Coordinates: 34°55′08″S 138°36′00″E / 34.91898°S 138.599986°E / -34.91898; 138.599986 The Adelaide Festival of Ideas (AFOI) fosters the public promulgation, discussion and critique of culturally and socially relevant ideas from South Australia, Australia, and around the world. It has been held every two years, over a period of three or four days. From 1999 until 2009 it ran in July. In 2011, 2013 and 2016 it ran in October. In 2018, the AFOI is held on 12-15 July.[1][2]


The Adelaide Festival of Ideas offers contemporary civil society the highest possible level of intellectual debate across conventional boundaries and demarcations of disciplines, agendas and cultural norms with the aim of challenging the fragmentation of public knowledge. It is not held captive to any particular ideological, political or commercial agenda.

The program is built around an extensive array of speaker presentations, interviews and panel discussions that are mostly free to the public. The high-level discussion and public debate offered by AFOI intends to be as engaging and entertaining as it is provocative and challenging. To maximise engagement, public access to activities held within the AFOI is free of charge wherever feasible, with the aim of attracting and engaging a diverse cross-section of the community as active citizens rather than paying customers. The AFOI recognises the considerable additional benefit gained from real-time, shared-space discussions of new ideas in a moderated context with a live audience.


Founded by Greg Mackie, the AFOI first ran in 1999, and then every two years after that until 2013. From 1999-2009 the AFOI was produced under the auspices of the Adelaide Festival Corporation. The 2011 AFOI was auspiced by the South Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet - Cultural Development Group, and the 2013 AFOI was produced under the auspices of The Adelaide Film Festival Corporation, all with significant baseline funding from Arts SA. However, after this funding ceased late in 2014,[3] the AFOI was relaunched as a non-profit incorporated association in 2015 in order to present the AFOI in 2016 and annually thereafter.[4]

From the inaugural 1999 event, the AFOI program grew steadily from 28 sessions involving 27 speakers, to 88 sessions and 132 speakers (including session chairs) in the 2013 event. Each AFOI has an overarching theme within which the sessions are programmed. Typical themes include: "Hope and Fear" (2003), "Pushing the Limits" (2009), "Planning for Uncertainty" (2011), and "The real value of ..." (2013).

Each AFOI is dedicated to a prominent South Australian who has had a significant impact on the development of ideas across a wide range of domains, be they geographical, intellectual, cultural or social. Dedicatees include Lowitja O'Donoghue (2003), Frank Fenner (2009), (2011) and Paul Davies (2013).

Previous AFOIs: Themes and keynote speakers

2018: "Who's at the Wheel?"

12 - 15 July 2018,[5][6] featuring Robyn Archer,[7], former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs,[8] and Australian writer Benjamin Law.[9]

2013: "The real value of..."

17 - 20 October 2013[10]

The 2013 AFOI ran in conjunction with the Adelaide Film Festival. Clearly, there was an appetite for deep and civil discussion of ideas and issues that was slaked by media and political debates that run on the rocket fuel of polling and instant communication. Speakers were asked not to respond to the loudest current concerns but to think about what matters more abidingly in their fields, and to discuss ‘the real value of…’

The 2013 AFOI was dedicated to Professor Paul Davies, physicist and science communicator extraordinaire.

2011: "Planning for Certainty"

7 - 9 October 2011[11]

The 2011 AFOI was devoted to the proposition that we can plan with reasonable probability to shape the improbabilities that confront us as individuals or a community. We can have better debates – then, therefore, build better cities, cultures, democracies, products, and environments. We can confront the future intelligently, imperfectly – learning and adapting as we go.

The 2011 AFOI was dedicated to pioneering environmentalist, .

2009: "Pushing the Limits"

9 - 12 July 2009[12]

The 2009 AFOI looked at issues as diverse as the geopolitics of tolerance among nations and religions in the region and the pursuit of scientific limits in neuroscience, health and the environment. In the bicentennial year of Darwin, whose idea of evolution is the single most consequential idea in the modern world, speakers engaged the audience in discussions of the power and consequences of the ethic of exploration and expansion which shaped, and perhaps risked, the modern world.

The 2009 AFOI was dedicated to distinguished virologist, Professor Frank Fenner AC, CMG, MBE, FRS, FAA.

2007: "Which Way to the Future?"

5 - 9 July 2007[13]

The 2007 AFOI focussed on our imagined futures and how we might get there: a future with freedom from oppression, where we can live peaceably with our neighbours, on a sustainable earth, with decent work, a long life and a first-rate health care system to tend for us when our health falters. The big question was: how do we get there? How do we bequeath a better world for our children?

The 2007 AFOI was dedicated to eminent jurist, Royal Commissioner, Elliott Johnston QC.

2005: "What is to be Done?"

7 - 10 July 2005[14]

In a disconcerting age, the 2005 AFOI tested the belief that we can, and should, design our own world, with the majority of sessions explicitly exploring how we might transform ideas into action.

The 2005 AFOI was dedicated to distinguished medical researcher, Professor Basil Hetzel AC.

2003: "Hope and Fear"

10 - 13 July 2003[15]

The theme for the 2003 AFOI was chosen before the September 11 attacks, before the ‘Tampa' - Children Overboard affair meant anything to us. Perhaps this was prescient, but it was also obvious, for hope and fear are always with us. The emphasis in this Festival program fell on social and emotional matters in those unsettled times, but a wider range of intellectual exploration was well represented also.

The 2003 AFOI was dedicated to indigenous leader, Lowitja O'Donoghue AC, CBE, DSG.

2001: "Scarcity and Abundance"

12-15 July 2001[16]

In 2001, what was in short supply, what was everywhere? AFOI sessions covered water, population, addiction, intoxication, reconciliation, and more...

The 2001 AFOI was dedicated to prominent lawyer and social activist, Sir Ronald Wilson AC KBE CMG QC.

1999: Who needed a theme back then?

9 - 11 July 1999[17]

The inaugural AFOI examined a diverse range of topics that continue to be relevant today: international relations, the changing nature of community, truth in the media, the notion of good and evil, and the potential of new technologies...


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