An open letter to Prime Minister Turnbull: What would research and work look like if I was in charge?

Dear Mr Turnbull,
If I was in charge of research I would always include children on the research team. Instead of talking about fresh perspectives, I would build this in to the brief. I would always have the unfettered, hopeful perspective of young people in any activity that involved innovation and future planning for the knowledge, products and services needed for the coming ages.

I would also staff my research team with at least two retired, ‘older’ or aged persons as active members of the team. We need the long view, the depth perception, the historical strength that is provided by people with a long experience of living, especially of living through different eras of challenge as well as innovation and change.

I would ALWAYS have a representative of the group, for whom the research or work is intended in the team. This would occur at the dangerous time right at the start before all the creative work was done and awaiting a comment or ‘input’ from the target persons. If it’s going to work in the real world, it has to be created by people in and from that world.

I would build in the non eight hour day as a standard for creative, innovative work. While this does to work for everyone, the alternative of hard slog for eight hours in a row certainly doesn’t work either. We have busy time, mindless time, thinking time, creative spikes and nothing time. This can be followed by periods of intensely focussed, highly productive work, and this is not necessarily recognised by current work place practices.

I would gather like-minded people to work together in organic ways. Sometimes the most productive ideas and new ways of working are generated through unscheduled meetings, through conversations that lead off in new directions between people not necessarily professionally aligned, or who may even be opposed in some way, yet who can work together to generate new solutions to the petrified thinking that prevents true innovation.

Research structures need a shakeup in a way that the social sciences can offer. New ways of thinking are needed to inject fresh perspectives into age old dilemmas, problems and situations. I would bring together new teams of people to work together and not just in tokenistic ways but in a meaningful manner that worked with the best that disciplinary knowledge has to offer.

I would head up my team with non traditional leaders who often quietly have a vision for change, a vision for the future that has not been accessed or brought to life because of stigma, insecurity and the self doubt that comes from an inability to sell oneself and one’s ideas in the way that is taken for granted by others who seem to always effortlessly succeed.

I would take a standpoint perspective and include extra women at all levels of research to redress the imbalance of productive work based inputs that women have been traditionally able to provide because of the demands of biology in bearing and raising children. There never seems to be a right time to have children as a working woman, unless you have an army of unpaid service providers to assist you or lots of money.

If I was in charge I would ensure that social scientists always had access to any institutions that house people. I would also shake our thinking up even further for example through the inclusion of poets, artists and philosophers in engineering, science and medical research. The centre often only changes because of the activities on the periphery, by the people whose work is literally edgy. That is how change comes to the centre, how the offbeat activity of twenty years ago becomes mainstream practice now. It is from the edge where new ideas are generated.

Traditional ways of working and research need to change, we have to incorporate the schisms, the criticisms and make newer, better research and work practices. What will work even look like in fifty years from now?

I have more ideas up my sleeve, but I want to give you a taster of my thinking ‘outside the box’ to show you how a really new talent pool can potentially offer truly new and fruitful ways of thinking. We can’t live in a world where it’s just jobs for the (same old) boys. Just by reading this you’ve already opened up your eyes to new ways of thinking about how to do things. And much of what I’ve said is probably not even new.

Please let me know where to send my brief.

Sincerely yours,

The Anxious Anthropologist


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