APS Fellow and former APS Director of Social Issues Professor Ann Sanson was a participant in the Australia 2020 Summit, an initiative of the new Federal Government aimed at harnessing the best ideas for building a modern Australia ready for the challenges of the 21st century. InPsych interviewed Ann on her return from the weekend event in April.
I was nominated by Young Media Australia (YMA), which has a long history of advocacy for better quality in all children's media. But along with many participants at the Summit, I was wearing multiple hats, and tried to represent all those with concerns about the wellbeing of children and youth today. This reflects my current work as Network Coordinator for the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY). Interestingly, the word ‘children' didn't appear in the titles of any Summit streams, but ‘Strengthening Communities, Stronger Families and Social Inclusion' fitted my interests in children's development in their societal, community and family contexts.
For me, optimism and egalitarianism were dominant. It was exhilarating to be talking about and valuing big ideas for the future. Our name tags simply had first and last names with no indicators of ‘status', and this was reflected in our interactions. Within any 15 minutes, you might find yourself chatting to a farmer, a Minister, a housewife and the CEO of a major business. And in our stream at least, all these voices were given equal attention. Many of us feared that we would have just a few minutes to communicate everything we cared about, but this wasn't at all true. As we moved from one small group to another, there were plenty of opportunities to listen and contribute.
One limitation was the lack of opportunity for interaction between streams. For the ‘big' issues we were talking about, whole-of-government approaches and integrated solutions were often critical - but the ‘streams' structure effectively kept us in silos (even if there was an amazing cross-section of people within each stream).
The ideas generated on Saturday were somewhat watered down in the reports written overnight, and we staged a nearrebellion on Sunday morning. This was largely successful in recapturing the richness and strength of the ideas, but the experience reminded us that all the ideas will be reshaped and revised before they appear as policy, and this may be a bit disappointing.
I found it encouraging that almost all streams identified the need to focus on children and youth as the adults/workers/parents/ leaders of 2020. For example, the ‘Productivity' stream argued for a focus on human capital through early childhood development and world-class education; and priority themes in the ‘Indigenous' stream included a focus on children and their families, and on early intervention and prevention.
I took great pride and pleasure in the representatives from the Youth Summit, in particular a couple of young Muslim women (children of refugees) who were articulate, clear-thinking and impassioned. In fact, I found it a bit confronting that they should be so wise - I thought wisdom was one of the few rewards for grey hair and wrinkles! Their optimism, especially their sense that their generation will do much better than ours at respecting and accepting those from different backgrounds, was heartening.
The role of strong and inclusive communities was recognised as central to achieving many of the goals we set. Our stream argued that social inclusion is just as important as a strong economy and a healthy environment, and called for better measures and indicators of community and social wellbeing to supplement the economic indicators of ‘progress'. The chance to interact with such a diverse set of people from the community sector reminded me that there is much to learn about what works ‘on the ground', and that we as psychologists can contribute and benefit greatly from partnerships with the sector.
Well, I have to say that as a profession, psychology wasn't very visible at the Summit. But I think the Summit had some clear messages for us. One is the shift in emphasis from treatment and cure to prevention and early intervention. For example, the first ambition of the ‘Health' stream was to "have a system more focused on prevention", and early intervention and prevention was one of the ‘big policy ideas' from my stream. I don't think that there has been full recognition of the radical implications of taking this change in emphasis seriously, for policy, funding and service provision. Perhaps we should be preparing ourselves to be more involved in primary prevention, which often entails a public health, community-based approach, with less focus on treatment.
‘Collaboration' and ‘partnership' were two of the most common words at the Summit. It seems to me that working in isolation within the comfort of one's own discipline and institution is becoming increasingly outmoded, and that as psychologists we need to be more open to working in collaboration with those from other sectors and disciplines. In terms of knowledge translation, working together with people from the policy and community sectors makes it much easier to get our message across than writing scientific tomes for publication in journals.
Thanks to Heather Gridley for conducting this interview.