Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Next Big Question

For an organisation dedicated to research, especially research oriented to contemporary policy issues, a key issue is always to identify the researchable question(s), to ensure that our efforts add to the sum of human knowledge rather than the chorus of opinion that swirls around the big issues of the day. Many of our workshops are directed to that end – we identify an issue that we think is important, and convene a meeting of high level thinkers, some with expertise directly relevant to the subject matter, others from other domains whom we think would make a contribution, and ask these people to help us to frame the researchable question.

We think that it is equally important to ask the nation’s leading thinkers to help us to switch on the over-the-horizon radar and think about what the really big questions might be in the years ahead, and last year we formalised this as an Australia 21 project, one to which we could invite leading thinkers to make an attributable contribution, but to which we could invite any of our fellow Australians to make a contribution.

To that end, Australia21 has created a global on-line space for eminent Australians to ask the questions designed to create a new conversation about the future. This project is led by Australia 21 Executive Officer Dr Lynne Reeder, and Australia 21 Director Deb Lavis.

The project’s formal launch, in April 2009, brought together Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty; Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Penny Sackett; and former Australian of the Year and Child Advocate Professor Fiona Stanley, who asked their next big question, identified its importance and outlined its implications for Australia’s future.

The two-year project was officially launched in Canberra by Professor Frank Fenner, who played a major role in overseeing the eradication of smallpox from the world. It also featured a question by a young Australian National University student, Tom Sloan.

In addition to the online questions in either video or audio format — events are also being held. They provide opportunities for asking the next big question on topics such as social inclusion, corporate social responsibility and food safety in a time of climate change.

The questions are captured on the Australia21 website here,  which is designed to facilitate the interactive nature of the project — inviting all Australians to submit what they consider to be the next big question.

To date questions have been asked on climate change, human rights, population levels, governance arrangements, health measures, social inclusion, participation of young people, new economic systems and others.

The questions are being analysed in a report which will be released every six months over the two years of this project. The analysis will seek to determine the trends and identify the major questions that need to be addressed to create an enhanced future.

Over the next eighteen months other distinguished Australians in all discipline areaswill be asking what they consider to be thenext big question. The specific goals of this project are:

-  To inquire into ground-breaking and visionary questions to ensure Australia remains capable of addressing its long term sustainability

-  To make an exceptional contribution to the essential thinking and responses to the unprecedented challenges facing Australia in the world of today

-  To access insightful thinking and applications to influence broader industry planning and government policy 

-  To engage Australians in a conversation to identify new thinking around the challenges facing our long-term future.

A major launch of the final report will take place to coincide with Australia21’s 10 year anniversary in March 2011.

If you would like to submit your next big question — please do so here.

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