How not to take a slap in the face

Disclaimer: while this reflects the philosophy we have all brought to CoCreate Adelaide, this is a personal comment on a volatile conversation happening in Adelaide, about Hub Adelaide, Format and the role of government in community inititives.  Apologies if it makes no sense! – John

The State Government last week awarded Hub Australia a million dollars to set up Hub Adelaide.  Yes – a Million Friggen Dollars.  And they’re moving upstairs to where Format is being forced out of.  This all came as something of a surprise to many of us here in Adelaide.  It came as a slap in the face to many who have spent years here building communities, starting businesses, and pouring blood sweat and tears into making awesome things happen.

We shouldn’t take a slap in the face lying down.  Obviously.

The issue is not so much what happened – but that what happened is to be expected.

Our current paradigm and the systems in our society are built on a dysfunctional relationship between government, community and enterprise.  As community members and as citizens, we are locked out of society’s systems for getting things done.  These systems squash our agency and our ability to cocreate the world we live in.

The set up of Hub Adelaide is a perfect example of this.  A dysfunctional consultation process called an Emerging Leaders’ Forum, a secretive development and ‘tender’ process, and a distasteful, poorly consulted and shocking announcement.  Hub Adelaide has so far sung a perfectly dysfunctional, paternalistic narrative.

This is indicative of how government works – but it’s not all their fault.  All of us in the system are playing a part.  If government is playing the father figure, we are playing the children.

The reaction from the community has only served to reinforce this narrative.  I’ve come across only one example of a proactive response, taking this as an opportunity to reinforce our own strength and continue to grow.  The primary response has been to lament the process and how it has undermined community (fair call), lament the lack of government support for community initiatives (meh), and call for government to step in to make the current situation right (f*#% off!).

The community here is a distributed system of people making amazing things happen.  Distributed systems are supposed to get stronger under attack – but not if they’re stuck within a prevailing narrative of subservience.

Every awesome thing started in Adelaide against the grain, against prevailing norms for ‘culture’ or ‘business’ or ‘vibrancy’, is a demonstration of our agency.  It’s a snippet of a world where we’re not disempowered, but active agents creating the futures we want to live in.  But this is not enough.

If nothing changes but mild disapproval and social media rants, then what happened will continue to happen.  Because what’s happened is that our agency has been overlooked and undermined – and we’ve done nothing to stop it.  State governments are not good at supporting community initiative.  A million dollars unwisely spent is not unusual.  It is not new, and it should not be a surprise.  They need our help.

What should we do?  To be honest, I don’t know.  I hear current conversations – but I don’t know Adelaide’s history.  CoCreate Adelaide will make a contribution, providing a forum for community groups to share our visions and work together to take action on them (you should come along!).  But it’s only a drop in the pond, and it’s not enough.

I’m definitely NOT advocating unification.  Trying to centralise will only serve to undermine the strength in the community.  But we don’t need to be unified to be coordinated and tap into our collective capacity.

If nothing else, we need to shift the conversation to move forward.  Learn from what has gone poorly, to understand the better futures that we want to see.  And of course to start asking – what can we do to make it happen?

– John Baxter, partner/organiser here at CoCreate Adelaide

21 thoughts on “How not to take a slap in the face

  1. Great post. I was going to write a long response on my own long neglected blog, but it’s a Saturday and I need some time off, so I’m going to try for a brief response here instead. Apologies for typos etc. Your comment about the dysfunctional relationship between gov, community and enterprise in Adelaide is spot on. A lot of the issue with the Format/Hub conundrum is a communication problem. I think it’s a communication problem with, in this case, a fairly clear cause and effect, which I got to witness first hand founding Format and then Renew Adelaide.

    The basic drive to support creativity, innovation and, ultimately, a ‘hub’ really seemed to kick in during the 5000+ forums run by the IDC and during John McTernan’s residency as Thinker. Format was already up and running at that point, but aside from a good relationship with ArtsSA – and its exceptional director Alex Reid – we had no link to government, which is why I’d formed Renew – we borrowed from Newcastle’s spearhead and began hacking our way into government to get more support to occupy space for creative purposes. At this point, the idea of government driven creative space was pretty limited, but after TACSI set up I think there was a big influx of ideas, albeit to a small number of people, about how things could move forward. Part of that was that more of us in the community sector started seeing government employees as people we might actually have something in common with, rather than as dubious potential enemies. And that was a pretty productive realization.

