Communities develop innovative ideas through ‘Unison’

Published 26 August 2011

phillip-thomas-bloggIdeas for innovation have begun emerging within regional communities around northern NSW, a process that is being fostered through an initiative called “Unison”.

“Unison” is bringing to regional centres a series of community workshops – called “Intentional Innovation Community Workshops” – aimed at identifying good ideas from within those communities and developing them into action.

The project is being conducted by the University of New England with funding from the NSW Department of Trade and Investment.

“It’s a novel collaboration between the communities themselves, UNE, and the State Government,” said Dr Philip Thomas (pictured here), the leader of the project, who is a Principal Research Fellow in Innovation in UNE’s School of Business, Economics and Public Policy. “Our aim is to draw innovative ideas from the wealth of knowledge and experience within communities, and to see how UNE might be able to assist in developing those ideas into action.”

Workshops have been held in Armidale, Tamworth, Moree, Narrabri and Bingara over the past two months, and there will be additional workshops this coming week in Bingara and Narrabri. The Bingara workshop will be in the Roxy Theatre at 5.30 pm on Monday 29 August, and the Narrabri workshop in the Crossing Theatre at 10.30 am on Thursday 1 September.

Another partnership that has flourished during the project is that between UNE and Penn State University (PSU) in the United States. The two universities signed an agreement at the beginning of 2010 that has seen them develop strong relationships in several areas of research and engaged scholarship – particularly in the area of the development and adoption of innovation and in several other areas of research and engaged scholarship. Professor Ted Alter and Dr Michael Fortunato from PSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences travelled to Australia to assist with the workshops – Dr Fortunato in Armidale and Tamworth, and Professor Alter in Moree, Narrabri and Bingara.

Professor Alter, who will accompany Dr Thomas to next week’s meetings in Bingara and Narrabri, said that the workshops were about “the creation, development and implementation of ideas from a community base”. “They’re bringing together the ideas of people in the community on subjects such as new technologies, new public policies, and new business initiatives,” he said.

He added that innovative ideas were already emerging, through the encouragement of the workshops, in areas such as broadband development, improved methods of service provision, and alternative means of energy generation.