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 the political process in Australia

Technology and the political process in Australia

Australians have always had a healthy suspicion of the political process and parliamentary democracy. It's (now) the blood sport we love to hate. But have we reached an inflection point, with technology ready to deliver the truly representative governance we seek? We called in field agents from government, startups and the community to ask 'How might we use technology to remove barriers to entry in the political process?' 


60% believe government is for the few.

Between 2006 and 2016 belief by Australians that ‘government is run for a few big interests’ grew from under 40% to almost 60%.



The mis-record rate for the first internet voting trial (NSW, 2011) was about the same as the lost vote count for some recent State elections.

Asking better questions

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 in to two 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.

“We can come up with cool tech solutions, but is that what we want to have a representative system or a pluralistic system? The question should be: What are we trying to build?”
— Agent Deacon

The evidence

Australia’s political institutions are generally robust, but many of the “risk factors” for policy capture [and rent seeking] by special interests are present in our system. Political parties are heavily reliant on major donors, money can buy access, relationships and political connections, and there’s a lack of transparency in dealings between policymakers and special interests.
— The Grattan Institute

The familiarity that many Indigenous young people have over modern technology is reported as giving them a sense of fearlessness and control when approaching the use of new platforms. Uptake and access to mobile devices and the Internet has led to widespread use of social media among many Indigenous youth, providing an opportunity for them to participate and communicate in new ways. The availability of satellite rather than the previous and rudimentary dial-up connections has allowed Internet and mobile phone services to reach even remote areas in Australia.
— U.S. National Library of Medicine

The civic experience of interacting with analogue voting interfaces is as Australian as the democracy sausage. Voters are confronted with tiny pencils, plus physical security measures that involve huddling in a cardboard booth and origami-scale folding. The use of paper ballots – and human counting of those ballots – creates one of the most secure electoral systems imaginable. And the Australian tradition provides another sometimes under-recognised component of electoral security: compulsory voting. This practice secures against the voter suppression tactics used to undermine elections in the United States. In the digital era, smartphones are so prevalent that it might seem tempting to move to voting online. In 2013 the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) explored internet voting. But cyber security experts say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
— The Conversation

“The problem is, I feel a disconnect when I’m at an event and people are saying ‘we’ll just use technology in the right way and solve all of society’s problems’. In the government sphere and civic sphere it’s often not as straight forward as that.”
— Agent Deacon

Agent observations

A natural tension between the Australian ‘Washminster’ system of parliamentary democracy and new thinking around genuine participatory democracy was immediately clear. TIS agents in the field are deeply embedded in both. The recent US government shutdown and the ongoing fallout from Brexit for the May government coloured the group’s opinions as it does in the wider community. We considered the question: 'How might we use technology to remove barriers to entry in the political process?' Observations from the session included:

  • Democracy is not the electoral process: if technology was to create better participation and outcomes we need to be clear about where to involve it.

  • As well as the political process, there needs to be attempts at changing the machinery of government; the public service and improve the collaboration, efficiency and transparency of the system.

  • In the government sphere and civic sphere it’s often not as straight forward as that (new tech = solution). We can come up with cool tech and use blockchain and put an app in everyone’s hands and they can press a button to vote, but is that what we want to have a representative system or a pluralistic system?

  • Would a bill of rights help to create consensus on what we need and receive from democratic representation and therefore how technology can serve this?

  • Regardless of what systems are in place or what technology is in place, politics and the electoral system really boils down to humans and human behaviour.


What could be done

How can we better work together then? The mission concluded with agents putting their heads together to discuss ways forward. Post mission interviews one-to-one also provided insight into better collaboration. The recording devices picked up:

  • What are we trying to build? If we can make a start there the tech solutions will follow.

  • Could we use technology to visualise spending and policies in our daily life. A layer over what we see in our daily lives, where spending goes etc.

  • A platform that shows live real time disclosure of all donations would be interesting. Full transparency. It also holds representatives to account on their spending.

  • It would be nice to see that relationship go beyond just how to get the best grants or how to know the right people. It would be nice if startups could be used in a way to help government create the change they’re looking to create.

  • Working on a solution that’s open to, captures and represents diverse opinions and perspectives is critical. The way micro-parties represent diversity is not ideal.

“It’s not just about what cool tech you can use but how can you help use technology potentially to help humans make great decisions for the best of their community.”
— Agent Kittyhawk

Mission Team



Runs a civic tech platform solving how we influence the law in our community.



Works with the next generation of entrepreneurs through an international education program.


Is reforming how government thinks about service delivery for citizens.



Runs a platform that puts democracy back in the hands of citizens around the world.


Internal Operatives



Finding the best in everyone who steps forward and helping apply it.



Documenting and analysing our progress as a service for others.


Searching for consensus among those that can bring the most change.



Operative working to design better solutions for government and startups.


Operative working to design better solutions for government and startups.



Coordinating startups and government for the betterment of civilisation.

Technology and building stronger communities

Technology and building stronger communities

Technology and Victorians facing economic disadvantage

Technology and Victorians facing economic disadvantage