    From there, the IDC forums produced an increased sense of collegiality – which I still think is Adelaide’s greatest opportunity. Suddenly, we were talking to people in state planning offices and they were listening, and they’d talk and we’d listen. When McTernan came in he taught both sides of the fence how to push, in basic terms, for devolved funding and for a more cross-strata engagement with senior government – which is how Renew Adelaide got funded. I don’t know if that was his intention, but he’s a pretty weird guy and that’s what we (or at least I) got out of it. This was driven overwhelmingly by people like Josh Fanning, Cass Tombs, myself, Lara Torr and others at the ‘Coalface’ talking directly to people either at the head of departments, in senior advisory positions to state government, or to elected members. I remember being told by the Lord Mayor that Mike Rann had spent more time with me than him. I don’t know if it was true, but it was interesting how we suddenly seemed to have a very direct channel from community to senior decision makers. If anything it got better after Jay Weatherill came in. He told me once that the problem with the traditional ALP mindset was that it was ‘paternalistic’ and we talked about how to break that down. I still like the guy and hope he wins another election. Our connection to people like him was brokered by people like Tim Horton, Gabe Kelly at Thinkers, Alex Reid at ArtsSA, Greg Mackie and later Lois Boswell, Joe Hay and a handful of senior staff who got what we were trying to do and began actively trying to work with us. That was a really promising time.

    Out of that came some fundamentally good strategic directions, which are still in place. Rethinking the built environment, support systems for creativity and innovation, a focus on younger people engaged in new enterprise and so on. Those things directly connected to the State Gov 30 Year Plan both in helping give more younger South Australian’s a sense of agency and reducing their desire to leave/never return and in helping shift the state from its collapse after the State Bank disaster and ongoing mediocrity to something capable of taking a bigger portion of the $31 billion dollar creative economy.

    Then something went wrong. People have asked me this week about Format and whether the problem is Council or the State Government. The best I can say for Council is it probably isn’t their fault because they’re totally disengaged from the creative and innovative sector. Their focus is, rightly or wrongly, on their public realm campaigns.

    So the State Government. Is it to blame? The short answer is no, the long answer is yes. We need to remember it’s a many headed beast – but the basic strategy has remained good. The Weatherill team got the small venue license through unscathed in the face of an opposition that only really makes sense if you believe it was funded by the AHA or just plain stupid. John Hanlon’s office has some great people, and I dread to think how his deputy Georgina dealt with the social media backlash over the Hub. If they’re reading this, I know that must have come as a kick in the guts and a human level I’m sorry for them. Fundamentally, their desire to invest in incubation of local talent is great.

    But the problem is the execution, which has been the kind of paternalistic, hamfisted ‘We’ll do it for you!’ bullshit one sadly has to expect in Adelaide. And this doesn’t emerge from a lack of leadership, it emerges from a lack of basic capacity to listen and respect the agency of Adelaide’s citizens. Much of that lost capacity is within Government. In the past, this process would have been handled by designated people who knew their shit, had massive brains, talked to and were embedded in their community and cared about something other than their jobs. I firmly believe the Format Twitter flamewar wouldn’t have reached this point if Gabe Kelly was still running Thinkers and the IDC was around. They would have worked with us to find solutions well in advance, and then worked with us some more to drive that solutions through the bureaucrats. When the ACC blocked Renew Adelaide’s funding by 5 and a half months in 2010, senior state government staffers helped figure out how to deal with the blockage. When the police decided to shut down Tuxedo Cat because they didn’t like the floors, senior staffers dealt with those bullshit artists as well. If they were involved now, the Jade Monkey would be open and Format wouldn’t have had to spark an online media war to get noticed.

    This brings us to the community, and – as you say – there is a capacity issue here as well. Partly, this is because the organisations that were enabling and building the dialogue are gone: Thinkers, IDC and so on. The remaining staff work hard to fly the flag, but the weight of both bureaucratic ineptitude and ‘Poor me’ attitudes within the creative and innovative sector tend to get in the way. That said, both Format, the Jade, The Mill and numerous others have continued to try to work with government, with decreasing levels of success. The impression I get is that unless you’re talking to very senior staff or ministers, it’s like yelling into a fog. That fog grows thicker and more impenetrable when you yell at it. This produces a cycle, whereby something that’s frustrating to work with at the best of times becomes even more frustrating when you show your frustration with it. That said, becoming aggressively frustrated and whinging doesn’t solve the problem. My experience is overwhelmingly that you need to actively produce the solution: produce the policy, produce your own damn hubs, then leverage community support – as Format just did – to cut through the fog and take ownership of the situation. You don’t win a battle by waiting until the enemy listens to you and sorts out how it can lose the war for you.

