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The Innovation District Network

The idea

Idea title: The Innovation District Network

One Sentence description: Local Governments designing the future with young people

Addressing topic: Social Procurement Challenge

Team members: Sarah Alexander, Bianca Orsini, Dhakshy Sooriyakumaran, Nayuka Gorrie

Provide an overview of your solution and how it solves the problem along with a short description of your inspiration behind the idea:

Complex social crises, digital disruption and decreased funding are overwhelming Local Governments. Rapid innovation is required to meet the future needs of society; to become increasingly adaptive, networked and leverage technology. Young people have a unique role to play in enabling organisational and community change through their fresh insights and perspectives.

YLab, a social enterprise of Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), is partnering with local governments to build a network of young people and councils working together across local government areas (LGAs) to solve local and regional challenges.

Councils recruit five to ten young people as casual staff (YLab Associates) who come together to learn and share ideas, knowledge, and experiences with Associates from other LGAs. They then implement local activities (e.g. youth engagement, events, program or service design) as small projects funded by council.

The goals of this network are to:

  • Build a network of young people across councils who can design and deliver innovative strategies (face to face and online) to successfully engage other young people
  • Give councils access to diverse young talent with new perspectives, bringing marginalised voices into local problem solving and strategy
  • Provide employment opportunities through council for young people to ‘get their foot in the door’ and gain the skills needed for the future of work
  • Create new opportunities for collaboration across LGAs and institutions
  • Establish a data driven approach to solving problems facing young people, with data collected locally by young people

YLab was founded by young people who felt frustrated by their lack of agency in shaping the future, and inability to influence institutional decision-making. Drawing inspiration from young changemakers within the Young Social Pioneers network (e.g. Lucinda Hartley, Marita Chen and Yassmin Abdel-Magied), YLab was created as means of rethinking how institutions engage young people.

Describe your solution in detail, providing a high-level business plan addressing how you would implement your solution:

YLab business model

YLab is a social enterprise of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA). It is a youth centred design and consulting service, bringing together diverse young talent and creating new opportunities for collaboration with institutions. YLab is building a network of young people and LGAs, who are dedicated to taking on the greatest challenges of our time.

YLab’s undertakes fee for service consulting and training projects with a range of government and corporate sector clients. For each project, a team of YLab Associates (employed directly by YLab or by partner institutions) is assembled, based on a diverse mix of skills, abilities and lived experiences. Associates are paid to undertake project work. Whilst Associates are building their portfolio of professional projects, they are also offered entry into YLab’s ‘Social change’ certification program that allows them to track professional development, access coaching and demonstrate their competency in social change work.

Local government market analysis

Since the launch of YLab in early 2015, Local Government has been a core customer segment. Their focus has been embedding new youth engagement approaches into council operations, building the capability of young leaders, and engaging diverse or hard to reach young people.

The trend towards a increased investment in sustainable and liveable ‘cities’ (e.g. Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities initiative) and place based social innovation means their are a growing number of project opportunities for YLab and its Associates.

A major gap in placed based social innovation is connectivity between LGAs within and across regions that may be facing similar challenges. YLab is uniquely positioned to play the role of convener (both online and face to face).

YLab offers Local Governments two opportunities to achieve social procurement objectives:

  • Purchase of services and membership to Innovation District Network from YLab
  • Employment outcomes for young people aged 18-30


Implementing the Innovation District Network

Task 1: Local Government recruitment

Leveraging existing FYA relationships and current YLab clients, three Local Governments will be recruited from three regions: ideally Brisbane City Council, City of Sydney, and City of Melbourne.

Task 2: Local Government Associate recruitment

YLab will support Innovation District Network members to attract and select local Associates from a diversity of backgrounds. YLab has an recruitment package that includes: position description, application questions and requirements, recruitment event run sheet and presentation, recruitment event promotional materials, assessment criteria, and welcome email. These can be customised to align with specific council requirements.

Task 3: Local Government staff training and community building

YLab will run a three day intensive workshop focused on preparing council staff (from a range of areas including youth development, arts, asset management etc.) to work with YLab Associates. The workshop includes skills in engaging with diverse young people, coaching, facilitation, codesign, and systems thinking.  Youth development professionals from council will play a mentoring role to staff who less experienced in working with young people. Trained staff will be added to The Innovation District Network slack community, which offers additional tools, resources, and information about upcoming events.

