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Let’s get apolitical

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 22 September 2017

Every now and then, you come across an idea that makes you wonder why you had never thought of it before. I experienced such a moment on Tuesday when I met American author, speaker and entrepreneur Lisa Witter.

A friend had introduced us by email and suggested we should meet while Lisa is in New Zealand. I am glad we did because she told me about her start-up business, Apolitical.

The definition of the word ‘apolitical’ is not being interested or involved in politics. And Apolitical, the company, certainly is not into politics. Its business is policy.

Around the world, hundreds of national and state governments work on similar issues. Though each country is unique, many policy challenges are not. Dealing with congestion, attracting good teachers and ensuring housing is affordable are common themes across many places.

This is where Apolitical comes in. Its approach is to create a sort of TripAdvisor and LinkedIn network for government officials worldwide. It is a platform for mandarins to share their best projects, learnings and solutions – and a way to identify colleagues in other countries who might be able to help.

As Lisa Witter said she felt frustrated by how long it takes for good ideas to spread. We all tend to work in our silos, be they departments or entire countries. By virtually connecting people in the same field who otherwise would never meet, Witter and her team want to help governments work better.

Once registered for Apolitical, a whole world of policy innovation awaits the user. In this world, you can find out how Taiwan overcame a six-year political stalemate on regulating online alcohol sales by using an online citizen engagement system.

You can learn about a Dutch programme that created the world’s first village for dementia sufferers with great health benefits for its patients.

And you can discover how Mozambique introduced a new way of registering land titles for its rural population.

The people behind Apolitical are idealists. They want governments to be more innovative.

But that does not mean that Apolitical was run by dreamers or ivory-tower theorists. It is a for-profit business with an entrepreneurial vision.

Finding out about Apolitical amid New Zealand’s crazy election campaign was uplifting: There is a world of good policy ideas out there.

Whoever wins tomorrow’s election, let’s hope they engage with it. We need more good ideas. And less politics.

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