In the cover story of Anthill’s launch Edition, way back in 2003, we posed the question, “Who’s carrying Australian Innovation.”
Five year’s later, we have a new Government, a new Minister (for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) and a newly launched series of stakeholder consultations to kick-start a Federal ‘Review of Australia’s National Innovation System.’
This is obviously a good thing. The Federal Government is taking innovation seriously.
But there’s also something ironic about an ‘innovation’ review (launched to “promote a culture supportive of new knowledge and fresh ideas”) that relies on a progressively outdated method for gathering feedback. The public forum is a crowded, generally awkward and genuinely artificial meeting of largely self-interested people.
I wondered the same thing when the Prime Minister gathered his 1,000 brightest minds in Canberra last month. If the lack of gender balance wasn’t already a concern, the added cost to Northern and Western Australians also highlighted a financial inequality.
So, of course, you can understand my consternation at why the Review of National Innovation Stakeholder Consultations chose the antiquated ‘public forum’ as its preferred method for gathering feedback (alongside the more exclusive, invite-only ‘think tank’), particularly in the progressive arena of science, technology and R&D.
Frustration #1: Public Forums are Opportunistic
Attending a public forum is a headache. It’s a boring, time-consuming distraction from running a business. As such, it seems to attract only those who have the most to gain from getting their own generally self-serving agendas across. If you want to observe where 90% of innovation funding ends-up, you now know where to go (perhaps with cap in hand). It means that only the most saintly of altruists will ever make their presence known, which rules out most members of industry and the private sector.
Frustration #2: The Same Ideas are Pitched Ad Nauseum
Wearing my editor’s cap, I get a swag of innovation proposals across my desk, generally seeking our support through coverage, promotion or endorsement. The surprising thing is that few of these innovation proposals are genuinely innovative. In fact, I have had the same idea pitched to me by two separate organisations in the same week, after seeing the same concept fail two years prior. While this shouldn’t exclude a good idea that was poorly implemented or simply the subject of bad luck from getting a second chance, the lack of communication and the degree of duplication does frustrate me (as I’m sure it equally frustrates forum organisers).
Frustration #3: They Favour the Establishment
Forums can be costly to attend, particularly if you are not a city dweller, and ‘think tanks’ favour established players, often with too much time on their hands. In short, the same people are generally invited year after year and, of course, they share the same opinions year after year. Further, an entire generation of business people (two generations, in fact – Gen X and Gen Y), half the workforce, prefer consultative, collaborative and downright more efficient ways to share information and discuss trends. They use this little thing called the ‘Internet’ (ohhh… it’s great, you should check it out).
So, here’s my offer to the new Rudd Government, the new Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, and the new National Review (to be conducted by another “expert panel”)…
Over 10,000 Australians will read this blog. Over 50,000 Australians will read the next edition of Anthill Magazine. That doesn’t make us big in the grander scheme of things but it certainly puts us at an advantage in the innovation space.
We have the technology. We have the readership. We have the will. Come exploit our altruistic nature and desire to create a truly democratic innovation system in Australia.
Call me… Call me now (said with breathy excitement caused by Australia’s genuinely explosive but often untapped innovation potential).
In short, we have a ‘soapbox’, so why not use it? (note my oh-so clever use of metaphor – ‘soapbox’: archaic, obsolete physical object used for public speaking).
And here’s my offer to new and old Anthillians…
If you weren’t able to attend the Public Forums and would like to contribute, please go crazy with any comments you’d like to leave below. We’d be honoured to submit your thoughts to the PTBs (powers-that-be) responsible for the National Review (whether or not our offer is accepted).