Task 4: YLab Associate training and community building

YLab will run a comprehensive training program for YLab Associates across the three LGAs that includes:

  • 1 day face to face introductory training
  • Introductory online modules that teach foundation concepts of ‘social change’ certification
  • Monthly face to face masterclasses on social change, systems thinking, codesign, entrepreneurship etc.
  • Access to coaching by subject matter experts and peers
  • Invitation to annual unconference, a two day event where all Associates facilitate sessions and discussions
  • Access to online slack community

Participating LGAs will also offer a dedicated local ‘coworking’ space for YLab Associates.

Task 5: Codesign of local social innovation projects

YLab will deliver a series of four half-day workshops to equip YLab Associates and council staff to lead the co-design of local projects in their community. The three workshops include:

  • Workshop 1 - Explore: Tools and methods for gathering data and information about local issues and challenges, including practicing the application of these methods in real life to start to identify and define priority problems.
  • Workshop 2 - Imagine: Deep dive into the ideation process to develop a list of creative solutions in response to priority problems, including tools for consensus decision making processes to determine which solutions to start testing.
  • Workshop 3 - Pitch: Participating Local Governments are encouraged to put forward a small fund, so that Associates can pitch for seed funding and other in kind support.
  • Workshop 4 - Execute: Tools and methods for testing and prototyping, including allocation of roles and responsibilities for delivery.

Task 6: Testing, iteration and evaluation of local social innovation projects

YLab will provide a monitoring and evaluation template and process for all projects. YLab will collate and share insights, stories, learnings across three councils every 3 months.

Outline the budget required to achieve the ambition of your idea:

Budget required to establish the Innovation District Network and implement for 12 months include the following:

  • YLab certification + access to slack community = $3750 per YLab Associate x 5 x 3 councils = $56,250
  • YLab council staff training + access to slack community = $38,500
  • Seed funding = $5,000 per council = $15,000
  • Access to physical space = in kind

Total = $109,750

Partnerships are critical for a stronger idea and delivering a solution. Who are the key stakeholders within your idea? Is your solution the result of a collaborative approach? If not, are you looking to bring other partners along:

Our solution is the result of collaborations with a number of Local Government partners and clients including:

  • Brimbank City Council
  • City of Parramatta
  • Yarra Ranges Council
  • City of Greater Dandenong
  • South Gippsland Shire Council
  • Maribyrnong City Council
  • City of Melbourne
  • City of Sydney

YLab is in discussions and negotiations with other organisations interested in supporting the Innovation District Network, with complementary networks, resources and skills including:

  • Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) - professional peak body providing member services and advocacy for those involved in public works engineering. The majority of members are engineers working in Local Governments. IPWEA may be able to leverage the Innovation District Network as part of their strategy to engage young engineers entering the profession, but also as a means to involve young professionals outside of the engineering profession to bring fresh, creative thinking to a rapidly changing discipline.



  • Talking Infrastructure (TI) - Talking Infrastructure is an association and communications platform examining the infrastructure issues for practitioners, policy makers, investors and insurers that need to be resolved as we transit from the 20th to the 21st century. TI have agreed to promote and tell stories about the Innovation District Network model to their members in Australia and internationally.


  • Central Queensland University (CQU)  


To strengthen the likelihood of success, a broad foundation of evidence is critical. What’s the evidence base that points towards your solution being a success? Is your solution addressing an unmet gap in the market:

Why young people and social innovation?

Young people today are more connected and educated than any previous generation (UNDP, 2013; UNFPA, 2014). They are inheriting complex social challenges that will require them to radically rethink the future. Young people are critical contributors to social change, but are underrepresented in decision making at all levels (Restless Development, 2015) and not properly paid for their expertise (Stewart and Owens, 2013).

Why do young people need new models for employment?

