Innovation Policy and Advocacy

The North Sydney Innovation Network advocates for technology and innovation policy that improves the inclusivity, sustainability and liveability of our local government areas (LGAs). We champion seven policy priorities (read more information about us). With a rapidly expanding global economy and unprecedented access to information and resources, innovation is crucial to keep Australia at the cutting edge of economic competitiveness. In a recent OECD report, the imperative to innovate was highlighted:

“New approaches are needed to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to improve their well-being in an increasingly globalised and digitalised economy. The only path to a prosperous, productive and inclusive future is to modernise, and more importantly, to innovate.”

In this context, innovation in terms of culture, infrastructure and planning must be embraced in all long term and strategic policy and planning.

7 Policy Priorities (7Ps)

1. Promoting Entrepreneurship

The Chief Scientist of Australia highlighted entrepreneurship as the key to a high-growth, innovation-led economy, but unfortunately Australia has been slow to embrace this as a driver of economic growth. For entrepreneurship to flourish, government policy settings need to back an entrepreneurial ecosystem, such as supporting the growth of high potential technology companies. Global leaders in entrepreneurship such as Israel, Korea, the UK and the US ensure they introduce an entrepreneurship paradigm early in schools, and they continue this focus all the way through to the tertiary level. Exposing young people to the best international startup ecosystems and cultures also fosters entrepreneurs of the future who think globally but can maximise opportunities locally.

2. Free Public Wi-Fi

Internet and wireless communication is a fundamental feature of the social, economic and cultural life of modern cities and should be pivotal in all urban infrastructure planning. Both the IoT and open data require public WiFi with broad LGA coverage. Free WiFi is also a matter of equity, being of central importance to financially-disadvantaged segments of our population facilitating inclusivity and access across communities.

3. Open Data

The NSIN advocates for a policy of open data in all aspects of community operations including information about transportation, roadworks, waste collection, development applications, support services and facilities. Open Data can contribute to improving the financial efficiency of public services via cross-sector sharing of data, which can assist in identifying unnecessary spending. For example, proactively providing data that is relevant to community members reduces the number of information requests, emails and media inquiries, greatly reducing the administrative cost and burden associated with responding to such inquiries. Open Data also enhances collaboration, participation and social innovation because communities benefit when information is more transparent and accessible. From tech hackathons and scientific collaboration to find a cure to COVID-19, to determining how best to service aged and disabled residents in our LGAs, open data harnesses the power of data to transform our communities.

4. The Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT devices effectively embed digital intelligence into basic objects, making the world around us smarter and more responsive. The potential now exists to connect billions of physical devices around the world to the internet, with all devices collecting and sharing data. The IoT encompasses everything from smart, energy efficient lighting systems to smart elevators that reduce wait times, smart bins that notify local governments when they are full and community safety and policing innovations. Affordable and reliable sensors have made this technology possible for more manufacturers, whilst new network protocols have made it easier to connect sensors to the cloud and other objects for efficient data transfer. Financial efficiencies are also possible in IoT implementation if local, state and federal governments work together.

5. Flexible Work & Collaboration Spaces

Company culture is rapidly changing and the COVID crisis demonstrates why agile and responsive  working arrangements are the way of the future. Flexible practices include allowing employees to work remotely from home or from local co-work spaces. This can have substantial individual and environmental benefits such as facilitating caring responsibilities and taking pressure off our roads and transport system. Many councils have identified their commitment to renew or refresh ageing infrastructure and community spaces, providing an opportunity to convert these spaces into usable, Internet-connected shared workspaces. Many of these ideas can be deployed quickly and economically, such as providing undercover seating in parks, complete with outdoor powerpoints and Wi-Fi hotspots and setting up hot desks in under-utilised community spaces and buildings.

6. Autonomous Vehicles, Drones & Robotics

Autonomous/driverless vehicles offer the opportunity to radically change transport and society by improving road safety, mobility, freight productivity and the environment through reduced road congestion. Trials of automated vehicles are already underway across Australia. A report on social issues relating to land-based automated vehicles in Australia recommended the funding of trials of public transport based automated vehicles in metropolitan areas and regional locations. The NSIN encourages north shore mayors to contact their local federal members to promote their respective LGA’s as testing sites for autonomous vehicles and make the north shore a first adopter of driverless public transport.

Drones will also impact the way both commercial enterprises and government departments carry out their functions. The pandemic has illustrated how valuable drones can be in tracking human movement, delivering food and medicine in a safe, contactless manner and encouraging physical distancing. Effective utilisation of drones will require strategic planning and infrastructure decisions, such as allowing for landing pads and hubs in densely populated urban areas. Similarly, privacy and regulation issues are also essential to consider
for effective integration of drones.

In a context in which Councils are under significant pressure to cut costs, Robots and Artificial Intelligence can be utilised to assume a range of dull, repetitive tasks administrative tasks within council operations. This technology offers 24 hour operation, speed, and an absence of human resourcing issues and ongoing costs. As an example, change of address and name processes, database deduplication and other basic administrative functions could be performed with the use of robotics and AI, freeing up council staff for more complex work requiring human interaction.

7. Boosting ‘Advanced’ STEM

High-quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is critically important for our current and future productivity and international competitiveness. Research indicates 75% of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills and knowledge, with employment in STEM occupations to grow at almost twice the pace of other occupations. Unfortunately, a quarter of Australian employers cite a lack of applicants with STEM skills. For example, the results of a study by Engineering Australia suggests that Australia’s capacity to develop more of its own future engineers is limited by falling participation in year 12 STEM subjects.

Currently there is an over dependence on skilled migrants with the report data indicating 57% of engineers currently working in Australia were born overseas. Research indicates that fostering engagement in STEM education in primary school positively influences later participation in STEM disciplines, particularly in the senior secondary years. Strong engagement between schools, universities, TAFEs and the local startup ecosystem is critical. Ideas such as mentor programs and courses delivered by experienced entrepreneurs as well as finding other ways to immerse young people in advanced STEM are critical for long term economic resilience. Local councils can help to immerse students in STEM education by ensuring library collections include up to date STEM literature and technology such as 3D printers for community use. It is vital that no child is left behind, so councils can also assist by offering subsidised weekly coding classes at local libraries, or STEM based school holiday programs.

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