What do a virtual-reality system that lets Australian athletes experience being drug-tested and efforts to educate politicians on appropriate use of public money have in common with a secure communications system for diplomats?
They have all been recognised as good examples of clever ideas from the minds of public servants in the 2019 Public Sector Innovation Awards, which were presented by Dr Martin Parkinson, the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (for another month).
The presentation of the awards marks the end of Public Sector Innovation Month.
ASADA’s approach to anti-doping education
While swimmer Shayna Jack’s recent positive test for a banned substance has become a rolling scandal, and amateur triathlete Stephen Thompson’s own reported infringement has unfortunately also come at a high cost to blind competitor Gerrard Gosens, who used him as a guide in the Paralympics, the regulator has been awarded for trying to make compliance easier.
Often those who test positive say they unknowingly took the banned substance as part of a dietary supplement. The Clean Sport app produced by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority is supposed to help them avoid this by providing a complete list of all supplements sold in Australia that have been screened for prohibited substances by an independent laboratory. It is not a 100% guarantee, however.
ASADA received the award for “citizen-centred innovation” for the development of the virtual reality experience and a related mobile app, in a ceremony held at Questacon in Canberra.
“The judges were particularly impressed with the strong focus on the user experience for athletes, including the use of technology to reduce the fear associated with drug testing,” according to the organisers of the awards from the Institute of Public Administration Australia, ACT division.
“The broader application of this initiative – both internationally and into other sectors like education – shows how innovative approaches can deliver significant benefits to users.”
Minister for Sport Bridget McKenzie said the aim was to make drug testing a less intimidating experience, especially for young athletes, when she launched the virtual reality experience in 2018.
At the time she said at least one Australian athlete “tested positive from a supplement contaminated with a prohibited substance” every month and suggested “contaminated supplements” were behind a huge epidemic of innocent “inadvertent doping” in sport.
“I congratulate ASADA for developing this app to help educate and protect athletes who might consume performance enhancing drugs accidentally,” she said.
ASADA chief executive David Sharpe thinks “using new, innovative technologies is key to engaging and educating athletes” and he plans to keep taking unique approaches to educating athletes about their rights and responsibilities.
IPEA tries to teach politicians about spending rules
The Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority also won an award in pursuit of a broadly similar aim to ASADA: educating politicians about the rules for spending public funds in the hope of increasing compliance.
The agency, part of the Department of Finance, produced a “dedicated mobile platform including supporting materials and video content, providing easy-access education anywhere, anytime for parliamentarians and their staff on their obligations when spending public funds” which won the “culture and capability” award.
“The judges liked how IPEA has distilled a complex set of rules into a simple-to-digest and accessible format,” we’re told.
“While still early days, the platform has the potential to drive a cultural change in how public funds are spent, while providing a better user experience.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade won the “digital and data” award for its initiative called “post-in-a-box” which provides a secure network for diplomats to quickly get communications up and running when deploying into crisis situations.
“The judges felt that this was an initiative which fundamentally changed the approach to deploying an Australian presence overseas,” according to the organisers.
“They described it as a ‘Swiss army knife’ of digital capability and were impressed with broader application beyond crisis situations, to change the way overseas posts and deployments are managed in the future.”
Two special judges’ awards were given out this year to the ACT government, which entered its Family Safety Hub in the “citizen-centred innovation” category, and the Australian Taxation Office for its tax-gap research program, which ran in the “digital and data” category.
The ACT government’s project was described as “a co-designed innovation hub that uses human-centred design practices to create and test solutions for those affected by domestic and family violence” and the judges “respected the innovative approach” taken in its development.
“Specifically, the organisation [was] brave enough to stop and redefine the problem in consultation with the community, before moving to implementation. The balance of technology enabled, and human-centred design has delivered important outcomes to the ACT community.”
The ATO, meanwhile, impressed the judges with its new ways to improve tax-gap estimates from large corporate groups.
“The judges admired the innovative approach the ATO took to using ‘positive data’ to inform the tax gap, rather than focusing solely on audit-derived information. The program has generated international attention and is an innovative use of data to improve government outcomes.”
The awards are a joint initiative of the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) and the Public Sector Innovation Network (PSIN), which is based in the federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, and sponsored by EY.
There were 62 nominations received for the 2019 awards, and twelve finalists who pitched their ideas to the panel of judges earlier in July. This year’s judges were:
- Elizabeth Kelly, deputy secretary, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (chair)
- Sarah Phillips, Oceania innovation leader, EY
- Randall Brugeaud, chief executive officer, Digital Transformation Agency
- Professor Helen Dickinson, director, Public Sector Research Group, UNSW Canberra
- James Hipwell, head of ACT, Telstra Enterprise