expensive and broken systems.
Meanwhile more recently in Australia, the Disruptors Handbook supported PharmHackand Johnson & Johnson Hatchathon and earlier this year Chronic Pain Australia ran the first hackathon for chronic pain, in these instances the disruption is coming from industry or community – definitely not government.
Another great initiative was held this year in London, the Cabinet Office Policy School, driven by the UK Cabinet office in collaboration with Telefonica Wayra is taking this business of innovation seriously:
“The government is taking meaningful steps to bring innovation into its ranks and leverage the startup ecosystem to solve societal actual issues. The Policy School itself is a four-day event where teams try and solve issues with the local digital and entrepreneurship in mind. WayraUK entrepreneurs will be Involved by mentoring the teams.” – Cabinet Office Policy School
A team of bureaucrats spend four days in a location with entrepreneurs to solve a problem in a community. This is unbelievable and something I’ve wanted to do in Australia for some time, so seeing it happen and have it driven by government has inspired me to keep developing this concept.
It is what I saw the Collective model being able to deliver with the added dimensions of community and citizen working with government, NGOs, startups and business to solve local problems.
The national Digital Academy run out of the Government Digital Service (GDS) is committed to transforming government services making them user centric and delivering services that are joined up and make life easier for citizens. L
ike the DTO, the GDS is building public sector capacity to leverage startup and digital disruption to improve service efficiency and delivery. The DTO’s exemplars that have built the capacity of digital across agencies with an ambitious work program to deliver digital transformation while building sector capacity.
Centre for Public Impact (funded by Boston Consulting Group) has positioned itself in a way to be the broker between public policy and innovation, perhaps this is the middle way that shows a strong evidence base and gently takes the bureaucrats along on a journey of change. Executive Director Adrian Brown took some time to tell me what he is up to and some of the exciting initiatives the CPI Foundation is focusing on the outcomes and impact that matters.
They do this by engaging with leaders, governments and organisations around the world and curating the best practice from around the world.
There is movement at the station in Australia too, in the last few weeks the minister for innovation Greg Hunt announced a $23million Incubator Support Initiative distributing grants of up to $500,000 for the creation of new incubators in regions or business sectors and to boost the effectiveness of high performing existing incubators, while minister for social services, Christian Porter announced a Try Test and Learn Fund to develop and seek innovative responses to long teem unemployment and social disadvantage from government, NFP and the NGO sectors.
Jobs NSW announced grants for promising startups and support for incubators and accelerators through its Minimum Viable Product Grants and Building Partnership Grants set to generate some new and exciting opportunities for the ecosystem to build and grow.
These government-led initiatives are a good start and are certainly in the right direction but the devil is always in seeing who actually applies and gets access to these funds.
Here’s hoping it will include a set of new players in the startup ecosystem and that some of the funded initiatives are the social innovation this country desperately needs.
This piece was originally published on LinkedIn.