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© 2020 Jeffrey Robertson

Innovation in the foreign ministry bureaucracy

Thursday, February 25, 2016

 A few weeks ago at Senate Estimates, the annual government budget review process in Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was again asked about the AUD140 million InnovationXchange agency. The InnovationXchange is an innovative program designed to come up with new ideas on aid and development, described by the Foreign Minister as a"gorgeous little funky, hipster, Googly, Facebooky-type place".

As reported in the Canberra Times, the Senates Estimates Committee were concerned about expenditure on furnishings, including three bean bags and a ping-pong table... In particular, Senator Anne McEwan questioned senior DFAT officials on the three bean bags and ping-pong table, asking such pertinent questions as who pays for the ping-pong balls and paddles. Senator McEwan even went so far to do some research on bean bags, from the Hansard transcript

"Having done a little bit of research about the cost of beanbags, I found it quite difficult to find one that cost more than $200. You can get beanbags at CrazySales.com.au for $24.95. Where were the beanbags sourced from and why were they so expensive?"

Perhaps the Senator has not spent too much time in the public service? Perhaps never been inside DFAT? Perhaps spent too long in the plush, pristine environment of Parliament House? Because coming up with innovative ideas in a foreign ministry bureaucracy is next to impossible! DFAT should be applauded for trying something as simple as a thought/innovation space away from the straight-backed, white-shirt, dark-suit, old school ties, environment. Diplomacy is changing. Call it whatever you want, we are entering a period of digital diplomacy, cyber-diplomacy, network diplomacy, diplomacy 2.0 or 3.0, total diplomacy, or mega diplomacy - more innovation is needed in diplomacy, not less!!! If it takes three bean-bags and a ping-pong table, so be it!

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