Come Together - Tour of the Labs


Innovation Month may have finished, but innovation continues to ‘make it happen’ across the public sector!

Golly that was a lot of events, wasn't it? There was a wide range of events this year but one that I’d describe as ‘quintessentially 2017’ is the Tour of the Labs.

Over the last two years innovation labs and design labs have been launched in multiple departments, with almost 30 of them meeting at the Design Leads Workshop in March at BizLab - the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s design lab which just celebrated its first birthday - and another few arriving recently on-the-scene including the Department of Environment and the Arts, and the Department of Education and Training.

So with all this lab interest it made good sense to open them up and share their knowledge, tools and techniques with colleagues both within and outside their own departments.

The event was well received by the PSIN membership with all available three days filling up quickly.  The APS labs included:

  • BizLab,
  • the Department of Employment’s Discovery Design Space,
  • the DFAT InnovationXchange (iXc), and
  • the Department of Human Services’ Technology Centre.

We also had the following private sector labs participate:

  • Thinkplace,
  • Lighthouse Consulting, and
  • Gravity Labs.

Topics included demonstrations of virtual reality and virtual assistants, artificial intelligence, big data representation, user centred design, casual loop system mapping, rapid prototyping and more.

I commend the tour hosts for their commitment and work in hosting such an interesting and diverse range of subjects for attendees.   

A survey of attendees garnered a great deal of rich feedback about the labs and the tour itself:


“It was a fun and thought provoking day which gave me practical ideas to take back to the workplace”

“I learnt a lot...The presentations and exercises provided practical tools that I will be able to implement personally and introduce to my own workgroup”

“...opens your eyes to what you can integrate into your everyday work...”

“Insightful and exciting!”

“Great way to make new people connections and see what is possible for government in the longer term”

“Very informative - learnt a lot of practical information. Very interesting gaining insights into where other departments are in this space”

“… gain different perspectives and to see what agencies are doing in this space… able to establish new ways of thinking”

“It was great. Informative, practical, energising”

“Thanks for organising it and also thanks to the organisations who opened up their doors to us”

Many of the attendees also noted the value of making contact with public servants working in innovation labs and teams and meeting other colleagues with an active interest in innovation techniques and processes – and I've recommended that all attendees join the PSIN Yammer Group if they're not members already.

Feedback about the information obtained during the Tour of the Labs, and how it could be used back in attendees’ own work environment, included:


“Seeing the cutting edge work that is happening in other Gov't departments, the open / sharing attitude of our hosts, meeting new people... “

“I learnt so much!! I am quite new into this space and so it was a real eye opening experience. I learnt about AI and biometrics, causal loop mapping, user centred design and so much more!”

“Access to experts who across the different labs who were more than happy to light the way”

“Playing with new technologies, discussing new concepts, and speaking/networking with people facing similar challenges...”

“I learnt about user driven design and how to interview with this in mind...”

“It has made me take a step back and question the way we do things and how we might be able to apply these concepts to the work we are doing. Even small things will make a difference”



We also noted feedback about some obstacles in attendees’ organisations’ work culture to these new ideas:


“In my current area there is a definitely support for new ideas and creative thinking however in other areas of my organisation this isn’t even considered”

“I think high level support and a push to really put this stuff in as normal practice or at least an element of normal practice”


Most attendees referred to more leadership engagement being needed when considering how to get innovation rolled out faster in their organisation:


 “… high level support and more staff with an ability to attend events like this and so they see the potential”

            “Decision makers should see the technologies - if they have not already”

            “… presentation to senior executives in our transformation team”

It’s a challenging dilemma that given the Government’s ongoing commitment to government innovation; coupled with the APS’s own longstanding commitment to innovation; that there still appears to be a disconnect between this senior leadership directive and the grassroots operational officers, who are required to ‘show’ innovative processes before new ideas can be trialled.


All attendees stated that they’d like to learn more of what they saw at the Tour of the Labs and would recommend the event to their colleagues.


At the Design Leads Workshop in March it was noted that there should be more co-ordination between the innovation labs and; in the same way the PSIN assists the whole APS to share information and resources; labs stand to benefit by removing silos and learning from each other, assisting APS colleagues in departments without innovation labs and, in doing so, working towards the overarching objective of embedding innovation as a mindset, and being core to everything that we do.


We look forward to running the Tour of the Labs again in Innovation Month 2018 or whenever there’s an appetite to ‘make it happen’.


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