Government is a force for good

We’re here to talk about the people who work in government, who knows how the systems works, its quirks and its problem areas, and can thus work within it to make lasting change.

Because ultimately, that’s what hackers do. They make change.

Last week we launched our report on innovation in government, Hacking the Bureaucracyin Canberra. Portable’s co-founders, Andrew Apostola and Simon Goodrich, talked to large group of innovators, public servants and government officials about the way innovation can produce lasting change.

 

The people are the power.

…Portable believes in Government as a force for good. And I agree with them.

We borrowed this term “hacking” because it’s the people inside Government, who know the culture, who make that bigger change. When we stand on the outside and have the opportunity to peer in, we can see how those people in Government are uniquely placed to solve problems. We believe this approach can deliver practicak and tangible changes, such as improving digital literacy for older Australians or improving employment opportunities for youth.

Cindy Mitchell, social impact strategist at University of Canberra and self-proclaimed ‘government hacker’ opened the night for us, and spoke about her experience working in Government.

Those people know how their organisation and department work — they know the people they can help them. As for those facing resistance in their workplace, we recommend finding the people who want to be involved, who might not be inside the organisation, and use them to build momentum.

Tech is not (always) the solution.

Government have the best problems to solve. They have the largest civic responsibility towards citizens and bear the burden of civic duties. This is an opportunity to delivery the best work.

An insight that we had gleamed from our interactions with government workers is that they often thought technology was the solutions to many problems. It’s somewhat true — an aptly applied technological solution can enable people to work better and with more ease. But tech also needs to understand the context of social problems, not just build apps.

Barack Obama made this observation in 2016 at the White House-hosted Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh, poignantly commenting that ‘democracy is messy.’

…sometimes I talk to CEOs, they come in and they start telling me about leadership, and here’s how we do things. And I say, well, if all I was doing was making a widget or producing an app, and I didn’t have to worry about whether poor people could afford the widget, or I didn’t have to worry about whether the app had some unintended consequences… then I think those suggestions are terrific.

In that scenario, the focus should be on facilitating the change of behaviours. Technology becomes another tool used to facilitate innovation and make the process easier.

How do you make ‘innovation’ sticky?

We are Portable believe you have to look at the problem, not just the solutions. This is what makes an innovative solution: changing a process to make something better.

It’s crucial that the right forums can be created in organisations, so ideas can and need to be talked about!

Our advice: the easiest place to start is to build ecosystems, within and outside of your department. To build coalition, start by mapping your organisation with emphasis on key touch points, players, team, resources and potential blockers.

Sometimes you have to step outside and leave the ecosystem if it’s not ready for innovation. This step might involve seeking others who have innovated successfully and if it’s safe, asking them for support.

One last thing…

Hacking the bureaucracy means keeping focussed on the problem at all times, while ignoring discussions around product and solutions. Regardless of the impetus, failing to define the change you are seeking is the very first point of failure for most projects. Seeking to define the thing you want to achieve is the most overlooked stage in hacking any bureaucracy.

/ INNOVATING IN GOVERNMENT

The report explores the drivers of government innovation within Australia and includes a resource for individuals working in the public service to make impact and drive innovation.