Friday, 29 April 2016

Curiosity and the wicked problems of international development

Access to clean water in communities can often be a wicked problem.  Photo: courtesy of

Finding solutions to big problems can be crippling. Kent Goldsworthy compels development professionals to embrace their curiosity and let it guide their contribution in the world.   

Even if we don’t immediately recognise wicked problems, we do actually come across them all the time, and we more or less successfully negotiate them as we make our way through daily life. 

Sometimes in our efforts to do something as grand as make the world a better place, when we are challenged by wicked problems we risk becoming paralysed, throwing-up our hands and giving-up.

“A trait of a wicked problem is particularly confronting - that in solving one problem, it’s very likely that another problem created, or an existing one exacerbated. 

When it comes to development problems, very often our experience reveals that an issue like extreme poverty, maternal health, access to education, environmental degradation, gender equality, cultural justice, or workers’ rights are very, very wicked problems indeed. 

People who are attracted to engage with these issues often do so with an accompanying search for ‘the solution’ to the world’s ‘problems’.

I’ve been no different. For students, this often means undertaking programs or courses to hear and learn something that resembles the answer to questions like ‘how can we (I) end extreme poverty?’ 

Should we who have the social, political, cultural and economic resources to ‘help’, do so with equal or differential attention to, for example, the causes of poverty or the consequences of it? 

And how can we stay committed to righting the world, but not be repeatedly discouraged by constant reminders that there is almost certainly no magic bullet answer to the problems we want to solve? 

We need a strategy to navigate wicked problems. 

In thinking about an approach that might provide some kind of answer I take my lead from a claim attributed to novelist, essayist, and short story writer E.M. Forster who proposed four key characteristics of the humanist: curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race. 

Are you finding this article interesting? Find out how you can channel your curiosity to make an impact in the world with RMIT’s Master of International Development

Whilst all four seem to be useful values to hold by in addressing wicked problems in International Development, I will now just focus briefly on curiosity. 

I like to think of a pro-active, energetic type of curiosity, and not an ‘idle curiosity’ which might flit into and out of our consciousness. 

If we’re curious in this more profound way, and use that curiosity as motivation in intervening in the problems of magnitude we perceive in the world, we may then see the ‘wicked’ as an invitation to an important challenge, not as a wicked ‘evil’ to avoid. 

True curiosity doesn’t assume there will be an answer, at least not a perfect one. Curiosity makes the pursuit of solutions a reward in itself. Perhaps because wicked problems have no perfect solution, curiosity in the face of a wicked problem will never be satiated.

If it’s true that the more we know, the more we know we don’t know, then curiosity can lead us to a wiser attitude towards wicked problems. 

It should be ok to not be in possession or even in pursuit of the solution. It can lead us to ask not ‘What is the solution?’, but perhaps instead, ‘What will my contribution be?’

Written by Kent Goldsworthy

Kent Goldsworthy is an international development lecturer and volunteer tourism expert. Kent teaches in the Master of International Development and is currently completing his PhD at RMIT.  

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Which creek? Got a paddle?

Image via iStock
by RMIT's Entrepreneur in Residence, Marcus Powe

Where do ideas come from? Why do some turn out to be wonderful opportunities but others remain great ideas and never go anywhere?

There are too many ideas, so how on earth do you pick the right one?

The challenge is often how these great ideas connect to people, markets, technologies, communities and societies to become opportunities. The first step is creativity. Adults have in many cases forgotten their creative skills, how to play with ideas, connect ideas and dream. Creativity is simply making connections others can’t – could these connections be your advantage? You cannot make these connections unless you take off your blinkers.

You have permission to play! Oh no, that’s not professional.

Play with your ideas, thoughts and imagination. Mix things up to get different results. But make sure that you learn from your and others’ mistakes. Too many people take the traditional narrow approach to business, the way it has always been, to achieve results. Entrepreneurs (or, if inside an organisation, intrapreneurs) have the enterprising mindset and ability to remove their blinkers so they see many opportunities. Did you know that if you are physically tired, creativity is not going to happen, if you are emotionally exhausted, it’s even worse; the blinkers are well and truly closed?

Rest. I dare you to stop being busy.

If you are refreshed, only then can you ‘see’ and use the Tools of Innovation. The tools will help you as an entrepreneur decide which idea to invest in and when and how it should be developed, adjusted, accelerated or held back. The tool kit developed will give you the ability to adjust your idea, business or organisation to help maximise its potential.

