Technological innovation is transforming human society fundamentally. It has already reshaped the ways people think about vulnerabilities and disadvantages. It has brought new challenges to policy makers as well as opportunities. The potentials of technological innovations to change the goals, issues and approaches to social policy is understudied. Filling in the gap requires social policy researchers to team up with industry partners to identify needs and tackle them with the help of innovation.

On February 8 and 9, 2018, the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) at UNSW Sydney organised a series of events to bring together scholars and practitioners from Australia and from China to exchange ideas about their understandings, practices and views toward the connection between technological innovation. The events are funded by the Australian Government through the Australian China Council (ACC) of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

On the February 8, the Chinese visitors from Youchange Foundation, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and China Association for Promotion of Private Sci-Tech Enterprises visited Michael Crouch Innovation Centre and the Torch Innovation Precinct at UNSW. The visitors exchanged ideas with UNSW staff and students regarding how to make technological innovation socially relevant and the prospective collaborations between China and Australia.

On the February 9, a one-day workshop was organised on Technological Innovation and Social Policy. The event was introduced by Professor Carla Treloar, Director of SPRC, UNSW and opened by Alopi Latukefu, Director, East Asia Engagement Unit, East Asia Branch, DFAT, Australia, Harold Weldon, Board Member, Australia-China Council, DFAT, Australia and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) Laurie Pearcey, UNSW.

It brought in scholars from Australian universities including UNSW, University of Queensland, Australian National University, Dementia Australia, and Chinese Scholars from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China East Normal University, Inner Mongolia Normal University.

The topics covered three main themes:

  1. Big data and public policy and policy implementation (Professor Janet Chan, Law, UNSW, Professor Ilan Katz, SPRC, UNSW and Professor Paul Henmen, School of Social Sciences, University of Queensland)
  2. Technological innovation and employment (Professor Peter Whiteford, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU and Associate Professor Bingqin Li, SPRC, UNSW)
  3. Application of technology in old age care, e-commerce in poverty reduction, digital technology in urban planning and social innovations (Dr Tanya Petrovich, Alzheimer's Australia, VIC, Hui Ling, Secretary General, Youchange Foundation, China, Associate Professor Catherine Bridge, Built & Environment, UNSW, Professor Dian Yang, Sociology Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

The events helped to show case some of the cutting-edge research and practices in Australia and China. Several themes emerged from the discussions:

  1. How to balance the potential to use big data to provide public goods and services more efficiently and the risks of losing civil liberty and unequal treatment of the disadvantaged?
  2. Are the new technologies as effective in creating new jobs or replacing humans as we think?
  3. In what ways new technologies can be used to tackle some of the major social challenges, such as aging and poverty in remote areas?
  4. Can new technology be used to improve democratic decision making?
  5. In what ways technological innovations may be linked to social innovations.

While there are no clear answers to these questions, the workshop became a good opportunity for people from different domains, crossing the boundaries of disciplines, professions and country borders to learn from each other and express different views.

Other workshop participants included: Mingxuan Chen, Vice President of China Association for Promotion of Private Sci-Tech Enterprises; Associate Professor Xiaoyuan Shang, SPRC, UNSW; Associate Professor kylie valentine, SRPC, UNSW; Dr Yuvisthi Naidoo, SPRC, UNSW; Associate Professor Lijie Fang, Social Policy Research Centre, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, UNSW; Professor Dan He, East China Normal University; Mr Lei Yu, Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, Visiting Scholar at UNSW; Shilan Krishnan, East Asia Engagement Unit, East Asia Branch, DFAT, Australia; Associate Professor Yelu Dong, Inner Mongolia Normal University, China; Dr Qian Fang, SPRC, UNSW; Ming Deng, Service Level Manager, Strategic Accounts, Telstra Enterprise.