Reimagining participatory democracy – a review of the Government Online Engagement Service

In Government Information Services (GIS) at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), we’ve reviewed the pilot of the Government Online Engagement Service (GOES) consultations that were hosted on Govt.nz. The review looked at what worked for agencies, where there were gaps, and what we need to do next.

This is part of our work with the State Services Commission on the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The OGP seeks greater civic participation to enable openness, transparency and accountability in government. We’re responsible for Milestone 1 of Commitment 5 of the OGP National Action Plan 2016–18, which looks to “improve government’s access to, and use of, digital public engagement tools” by June 2018.

What agencies liked about GOES

The pilot review found that the help and advice offered by GIS was really valued by agencies. Agencies really appreciated that we:

  • removed the risk of using digital tools - they didn’t have to worry about security and web accessibility standards.
  • helped out with Plain Language, UX (user-experience) and using the tool itself, and
  • used Govt.nz, which was ideal for multi-agency consultations that couldn’t be hosted on a single agency website.

What was missing

We designed the GOES tool as an MVP (minimum viable product) to pilot with agencies, testing the potential value of a low-cost survey tool with a core set of generic functionality.

Driving the pilot was that the majority of public service departments have low levels of maturity when it comes to engaging with the public and specialist stakeholders, typically posting a PDF on a website.

So, in piloting a survey tool we were just testing a digitised version of the existing 1-way consultation process. While it’s still a major improvement from a document and an email address, it didn’t explore other, more transformational methods, like co-design or deliberative participation.

Some of the findings were:

  • how we built and ran it wasn’t scalable (too resource hungry to do more than a couple of consultations at a time)
  • guidance on how to consult is fragmented across government
  • there are skill gaps in government in using digital tools and in different methods of engaging, like service design, and
  • other digital engagement tools out there are doing a better job of serving a wider range of engagements (1- and 2-way, discussion groups, social media etc).

What’s next?

The opportunity for transformative improvement comes from re-imagining how government engages with people and communities. Getting the public involved in government decision making is the best way to get policies and services that can be implemented and that work. It has amazing side benefits including building communities where people know each other and help out. It also encourages people to trust government and support the decisions it makes.

We’ve just started a discovery phase at the Service Innovation Lab where we’ve been talking to community groups, private sector companies providing tools for participation, a wide group of government agencies, and (most importantly) the public. We’re trying to understand the current experience from a variety of perspectives (including the digitally excluded), as well as looking for opportunities where we can really make a difference to people’s lives and their relationship with their community and society.

Vernon McCarthy will be bringing you the next update on this work. He’ll be able to share with you some early results from our workshops and interviews with the public.

Read the full GOES Review (PDF and HTML versions available) and feel free to contact us with any questions either by commenting below or emailing Victoria Wray or Vernon McCarthy.

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