There are so many ways of growing opportunities; so many models, theories, rules, strategies and tactics – how do you have the time to remember them? What should you do first? In answer to this I have developed a very simple list called the Cascade. When you are challenged with the pace, turbulence and even the chaos of creating, developing and delivering opportunities, I envisage the Cascade will help prevent you from looking back if something goes wrong and saying, ‘How could I have forgotten that?’ Going with the flow or May the forces be with you!

The power, simplicity and advantage of the Cascade can be used for all businesses, not for profit, communities, small, medium, large, clubs and societies. I have developed and used it for over 30 years.

It works.

I have found that people learning about business, innovation, marketing, entrepreneurship and strategy had learned many business models. But these models were always taught in isolation – meaning that people could never see how the models influenced one another, or connections between the models.

The models were generally taught with academic, not real-world, situations in mind. Once people had learned the models, they would go out into the market and realise that they had no idea why or when they should actually use them – the ‘so what?’ of the models. It was like they were taught how to put a car together, but never how to drive it.

The Cascade follows the idea of getting into a raft at the head of a river rather than the end. This river trickles down over a series of nice gentle steps, slowly and easily getting you to your final destination. Have you ever tried to paddle upstream? Going with the current is easier and smarter.

I like the idea of minimum effort for maximum results, and the power of simplicity over complexity.

Got a paddle?

Friday, 22 April 2016

The real cost of Telstra's backflip on marriage equality

Adelaide, Australia - May 12th, 2012: Two people holding signs at the front of a rally to support gay marriage. Image via iStock
Raymond Trau, RMIT University and Bo Shao, UNSW Australia

Many major companies supporting marriage equality recently have been under pressure as the Catholic Church requested them to retreat from this campaign.

Last week, Telstra appeared to fold to this pressure by retreating from its publicly supportive stance, only to renew its “active position” following public backlash from the public and its customers.
The Catholic church reportedly had warned corporations which supported last year’s Australian Marriage Equality campaign that they risked religious organisations cancelling contracts.

Such pressure from large institutional customers puts participating organisations in a difficult position of weighing up pursuing objectives of being a good corporate citizen against the potential of losing large corporate customers.

Resisting pressure from the Catholic Church does not have a big impact on the bottom line - however, as Telstra discovered, bowing to this pressure can cost businesses dearly.

Why do companies support marriage equality?

There are a number of reasons why companies take an active role in influencing social issues in the community (such as climate change, gender equality and marriage equality), even though they have the potential to create tensions among its stakeholders.

Companies may opt to take up a corporate social responsibility (CSR) position from the perspective that businesses have moral obligations to act in a way that benefits society at large, beyond mere profit-making activities. In the context of marriage equality, showing public support positively paints the organisation as socially progressive valuing diversity, inclusion and equality.

From an economic perspective, companies that signal their business is socially responsible win kudos among customers, employees and investors that place importance on social issues.

Engaging in CSR is not always a question of should or should not; sometimes it is influenced by societal demand or pressure from diverging groups in our society. Taking stock of their positions and ideologies helps to deal with their influence and tactics, minimising any backlash and other negative consequences for the business.

Do the moral and economic arguments of Catholic Church stand?

The Catholic Church employed both moral and economic arguments in putting pressure over companies’ support of marriage equality.

Over the course of the marriage equality debate, the Catholic Church stated that it is willing to engage in a respectful debate. However, preventing companies from participating in this marriage equality campaign raises the concern if the church shows respect for all points of view of those engaged in this debate.

The argument from the church that corporations “overstep their purpose” is a weak one. Florian Wettstein argues that corporate obligations are not merely to respect human rights, but include proactive company involvement in the protection and realisation of human rights. From this perspective, it is companies’ moral obligation to respect and proactively support marriage equality. Support from corporations is crucial in minimising the potential detrimental impacts on LGBTIQ community brought from a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

And then there was an economic pressure from the Catholic Church that it could withdraw business from participating companies. Most businesses are well aware that their profit from the general public outweighs those from the church, and supporting marriage equality provides both symbolic and material gains. For example, recently research has indicated that support for diversity and equality issues is associated with increased sales revenue, greater market share, higher profits, increased attractiveness as a employer, higher retention and more engaged workforce.

Losing public trust

So withdrawing support for marriage equality can prompt a community backlash, and loss of customers and talented employees, particularly when 72% of Australians, and 67% of Catholics support marriage equality.

Such a zigzag approach Telstra has taken shows the risk of companies using social issues in a self-serving or opportunistic way, rather than as a base for its moral and social obligations. Telstra now faces the loss of trust from the public and potentially their own workforce as a result.

