DFAT Ideas Challenge – the winners

What do behavioural insights for development, a ‘cloud’ passport, access to menstrual hygiene products, and a singing competition to confront domestic violence have in common?



These ideas and others were all pitched as part of the final stage of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Ideas Challenge. DFAT staff presented them to a panel including the Foreign Minister the Hon Julie Bishop MP, Parliamentary Secretary the Hon Steven Ciobo MP, Secretary Peter Varghese AO, and Chris Vein from the innovationXchange’s International Reference Group.

As recounted to the gathered crowd by the Secretary, the Ideas Challenge called for ideas about how to do things differently – “about what we do, how we do it, and why we do it” – and 392 ideas were put forward, with over 2600 staff registered to the platform, and over 16,000 votes cast.

Minister Bishop also spoke about the innovationXchange and the need for Australia to be smarter and more creative in its approach to international policy. She spoke of her vision for the Ideas Challenge for DFAT staff (a cross between Eurovision song contest and Australia’s Got Talent to get more and better ideas) and her belief that this approach will take off in the rest of the public service.

The 10 ideas were then (very ably) pitched:

  1. The Stream by Jess McGuirk – a social media hub that would combine the output of all social media accounts and put it on one easy to access website

  2. Smart Traveller & Facebook: Together at last! by Tom Battams – drawing on Facebook’s Safety Check (which prompts people in disaster areas to say whether they are safe) to help supplement Smart Traveller for when Australians are overseas in a disaster area

  3. Harnessing Behavioural Insights for Development by Deanna Simpson and Arjun Bisen – proposing a trial use of behavioural insights in development aid, to help ensure that programmes are more successful by having them underpinned by a better understanding of what drives human behaviour

  4. Online Crisis Hub by Jason Deacon – a centralised approach to providing information to Australians during crises, which would provide updates and suggestions about locating loved ones who may be in the crisis zone

  5. Telling Our Story … with the Help of a Map by Luke Heilbuth, Tom Ffrench, Nicholas Kittel – a map summarising one of DFAT’s initiatives in each country to further Australia’s interests

  6. No Win, No Fee for Raising Government Revenues by Nathan Dal Bon – A ‘no win no fee’ partnership with the private sector to raise tax revenues in developing countries

  7. The Cloud Passport by Michael Lynch – making the passport a truly digital concept, and piloting document-free travel between Australia and New Zealand

  8. The Last Taboo by Tracey Newbury – looking at affordable and accessible menstrual hygiene products for the poor and getting a better understanding of how lack of access to such products might be holding women in the Pacific region back

  9. Progressing Economic Opportunities for Indigenous Peoples by Sheena Graham, Chris Tinning, James Dalton and Matthew Williams – looking to connect Indigenous business leaders in our region and to promote indigenous business opportunities

  10. Facing the Music in PNG by Nigel Stanier – launching a singing competition to confront the impacts of domestic violence and in Papua New Guinea.


After these very good and entertaining pitches, the judging panel conferred and the rest of the audience voted for the ‘people’s choice award’ (which was won by Tracey Newbury for the Last Taboo).

The Minister shared the panel’s decision. She noted that the ideas fell into 3 categories:

  • Things that the department should be doing as part of day to day business – Harnessing Behavioural Insights for Development, Progressing Economic Opportunities for Indigenous Peoples and the Last Taboo - these were all things that the Minister said that the department should be doing anyway, and they were assigned to different divisions for next steps. She noted that Facing the Music in PNG raised an important issue that further work was needed on to effectively address.

  • Digital initiatives that the department should be doing anyway – the Stream, Smart Traveller & Facebook: Together at last!, Online Crisis Hub, Telling Our Story … with the Help of a Map. Again, these were all things the department should be doing anyway, and again, things that would be assigned to divisions for further investigation and implementation

  • The joint winners – Those ideas that were truly innovative – No Win, No Fee for Raising Government Revenues and the Cloud Passport. For these two ideas the department will look at how to implement them.


Congratulations go to all the participants, and in particular Nathan Dal Bon and Michael Lynch for their winning pitches. Congratulations should also go to DFAT’s Innovation Champion Ewen McDonald, Lisa Rauter, Oliver Doraisamy and Manal Saroufim of innovationXchange for their work in setting up and running the Ideas Challenge. DFAT has set a high bar for other agencies!