We talked with 20 government agencies about how they're engaging with people and the most effective ways to engage. We also discussed barriers to good engagement, and what a future government looks like in a participatory democracy.
'Finding a common ground to connect is important.'
How they are engaging with people
Social media, websites, surveys, email, Select Committee.
Using engagement tools such as Loomio, Bang The Table and Consult 24.
'Digital tools can help us have better conversations.'
- Workshops, huis, contextual enquiries, town hall meetings, phone, face-to-face interviews, pop-ups, community groups, education resources, newspaper, TV.
'Communities often prefer face-to-face engagement.'
- Ministerial responses, petitions, contact with MP, press releases, voting, third party engagement, Customer Relationship Management, mix of online and offline channels.
'Meet the people where they’re comfortable (physically and digitally!)'
The most effective ways to engage
Know your audience (and your audience knows you)
- Know who to engage, know their history, providing context around the engagement.
'Context is everything!'
Going to where people are (both digitally and physically)
- Some prefer online channels to have their say, while physically going out to communities helps people feel truly heard.
Personalise the way people can engage
- Being able to adapt to your audience and how they want to engage.
'Easy engagement for those that want it, more complex for those that want it.'
- Building and looking after relationships are important. For engaging with Māori and Pacific communities, the initial establishment of the relationship ideally should be face-to-face.
'First method of engagement is usually face-to-face, then through Facebook because it is easier in terms of communication and language.'
Co-design — with communities and develop ‘champions’
- Use existing relationships, for example with community leaders, to help decide what questions to ask and who to ask.
- Creating champions or 'ambassadors' will strengthen community relationships, agency understanding of the community, and helps with ongoing conversations.
'To get to the people, you have to have someone who knows the people.'
- Test out initial ideas with the people in small ways, creating building blocks.
Using informal channels, such as social media
- This ties in with going to where people are — agencies find social media like Facebook a great way to engage on a more 'human' level.
Able to commit proper time and resource to meaningful engagement and relationship management (for example dedicated team within the agency looking after significant stakeholders).
Barriers to good engagement with the people
- Government does not have the skills or know where to get the support.
- Unsure of the best channel to use.
- Not having access to software, or know what tools are available for procurement.
- Not engaging people early enough in the process or knowing when to engage.
- Not allowing enough time for engagement.
- Not knowing how to ask for the information, for example questions are poorly worded.
- Not knowing what to do with the information.
'Barriers lie with the ability to aggregate and categorise data held by various agencies (and non-government agencies) and then to draw insights from the data.'
'Information is everything so it must be treated as taonga, preserved and protected.'
- Lack of collaboration (internally and across agencies).
- Procurement process, for example risk assessments.
- Either have no money for engagement, or it can be expensive.
- Lack of clarity on the intent or who to engage.
- Government is risk averse or resistant to change.
- Government is 'time poor' or has restrictions on time.
- Don’t recognise our own 'unconscious' bias.
'We’re not able to work "smart" on pieces of work (i.e. collaborate with other agencies) because of funding models.'
'Who needs to be there?'
Barriers for the people
- People don’t want to engage.
- Aspects of the legislative process can be a barrier.
- Too much information or bad quality information for people.
- Lack of awareness - people don’t know what they can do.
- People do not have access to digital channels.
- People don’t know it affects them.
- Accessibility issues aren’t considered, for example deaf, literacy.
- Consultation is not genuine - there may be a predetermined solution.
- People are not kept informed throughout the process.
“Level of detail can be overwhelming.”
“Difficult to reconcile disparate or contradicting info.”
“Most of our whānau don’t have access to internet, data, or only have small phones.”
“Not being able to demonstrate that their input will matter.”
“We don’t enable people to be involved across process, from idea to implementation.”
At the agency workshops, we asked the groups 'What does a future government look like in a participatory democracy?' They said:
- It’s 'human' and kind.
- Inclusive and accessible.
- Listens and acts on what it hears.
- Has conversations early (from the classroom).
- Can anticipate needs, be predictive.
- Is 'porous' — data and information is connected and flows easily around government.
- Government is trusted to look after this information.
- Government is a consistent, cohesive 'whole'.
- The line between government and the people is 'seamless'.
- Policy is less complex and co-designed.
- Co-design, end-user, 'design thinking' is applied throughout all levels of government.
- Thinks long-term, and beyond the three-year cycle.
- Flexible, in the way it works, who it works with (including with NGOs) and spends money.
- Government is a facilitator and up-skiller.
- Recognise big issues represent big opportunities, such as A.I.
- More open and transparent — shares what it knows and has learned.
'People don’t need to understand how government is structured.'