First steps towards a Government Online Engagement Service

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) is making progress on a new Government Online Engagement Service (GOES). If you have seen the presentation video or read the video transcript, you’ll have some background already about the project. This blog post is to give you a more detailed picture of the project, the stage we’re at now, and how you can be involved.

The story so far

DIA formed a cross-organisational working group to develop a service vision for how government could make better use of the online channel when engaging with people. We quickly established that many government organisations have begun to experiment with online but most online engagement has largely replicated paper based consultation processes.

In the context of the GOES project, ‘engagement’ means connecting with people to share ideas and build understanding, which includes relationship and partnership building, multi-directional exchange of information, data, analysis and dialogue, active listening and feedback loops, and collaboration.

We rapidly agreed that the long term vision could encourage government to improve their engagement with the public by reaching beyond consultation and moving to involvement. By ‘consultation’ we mean obtaining feedback on proposals and alternatives and that feedback informing decisions. By ‘involvement’ we mean working directly with the public throughout the process to ensure that their aspirations and concerns are understood and considered.

We’ve talked to a range of people from inside and outside government about their experiences and expectations of online engagement. What we’ve learnt is that when government is seeking public input it doesn’t often make the most out of the opportunities the online channel provides. While some government agencies are confidently making moves towards online engagement, most have low maturity for online consultation. These agencies are essentially replicating paper-based processes by posting downloadable PDF discussion documents and requesting formal written submissions by email.

Expertise and tools for good practice online engagement are lacking. This is where the GOES project is aiming to bridge the gap.

Where we’re heading

The desired future state is of a shared online engagement service that:

  • supports agencies to identify and use engagement methods that are appropriate for the people they need to engage with;
  • improves government’s online engagement practices by providing and sharing expertise for online engagement best practice;
  • improves stakeholder identification and relationship management by providing tools to help agencies better coordinate how they engage with the same people;
  • reduces costs of engagement to government by coordinating and sharing capability and technologies for online engagement at a cost effective price;
  • reduces the costs of engagement to the public by using tools and methods for online engagement that are quick and easy to interact with; and
  • ensures agencies have the capability to effectively analyse engagement inputs by providing useful analytics tools and mechanisms.

How we’re getting there

We’re being realistic about getting to the desired future state. When you look at this you’ll see that involves a lot of change for a lot of people both inside and outside of government. So, we’re going to take it step-by-step.

Much thought and consideration has gone into weighing up the various options of how we could achieve the desired future state. We’ve looked that what’s available ‘off-the-shelf’ and what would be required to make those products fit our desired state, including compliance with government standards and legislation. We’ve concluded that no single product meets all the needs. So, we’ve decided that we will start by building a base GOES platform (we’ve called it the Minimal Viable Product or MVP GOES platform). It will be built on the Common Web Platform, which has a lot of the fundamental web delivery and compliance aspects already ‘baked in’. We will make assessments at different stages about what should be added or integrated into the MVP GOES platform to meet the emerging needs of agencies and the public.

We have established a Community of Practice for the purposes of supporting engagement practitioners and to use their collective knowledge to co-create best practice guidance for online engagement.

This Community of practice is supported by a social network site using the open source ELGG platform. We’ll be evaluating the usefulness of the site in supporting the community later this year.

Phases of GOES

The GOES project has been split up into phases. Phase 1 (August 2013 – January 2014) has three main aims:

  1. Progressing the co-creation of best practice online engagement guidance with the Community of Practice. This includes the Community helping to develop a framework, or skeleton, for the guidance – identifying the key aspects the guidance should cover. Then the top priority pieces of guidance will be developed in collaboration with the community.
  2. Shaping the user-centred design of the first stage GOES platform (the MVP). This includes co-creation workshops and a couple of rounds of user testing.
  3. Building a solid business case for Phase 2. This includes developing and testing the proposed operational and charging models and gaining commitment from key agencies to use GOES when it is delivered.

Phases 2 and 3 are where we will build the MVP GOES platform, iteratively launching and refining it based on user feedback, and eventually assessing it and deciding on the product roadmap and the next steps.

What is the MVP GOES platform?

Rather than jumping too far ahead too quickly we’re planning to first add value to where most agencies currently are by providing them with end-to-end online consultation processes that improve the quantity and quality of consultation submissions, and the use and management of the information gained. We’ll progressively move up the value chain to ‘involvement’ as agencies and the people they are engaging with are ready for it.

For Phase 1 we are testing our concept of the scope of the MVP GOES platform using user-centred design techniques. This is to ensure we have a strong base for the platform to grow from.

It is envisaged that the MVP GOES platform will consist of:

  1. Engagement directory (listing) on the soon to be launched govt.nz website. This will enable people to subscribe to notifications about government engagements in their areas of interest.
  2. Simple stakeholder management so agencies can track their interactions with the people who provide inputs into their engagements.
  3. Consultation tool that provides end-to-end process management including aiding in input analysis and management.

How can you get involved?

  • Tell people in your agency about the GOES project. We want to hear from people involved in policy development, communications, stakeholder management and web delivery.
  • Join the NZ Online Engagement Community of practice and share your online engagement experiences, insights, research, case studies, etc.
  • Contribute to the co-creation of the guidance framework by joining the community of practice and coming along to our workshop on 19 August in Wellington where we’ll be discussing what should go into the guidance.
  • Contact me with your questions, or if you want to get involved.

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