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Transforming communities and kick-starting public policy R&D

24 November 2023
The Sydney Policy Lab Strategy 2024–27
Australian policymaking is in trouble. In its new strategy, the Sydney Policy Lab is developing a research and development (R&D) model to make communities and universities a critical part of the solution.
A globe, the outline of Australia and silhouettes of Parliament House in Canberra and the Quadrangle at the University of Sydney are arranged in concentric circles as if orbiting each other

The Sydney Policy Lab has launched its 2024–2027 strategy (pdf, 6MB), focused on leadership for good.

Over the next four years, the Lab will provide a non-partisan space where communities and the academy come together to investigate and solve complex policy issues that face our world, to walk and work alongside our communities, and pave the future together.

The Lab will connect with and learn from communities as we seek to tackle complex societal problems together. As a University of Sydney body, it will give new life to the idea of the university as a public institution engaged simultaneously in the pursuit of the truth and the life of our communities.

There is enormous potential in the idea of the university as a public polity that enables the Lab to do several important things: critically reflect on its role to elevate its contributions to knowledge and society; understand and pursue innovation to increase human wellbeing; and engage in authentic and meaningful conversations with communities to help shape futures.

We see the Lab as part of an exciting project to create a new public research and development system for public policy.
Dr Kate Harrison Brennan, Director

The strategy was developed in a two-stage process run over more than a year. In the three months following Dr Kate Harrison Brennan joining as Director in August 2022, the Lab engaged in almost 100 conversations with existing collaborators to refine its approach. The result – Turning Deep Listening into a Critical Piece of Social Infrastructure: The Sydney Policy Lab and the Next Twelve Months – launched in November 2022.

Testing this approach over the last year,  the Lab gained invaluable data, feedback and insights that now inform the 2024-27 strategy.

The Sydney Policy Lab vision

Within the next five years the Sydney Policy Lab wants to be regarded as a critical piece of social infrastructure, initiating, contributing to and sustaining the sorts of relationships, conversations and collaborations required to address the challenges of our times, leverage opportunities, distil new methods and provide policy solutions that endure.

"We see the Lab making a leading contribution to the university by enabling it to play a positive role in the life of the community," said Dr Harrison Brennan.

"We see the Lab reclaiming the rightful place of universities in Australia’s public R&D system for policy solutions.

"We see our community-led, exploratory and applied approach to policy development producing robust policy solutions that will endure.

"We see our collective methods, insights and collaborative successes being distilled and adopted by others for wider public benefit.

"We see our communities and the university’s alumni, staff and leaders benefitting from the public training we collectively offer."

Action over the next four years

Handrawn figures of people working together in and between boxes shaped like speech bubbles

By the end of 2027 the Sydney Policy Lab wants to be known for:

  • helping transform the communities it works with while transforming ourselves
  • kick-starting the development of a new R&D system for public policy, led by universities
  • making a remarkable contribution across many communities and fields by reshaping the ways in which policy is developed.

The Lab will achieve this because it will:

  • bring together diverse expertise and are a trusted partner
  • engage academic leadership from across the university
  • share our methods, insights and collaborative successes with others
  • connect strongly with policy partners and philanthropists in Australia and across the world.

For each of these actions, the Strategy identifies the design questions that will drive curiosity, action and learning.

What is next?

Surrounding a line drawing of a globe are people working together depicted in interlinked circles, documents are passed between the circles

The Lab is getting on with its unique style of public policy work, seeking to become even more effective by refining its methods as it does, focusing on the Strategy's design questions. Suggestions for improvement will be warmly welcomed.

We won’t get everything right, but we won’t give up. We look forward to sharing what we learn with others in an open, fair and democratic fashion for the betterment of communities.
Dr Kate Harrison Brennan, Director

In doing so, the Sydney Policy Lab hopes to re-energise Australia’s public R&D system as well as help reconnect Australia’s universities, including the University of Sydney, with the people and communities it is honoured to serve.

The task now is to implement and learn. The Lab invites you to join in this shared endeavour.

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