    As for the Hub itself, best of luck to them and I’m sorry they got hit so hard. It’s not their fault they got given a million dollars whilst everyone else gets squat. It’s unfair, I remain unconvinced it’ll be a good thing for the creative and knowledge sector in Adelaide, but its not their fault. I’d take a million bucks if someone asked me to. That said, I probably would have done some basic sector and community engagement before accepting a million dollars, rather than afterwards. I’m also interested to know if they’re aiming to become viable beyond government funding. At the moment, you can still get office space for under $220 psm/pa and I think the Mill and Tooth and Nail were charging about $50 a week for studio space so there’s the bench mark for competition in Adelaide. If they’re intending to remain government funded I hope they’re more successful than the last government funded incubators, Tomorrow Studios and Music House. On the upside, if they do well it’d be great to have a business focused version of what the Jam Factory has been doing so brilliantly for so many years – there is a precedent for a government subsidized creative incubation space working really well in SA and it’d be great to see them working with Adelaidians to achieve that goal.

    As for your question of what should be done. To my eye, the focus would be on investing in building the capacity and supporting the agency of local people, particularly those working in creative and knowledge based activity – the Formats, Mills, Hackerspaces, Soundpond and so on. More specific business and social enterprise would be great as well. If those things that emerged locally were valued as much as the million dollar funding found for the Hub, or the $24mil for a Vic Square upgrade, or the $1mil found for the Splash Adelaide novelty street furnishing campaign, or new seating on Leigh Street, Adelaide might have more viable businesses and more people under the age of 30 who think the place respects them enough for them to put their energy into it.

    That can’t be that hard to do. ArtsSA already runs a template grant scheme that’s very good, TACSI’s Bold Ideas Better Lives Challenge could be scaled down and run at a more localised level. I’d love to have seen something like the old London Docklands Development Corp’s Arts Incentive Scheme that was so integral to reviving the London Docklands area in the eighties and nineties. That introduced grant schemes that worked with, rather than against, community and enabled community creative enterprises to operate beyond the life of the LDDC itself. Adelaide could have adopted that approach, rather than the top down one evidenced by the funding of the Hub. It would have been really easy to do a couple of years back, given the former Thinker was John McTernan – was on the board of the LDDC board mid-90s.

    The reason that doesn’t happen is, to my eye, to do with bureaucracy and systems rather than lack of strategy. The strategy that decided, ‘We need hubs to support younger and more experimental start-up ventures’ was good. To my eye, the subsequent community engagement was bad. The decision to allocate funding top-down was terrible. The fault isn’t necessarily either the leadership or the community, it’s the bit in between that functions on a dichotomy of “We’ll do it for you!” vs “You aren’t doing it for us properly!”

    It’s more likely the community advocacy and activist sector will strengthen before the bureaucrats alter. A few more organisations capable of Twitter blitzes like we saw this week would be good – it proves there’s a widespread electoral demand which makes government pay attention but it also enables those in government who want to help to get involved. From there, you need advocates who can show them how to help, accept their limitations, and treat them like colleagues rather than enemies – which is why some of the hostility in those tweets was not so great. Passion is good, but ultimately you want people to work with you, not fear you. At some point, I think a new generation is going to have to start running for local government as elected members. So, I guess I’d theorize that you’d need (a) a solid and vocal enough community to keep government engagement on the straight and narrow and enable those who want to work with you (b) a pathway to a more respectful and collegial interaction between community, enterprise and government and (c) more community leaders – particularly younger community leaders – willing to do the hard yards reforming local government as a starting point.

    But then, I live in Sydney, so it’s not really my business. But that’s my thoughts. Thanks again for the interesting blog post.

    • Wow. Thanks Ianto.

      You certainly failed at a ‘quick reply’ – a contribution well worth reading, and cross-posting back to your own blog as well…

      You make a great point about the development of connections and relationships via Renew etc., between ‘community’ and government. I hadn’t thought about that angle so much – but the fraying of those relationships will probably be the biggest damage in this debacle. And I think, perhaps, that focusing too much on ‘we’ as ‘community’, I may not have supported any reparation there – seeing bureaucrats as people, as partners, as like ‘us’. So thanks for bringing it up.

