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ThinkPlace Australia


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ThinkPlace cares deeply about the public service. Our mission is to have a positive impact on society, and we recognise that a vibrant public sector is key to the type of Australia we want to see in 2030.

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ThinkPlace’s submission

to the Independent

Review of the Australian

Public Service

ThinkPlace creates public

value through

human-centred innovation

and design.

We work with government,
business and NGOs to create

vibrant societies, strong

economies, sustainable

environments and trusted

What will 2030

look like?
John Body

Founder and Partner, ThinkPlace Australia


The 2030 will be very different from 2018, Just as 2018 is different from 2000.
The megatrends that will shape the future are well documented and don’t need

to be expanded here. Suffice to say, economic, trade and people flows will

change. Technology will be very different as it continues to evolve, with

artificial intelligence being the key disruptor. And a cohort that lives longer will

lift the average age of the population. At the same time we must address

climate change and by 2030 this will be accepted rather than contested.

What will the Australian Public Service need to be like to

operate in this context?
We cannot predict the future with any accuracy. But anyone who has been in

the workforce for a reasonable period of time will attest to the changes that

have occurred over recent decades in response to the changing environment.
On a day-by-day basis, the APS changes slowly. But from decade to decade, the

changes are immense. Think female participation in the workforce. Think

technology in the workplace. Think digital engagement with the public. And

changing work environments. And means of communication. And business

processes. And…
The external environment suggests that these shifts will not only continue, but

accelerate. So what they might look like? The APS will need to master change

to outperform the norm. Change that will add more value for citizens, that

represents impactful innovation. The APS will remaster public service so that it

serves the public in its new form. With that we will see the mainstreaming of

human centred design, augmented and triangulated with more sophisticated

use of data, as a key method to design new policies, laws and services.
The APS of the 2030s will have the capability to design for the human while
“zooming” to the bigger system, to ensure policy effectiveness and

efficiency. This ability to hold concurrently the perspective of the whole system

and the needs of the human will be increasingly important. As the APS designs,
behaviours will be shaped less through force and more through

encouragement. We are seeing behavioural insights and gamification gaining

ground as legitimate tools of government to encourage the community to

But one thing will be enduring in the 2030s future. This one thing was the

same in the 1920s, the 1970s and will be the same in the 2030s. The

need to achieve outcomes - the social, economic and environmental

outcomes of government. Techniques and technologies might come and

go. But the need to achieve outcomes for Australia and Australians is

enduring. It will not change and the APS of the future must never lose

sight of its primary purpose - to work with the government of the day to

achieve their outcomes for the people of Australia.
The balance of this submission is three short papers that examine three

themes - the implications of an increasingly digital world, the centrality of

innovation as the operating environment changes towards the 2030s and

new possibilities for regulating in a 2030s world.
2030 will be a

decade of digital


Darren Menachemson

Partner and Chief Digital Officer, ThinkPlace Australia


By 2030, the Australian Government will have built sophisticated

capability in what are currently considered to be emerging digital

technologies. It will also have integrated and enlarged its data reserve

substantially. Because of this, it will need to build a strong competency in

navigating new dimensions of a challenge we term ‘digital abrasion’.
Digital abrasion is the tension that emerges when what the government

can do with digital and data comes into conflict with what the community

deems acceptable. To put it another way, the public service will need to

make difficult decisions about, and sometimes between, optimising

collective good and aligning with collective expectations.
A familiar digital abrasion challenge that government faces today, for

example, is the joining up of data to build cross-portfolio views of citizens.
Unfettered, this carries enormous administrative benefits for the

government and the community, but is in conflict with community

expectations of privacy and self-agency.
In the future, digital capacity will see new forms of digital abrasion

emerge for the Commonwealth, creating new tensions between what

could be done and what should be done. For example:

