Over the last 4 years, my boyfriend Steven and I have taken several road trips up and down the wonderful Australian coast. As I don’t drive, it falls on me to play DJ so Steven is now reluctantly accustomed to driving to the sound of dance remixes of Let it Go and the rousing lyrics of old Broadway musicals. So when I turned to him and asked him “hey, do you want to hear something weird?” he was rightfully alarmed.
“What is it….?” “
“Def Leppard did a live version of Pour Some Sugar on Me with Taylor Swift.”
He let out an audible “WHAT THE…?” I’m surprised he didn’t drive the car into a tree.
That was roughly the reaction I had when I heard about #PolicyHack. As a BlueChilli collaborator, I got the all-team email from Seb explaining #PolicyHack about 45 minutes before it went live to the public. I immediately thought: this is going to be crazy.
Pour some sugar on me – A sucker for unlikely alliances
Pour some sugar on me
Ooh, in the name of love
Pour some sugar on me
If you’re not following the equation here, let me catch you up. In this instance BlueChilli is Def Leppard – reluctantly cool, recognisable leading men with significant indie street cred, veterans in the industry with their name on black t-shirts. Wyatt Roy is Taylor Swift – a bright, gifted young prodigy rising through the ranks and eager to learn, approachably cute, crisply cut and quirkily funny. It was an unlikely alliance just like Taylor Swift and Def Leppard.
So, why was Def Leppard working with Taylor Swift? Well, that is easy to explain. The Country Music Television had a long-running concert series called Crossroads, which is the gateway drug for cross-over artists. They had pop stars collaborate with country music singers to prime each others’ fanbase for future releases. Smart move. Pour Some Sugar on me is a prime example: a young Taylor Swift in a sparkly dress and cowboy boots head-banging her way through a rock anthem with hardboiled brooding Joe Elliott of Def Leppard. It sounds insane but it somehow makes sense.
I can assume that this was the thinking collaboration model around #PolicyHack – this is so crazy that it just might work. I am a sucker for unlikely alliances which is what makes me so passionate about the innovation ecosystem. However, my opinions about about the government working with StartupAus are very well documented so my momentary apprehension for #PolicyHack shouldn’t come as a surprise.
As I reread Seb’s email later that afternoon I thought to myself, “It’s ok if it doesn’t work. Let’s just see what happens…” I dutifully punched #PolicyHack into CalendarTree, put the link out on Twitter and waited for the backlash. Predictably, we did not have to wait long.
Shake it Off – Haters gonna hate….
‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Negative reactions came swiftly (pun?) in the form of a re-posted blog from Craig Thomler by StartupSmart accusing #PolicyHack of being “poorly executed.” First things first: How can something be “poorly executed” if it hasn’t happened yet?
Let’s understand #PolicyHack for what it was meant to be: an experiment in learning. As Alan Jones rightfully pointed out in a Sydney Startups Facebook thread over the weekend, the whole budget for the event was $4k and was run by a group of volunteers, working on this part time. So that debunks the whole argument around wasting taxpayers’ money, government resources and effort.
Welcome to New York
You know how Taylor Swift moved to NYC and immediately became friends with Karlie Kloss, Emma Stone, Lena Dunham, Gigi Haddad and every single supermodel under 25? That’s kind of what happened with Wyatt Roy as he became Assistant Minister of Innovation. The evidence was in the star power present at #PolicyHack. It easily rivals Taylor’s #squadgoals.
The turnout was impressive. Peter Cooper from iCentral, Steve Baxter from Shark Tank, Gavin Heaton and Jo Jacobs from Disruptor’s Handbook, Daniel Ringrose from Pollenizer, Vibewire’s Cass Mao, Nicole Williamson from LanzaTech, @ChiefDisruptor Anne Marie Elias, James Mabbott from KPMG – I could go on and on. As I snaked through the breakfast, I was starstruck and a little overwhelmed. This impressive lineup speaks volumes of Wyatt Roy’s influence and BlueChilli’s speed of recruitment – picture Taylor Swift performing at BandAid.
Bad Blood – Solving gender equality policy is confusing
Now we got problems
And I don’t think we can solve them
You made a really deep cut
And, baby, now we got bad blood
My role at #PolicyHack was very clear- I was the lead facilitator for Team 3: tasked to improve gender equality in the ecosystem. The biggest lesson from #PolicyHack was how harrowingly hard it is to combat a systematic problem like gender equality in tech in one blow. For all the noise I make about this issue, I was truly humbled by how challenging it is to get anyone, let alone the government and the private sector, to agree on what to do first.