It is clear that from both moral and economic perspectives, companies’ stance on continuing support for marriage equality is legitimate. Compromising their stance, on other hand, is where the real cost lies.

The Conversation
Raymond Trau, Lecturer, RMIT University and Bo Shao, PhD Candidate, UNSW Australia
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

New relaxed drone regulations will help the industry take off

Reece Clothier, RMIT University and Jonathan Roberts, Queensland University of Technology
The Australian drone industry is set for a shake up following the announcement of a long-awaited relaxation of regulations on their operation.

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) says the amended regulations will come into effect in late September 2016, and with them comes the introduction of new categories of what are known as remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).

The regulations define new low-risk commercial RPAS operations, which will allow operators of sub-2kg craft to fly without the need for an approval or licence.

A drone must be operated in daytime and within visual line of sight of the remote pilot to be classified as low risk. It must not be flown over populous areas and must be kept at least 30 metres from other people.

The drone cannot be flown greater than 130m above ground and it must not be flown within 5.5km of a controlled airport.

Commercial operators in this new category will have to register their operations with CASA on a yet-to-be live website.

Relaxed regulations will also apply to private owners of RPAS of up to 150kg. This is provided they only fly their drone over their private property and they do not operate their aircraft for direct commercial reward.

Why the change?

In 2002, CASA was the first in the world to regulate the operation of drones.

The regulations, contained in Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulation (CASR 1998), were long considered ground breaking. Much of the success of the Australian unmanned aircraft industry is owed to the flexible approach outlined in the regulations.

In 2007, there were fewer than 25 certified drone operators in Australia. By March 30, 2016, this number had grown to 500, with most operating small multi-rotor RPAS.

But with this rapid growth came the increasing need for regulatory reform. CASA recognised that the regulations needed to keep pace with increasingly capable technology, and the changing operational needs of the sector.

It also realised that processing an ever increasing number of regulatory applications was not sustainable.

Welcome news

The new changes will significantly reshape the drone industry.

Operators already licensed by CASA are expected to face increased competition from the new sub-2kg RPAS operators. These new operators will be able to provide equivalent aerial photography and inspection services without the same regulatory overhead.

Similarly, there will be an increase in the number of end-users choosing to own and operate their own internal RPAS capability instead of contracting existing RPAS service providers. Examples include the use of small inspection drones on building sites and the use of drones by tactical police units to assist them in hostage situations.

But it is not all doom and gloom for the current licensed RPAS operators. The standard operating conditions applicable to the new low-risk categories are restrictive.

Larger and more reliable drones will still be needed to carry bulky and more expensive payloads such as laser scanners, and hyper-spectral and cinema-quality cameras. These drones will still need to be operated by licensed operators.

Approval is still required for first person view (FPV) outdoor flying operations, where the remote pilot flies by means of a camera mounted on board the drone.

Similarly, autonomous drones, which operate without any input from a pilot, also require CASA approval on a case-by-case basis.

Research and educational institutions, such as universities, are also expected to benefit from the new categories, provided they operate their aircraft over their own property and in accordance with all other operational restrictions.

Previously, these institutions were subject to the same licensing requirements as commercial operators.

Hobby users

The amended regulations do not address concerns posed by the rapidly growing number of hobby drone users.

Regulations applicable to hobby or recreational users are contained in CASR 1998 Part 101.G, which is the subject of a separate CASA regulatory reform project.

There is growing concern over the risks hobby users pose to other aircraft and to members of the public. Some of these hobby users are not aware of the potential danger their drone may pose.

There have been numerous near misses of small drones with passenger aircraft in recent years. As the rate of these incidents increases, there is real concern that a drone will eventually be ingested into an aircraft engine causing catastrophic damage – or worse, an airline crash.

Others are well aware of the dangers their drones may pose to the public but they are deliberately mischievous anyway.

Education remains the only effective tool, with CASA leading a campaign to educate hobby users on the safe operation of their aircraft and the regulations that apply to them.

Without doubt, the release of the amended regulations will mark a significant milestone in the history of the Australian drone industry. They will help to sustain the safe and viable growth of the sector.
But the devil may still lie in the detail, of course, with the accompanying manual of standards yet to be released by CASA. The manual will contain more detailed requirements including those for remote pilot licences, flights in controlled airspace, and flights beyond visual line of sight of the pilot.

CASA’s exact interpretation of “Aerial Work” and “Commercial Reward” also remain unclear.
The Conversation

Reece Clothier, Senior Lecturer, RMIT University and Jonathan Roberts, Professor in Robotics, Queensland University of Technology
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.