Fully leveraging machine learning for administrative decision making
• Should the Government use advanced, specialised artificial
intelligences to micro-target regulatory interventions or service offers,
even where the nature of such intelligences makes it difficult to
“explain” the basis for targeting?
• Should the Government limit itself to transparent, “explicable”
targeting, and in doing so, reduce its ability to reduce suffering or stop
criminal/antisocial behaviour because it is not using available
technology to its fullest potential?
Placing systematic trust in decentralised or “unregulated” assets
• Should the Government become participants in blockchain solutions
that it isn’t able to regulate or influence, if there is a strong net
positive national outcome for issues such as fisheries management,
biosecurity, environmental connectivity or pandemic resilience?
• Should Governments stay within their “trusted” networks (such as
those it or partner nations set up or contract)?

The characteristics of the challenge

Such questions will involve a number of troubling characteristics that will

make navigating them difficult. These include:
• Novelty - They will have no or few precedents
• Impact - Deciding one way or the other involves material, scaled
impact on the community
• Momentum - “No nothing” will not be an option
• Heterogeneity - Community expectation and social licence will not be
homogenous, but instead fragmented across every grade of the
spectrum of opinions
• Sensory lag - Results will not be perfectly predictable nor emerge
• Accumulation - Each failure will make successive attempts more and
more politically untenable, delaying benefits

The “new” new skills for 2030

In 2017, the OECD released a document called Core Skills for Public Sector

Innovation, in which it identified 6 “core” skill sets that. According to the

framework, in a 21st century public service, “all officials should have at

least some level of awareness these six areas in order to support

increased levels of innovation in the public sector.” The 6 skills it lists are

iteration, data literacy, user-centricity, curiosity, storytelling, and

We believe that these skills will be essential for effectively operating in

the decade of digital abrasion, and create a relevant framework for the

Australian Government to consider. However, we also believe that there

are two gaps that are as essential to responsible public governance, and

that these are at the heart of navigating a digitally abrasive future. These

two additional skills are:
Care – diligent, empathetic exploration of the ethical dimensions of a

problem, using formal ethical frameworks, sophisticated understanding of

the policy and strategic technology dimensions of abrasive digital

opportunities, and active engagement with those that will be affected or

their intermediaries. Care:
• Actively explores unintended harms
• Engages with complex ethical dilemmas
• Has a strong grasp of social, environmental, economic and
technological dimensions
• Favours long-term thinking

Care is and must be a transdisciplinary skill. It will ensure that decisions

about abrasive digital opportunities are made, simultaneously, in the

collective interest and within an acceptable locus of community and

individual social license.

Zoom - looking beyond the immediate problem space and see things from

a wider perspective – a systems perspective – to identify benefits,
opportunities and risks to pursue or address beyond the immediate

horizon, rather than explicitly or tacitly “hoping everything will be ok”.
• Considers the search for non-obvious risks, benefits and opportunities
as an imperative
• Considers the individual, the community and society as a whole
• Favours holistic, systems-level thinking and sensing

The 10 year journey to 2030

Around 2000, the Australian Tax Office, under the leadership of

Commissioner Michael Carmody made the decision to become a human-
centred organisation with differentiated treatment at the heart of its

compliance strategy. The transition saw the development of new skills,
culture and capabilities at every level of the agency – senior governance,
middle management and individual practitionership. It acted as a catalyst

for the broader public service, energising other agencies and stimulating

an ecosystem of people, training and thinking that would ultimately

underpin a movement towards design thinking for public good.
From the start, the Tax Office acknowledged that this shift would require

a deliberate journey over a ten-year period, as it progressively created

the expertise, culture, methods and proof points that would change

human centred design from being an “outside infection” to becoming part

of the agency’s DNA. This prediction was broadly accurate, and resulted in

major improvements to the administration of tax in Australia, and in the

ATO becoming a noted leader amongst its peer agencies in the OECD.
The lesson is that to effect a sustained change with mindset, cultural,
methodological and capability dimensions, agencies cannot plan in 12