      You make a great point that the Hub development was not just a government process, but a communications issue. Really highlights the role that all parties have played… and can play in doing things better.

      I definitely have mixed feelings about the ‘advocacy’ activities of recent days. It’s good for community to be heard, especially when government is reluctant to listen… but even where it’s not hostile, advocacy still reinforces the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ barrier – from both sides. And if it comes back to a ‘hey, government, fix it’ message… well that’s even more problematic.

      So your ideas for raise interesting questions… what does ‘a’ (~vocal community) look like if it supports ‘b’ (~better relationships)? And also if it is to support the community capacity you’ve talked about as well?

      Not event sure what to say about ‘c’ – except that it’s an audacious and noble goal, and I have no idea how (outside of Renew) we might do it.

  2. Interesting points John – and Dr Ware. Ideas about the paternalism that creates this dynamic of whinge until they under deliver and the fog of governance. Both go to the heart of the failure not just in this particular outcome but in the whole interface between the community, stakeholders and the benevolent forces that affect them through government.

    Look at our debate around development in Adelaide. Layers of government create plans, many of them worthy yet offer little to the public other than “here’s what we are going to need to do to the city – what do you think?”. Despite the merits people resent the process and then new breaks that Mt Barker has been a mess all along and the public has been right. Legitimising wider fears about planning and development without pushing the debate forward. Constantly good ideas and initiatives by regular citizens are mostly entirely ignored.

    So why did this mess had to happen? I think rather than an anti-creative conspiracy it is as clear as you say John, it’s simply endemic of the broken nature of our current structure. It generates apprehension, keeps people uniformed and makes it difficult for good things to occur. HUB I’m sure do good work and offer things that Format never could – I see them as different beasts. There is a place in my eyes for both, which makes this situation more absurd.

    I also agree John that Format is grand enough to be able to start elsewhere. It’s true that those with a lower budget can be turfed out and, like Format, it tends to be that they design that incentive for others by offering something new. So I appreciate that sometimes you do have to move yet we all despise the fact that it is so back-handed. It seems ridiculous that governments continue to be so secretive and cryptic for there are few matters that truly deserve it.

    Building our cities and our networks should be an open dialogue that gives us the serious innovation we need. Many bright people here with big ideas I hope this can catalyse a wider community discussion.

  3. If this is indeed a problem of communication, then it is one I have no idea how to fix. I’ve written columns and blogs to the extent that my time has allowed. I have been to forums and meetings and consultations ad nauseum and seen diddly to squat as a result. I have been to so many forums I have banned myself from going to more as a result because it is obviously a waste of my time.

    I have never been embedded in the back end of these procedures, and so trust that things like 5000+ etc have taken results of their discussions and continued conversations behind the scenes, but generally the whole process has been one of Ianto’s fog.

    I will admit that I have probably been one of the more hostile people around regarding this affair, but that’s because I have no other concept of how else to be heard. Unless there is anger and a threat of brand damage, the Government does not pay attention. They (I know, “they”) are perpetually reactive in their communications and decision-making and I have no idea what to do any more other than rant.

    The seemingly wilful ignorance underpinning this whole debacle on the part of the public sector has been one of the greatest disappointments in my career so far.

    I accept your point about people, perhaps people like me, needing to step up and make change. But the fact remains that I and many others in the industry face a catch-22 in being activists:

    1. I need to make a living
    2. I want to make my living working in the industry I love
    3. I want to make the industry I love as strong as possible
    3. Working within the sector immediately puts up barriers, formal and informal, to participation in activism.

    To my mind, we need some kind of formal code of practice around political communication for grant recipients, government arts employees, arts bureaucrats et al. guaranteeing that job security, funding decisions etc will not be prejudiced by reasoned personal commentary about Government activity. This would help drag discussions out of gossip and shadow and twitter and into a more productive public domain. Currently, it seems that anyone not actually working in the sector can pipe up and drastically influence the narrative, while people more involved have to shut up and don’t get a chance to contribute, thus resulting in unfortunate situations like this one.

    It could only be healthy, and help to retain talent that might otherwise go elsewhere and keep the arts in their status of “hobby”. Thoughts?

    • Will that’s gold. For a post that started with “I have no idea how to fix it”, you’re insights are invaluable. Not to say I’ve been struck by the glorious rod of The Answer, but finding the right question is the hard part. Your contribution to that is already a contribution to change.

