[Originally published on Australian Government DesignGov under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]
How do you best access the experiences and the expertise that exists in the Australian community on any one issue?
The public sector has to engage with stakeholders and consult on a huge range of issues, some of which are significantly different in nature and involving very different audiences. Our research as part of the business and government interactions project suggests that there is dissatisfaction on both sides in the way consultations are often done now. Sometimes external groups view the public sector as engaging in ‘nonsultation’, where the process seems symbolic or token rather than meaningful. Sometimes public servants feel the options available for engaging are unsuited to the scope of what they are trying to find out.
Through the OneConsultation.gov.au concept, we are investigating how the consultation process might be improved so as to let businesses share their insights and lived experience of the issues and for the public sector to most effectively and efficiently engage on the key questions that matter.
We are seeking your help and participation in prototyping. This post gives a quick overview of the OneConsultation.gov.au concept, asks for your help with the prototyping, and provides an expanded explanation of what OneConsultation.gov.au might encompass and why something like it is needed (in addition to the description provided in the Lost in Translation report and the associated prototyping prospectus).
What are the best ways to consult and engage with stakeholders? Which of those ways is best in which circumstances? And which are the best to use when the circumstances are less than best?
Currently government relies on tried practices such as discussion papers and stakeholder meetings, as well as newer methods such as engagement through social media and open web-based forums. These generally provide a reasonable outcome and ensure a comprehensive coverage of the relevant issues and considerations.
However there are frustrations with the experience of consulting within the public sector and from the stakeholders being engaged with.
The concept of OneConsultation.gov.au offers a single place for anyone to find all current and past government consultation processes. It would provide options for public servants to choose from and advice about the best ways to consult depending on the scope, time, expense and significance of the consultation process. It would allow stakeholders to contribute their insight to the issue in a way that could meet their needs, and provide confidence to them that their contribution has been considered.
OneConsultation.gov.au could help transform a fragmented and sometimes confusing process into one that meets the needs of both businesses and governments.
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 ‘OneConsultation.gov.au’ then the first thing we’d like to ask is that you sign up to our OneConsultation.gov.au 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 OneConsultation.gov.au would have helped you if it had existed.
- Where might a OneConsultation.gov.au capability have been useful for you?
- Can you give an example of when you had to create a work-around because there wasn’t such a capability?
Some more specific examples of how a OneConsultation.gov.au 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 OneConsultation.gov.au.
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 OneConsultation.gov.au capability was realised.
What is the context for OneConsultation.gov.au?
In an ideal world, a public sector agency would already know who it had to consult about what issues and the ways in which those stakeholders would prefer to be consulted. There would be a shared understanding of what was and what was not in scope. Timeframes would be known well in advance and there would be a sense of what type of input or contribution would be needed at what stages. The consultation process would also be transparent enough to allow stakeholders to see how their advice was used, though mindful of any sensitivities around their information and whether it could be shared more publicly.
More often, the public service is operating in an environment with tight timeframes and political considerations and processes. Consultation processes do not always engage those outside of the known stakeholder groups with an interest, though they are often open to public input from anyone and anyone can subscribe to notifications from business.gov.au about new consultations. There is often a reliance on a limited range of engagement methods, which do not always reflect the flexibility required in a consultation process (e.g. when new questions come up in response to new evidence or input). It can be hard to show or reveal how consultation input has been considered.
The Internet has transformed ways of sharing information and lowered dramatically the transaction costs associated with asking for contributions to a consultation process. A changing and increasingly interlinked business environment means that once discrete industries (and discrete stakeholder groups) are not necessarily so anymore when it comes to any one particular policy issue.
If the public sector is to fully understand the issues it is consulting on, and thereby develop and propose the best options for consideration, then it needs to engage with industry effectively. In a continually evolving system, further work needs to be done to build on the previous efforts of the public sector to ensure consultation processes meet the needs of both industry and the public sector.
So the problem is?
The problem to be addressed is that the public sector currently has a relatively limited stable of consultation methods that it uses, that consultations are sometimes done without due consideration of other processes that stakeholders are being asked to contribute to, and that businesses and business intermediaries are not always satisfied that their contributions are effective or valued.
A good consultation and engagement process is a vital component of the overall state of business and government interactions. Without timely, effective and efficient consultation, it is likely that problems will arise that will require further attention. Though the Australian Public Service consults to good effect most of the time, there are social, technological and economic changes occurring that mean how the public sector consults must also change.
We look forward to working with those of you interested in this topic to explore how OneConsultation.gov.au might work and operate.
- 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. ↩