month timeframes, or in 3 year timeframes. They must lay the

groundwork with strong intent for a 10-year journey that will likely

outlast the tenure of its original sponsors.
The seeds of the change towards the 2030 paradigm of government have

been planted; now they require immunity and time. Some examples

among may are:
• The establishment of the DTA in the Prime Ministers’ portfolio and its
active implementation of a digital service standard
• The creation of a Digital Leadership Program under the APSC and with
support and sponsorship from the DTA, to prepare the APS’s senior
executive cohort for the “new world” they will be facing
• The broad uptake of more adaptive styles of leadership in major
service delivery and regulatory agencies, in many ways aligned with Dr
Peter Shergold’s recommendations in the Learning from Failure Report

A deliberate program of capability build for a digital


However, we believe that the creation of cross-cutting skillsets of care
(future-competent ethics) and zoom (design as engagement with complex

systems) must be actively and explicitly pursued. This is true particularly

in senior executive cohort but ultimately in all cohorts with a policy or

program design role, and with an expectation that this is a journey that

will take a decade to embed into the public sector DNA.
It is a journey that, if completed by 2030, will create a platform for the

next iteration of public governance.
To prepare in a timely for 2030, the Government should consider:

  1. Broad digital ethics capability build to prepare the future APS for the

challenges of a digitally founded future

  1. Continuing and accelerating the shift to a strong user research and

co-design posture as a “norm” and base expectation for all agencies, not

just service agencies
3. Building the argument for greater exploitation of technology with

strong safeguards to the community, to support an informed shift in

social license

  1. Setting up a Model of the Edge – experiments under a consistent,
    well-defined framework where technology, human centred design and

social good imperatives come together to provide proof points in

designing the future capability.
2030 will be shaped by many forces, but digital government is not only

inevitable, but a positive force majure in informing policy design and

shaping the design of regulatory and service administrative models.
We need to take care that the new digital foundation of government

work for society and are shaped deliberately and collaboratively, even

while we are working out what, precisely, it is.
Compliance and

regulation in 2030

John Body

Founder and Partner, ThinkPlace Australia


Empowering the system to reduce government


A key role of government, especially the Federal government, is to curb

the behaviours of some in the interests of the whole. These functions

include regulating behaviours of individuals and entities, as well as

ensuring compliance with the law and responding to non

compliance. These are expensive functions to administer and represent a

significant cost to government today. The cost comes from the need to

check what people are doing and respond accordingly.
As the population grows and the economy grows, trade expands and the

flow of money increases, as risks become more complex then new models

of regulation will be needed into the 2030s. We have seen big advances

over recent decades in regulation from old techniques requiring 100%
inspection or random sampling to much more effective targeted and

responsive approaches. We have seen this across government - from

treating everyone the same to finding the highest risks and treating these

hard, while helping others to comply.
So where are the next frontiers?
From regulation and compliance as an overlay to being part of the natural

system. With people doing business on technology platforms then the

data generated by these platforms can be used to monitor compliance in

real time rather than having after the fact follow up. For example, banks

hold extensive data while governments have access to global intelligence.
What if you could combine the intelligence from law enforcement with

the data richness of the banks. This would simultaneously harden the

banks against crime whilst escalating the ability of law enforcement

agencies to prevent and disrupt crime.
From manually constructed algorithms to embedding artificial

intelligence to identify risk. For example increasing sophistication of data

analytics is already identifying non compliance much more effectively

than in the past. This highly targeted intervention is less obtrusive for the

bulk of the population seeking to live their everyday lives while much

more disruptive for those seeking to undermine our national interest.
From government interposed in transactions to blockchain tracking

transactions that eliminate the need for government mediation. For

example, more robust payment systems will reduce or eliminate the need

to follow up accidental or intentional payment integrity

issues. Government can get out of the way and let the system embed its

own integrity.
From responding to human behaviour to predicting human

behaviour. For example, if non compliance or breaches in regulation can

be predicted before the breaches occur, considerable cost can be saved

through prevention rather than response.
From humans complying with the law to autonomous compliance built in.
For example if cars are autonomous and designed to comply with the law,
traffic infringements would no longer be a concept.
What are the implications for the Australian Public Service? This will

