Inspiring Australia’s future directions

The National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) released in December 2015 is designed to boost innovation, including through increased community engagement with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

So where does Inspiring Australia sit within this new agenda?

There’s a flurry of engagement activities underway in the STEM space, and no single, coordinating body responsible to tell everyone what’s happening. So it’s difficult for the sector to keep abreast of all the action, let alone the broader public.

From coding initiatives and crowd funding platforms to start ups, accelerator and innovation programs targeting schools and industry-led campaigns, there is an abundance of STEM opportunity across Australia right now. And there are also pockets of activity that don’t reach very far and lots of busy people with similar aims and objectives not talking to each other.

This is where Inspiring Australia has a role to play. For the past five years, a national network of state managers have been building connections to foster public participation in science, technology and innovation.

Having been in the Manager Inspiring Australia (NSW) role for three years, I see the value this national network offers in catalyzing relationships every day.

Across Australia, my colleagues and I are connecting all kinds of organisations to engage communities with science and technology by creating innovative outreach initiatives that invite public participation at all levels.

Since Inspiring Australia was established as the national strategy for community engagement with science around six years ago, one of its primary objectives has been to strengthen communication between stakeholders.

My personal mission in my own role is to increase impact through better coordination, collaboration and cross promotion.

That’s why in NSW, Inspiring Australia’s focus is on building partnerships. We work with colleagues across universities, museums, research and community organisations to unify an array of statewide outreach and engagement efforts across science, technology, innovation and business.

Our network of Regional Science Hubs now comprises more than 600 organisations working together to bring more science and innovation experiences to more people. These partnerships are having a huge impact on regional communities. Science Hubs become a focal point for local science and technology activity and showcase what’s on, where and how people can get involved.

This is important because so many organisations in a region can present similar engagement programs to the same target audience without knowing about each other’s activities or even communicating with each other.

Science Hubs are a way of auditing local STEM engagement activity. They enable community members to identify gaps and create additional programs as funding allows. There are now hundreds of fantastic people and organisations involved in this statewide network, and I am privileged to work with them.

In Sydney, we are also collaborating more with great results. As Sydney Science Festival takes shape in its second year, this umbrella brand developed by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences continues to provide an effective platform for the STEM community to collaborate and coordinate citywide activities for National Science Week.

Through working together in this way, Sydney has doubled its audience engagement in just one year, with 50,000 festival-goers attending a National Science Week event compared with 25,000 people in the previous year. And these are just the people we know about!

While we are pleased with the progress we are making, we know we can do even better in engaging with a broader range of partners and audiences.

Late last year, an influential group of science and engineering leaders met with business executives and the heads of some of Sydney’s most significant institutions to map out a path for future collaboration and coordination under an umbrella brand like Sydney Science Festival.

Our ambition is to create an inclusive model that will put Sydney’s science and technology strengths on display, and its top scientists and technologists on a world-class stage. How we do this is a work in progress, but there is support for the idea of developing Sydney Science Festival into a world-class showcase for innovation excellence across all of the STEM disciplines.

With the second Sydney Science Festival now in planning, it is anticipated that more partners will join the collaborative effort in order to raise the profile of science and technology in the general community.

Over the next year, Inspiring Australia will continue to work with stakeholders to map out a path for ensuring that our collaborative outreach efforts create more impact. We are committed to continuing to work from the ground up to create cultural change on a grand scale.

Meanwhile, Inspiring Australia managers have met with members of the policy team shaping the delivery of NISA meaures.

Together we are developing a new strategy and action plan to guide the work of the national Inspiring Australia network over the coming years.

As part of this new agenda, Inspiring Australia is well placed to connect more organisations and individuals with opportunities to help shape a future that values innovation and science. Through this network approach, we’ll continue to encourage more kids into STEM careers and ensure that everyday people understand why Australia needs research investment.

We’ll keep you updated as plans develop, and we also welcome your ideas, so please send me an email if you would like to share your views about where you’d like to see us heading.

You can also see how community engagement with STEM is a key plank in the new innovation and science agenda by reading this factsheet Inspiring a nation of scientists

Jackie Randles is Manager Inspiring Australia (NSW).