"Dangerous ideas" will be on the agenda for a group discussion in Canberra next week.
It is part of a conference being run by the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) to focus attention on those who are not doing so well in this otherwise relatively wealthy city.
The organisers says the "Dangerous ideas world cafe" session will provide an opportunity for people to "generate and consider some dangerous ideas".
As one of the session's "provocateurs", Dr Gemma Carey from UNSW Canberra will challenge the participants to get out of their comfort zones.
"This is an opportunity to be quite provocative ... to challenge people about the way they work," she says.
"I think what's important about it is creating a space for people where they are comfortable to be challenged.
"I'm going to ask them to think about, if they were in the position of somebody working in a NGO or somebody working in government, what would they find hard about doing that job and vice-versa, to really try to get people to put themselves in each other's shoes."
Carey says that in her work across three sectors, she hears a lot of stereotypes about academics, public servants and non-government organisations.
"But what I actually see is a lot of people trying to work really, really hard just to make things better and they are just operating under different constraints, with different reward structures," she says.
"What I will bring to the ACTCOSS forum is this idea that if we can just understand what those constraints are that people are under, then we might be able to make more productive relationships between sectors and therefore get better policy outcomes.
"I think it says a lot that the question I've posed for the session as a dangerous idea is, put yourself in the position of a public servant, what would you find hard about doing the job ... thinking through how you implement something that's never been done before, that's incredibly complex and you've got to nut that all out.
"I think it does say a lot that that is a dangerous idea, to try to challenge people to do that – we do get segmented into our different corners in research and the community sector and government."
The Canberra academic is a director of the Power to Persuade policy forum which is growing in popularity.
"Each year we curate a program around an issue that is making people nervous or concerned and try to create a safe space for dialogue around those issues," she says.
The theme for the ACTCOSS conference is "ACT 2020: Citizen Voice, Community Vision".
Council director Susan Helyar says the theme was picked earlier in the year.
"We were watching the public debate and the community engagement in that debate which seemed to demonstrate frustration in the community, that their voices and their interests were not reflected in the mainstream discourse," she says.
"An example locally is the majority of the public debate in the lead-up to the ACT election is around light rail and rates but we know that particularly for lower income households, their primary concern is around access to secure work, access to adequate income support when they don't have work and access to housing that is affordable.
"When we were looking at the whole conversation around light rail, we were doing our analysis of the changes in costs of living and how that was impacting on transport costs and what we saw was that transport costs were a huge issue for people.
"After housing, transport and food were the biggest expenses for low income households and they were squeezing out other expenses like healthcare and extracurricular activities for children and we weren't hearing any of that in the conversation about transport development in our city."
Helyar says her organisation is staging the conference in a bid to get beyond political point-scoring.
"We want to move towards what are the key interventions that are needed by government, what are the key investments that are needed in our city that will genuinely shift inequality and genuinely improve people's opportunities for financial security and well-being," she says.
"We're hoping that by bringing together academics who've looked at how politics is practiced and how the public debate evolves, alongside people in the ACT who are engaged as commentators and as contributors to the public debate, with people who are delivering services, with people who access services – if we bring all those together we can start to say if we want politics to shift, what is it that we need it to focus on and how do we need politics and decision making to work so that it genuinely focuses on what people are interested in, as opposed to focusing on political point scoring."
She points out ACTCOSS is making headway by raising a different perspective on an issue being debated.
"We've been talking about affordable housing for three years now and we're just starting to see in the past 12 months media commentary that is not so much about 'oh, it's great to see prices rising because that's good for home owners and for investors'," she says.
"When we see those stories being printed now we also see quotes from ACT Shelter or from people who work with people who are homeless like St Vincent de Paul, so the media are starting to show the other side of that story of housing wealth creation – the other side of that story is that people are being locked out of affordable rental and of getting into the housing market.
"That's what we've tried to do and to the extent that we see a more measured and more balanced reporting on those issues, we can be pleased we'd have an impact."
After the welcome to country to open the conference on Thursday, the keynote address will be delivered by Professor Paul Smyth from Melbourne University on the question: how does the community create an authentic shared vision for an inclusive economy found on social justice and sustainability?
That is one of the central themes of the conference – one that will be thrown around in a panel session by Robyn Hendry from the Canberra Business Chamber, Richard Denniss from The Australia Institute and Sue Salthouse from Women with Disabilities ACT.
Smyth says it's time to break the long-standing view that the public interest is best served by markets, to which the public services and community sector should become subordinate.
Competition and the profit motive should not be the modus operandi of the community sector.
"We are not looking here at teething problems with the market model in the social services but a problem with the model itself," he says.
He believes the future of social governance is now at a cross roads in Australia.
"We are looking at a paradigm shift as radical as that produced by Neoliberalism itself in the 1980s, which is why some have taken the language of 'structural adjustment' from the 1980s to signify the scope of the adjustment we are looking for today."
While the new economic model is not easy to pigeonhole theoretically, it differs from both economic rationalism and its predecessor, Keynesianism, he says.
It seeks government intervention to improve on microeconomic outcomes in areas such as human capital investment, infrastructure, innovation and so on.
"But the new economics is even more important for social policy because of its emphasis on fairness and equality," he says.
"The importance of inclusive growth and what distinguishes it from the social inclusion agenda of the Third Way lies in its emphasis on tackling inequality for economic as much as social purposes."
Smyth is keen to tell the Canberra audience about a recent speech given by Chris Eccles, secretary of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, on a new governance model for the state.
"While many of its themes resonate with what progressive public policy scholars have been saying for over a decade about the need to transcend the market model, it is the first by a prominent government official to announce what he calls a 'zeitgeist change'," Smyth says.
"Importantly for our purposes is the way he portrays the new model in the context of recent history.
"Thus he draws a firm line between a new agenda based on 'citizen engagement in the public sphere' and the market-based models of the '90s and 2000s.
"There, he says, 'members of the public were encouraged to act as consumers. Now, increasingly, the public demands to be treated as citizens'."