mean an acceleration of the trend that has been occurring over a long

period from a lower skilled transactional workforce to an increasingly

technology empowered workforce. It will also mean designers of policy,
law and administration who can envision and then respond to the

emerging future. At some point this may move from a trend to a

disruption. If the rate of change in the external environment outpaces

the APS’s ability to respond, then the APS may be forced into new models

of acquiring the skills needed for the future.
Policy 2030 - new

policy platforms

to disrupt

Dr Nina Terrey

Partner and Chief Methodologist, ThinkPlace Australia

Associate Professor, Institute of Governance and Policy Analysis


2030 will be a decade of systemic and human-centred

policy disruption

Imagine in 2030, the APS is highly equipped to deal with complex policy

and service delivery issues. In the context of complexity and uncertainty,
policy makers, leaders and delivery agencies embrace complexity using

tools and methods adaptive to these realities. The way complex problems

are tackled is through deep collaboration that permeates beyond the

boundaries of APS and traditional engagement models.
The basis of collaboration is design-led system innovation. This disciplined

approach moves from Vision, to an Innovation Portfolio, to integrated

delivery, and measurement of the effect.
The delivery models are based on more experimental, fast to learn, and

then generate evidence to support scaling up. If we took a zoom, the

pattern of creating the policy innovation portfolio, and the integrated

delivery would assume a disciplined approach to generating ideas,
incubating experiments to implement to learn, and then looking for

scaling of great experiments.

This means a diverse method toolkit for these clusters is at the nexus of:
• human-centred design,
• innovation incubation,
• behaviour-shaping economics,
• integrated design delivery methods, and
• adaptive evaluation models.
The collaboration patterns in the APS operates in an agile, highly adaptive
way by creating necessary “clusters” of actors that are required to fully
explore and comprehend the vision for a policy outcome, and to co-
design and implement solutions that work.
A cluster is constituted actors from across the APS, industry, community –
citizens, innovators, and emerging disciplines in academia. The clusters
might range from 10-30 people. They create a team that works
intensively on a policy problem. They form either fulltime and dedicated
for a period, or they come together for distinct activities.
The clusters are created within a framework that includes such principles

• Clear understanding of systemic nature of the problem
• Outcome-focussed
• Act with agility and pace
• Form new partnerships and relationships
• Time bound and delivery focussed
• Integrated human-centred solutions
• Strong coordination and support to enable effective cluster operations
• Learning is distributed and shared
• Adaptive measurement to inform change

If we assemble these actors across the ‘system’ (a system being people,
things, interactions that exist to achieve a specific purpose, like the

immigration system, the justice system, the social service system) then

we would start to see a public service that is able to work at a focussed

outcome with the right people and following methods that allow a system

to participate in the reimagining, exploring and innovating of solutions

that are more likely to work for people and be implemented successfully.
If we followed a design-led system innovation approach then we would

see new and interesting perspectives on the complex problems we face

because we took time to understand complexity from human
experiences, from behavioural analysis, from networked understanding of

the interactions that drive the system today. It would in turn open up the

abilities of the APS to genuinely collaborate with others who bring

technical and innovative skills and knowledge to the kinds of solutions

necessary to realise the vision or change. And in the co-designing and

collaboration create the necessary networks to make change happen, and

successfully scaling the implementation of great ideas.