To be perfectly honest, the hardest part was knowing who to listen to. As complex as the problem was, we were more or less in agreement of what policies we needed an “upgrade.” That was until some of the government representatives started dropping into our groups. We were told, with equal amounts of confidence and knowing, to not worry about the cost of the policy and then that the only thing that mattered was the government investment in the policy. The reasoning would change with every person who came in to help. I’m sure they meant well and were giving us advice from experience. However, the amount of times this forced the team back to the drawing board was astounding. And these were people on the same side of the aisle! It’s no surprise that we are constantly fed with news of gridlock in Canberra.
I knew you were trouble – The crazy aftermath
I knew you were trouble when you walked in
Trouble, trouble, trouble
I do have to admit that, albeit being exhausted, I left #PolicyHack feeling pretty good about the whole thing. It was by far the hardest lean facilitation I have ever done; there were chunks of the day that felt like a gridlock slog that was going to be impossible to get through. However, the feelings of dread and frustration quickly melted as we all sat down to hear the pitches. Even before they started, I nestled on the BlueChilli staircase between the lovely Mary Lieu from BlueChilli and Cass Mao, head whipper snapper at Vibewire, and felt like the slog had been worth it. As I looked down and surveyed the room, I could see a lot of tired but satisfied faces – suit jackets were hanging in the backs of chairs, sleeves had been rolled up, brows had been wiped dry – it was a nice feeling of community and belonging.
As the pitches rolled through, they were all met with thunderous applause in the room and virtual support from Twitter. As you scrolled through the tweets, you could see that many people were eagerly awaiting the results of the day. It was winning feeling for everyone…
Until I opened Facebook the next day to find a thread by Terry Hilsberg on how sexist, racist, wrongly focused and detrimental to our progress #PolicyHack had been. Where are the Asian people?! Where are the ladies? Were there any brown ones? Can I see a picture? You crazy kids get the internet off my lawn!
I don’t mind telling you that I got called the “token brown person”. Twice. It was as stunning as it was insulting. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who came to the defense of the event. God forbid anyone does anything if it’s not going to be perfect and to everyone’s liking.
So let me clear this right up: I was not awarded space at the event out of tokenism but out of merit and volunteering. I put my hand up to help, and Alan Jones and Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin recognised that I could play a part on the day and were grateful for the contribution. It was that simple. I showed up, worked my little brown booty off and made a difference. Not having been involved in the selection process, I can still vouch for the fact that there was nothing nefarious about the selection criteria for participants. I was actually amazed at the number of women present.
What was actually crazy about this thread on Facebook, though perhaps this was just my reading of it, was that we were meant to feel guilty about putting together an event that was not exactly reflective of the makeup of Australia’s population. Look – I’m a woman, an expat, interracial, sassy and 5 ft tall – I’m every minority you can think of – and I felt represented by the enthusiasm, hard work and purpose present at #PolicyHack. End of story.
The blame-mongering is really unnecessary. Believe me, Terry – I have nothing against white grumpy old men. I was raised by one and have even dated a couple. This is not personal; it seems we are mostly disagreeing on method. The whole point of lean is to launch before you’re ready. Was #PolicyHack perfect? No. But we’ll learn and push out a better version next time. You know what that is called, Terry? The Lean Startup. So I’m not going to buy into the guilt trip, guys. And neither should the BlueChilli team. They pulled a wonderful hackathon out of their ears and should be proud that it has marked the beginning of a real collaboration with government. We can all agree that we’ve been needing that for a while. #SorryNotSorry
22 – This is a young country, so let’s act like one
I don’t know about you
But I’m feeling 22
Everything will be alright
If you keep me next to you
So once it was all done and we shook it all off, what I was left with was a feeling of renewed hope. With all its alleged flaws and hurried nature, the #PolicyHack experience was an uplifting one. Thanks to Wyatt’s leadership, the day had an energy that I haven’t felt in a hackathon in a very long time. It reminded me of why I made Australia my home over 12 years ago, at the age of ripe old age of 22. This is a young country with a young spirit that pulls people like me in because there is a sense of so much yet to be done. It’s not to say it’s an incomplete country. Far from it, it is a country full of possibility. #PolicyHack was an opportunity to relive that dream again, it allowed me to feel 22 again – full of hope and looking forward. Wyatt parting words conjured that feeling in all of us at #PolicyHack, that this exists in all of us, we just need to push through and work together.
The overarching lesson for #PolicyHack was to have an open mind. It was inspiring to see government reps, public servants and lobbyists hunched down over lean canvases, curious and wide-eyed at the process that had been alien to them until Saturday. We all forget we all have so much to learn. We also often forget that we are ultimately all on the same team. My new mantra after #PolicyHack is to keep a wider perspective of possibilities and not to pee on my own cornflakes when it comes to unlikely alliances, be it Taylor and Def Leppard or #AusPol and #StartupAus. Anything else would be just plain Mean.