      A few things come to mind:

      1. it would be really valuable if there was a mechanism for ‘activism’ aka ‘shouting into the fog’ that didn’t put at risk the livelihood of people like you

      2. it would be really valuable to find (more) ways (a la Renew, I imagine) to communicate that didn’t need to mean shouting ‘at’. Following on from Ianto’s comments, that may look like a. some sort of ‘representative institution’ (because gov likes those things), b. actual personal connection with people like those Ianto mentioned. But… it may not.

      So that leaves, an open question – what might these look like?

      For the record, I’m pretty comfortable risking offence if it is worth shouting about… on a case-by-case basis, I might be able to justify dedicating time to setting something up. (If there’s cash for it, it’s a no brainer.) And if it’s of value, I used to work in government so I’m familiar, at least, with what the back end looks like (it aint pretty).

    • One qualifying comment I’d like to make – there are a bunch of ‘positions’ in your post, whether assumptions or just experience. They are valid, but there lies great potential value in moving beyond them, if it’s possible.

      1. ‘us’ and ‘them’
      2. ‘communication’ ~ ‘activism’, i.e. the reason we are communicating is because we want ‘them’ to do something (the underlying purpose of activism), not because we want to understand them, or them to understand us, or for us to work together.

      • Honestly, I’m perfectly cognisant of such artificial dichotomies, hence my little meta-jibe in parentheses. The fact is that around the establishment of the IDC and Renew, we were all asked to move beyond them, and I at least tried to. The result of that was minimal – we entered “their” space and everything played out of “their” terms. The ELF is a great example of that – it was painful as someone whose ideas dissented from the predetermined “outcomes” the whole event was working toward. Similarly when politicians have entered “our” space, say the Arts Industry Council forum, they have been asked straightforward questions and refused to provide straightforward answers.

        There has been very little give on the part of the public sector in terms of breaking down barriers unless you are in a position to really embed yourself in the way that a few organisations have the resources and connections to do so. Very few of us are.

        Again, easing the anxiety around published opinion/public discussion is one way to have a more informed narrative and a better corpus of information for decisionmakers to consult without requiring such “cultural infiltration” into the public sector.

    • Had to reply to your comment Will, as I love your catch-22 summary of –

      1. I need to make a living
      2. I want to make my living working in the industry I love
      3. I want to make the industry I love as strong as possible
      3. Working within the sector immediately puts up barriers, formal and informal, to participation in activism.

      Even as a community engagement practitioner, my work is generally molded to the needs and current thinking of my clients – that’s Government. But it is often a far far reach from what I would truly like to be working on with them. Attempts at ‘community engagement’ are often so process or output driven and often fail to neglect ongoing, long term working relationships with really decent outcomes. To comfort myself, I tell myself that it is better for me to be there, working with clients to take small steps in the hope that one day there’ll be a complete shift to the way in which Goverment and community work together. A revolution perhaps!

      I also note your suggestion of some kind of formal code of practice. I worked extensively in the UK around ‘compacts’ which were at the time an agreement between Government and community about particular ways of working. Read more here – http://www.compactvoice.org.uk/ – and it might inspire. I would LOVE to see compacts developed in Australia – they may exist but I haven’t come across them.

      In the meantime, check out the video summary of the SA State Government’s new ‘Better Together’ community engagement strategy – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH5kTYDyX5I – nicely put together and perhaps something we (as community) can use to challenge existing systems and processes for decision-making.

      It’s exciting to see such great things being discussed and well done John for starting the conversation.

  4. “It could only be healthy, and help to retain talent that might otherwise go elsewhere and keep the arts in their status of “hobby”. Thoughts?”

    My two cents; Surely its more retrograde to be reduce the status of the arts even further. Half the reason we (artists) as an industry are in so much trouble is due to the consistent lack of respect by those in the higher power. Our funding rapidly decreases year after year, our creative jobs are not recognized as legitimate careers, and our educational institutions are being shut down left right and center. By labeling the Arts as just a ‘hobby’ you are both joining them in their disrespect for an active and inspiring culture that frees and inspires ‘non-artists’, as well as condemning those within the arts to boring unfulfilled jobs chained to a desk as that disprespect turns from a label to a fact.

    If any status needs to change, its that of the industry that fosters amazing ground-up places like Format (etc etc) to be MORE involved, more vocal, and have a more powerful stance when it comes to policy making. Labelling us ‘hobbyists’ will kill us even faster, and every underground club/arthouse/studio/bar/bookshop/fringevenue/theatreshow/garageband would vanish.

