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Public Sector Innovation: The View from Torquay

Author: Peter Shergold
Published Date: 1 March 2012

This is an excerpt of an article written by Professor Peter Shergold, the Macquarie Group Foundation Professor at the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) at UNSW and Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney. He was the founding CEO of CSI from 2008 - 2011. This article is from the CSI blog .

Last week CISCO and CSI partnered to host the second Australian New Zealand Public Sector Summit. We were supported by Telstra.

The Summit is held at Torquay in Victoria. Fifty of Australia’s most senior and forward-looking public servants are selected, from all jurisdictions, to engage in a two-day strategic conversation on the pursuit of public benefit and social innovation – and, in particular, to imagine how the public sector might facilitate more effectively the creation of social impact.

My goal, quite simply, is to ensure that the symposium doesn’t feel like any of the many other public sector conferences held in Australia. It’s intended to be out on the edge of what’s new. CISCO and CSI share a view that the new technology of information and communications, and the application of social media, has transformative power to enhance the participatory aspects of democratic governance and to revitalise civic engagement.

We also agree that technology is simply an enabler. It can be used for good or bad. It’s potential can be harnessed or ignored. It will take visionary leaders (intrapreneurs inside public services and social entrepreneurs on the outside) to work collaboratively to create change.

To stimulate that process we bring together the most exciting thinkers from around the world. This year that included Rohan Silva (Senior Policy Advisory to Prime Minister Cameron on ‘The Big Society’), Geoff Mulgan (Chief Executive of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and social innovator extraordinaire), Jocelyne Bourgon (who was Clerk of the Privy Council in Canada), David Halpern (now in the UK Cabinet Office as Head of the ‘Nudge Office’) and Chris Vein (Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation at the Obama White House). Another couple of free-spirited visitors from the UK hosted conversation sessions – Jonty Oliff-Cooper from A4E and Richard Wilson from Izwe.

A highlight was hearing Tarik Youssef, who is the CEO of the innovative social enterprise, Silatech, the mission of which is to create jobs and economic opportunities in the Arab world. Dr Youssef talked about the long history and potential futures of the Arab Spring with great authority and insight.

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