Innovation Month 2019 Launch

Our Deputy Secretary, Elizabeth Kelly PSM, launched Innovation month.

By our Deputy Secretary, Elizabeth Kelly PSM.

At Innovation Month 2019.


Let me start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet.

Dhawra nguna, dhawra Ngunawal.
Yanggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngunawal dhawra.
Wanggarali-ji-nyin mariny balan bugaraban

In the language of the traditional owners, this means: ‘This is Ngunnawal Country. Today we are all meeting together on this Ngunnawal Country. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Elders’.

I also extend this respect to all other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues here today.

I’d like to acknowledge our fabulous emcees, the APS graduates, Chun-Yin San from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and Sarah Campbell from the Department of Environment and Energy. 

It’s no small task to stand up here in front of a large crowd and deliver with such confidence. I feel optimistic that the future of our APS is in good hands!

I’d also like to thank IPAA, who have worked with us to bring you this launch as well as the Public Sector Innovation Network team from my department who drive Innovation Month each year.


You might recall that at last year’s Innovation Month launch, Martin Parkinson talked to us about how innovation in the Australian Public Service is good for the budget bottom line – and – critically - it’s making things easier and better for the public we serve.

Martin regaled us with many examples of terrific innovations from the government sector – from electronic tax returns to satellite and mapping technology showing physical changes in Australia’s landscape.

We have continued to build on this innovation culture since then and a whole lot more has happened over the past 12 months.

This year, Innovation Month is focused on experimentation, with the theme: Test. Fail. Learn. Deliver.

Service delivery

I want to start with Deliver.

When governments deliver services based on the needs of the people they serve, they can increase public satisfaction and reduce costs – and as Martin said to us all last year – innovation is improving lives.

Our Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last Monday “Our job is to simply make the lives of Australians that little bit easier.” 

Citizens today expect more transparent, accessible, and responsive services from the public sector. And their expectations are rising.

Our job is to Deliver.

And the Australian Public Service (APS) has been having some great successes improving service delivery through better use of data, innovation and putting the citizen at the centre of service delivery.

The Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) Programme has made improvements to focus on the people– both staff and customers and is changing the way the Department of Human Services works across face-to-face, phone and digital interactions

They have already achieved:

  • improvements to student payments
  • streamlined digital service design
  • digital assistants
  • more straight-through processing
  • improved staff processing workflows

WPIT is continuing its transformation with a focus on data collection, sharing and re-use to improve its customer experience


Now I am going to go back to Test. And one way to think about testing is experimentation.

Experiments can test our understandings, test our evidence, test our theories, hunches and research.

Experiments take ideas and turn them into practice.

Experimentation can give us the confidence to deliver policies and services that have been rigorously tested and adjusted to meet the needs of users.

Experiments allow us to try something new, fail small and fast, learn how to improve and adapt and pivot and ultimately deliver the best possible outcomes.

Innovation Month itself started as an experiment, dreamt up by two staff over at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, as it was known then.

This experiment grew into Innovation Month after other agencies saw its value and joined in. It’s grown into a key event in the annual public sector calendar. 

Experimentation is a key part of public sector innovation, with innovation teams like the Digital Transformation Agency’s GovX, design teams at the Tax Office, and my own department’s BizLab, consistently running trials of policy and program solutions as part of their processes.

My department is experimenting with human centred design to tackle complex policy problems - we recently worked with businesses to understand why they’re not collaborating with research organisations to innovate.

We co-designed some policy solutions with the businesses, then tested and refined them. We ended up with some validated concepts that have great potential, such as a pop-up stalls at relevant conferences offering content to assist business-research collaboration.

Our government agencies are experimenting with new technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and gamification.

The Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority has developed a world-first virtual reality experience that takes athletes through the sports drug testing process.

It was developed to reduce anxiety for athletes by demystifying the procedure and alerting them to their rights and responsibilities.

The VR has been endorsed by the World Anti-doping Agency and adopted by anti-doping organisations in Sweden, New Zealand and Qatar. Since its rollout at the Commonwealth Games last year, more than 13,000 athletes have engaged with it.

Agencies are also experimenting with artificial intelligence to great effect.

In a first for Australia, the Attorney-General’s Department worked with the Legal Services Commission of South Australia to develop a prototype of an app to help separated couples resolve their family law disputes.

The app – called the Online Dispute Resolution System – presents the couple with questions on their smart phones and, based on their answers, an AI machine-learning model suggests an equitable divide of assets.

The app allows the couples to resolve their dispute in their own time, on their own devices, without the need for lawyers or taking time off work to attend court.

This product is still a prototype but has great potential to resolve an estimated 20 per cent of the 48,000 divorces that happen annually in Australia – a good outcome for citizens and the courts.


If we try new things, we will fail.

Failing must not be feared.

Whist failing is not the objective, without failures, we will not learn.

Among many other activities, during this year’s Innovation Month my department will be hosting a public service version of an F– Up Night.

These nights have been running in the private sector for several years, helping people learn valuable lessons from failures in an informal setting.

And while being frank is the point of this learning exercise, you’ll excuse me if I don’t give the night its full, frank title…

Other events during Innovation Month that I encourage you to get along to include a byte-sized summit hosted by the Digital Transformation Agency (that’s B Y T E -  the pun works a lot better when written); an interactive sandpit for new technology over at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources; a talk by NESTA and the UK Policy Lab; and the Public Sector Innovation Awards ceremony.


Experimentation and failure can help the public service learn and innovate.

The independent panel reviewing the APS has used an ANZSOG Report “Looking Back: Learning from Successes and Failure”

The report identifies six key activities which need to be both funded and committed to by the public service if it is to become a learning institution

They are:

  • Continuously self-monitor and internally discuss past practices
  • Generate and process multiple feedback streams from external sources
  • Compare performances across time, contexts, sectors and jurisdictions
  • Maintain a culture in which it is considered safe and valuable to expose errors and engage in critical self-examination
  • Engage in reflective and adaptive ‘double-loop’ lesson-drawing that is prepared to question key tenets of the status quo and to transform lessons into practices
  • Sustain these efforts over time, even after the focus has shifted away from the original agenda.

The APS Review will undoubtedly look at how the APS can embed some of these practices.

It is important for us, as public servants, to show the public we serve that we are listening to them, that we’re learning, and that we will deliver policies and services that make their lives better.

By being honest and open about these experiments, by bringing the public with us, we can build trust.

Concluding remarks

The future of the APS is bright and I’m excited to see what further experiments and innovations are in store.

To help us along the innovation journey is the Public Sector Innovation Network – a network that’s been supporting public servants to try new approaches since 2011.

The PSIN team recently conducted a human-centred experiment on itself, asking their members and others how it could add more value and have greater impact.

The result is a co-created, proposed new identity and service offer.

We’re about to get a sneak peek into this reimagined brand. First a teaser video, followed by the big reveal.

This is still a work in progress and, in the spirit of the Innovation Month theme, the PSIN team are keen to get your feedback this morning so they can iterate further. Look out for Helen Bailey, Nick Ellis or Alex Cleary and let them know your thoughts.

I also strongly encourage all to attend some of the terrific events over the next four weeks to find out what’s going on in our public sector and embrace innovation by Testing. Failing. Learning and Delivering.

On that note, it gives me great pleasure to officially launch Innovation Month 2019.

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