Who, what, where? Navigating government as a business

[Originally published on Australian Government DesignGov under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

If you are in business and you have a problem or an issue or even just a simple question about a government process, where do you start?

For a lot of people (including those who work in the public sector) the answer is probably to start with Google – which can be a great start. You might also ask friends, colleagues or peers, to tap into their experiences.

Or you might be familiar with business.gov.au which “offers you simple and convenient access to all the government information, forms and services you need. It’s a whole-of-government service providing essential information on planning, starting and growing your business”. Or you might go direct to one of the other key business information sites, such as the Australian Taxation Office or the Australian Securities & Investment Commission.

If the information isn’t readily apparent, or you’d prefer to speak to someone as you might not know exactly what you are looking for, then you might contact one of the available helplines from government, such as the Small Business Support Line which “provides small business owners with a first point of contact to access information and referral services to improve their business sustainability and help better manage their business.”

Or you might write to the relevant agency – or even your local Member of Parliament or the relevant Minister (or Ministers).

Or you might go through an intermediary who knows the answers and avoid having to deal with government at all – such as an accountant or lawyer or a business/industry association such as your local chamber of commerce.

If we compare this experience to many other similar activities outside of government though, there appears to be a gap.

If I have questions about buying a product, finding accommodation, booking travel, getting insurance, or comparing providers of a whole range of services, then I usually have the option of going to one of the many online forums that exist where I can access the experiences, insights and intelligence of others.

A great example of this in Australia is the Whirlpool forums which hosts discussions around the Internet and technology.

So why isn’t there such a forum for those in business, where fellow business-people and public servants can help others navigating government processes? Where those with the answers can find those with the questions (which is usually easier than the other way around).One idea that we at DesignGov are currently looking at as part of our project on improving interactions between business and government is the idea of such a forum (currently with the prototype name of ‘BabelGov’1A brief description of this idea is up on our ideas platform.

This might also be a forum of use to those working in the public sector. Though there are ongoing efforts to ensure a ‘no wrong door’ approach, a common complaint/frustration for public servants is how hard it can be to know what is happening in other parts of government, or where to go to find out.

What do you think? Is this an answer for helping people in business navigate government?

  • If so, what are your suggestions for how it might work?
  • If not, why not? What else could be done instead?

Please add your comments below or on the ideas platform (or add other ideas on how to help businesses navigate government).