Business and government interactions – prototyping a way to better help businesses find answers

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

Have you ever felt like you needed to be an expert at something before you’d even know the right questions to ask?

According to our research, this is how many people working in business feel when they are trying to navigate government processes, procedures and policies. Through the BabelGov prototype, we are investigating how we can help businesses find out what they need to know with the assistance of peer-to-peer crowd-support.

We are seeking your help and participation in the prototyping. This post gives a quick overview of the BabelGov concept, asks for your help with the prototyping, and provides an expanded explanation of just what ‘BabelGov’ means and why something like it is needed (in addition to the description provided in the Lost in Translation report and the associated prototyping prospectus).


How do you most effectively communicate information to potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of businesses, each with their own contexts, particular concerns and experience? Currently government relies on channels such as multiple websites, publications, call centres or advertising. But due to the diversity of the audience, there will always be limitations to such broadcasting approaches.

The existing channels are effective on the whole, but there are times when it may not be as smooth or as easy as it could be. This is particularly where a business person has a question that does not fit neatly within a public sector agency’s responsibilities, so that getting the right answer can be hard.

What if instead people could ask their own questions, in their own phrasing? If people who knew the answer (whether they were in government or in business) could connect them to the right information?

By connecting peers with peers, in the mode of typical human behaviour, and now the model of the many other crowd-support platforms that exist in other contexts, BabelGov would offer a channel for people to raise their questions, in terms of their experience, rather than in the language used by government.

BabelGov could help change the problem from one being about  people with questions trying  to find those with the answers, into one being about experienced people answering questions.

How can I become involved in the prototyping process?

We are looking for help from individual business people, business intermediaries and public servants. 1 Effective prototyping needs the involvement of the people who share in the problem, both public servants and those in industry.

If you are interested in the concept of ‘BabelGov’ and a peer-to-peer crowd-support capability for businesses seeking answers from the APS, then the first thing we’d like to ask is that you sign up to our BabelGov mailing list. We’ll be using the list to provide updates on the prototyping and to seek your input and involvement.

The second thing we’d like to ask is for you to help us with some real world examples or anecdotes of where a capability like BabelGov would have helped you if it had existed. Where a BabelGov would have been useful in your work? Or examples of when you had to create a work-around because there wasn’t such a capability? Some more specific examples of how a BabelGov capability might be used would be extremely useful for us in scoping the need, and if/how it might/could work. Please email through any examples you might have.

We are also interested in hearing from businesses, industry groups or public sector agencies who might be interested in partnering to work on the prototyping of BabelGov.

Some additional information about the concept follows, including a basic visual depiction of what would be the ideal (but impossible) state, what happens now, and what, hopefully, might be possible if the BabelGov capability was realised.

BabelGov Synopsis

Background Information

What is the context for BabelGov?

The businesses we spoke to as part of our research were all very keen to ensure that they were complying with the necessary requirements, rules, licenses, processes and regulations that related to their business.

However, they were also concerned that they did not always know how to find out the answers they needed to suit their particular context.

This might be due to a range of factors:

  • Government websites are often written in a style and with language that reflects public sector needs – to ensure that advice is absolutely correct and precise (which can often mean it is technical or legalistic)
  • Different agencies are responsible for different issues – yet from the business person’s viewpoint, their issue may seem one single thing that means they have to pull together information from multiple sources and interpret it within their own context
  • Government agencies have often gotten better at pulling together information and putting it in the right form, but continued changes in policies and processes mean that it is hard to keep that level of clarity all the time
  • It can be hard to navigate government and know who is responsible for what matters – and even once you do, that can change very quickly.

In an ever changing world, where both industry and government are themselves changing and where there are fragmenting and increasing channels of communication (such as social media networks), it becomes harder to communicate in clear, direct, targeted and relevant way.

So the problem is?

The problem to be addressed is that businesses may be required to be across multiple sources of information, from multiple jurisdictions and agencies, and often find it difficult to navigate this array of sources and to understand the answers even if they find them. Many businesses use intermediaries (such as accountants or chambers of commerce) to keep across any changes, but even the intermediaries can find it hard at times to obtain the right answers.

If a business asks a complicated question, then it can also be difficult or time-consuming for a public servant to collate the necessary information and to address everything the business requires. An expectation on the public service side that the answer will be suitably thorough and yet caveated, and an expectation for certainty and speed on the private sector side, combined with different communication styles and language, ensures an ongoing level of dissatisfaction with interactions.

Our research indicates that the Australian Public Service does communicate reasonably effectively most of the time, particularly where there are limited changes and where an individual agency has a good understanding of its audience and the issues they are facing. It is at the intersection of multiple policies and process, agencies and jurisdictions where it can be hard to find the right information in a timely fashion.

We look forward to working with those of you interested in this topic to explore how BabelGov might work and operate. Please note that DesignGov has already done some initial work on BabelGov which you can read about elsewhere on our blog.

  1. Participation may mean involvement in workshops, contributing to a survey, providing feedback, or other forms of contribution. The scope of the prototyping process will depend a lot on the level and spread of interest.