28 May 2024

'Innovation' is more than a buzzword for thriving businesses

| Morgan Kenyon
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People in a room as part of a Collab Lab

Far from traditional, these collaborative spaces are some of Canberra’s most idea-fertile environments. Photo: CBRIN.

What do Canberra’s business, academia, trade, government and social enterprise sectors have in common? It’s simple – they’re all putting smart heads together to spark innovative change.

‘Innovation’ has become a pretty common buzzword in the nation’s capital, so much so that it tends to be taken with a grain of salt.

But for local experts and decision-makers from every corner of ACT industry, government and business, true innovation is anything but a throwaway concept.

Kelly Cruz spends her days on Canberra’s innovation front line.

As collaborative innovation manager at the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN), she works to connect the dots for CBRIN’s Collab Labs, which bring together a range of skills, knowledge and opinions to work on a common problem.

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“Collab Labs bring together diverse groups of people to work on unique issues that would otherwise be difficult to solve or even openly discuss,” Kelly says.

“Our edge is filling the room with people who don’t often interact in an active way. We connect academics with business owners, MLAs with scientists, marketing specialists with field technicians, and more.”

Collab Labs range from short focus sessions with a handful of members to full multi-industry days run by multiple panels. Their focus can be internal, with different departments from the same organisation, or external with people from different organisations or industries.

This kind of collaboration introduces a respectful, neutral and flexible work environment where no one member holds more weight than another. It’s designed to stimulate creativity and stamp out bias, mixing groups carefully to include a variety of roles.

“It’s really important that everyone keeps an open mind,” Kelly says.

“Collab Labs exist to create solutions. They’re very different from traditional workshops, which tend to be more formal, led by decision-makers and filled with people in similar roles or sectors.

“We skip the hierarchy and focus wholly on meeting whatever challenge needs a solution.”

People in a room as part of a Collab Lab

Collab Labs have their fingers in a range of local pies, from corporate business to the arts, environmental to social, and everywhere in between. Photo: CBRIN.

In a recent example of success, CBRIN held ‘Accelerating Sustainable Business Practices in the ACT’ in early May, which was opened by the Minister for Water, Energy and Emissions Reduction, Shane Rattenbury.

This Lab had participants explore how businesses can collaborate with the wider Canberra community to contribute to local, national and global sustainability goals.

Topics ranged from understanding barriers and recognising great examples to draw from to identifying support gaps in the ACT and exploring new initiatives to advance adoption across the region.

“This Collab Lab was all about discussing Canberra business sustainability and working together to shape how we grow sustainable business practices throughout the territory,” Kelly says.

“It brought together 41 attendees from small and medium businesses, scientists, academics, government and consultancy. They presented a number of solutions to work towards both immediately and in the medium term.”

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Over the next 18 months, immediate actions included using social media to influence sustainable behaviour and launch eco-campaigns, reducing land tax for sustainable businesses, and establishing regular forums or ‘sustainability hubs’ to help businesses transition.

Medium-term initiatives to be implemented in the next five years included enhancing sustainability education in schools, promoting street gardening, establishing local recycling facilities, and promoting ethical supply chains.

Put together, Kelly says solutions like these can support Canberra’s development by embedding sustainability into ‘business as usual’ and provide a platform for other Australian cities to follow.

If you would like to run a Collab Lab or similar, contact CBRIN.

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