FYA’s New Work Order report series describes how a changing world of work will disrupt the way young people work and live. 70% of young people are currently training or studying for jobs that will be radically affected by technology in the future (FYA, 2017). Underemployment for young people aged 15 to 24 in Australia is currently 18%, the highest level in 40 years (Brotherhood of St Laurence, 2017).

Why lnnovation Districts?

“Innovation Districts” in central cities are emerging as alternative to the ‘Silicon Valley’ style suburban corporate campus. They are physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators. They are spaces that integrate work, housing, and recreation.

Innovation Districts drive “open innovation” through increased proximity that results in:

  • Sharing of resources, goods, and labor
  • Transfer of knowledge within and across firms, workers, and supporting institutions
  • Convergence between previously disparate disciplines

Innovation districts contain three categories of assets: economic assets (i.e. institutions that drive innovation-rich environment), physical assets (i.e. publicly and privately owned spaces), and networking assets (e.g. relationships between actors that accelerate advancement of ideas). YLab is adding networking assets by finding unique ways for young people to drive innovation, and by connecting young people and council staff across jurisdictions (Brookings, 2014).

Who are the key beneficiaries of your solution:

The key beneficiaries of the solution are:

  • Young people living in selected LGAs facing underemployment
  • Youth development professionals in council looking for ways to engage young people differently (beyond existing models of Youth Advisory Council etc)
  • Other professionals working within council (e.g. engineers) looking for ways to innovate and push boundaries in their work, and their community engagement practices
  • Local community members who experience positive outcomes of local social innovation projects

Do you have funding partners interested in your idea:

Local Governments and partners (i.e. peak bodies, universities, businesses) recruited to Innovation District Network will be required to make a financial (and in kind) contribution for this solution to proceed.

Describe your most successful experience executing a solution to a problem:

YLab has been working with Parliament of Victoria to:

  1. Better understand the views of young people (values, opportunities, challenges) to inform policy making2. Co-design ways for young people to engage with Parliament and direct policy ideas to Members of Parliament (MPs)

The overarching outcome is a contemporary, accessible, and relevant approach to Parliament’s engagement with young people (aged 18 to 30 years’ old).

Parliament plays a critical role in enabling young people to put forward their priorities, ideas, and concerns regarding Victoria’s future for real consideration in parliamentary processes. However, since 2010, studies have showed that young people are demonstrating lower levels of formal and electoral political engagement compared to older people and previous generations of young people. For instance, young people are:

  • Taking longer to (or not) enrolling to vote (various studies show that 25-50% of young people are not registered to vote)
  • Less likely to think that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government
  • Not formally aligned with any major political party (<50%)
  • More likely to have recently engaged in non-electoral activities like signing petitions, attending a demonstration, or boycotting products or services
  • Significantly more likely to have participated in political activities over the internet (e.g. visited a politician or political organisation’s website, signed an online petition)

YLab ran a series of codesign workshops across the state with young people from a diverse range of backgrounds and lived experiences, in order to develop five prototypes in response to this challenge:

  1. Disruptive online media strategy
  2. Activate diverse youth network
  3. Localised Youth Engagement Officers
  4. Youth Parliamentary Committee
  5. Real-time voting & info in public spaces

YLab Associates are now working with the Parliament of Victoria to test, evaluate and iterate these prototypes.


Idea Opened: 01:00 PM, Monday 06 November 2017
Idea Closes: 06:00 PM, Friday 03 November 2017
Time to go: Closed


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The context

Idea Opened: 01:11 PM, Monday 06 November 2017
Idea Closes: 06:11 PM, Friday 03 November 2017
Time to go: Closed

Do you want to contribute to this idea?

Idea Activity

Idea Activity


Challenges Support is now contributing to this idea The Innovation District Network


Kathy Shilvock is now contributing to this idea The Innovation District Network


Kathy Shilvock commented on the idea The Innovation District Network

This would be a successful way to bring new ideas into Council. This has synergies with our idea in that you empower the target group to influence others in that demographic. Fantastic !


Dhakshy Sooriyakumaran is now contributing to this idea The Innovation District Network

Meet the team

Dhakshy Sooriyakumaran
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Dhakshy Sooriyakumaran
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Kathy Shilvock Co -Founder
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Challenges Support Support
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