What's ahead for the 2022 agenda

Highlights from Sydney Ideas

For the first Sydney Ideas event of 2022, we asked some of the University of Sydney’s leading thinkers to share their thoughts on what’s on the horizon for 2022. It’s a conversation Sydney Ideas will continue to have throughout the year.

Host, Fenella Kernebone reflected on how the pandemic has highlighted the fractures in our society and our system before posing the question: ‘What can we learn so we can see a better shift at the other side of this year?

Director of Sydney Business Insights at the Sydney Business School and host of the Unlearn Project podcast, Dr Sandra Peter is focusing on unlearning about the role artificial intelligence in the workplace.

‘Our research shows in many industries artificial intelligence and the use of algorithms can leave workers worse off as the quality of their work declines,’ she said, ‘In all industries we were seeing the same thing – automation of cognitive work leads to a decrease in quality.’

Dr Peter’s urged the audience to join the Unlearn Project and her take on 2022 is ‘Robots are coming to make your job much harder.’

Associate Professor Melody Ding from the Faculty of Medicine and Health, reflected on how drastically modifying our behaviour to preserve our physical health over the past two years of the pandemic has challenged our mental and social health.

‘COVID has caused distractions to the way we live, the way we eat, and the way that we exercise, but in the same way it has also presented some unique opportunities,’ she said, citing the way people adapted by learning to cook and bake, learning new ways to communicate and exercise, and for the rest of 2022, she’s eager to observe how these changes evolve.

‘How do these distractions and new opportunities play out in terms of moving forward and trying to thrive as a human species to really build up our three pillars of health again in terms of physical, mental and social health? I’ll be keenly observing in 2022.’

Dr Arianna Brambilla from the School of Architecture, Design and Planning and Co-Chair of the Building Efficiencies Smart Sustainable Building Network reminded the audience that climate change is real and that buildings are responsible for more than one quarter of the energy resource depletion as well as the carbon emissions responsible for climate change. And climate change impacts vulnerable communities – such as remote Indigenous communities – much more than affluent ones.

‘We need buildings and the built environment to go beyond zero impacts and move toward being enablers of a healthier and more sustainable future for all,’ she said.

Dr Brambilla’s challenge for 2022 will be ‘To understand how this discussion can and should involve vulnerable communities to not make a healthy indoor environment a luxury only a few can afford,’ she said. She also acknowledged the importance of collaboration in the process. ‘Collaboration and looking at the broader picture rather than focusing on ourselves.’

Dr Arunima Malik from the Faculty of Science and Sydney Business School declared that her priorities for 2022 are to look at how sustainability supply chain assessments can be integrated into policy making and business practices. She hopes that the tools developed at the University of Sydney and the models she is working on will help to identify hotspots of impact.

‘My key priority for 2022 is to really see how these tools and methodologies that we have been developing can be integrated into policy making and with business.’

Dr Malik also emphasised the need for action: ‘Quantification is the thing, but it’s action that’s really needed now,’ she said.

Sydney Policy Lab’s Jananie Janarthana believes that, as an election year, 2022 presents an opportunity for campaigners and organisers to push public discourse toward a bolder future for our nation. She hopes the election will drive up the impetus to talk about what the international labour movement call the care economy – paid care, unpaid care, and investment in the care sector – a sector with particular impact on the lives of women.

‘We are all community members, and it is within our remit to hold politicians and policy makers to account through collective action,’ she said, ‘We all have the capacity to be social change makers and we have to own that power!’

Sydney Ideas will be catching up with our guests throughout the year to find out just how their takes on 2022 are shaping up.

To find out more, watch the full event or listen to the podcast from Sydney Ideas here.

Article by Susanna Smith for Sydney Ideas