BiiG highlights: how public servants can change the world

By Shannon Jenkins

November 14, 2019

BiiG 2019: Facilitator and journalist Madonna King, in conversation with Rachel Hunter, Anne Tiernan and Glyn Davis.

Roughly 800 public servants, academics, consultants, and entrepreneurs attended the annual Business Improvement and Innovation in Government conference (BiiG 2019) in Brisbane last month.

The two-day event prompted discussions surrounding the biggest social and economic challenges the public service currently faces. Many of the sessions can be heard on BiiG Radio, along with interviews from a range of speakers, including Martin Stewart-Weeks and journalist Madonna King.

Highlights included Glyn Davis’ thoughts on the (lack of) Australian Public Service review, Russel Howcroft’s argument for a Creativity Commission, and Amantha Imber’s quick tips for being more productive at work.

Perhaps the most inspiring session was a live-streamed chat with Kit Collingwood, the civic entrepreneur at the heart of OneTeamGov in London. In preparation for the conference, she had questioned her colleagues on how they thought public servants could possibly have an impact on the world around them. One answer that stood out was “realise that they can”.

Here are Collingwood’s 10 ways to change the world:

Be grateful for your power and privilege

“You could have been born a buffalo farmer in Bangladesh … but you weren’t.”

Realising your power in the grand scheme of things is the first step to creating change.

Work in the intersections

Note that a 2017 study revealed 43% of companies in the Fortune 500 were founded or co‑founded by immigrants or children of immigrants.

“The very experience of seeing different places seems to offer psychological latitude to question conventions and assumptions.” The same can be said for those who move through different professions and adopt an “outsider mindset”.

Value human connection for its own merit

“There’s something unpredictable about the ideas you can get from seeing somebody else’s perspective on a problem and that you just can’t get by working within your own silo.”

Be clear about what innovation means to you, and favour small steps to get there

“What change do I want to see, and what is one thing I can do to contribute?”

Have an unexpected conversation, today

“[Innovators] see experts and then have the cheek to ask them their view on something. There’s something about vulnerability and putting yourself out there that leads to excellent unintended consequences.” 

Be near to your users

The Hackney Service Centre in London placed its digital team on a level overlooking the service centre. Everyone who worked in that office had to walk through the service centre first, and could always observe how the service was working first-hand.

A UK welfare worker who interviewed claimants in job centres observed how nervous job seekers were. He decided to move from behind his desk and did the interviews on a sofa next to the job seekers rather than opposite them. This made them more comfortable, and in turn reduced their vulnerability. 

“Cost of innovation, zero.”

Be curious

“Curiosity is one of the most valuable qualities that you can use to approach innovation … ask that question that you think is not askable.”

Find your heroes, and find your tribe

Collingwood’s inspirations are Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio‑Cortez, FYI.

And in regards to finding your people: “Finding a tribe that legitimises the radical in you is so important to give you that confidence to speak your ideas more, and more confidently.”

Free your ideas

If you liberate a bunch of ideas, one of them will resonate with someone. 

And finally, make these your leadership qualities, your values, and your norms:

Humility; freedom to fail; culture of learning; and frequent, small experiments.

The next BiiG conference will be held on October 27-28, 2020. Be sure to save the date.

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