    The tough thing about being a culture warrior is you cant take rest, or backwards steps. Once you lay down arms, its over. We’re all just bureaucrats in floral shirts and pointy leather shows. Gross.

    • Hey kat – just to clarify, and apologies for the grammatical ambiguity. I would never call for the definition of the arts as hobby.

      I meant that allowing more freedom of expression among artists and arts workers would help to legitimise the industry and prevent such classification. To me so many practitioners choose to forsake a career in the arts for a “real job” and continue arts practice as a hobby, which is tragic. There are various reasons – financial, family, political. One of the bigger ones, I think, is how closed and inaccessible we can be, often due to fear of offending funders. The industry could be made far more attractive as a career if there were less limitations of freedom of expression in an industry so tied into public funding.

  5. Really enjoying the outpouring of comments and ideas. Thanks for sparking the conversation John and to all who have contributed.
    I think paternalism thrives in the arts community largely because there is a culture of entitlement, a belief that artists should be supported and valued, without question. Art for arts sake. Art emerges regardless of venues, or money, or patronage. Art will always thrive. And so my message is this: if you engage with a system of paternalism you cannot be suprised when grants, cheap leases, subsidies etc are taken away. Nor is paternalism a system that values due process or consultation.
    Format has had a good run, has been the beneficiary of govt and community support. It’s not unreasonable for govts to reduce funding as organisation grow/age and test their sustainability. Format is a co-opt, right? How many of those who particpated in the moan up on twitter are also active paying members? It’s easy to be reactive but how many have truly been proacive. It’s easy to be cynical about govt but it’s ultimately unhelpful and simply re-inforces old paradigms. View them as a stakeholder.

    I have every belief that Foramt will continue, renew, and thrive again and in the true spirit of artists will use this to fuel new ideas and opportunities and dynamism. Sure engagement is challenging and working with govt can feel like yelling into the fog – but difficulty is no reason to opt out. It’s never been easy (but social media is certainly a new and powerful tool – if used productively) and I’m sure someone in govt is watching albeit in silence at this point. And clearly there is strong social and cultural capital and agency amongst this group that’s responded. That’s powerful.

    • It’s pretty patronising to label Format as engaging with governmental paternalism given its history of non-reliance on public money. Yes they have received some funding in the past, but to my eye the organisation has pretty actively avoided relying on Government. The anonymous commenter below even levels the exact opposite criticism, that the organisation is too “grass-roots” for its own good, again suggesting the narrative is not accurate or clear.

      And anyway why, exactly, is it Format or any SME arts org’s fault that the Government favours paternalism as its MO? These people have to pay their rent. They are powerless in this equation to affect any revolution in the design of service for artists – if they don’t apply, someone else will. I don’t know your occupation or anything Lee but I would consider very carefully lauding churn for churn’s sake in an industry with some of the lowest levels of job security.

      This is not about the Government reducing funding, this is about Government giving a boatload of money to an organisation from interstate without consultation, or any publication of a business case for its existence. That money directly has directly contributed to a market review of Format’s rent. What exactly are the deliverables, KPIs or otherwise for the Hub space? What’s the ROI? Why don’t I know that?

      The arts are constantly being asked to define their impact in terms of economic benefit – see for instance the press release from Arts SA collated from the Festival and Fringe’s releases – http://arts.sa.gov.au/news/festivals-hailed-a-success-as-mad-march-wraps-up/. Hard to see how anything in that promotes art for art’s sake. You’d be hard pressed to find any company that would prioritise artistic outcomes over the bottom line these days.

      Does it not scream something to you about the culture within Government when a Melbourne-based organisation enjoys more access to high level decision makers than local practitioners? How the hell are we meant to rectify that from without? And why is that our job?

      • >The anonymous commenter below even levels the exact opposite criticism, that the organisation is too “grass-roots” for its own good, again suggesting the narrative is not accurate or clear.

        Not quite what I said – in relation to Format, I have not been involved and do not know. Here, I am referring to other instances in an entirely different field, where some bigger groups were better at leveraging funding than others, more equipped or prepared (or both) to do so, and some of the groups who either couldn’t or wouldn’t just didn’t get the dosh. I am trying to understand what led to this decision, and was wondering *if* this might have been a factor in play. If not, then it’s something else, but what?

        >This is not about the Government reducing funding, this is about Government giving a boatload of money to an organisation from interstate without consultation, or any publication of a business case for its existence. That money directly has directly contributed to a market review of Format’s rent.

