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Aussie Rules Social Innovation


Monday, 13th February 2012 at 4:26 pm
Staff Reporter
Richard Wilson is one of Europe’s leading experts and practitioners in new models of digital engagement and participation. He argues that now is the time for Australia to seize its role as a global leader in social innovation. This article is from the CSI blog.

Monday, 13th February 2012
at 4:26 pm
Staff Reporter


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Aussie Rules Social Innovation
Monday, 13th February 2012 at 4:26 pm

Richard Wilson is one of Europe’s leading experts and practitioners in new models of digital engagement and participation. He argues that now is the time for Australia to seize its role as a global leader in social innovation. This article is from the CSI blog


Exchanging a European winter for an Aussie summer is always a shock. No matter how many times you’ve done it, there’s always something unexpected about switching seasons. The heaviness of the heat, the smell of hot earth, the way you never manage to dress quite right to start with. But soon your body eases into the warmth. And here – helped by the outstanding Australian friendliness – it’s easy to relax in to life down under.

This is, I’m ashamed to say, my first visit to Australia.

I have though been following your ‘democracy’ and ‘social innovation’ scene from afar for many years. I’m acutely aware of the rich history of home grown organisations such as Bang The Table, The Australian Association of Public Participation, Digital Democracy, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, and this really just scratches the surface. You have awards to recognise good public involvement practice (we don’t) and probably the only global digital democracy superstar in Julian Assange. The idea that you have much to learn from little old England, doesn’t really stack up.

This point is exacerbated by the economic climate mirroring the meteorological differences. It’s very frosty in Britain right now, particularly in the social innovation space. Although Cameron’s government are doing an impressive job in creating investment funds for social innovation through activities such as the Big Society bank, the big problem is who will be the on-going clients of UK social innovators. This has historically been the public sector, but this demand has all but seized up following the deepest cuts in a generation.

Although these are straightened times in Oz as well, there still is money in the system. It’s not a coincidence that UK digital democracy pioneers such as Delib are opening Australian offices. They’re in a sense economic migrants, trying to tap in to the Aussie market. I’m sure the excellent food, wonderful people and phenomenal weather all help. But following the European economic crisis, the Australian allure just got a whole lot more enticing.

I’m here as part of the Social Innovator Dialogues Festival taking place this month in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. I’m running masterclasses on digital democracy, or maybe we should call it radical democracy. But we won’t spend time listing good practice frameworks and principles. Instead I’ll share with you my thinking on the fusion that is taking place between social innovation, digital democracy, organisational development and psychology that is changing how we understand the relationship between people, the state and radical service improvement.

In much the same way that Australia became global culinary leaders through inventing and mastering fusion food, there is now a similar opportunity for Australia to become leaders in the fusion required for radical public service improvement.

For too long fields such as organisational development, psychology, digital technologies and public participation have operated in isolation. This would appear to be as true in Australia as anywhere else. The difference is Australians know deep down that it is only through mixing up the separate, and bringing together the different, that special things happen.

Australia has an unrivalled heritage of openness and diversity; and a privileged economic stability. These are what should form the basis for Australia moving out of the public sector shadows, to becoming recognised as the innovative leader it always has been.

And what’s more, as the rest of us struggle desperately to defrost our economies we need inspiring and warming examples of what can be achieved. So it’s not just a great opportunity, it’s a responsibility to the rest of the world. Australia needs to inspire us to where we need and can get to, to provide a new higher bar for us all to reach.

Richard Wilson will be leading masterclasses at the Social Innovator Dialogues in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney from 15th – 20th February 2012. You can follow Richard Wilson on Twitter: @richardwi1son.



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