Strategic shifts

The way we can see what changes are required to achieve this future

How might we get there?
The recognition that policy design and implementation is in the business

of understanding complexity and navigating this complexity with the

necessary mindsets, structures and tools is where we are at, but there is

still nervousness to be bold and work in ways that demonstrate the shifts

to drive systemic and human-centred policy disruption.
There are cases of organisations already working like this today, and by

reflecting in these we can start to identify how the broader APS can make

Case study: Australian Renewable Agency: A-Lab

In late 2015, ARENA partnered with ThinkPlace as their key design and

innovation partner to co-design a new model to generate projects for

investment. The problem to be solved was “are we getting the right

projects to really disrupt the sector and ensure we reach the goal of

increased renewable energy in the energy system in Australia?” The

response to this question was the invention of the A-Lab. A-Lab is

ARENA’s innovation lab creating cross-sector partnerships and world-first

projects to transform Australia towards a clean energy future. It brings

together a diverse network of people, expertise and passion to drive

systemic change in the electricity sector. A-Lab works to define solutions

to the most complex challenges of integrating renewables and grids,
combining the respective strengths of participants in order to build

momentum for change. This model of collaboration in action is what has

been describe in the 2030 vision. What did it take?
• Recognition by the agency executive that no one actor can come up
with the project that would solve the complexity of the adoption of
renewable energy
• Convincing the Board that a new approach would help the organisation
generate projects that were innovative and driven by new
partnerships, thereby creating an authorisig environment
• Uncovering the frustrations of the industry that the siloed and
regulated industry largely focussed changed efforts on technical,
regulatory and market issues was not solving the problems they were
all facing.
• Creating a new framework for engagement that brought the sector
• Reframed the problem into an innovation challenge, that was defined
by co-designing the the sector the areas of innovation that matters.
• Setting up a team that enabled the system to collaborate. This team
uses skills such as design thinking, collaboration, innovation, subject
matter expertise
• Assigning funds to be allocated to people whom participated and
created projects that could help achieve the outcomes
• Delivering a structured program of collaboration that moved the
sectors from ideas, to experiments to scaling
• Using design and innovation expertise from ThinkPlace build the
capacity across the sector to think differently introducing new thinking
tools, and methods that liberated them from the constraints of how
they think.
• Supporting a human-centred approach by using insights lab methods
to inject citizen views, attitudes and behaviours into the innovation
and project definition process, de-risking projects by taking away
assumptions early

The result of ARENA taking this approach has led to over $50M of projects

being established which demonstrate leading edge thinking and

innovation in the adoption of renewable energy in Australia.
The questions this case triggers in terms of how we need to change the

APS to be more systemic and human-centred in policy and service

• How might other APS draw from this example and embrace more
innovative, design led approaches?
• What leadership mindset is necessary, to be comfortable to try new
models such as these system wide engagements?
• What skills such as facilitation, systems thinking, innovation methods
are learnt and applied?
• How can we institutionalise the idea of many actors coming together
and driving new ideas and actions?
• How can we make risk-adverse cultures confident to create these
We open the proposition that we need to reflect as policy makers on how

we embrace the systemic nature of most public sector challenges and

consider how design-led systems approaches might need to be the way

we operate to achieve our desired outcomes.
Our work on three Our study into Rough Sleeping won a
projects – the ACT Family gold award from the Design Institute of
Safety Hub, Victoria’s Out- New Zealand (NZ, 2015)
of-Home Care initiative,
and mapping out the Justice
Pathways for Perpetrators
of family violence, were

awarded prestigious Design
Ticks at the Australian
Good Design Awards

We designed a mobile app for remote field ThinkPlace was
nursing in Ghana which won the Design awarded a Good
Management Institute’s International Design Award
Design Value Award (USA, 2015) Selection for working
with the Renewable
Energy Agency to set
We were awarded the ACT’s Social up A-Lab, a
Change Maker of the Year in the Telstra renewables innovation
Business Award (Australia, 2018) capability (Australia

ThinkPlace’s collaboration with the
Australian Capital Territory Education
Department on the groundbreaking It’s Your
Move curriculum, which uses design thinking
to help children solve health challenges in
their school, was awarded an Australian
Good Design Award Selection and a German
Design Council Award
(Australia 2017 and Germany 2018)

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