        I agree this is unfair. I don’t know what led up to that decision being made. Has anyone been able to discover why this happened?

        • I think the answer to the first point is “nobody said anything about any of this happening until it was announced”. As to why – who knows? But considering my and my colleagues’ experiences with DPTI I suspect the answer is somebody had a flight of fancy in the upper echelons and was very convinced that it was a very good idea.

          • As somebody that used to assess public sector business cases…

            Hub would have put forth a strong case. In fact, they tick virtually all of the boxes. The idea of investing a single wad of cash in one initiative is questionable from our perspective, but it’s also how things tend to work, especially with elections approaching.

            Whilst government consultation to identify its options was far too secretive, it did happen. They approached all of the potential options they could identify, in one way or another. As far as I can tell, nobody offered a viable alternative.

            I disagree with the whole approach taken to developing their options, but nevertheless – in the current conditions, investing in Hub was a no-brainer.

  6. *deep exhale!*

    While I don’t have an insider’s background on all the issues being discussed here re: Format, Hub Adelaide and the things people are grappling with, and I don’t have any particular allegiance to either group (except as an interested citizen who wants to see them all thrive with the different things they do and can offer), I did want to offer some thoughts on the broader themes in this thread.

    As a public servant (whose work is in no way connected to any of this), I have to comment anonymously and offer the following collection of thoughts:

    – it was dismaying to see what was shaping up as a schism between two groups that could complement each other in various ways and certainly both have something to offer this city (even if one is a ‘franchise’ – hands up who has never availed themselves of any franchise?)

    – hopefully where there were misunderstandings, those have been cleared up; where differences remain, that at least the lines of conversation are open

    – the concerns expressed about how government works (or not) are just as frustrating for those within it who are working to effect change; many public servants have had worthwhile, excellent programs and initiatives stymied, scuttled or cut either for reasons that are never really clear, but its never because they are not of value; I’ve personally seen two I deeply cared about go down in flames, one of which involved a group of people from different government agencies which was undone by one senior bureaucrat. This happens everywhere, health, education, environment, community services as well as the arts.

    – please don’t forget, people who are public servants and bureaucrats are ALSO members of “the community”!

    – having come from an extensive background of grassroots community work, and now working as a bureaucrat, I have seen things from both perspectives; there are a lot of good people working in the bureaucracy who ‘get it’ and want to see things happen (as Ianto documented), but – just like those beyond government in the grassroots who are lost in the fog about how to break down barriers – unless those within are skilled in working the system and people, harnessing resources and influence, they can also end up hamstrung by organisational constraints, which could be anything from budget issues, politics that are simply not able to be discussed beyond the organisation for any number of reasons, an individual personality higher up the food chain who stymies stuff or plain old risk aversion or habit of ‘we don’t do x’, ‘that doesn’t fit our grants program’

    – similarly, there are a lot of good people working in grassroots movements everywhere who cannot fathom why it is so bloody hard to get the smallest amount of funding, or get some kind of communication from the public service; there is no one explanation for this, but one of the things that has bugged me over the years is how wary government seems to be in dealing with ‘the community’ non-profit and grassroots sectors, and marginalises them – perhaps because often, these groups play a watchdog and accountability role in relation to government decisions, which is a good thing, but at the same time creates a reluctance on behalf of government to then develop working relationships

    – re: the (Dr Evil Voice) one MILLION dollars, has anyone discovered why Hub was offered a mil and Format has apparently run into barriers in securing similar support? This might provide some useful learnings.

    – re: participation in activism – being a bureaucrat does not preclude one from being an activist, as long as you are intelligent about it, and not in breach of the employee Code of Ethics or Public Sector Act (surely there are many allies who will be willing to get your message out on your behalf, for example). Of course what is tolerated in practice can be a different kettle of fish. The Code of Ethics actually sets out the ability of employees to engage in activities in a private capacity to influence an issue, provided they are not in contravention of the first dot point below:

    http://files.oper.sa.gov.au/files/Ethics%20Code_Final_word__030310.pdf

    Public Comment

    • when acting in an official capacity, public sector employees will only make
    comment in relation to their duties, the public sector or the government –
    including policy and programs – when specifically authorised to do so.
    Such comment will be restricted to factual information and professional
    advice and avoid the expression of personal opinion. Public comment
    includes providing information or comment to any media (electronic and
    print), posting comment on the internet and speaking engagements

    • notwithstanding the above public sector employees may engage in a
    private capacity in conduct intended to influence public opinion on an
    issue, or promote an outcome in relation to an issue of public interest
    except in the circumstances set out in Section 15(2) of the Public Sector
    Act 2009

    – I’m not saying it is the case in this example, but from my own experience in this space (different field), sometimes entities that view themselves as ‘the underground’ and ‘grassroots’ can be their own worst enemy. On the one hand, smelling of any flavour of ‘government’ and having to meet requirements for reporting, paperwork etc makes these entities recoil, on the other there is grumbling when government money is not forthcoming. Government funding has to be managed by someone, and that someone is responsible for probity and use of public money, demonstrating its impact etc – as much as they would like to be Father Christmas.

