The Intelligence Service connects people to break down barriers to better thinking. It meets, it publishes, it builds better communities and ways for problem-solving.


Technology and building stronger communities

Technology and building stronger communities

We've never had more ways to connect with each other, have our say and 'join the conversation'. But sometimes it feels like we're further apart as citizens than ever before in our history. 1 in 4 Australians are affected by loneliness, volunteering numbers have plateaued and self-interest is as pervasive as the selfie. We called in field agents from government, startups and the community to ask 'How might we use technology to foster connection, draw people out of their homes and into public life?' 
 

Where to start?

Too often those that can address a problem are worlds apart. We wanted to answer the question: what would happen if those who represent the greatest number of people and those with the greatest ideas to help people worked together on a problem? The Intelligence Service is an intervention designed to find better answers to our biggest civic challenges. We removed participants expectations along with their identity, and asked them to focus on the problem and how we might think better about it.

All ‘agents’ completed a Field Report with their knowledge of how governments and startups work and work together. They then completed a Mind Swap, an activity that creates empathy through placing each participant in their counterparts’ shoes. Finally agents were divided into three teams to address the relationship between Victorians and technology. Stimulus for the final sessions include recent reports, data and stories from Victorians on the topic.

 
 
“Our understanding of why loneliness is so prevalent shows exactly how we are so capable to fix it.”
— Agent Birdwatcher
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The evidence

“Internet and social media engagement exacerbates feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.” People rarely relate intimate tales of misery and isolation on Facebook. Rather, social media postings typically feature fun and friendship, and people who lack them are likely to feel left out and bereft. Electronic communications often replace personal, face-to-face interactions and the subtle signals of distress and messages of warmth and caring such interactions can convey.” - The New York Times

“Technology means we are communicating differently. Used in excess, it may well provoke loneliness by replacing meaningful, tangible relationships with virtual interactions. But for those who find themselves socially isolated, it can provide an invaluable link to family, friends and the wider world around them. What we need are solutions that can tackle the reasons people become socially isolated or lonely – things such as decline in physical or mental health, reduced mobility, bereavement, family living at a distance, reduced social networks, perceived lack of social support low participation in social activities.” - The Guardian

“Australians have made enormous progress in thinking about how to make cities more productive and sustainable. Yet we lag behind in understanding what makes a social city – a city that helps to connect us with other people. Humans are social animals: relationships are critical to our wellbeing. A lack of social connection leads to loneliness and isolation, experiences far more harmful than previously realised. There are worrying signs that isolation and loneliness are increasing in Australia. Data shows that people’s friendships and neighbourhood connections have diminished over the past two decades. Our changing population means these trends could get worse.” - Grattan Institute

“We are critical when digital services replace human interactions - when that one trip to the post office for a lonely person is replaced - should we ask where are the other 99 interactions that person could be having?”
— Agent Beaumont
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Agent observations

While agents are working intently across their sector to improve, connect and grow communities it is no small task to apply technology to change at scale for this idea and the interrelated themes. We asked the question: How might we use technology to foster connection, draw people out of their homes and into public life? As their training dictated, they began to break down this challenge and address smaller issue connected to the question. Observations from the mission included:

  • Technology is a small cog in a big machine. It needs to work with other efforts to create the outcome we seek.

  • The built environment is a big contributor to how we interact and form communities. How can we marry the physical and digital infrastructure to serve us better here?

  • Being un-busy is The New Black. Checking out, switching off and smelling the roses is almost a revelation after being deeply involved in screen-time.

  • Several agents remembered life before we became so deeply involved in the ‘Net. They saw an opportunity to teach the youngest generations how to balance their deep involvement online with other acts and pursuits.

  • In looking at peaceful upheaval throughout history, an example by a person or persons is often critical to create a spark that others respond to. Who is our Ghandi or Milano for throwing off our social media masters?

  • It is not easy for all of us to take an active role in exercising our political point of view around community. Can we make it easier for people affected by financial stress, geography or disability to join in?

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What could be done?

How can we better create strong communities? The mission concluded with agents putting their heads together to discuss ways forward. The recording devices picked up:

  • Could we open up our government offices for use by citizens and groups of all kinds? It’s an easy way to use space we already have.

  • Could a quiet revolution toward better time together start with our own family, friends and partners?

  • We can claim back our own reflective space for our own health, creativity and resource and to be more available for good community-building.

  • We become used to the control and utility in services and products that may hinder or prevent our chances to connect with one another. If service and product providers won’t design in time away, how can we take it back ourselves?

  • By giving up some of our private space today for work (driving, our homes) the line between private and public is increasingly blurry. Can we create a clearer divide?

 
“Technology should be the connector - not the outcome.”
— Agent Waxchip
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Mission Team

 
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AGENT BEAUMONT

Is creating new services and ways to better connect citizens and organisations.


AGENT FOOTNOTE

Is creating better cities for citizens from within government.

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AGENT MEDLEY

Is reimagining how the digital landscape works in cities from within government.

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AGENT ORION

It’s classified.

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AGENT SPORTCOAT

Works to educate and inspire our next generation of designers and thinkers. Expert in Argyle methodology.

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AGENT BIRDWATCHER

Is applying the maths and science of how we live in the built environment.

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AGENT HAYSTACK

Is actually a hologram, lives deep inside the web mostly as a recipe for machine learning.


AGENT MILESTONE

Is shaping the next generation of products for citizens in the private sector.

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AGENT SENTINEL

Is helping to build healthier, happier communities from inside government.

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AGENT ULYSSES

Is creating new services and ways to better connect citizens and organisations.

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AGENT WAXCHIP

Connects people to communities for the benefit of all.

 
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AGENT CLOUDBREAK

Is a travel startup founder changing how we get around and connect with others.

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AGENT HOLT

Is helping citizens make the move to owning their home and living closer together with others.


AGENT OLYMPUS

Is working to build healthier, stronger communities from inside government.

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AGENT SOUTHWIND

Is a startup founder building better software for all.


AGENT WATCHTICK

Was a double agent for another service.

Technology and the political process in Australia

Technology and the political process in Australia