Winner of the IPAA WA 2016 Young Professional 'Expand Your Horizons' Scholarship, Ms Avril Hughes, reviews her experience at the IPAA 2016 National Conference in Adelaide.

As the fortunate recipient of the  IPAA WA Young Professional Scholarship, I had the opportunity to attend the IPAA 2016 National Conference in Adelaide on 20 and 21 October. The conference theme -  Innovation through Collaboration – provided a forum to better understand and discuss some of the key challenges and opportunities facing the public sector in its pursuit of the ever evolving goal to become more innovative and collaborative.

I applied for the scholarship due to the strong intersection of the conference theme with my current role working in social and human services policy and my post-graduate studies in public policy. I was also intrigued by the opportunity to meet like-minded colleagues from across the public sector to learn more about their experiences, and the different policy approaches used in other jurisdictions

It is difficult to choose the conference standouts, as there was such a diverse range of speakers and sessions on offer over the two days. However, I was particularly struck by two sessions which respectively explored the concept of social innovation, and provided examples of how government can engage with citizens differently and more meaningfully.  

The session delivered by Indy Johar, and sponsored by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, positioned social innovation as a game changer for governments. The session highlighted the important role that governments need to play to foster social innovation through increased collaboration with both the not-for-profit and private sectors, while also examining some of the challenges that need to be overcome for collaboration to become ‘the way we do business’. Indy also posed the idea that policymakers need to get back on the front foot rather than being reactive if governments are to deliver effective services, stating that the new default policy goal should be to see all citizens ‘flourishing’.

The second highlight of the conference for me was the opportunity to learn more about the implementation and impact of the South Australian Government’s recent Citizens’ Jury initiative. The Citizens’ Jury was set up in response to the South Australian  Government’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission’s recommendations and was tasked with examining the risks, challenges and opportunities for South Australia in considering the disposal and storage of other countries’ nuclear waste.

The session was run by Emily Jenke from Democracy Co and explored both the practical and conceptual challenges of engaging citizens in the process of deliberative democracy. Emily championed the value of citizens’ juries for their ability to empower by providing citizens with tools and resources to ascertain the facts and make informed decisions. This in turn enables citizens to cut through the churn of today’s 24/7 mainstream media cycle, where the facts can often be lost.

On a more conceptual level, the session sparked interesting discussion about what democracy looks like in the 21st century and how it could be done differently. This involved discussion about how alternative democratic models and processes could support governments to embrace the idea that they should have ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’ their citizens. Needless to say, the session left me optimistic that our democratic processes have the capacity to evolve in order to increase citizens’ participation in increasingly innovative ways.

I was highly impressed by the quality and variety of speakers and sessions on offer at the IPAA National Conference, as well as the depth of discussion this generated amongst conference delegates. I also thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to take a step back from my day-to-day role and to instead spend some time thinking about the bigger picture, toward which we all contribute in the public service. I can safely say that I left Adelaide with many new ideas, as well as much enthusiasm about the future of the public service in Australia and the role that I can play throughout my career to help realise this future.

I sincerely thank IPAA WA for the opportunity to participate in the 2016 IPAA National Conference, and I highly encourage other young professionals to seize the opportunity to apply for the scholarship in 2017 and beyond. 

To find out more about applying for the 2017 IPAA Young Professional Scholarship - click here.