    – I’d back the points John made: ‘Our current paradigm and the systems in our society are built on a dysfunctional relationship between government, community and enterprise. As community members and as citizens, we are locked out of society’s systems for getting things done. These systems squash our agency and our ability to cocreate the world we live in.’ and ‘If nothing changes but mild disapproval and social media rants, then what happened will continue to happen. Because what’s happened is that our agency has been overlooked and undermined – and we’ve done nothing to stop it. State governments are not good at supporting community initiatives.’

    – I’d back the points Ianto made – too many to replicate!

    – I’d back the points Robbie has made: ‘‘Look at our debate around development in Adelaide. Layers of government create plans, many of them worthy yet offer little to the public other than “here’s what we are going to need to do to the city – what do you think?”. Despite the merits people resent the process and then new breaks that Mt Barker has been a mess all along and the public has been right. Legitimising wider fears about planning and development without pushing the debate forward. Constantly good ideas and initiatives by regular citizens are mostly entirely ignored’ – and that this latest debacle is much more likely to be a dysfunction of the structure rather than a conspiracy designed to hurt any organisation or devalue anyone’s work

    – I empathise with Will’s point: ‘The seemingly wilful ignorance underpinning this whole debacle on the part of the public sector has been one of the greatest disappointments in my career so far.’ Yep. Wait until you’ve been battling it for twenty years, from both sides…

    – lastly, and as a way to offer something hopeful, I’d also like to say that there *are* allies in government, they are often fighting the same barriers, and creativity is not just limited to the arts – bureaucrats have to be extremely creative in finding ways to get good things to happen with an environment that often feels like a straightjacket; trying to change the culture of government from within is also about being a culture warrior. It is possible, though!

    http://opensource.com/business/12/5/civil-servants-cut-through-red-tape-and-share-government-forward

    I wish Format, Hub and everyone else involved in creating an innovative, culturally interesting, useful, inclusive, inspiring and fun Adelaide the very best, and hope that all can find a ‘home’ that suits and their place in the constellation of co-creation.

    • Curious as to why, if your role is unconnected, you must remain anonymous? Doesn’t your quote from the Code of Ethics suggest you should be able to?

      There’s also the problem of grant-recipients or employees of entities owned by government who are not public servants but fall into an undocumented grey area re political speech.

  7. Will,

    I can and do undertake activities without concealing my identity in areas that are not related to my work.

    However in this comment, I’ve made a number of points about government generally, in a public forum that anyone might read, that I’d prefer not to know came from me (which would also identify the projects that went down in flames and also the person responsible for them), so in this case, have elected to remain anonymous.

    You make a fair point about not-public-servants also feeling compromised. It is a shame we can’t speak and act freely even when the legal structures say you can, because how its supposed to work and how it actually works are two different things.

    • Well that plain sucks, for you and for the discourse. I probably shouldn’t be saying any of this but I’ve decided I really don’t care any more – keeping my mouth shut was going to kill me.

      Interesting, given the Government’s interest in cultures of innovation, that a fear of exposing Hindenburg projects is a motivator. A big part of innovation is embracing failure and learning from it – what would Government look like if it could own its failures, not try to hide them?

  8. Nice to see Hub Adelaide being embraced and welcomed into your coreate Adelaide unconference. Your obviously and conveniently over their paternalism John.

    • Yes, it’s been noted I implicated Hub in my lament of paternalism; without intent, and perhaps unfairly. The focus of my post being the public sector, creative community action-takers, and the dysfunctional relationship between them we’ve seen play out in the Hub announcement. Though Hub have of course been the hub of the whole affair, and have played their part in the narrative the same way the rest of us have.

      I’ve always maintained a good relationship with Hub (here and in Melbourne) and always happy to work with them when the time is right. Especially where we might bring closer together Hub and those that have been unfortunately alienated in the process of its initiation.

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