Representatives communities (NGOs)
We talked with 9 representatives communities, or non-government organisations (NGOs), about barriers to good engagement with government.
Barriers to good engagement with government
Involved too late and not given enough time
- People don't have the opportunity to get involved early on.
- Short time frames aren’t a good way to start relationships.
'Main problem is that we’re being consulted too late in the piece.'
Information isn’t provided or is hard to understand
- Information written by government is hard for people to understand. Huge benefits in creating more engaging content.
- Information either isn’t provided or isn’t given early enough to give people a chance to discuss it and make an informed decision.
- If government doesn’t supply the context, other organisations will, along with their own agenda.
- When information is published, it’s often in inaccessible formats.
Government processes aren’t well understood
- People need help using processes, for example making Official Information Act requests.
- Current system biased towards organisations that know how the system works.
- Ways of engaging (tools and methods) are inconsistent across government.
'What does a minister do vs. what does a ministry do?'
Engagement sometimes isn’t genuine
- Already an agenda.
- Lack of transparency about decision making.
- Make sure you only ask people for feedback on things they can actually impact.
Not being kept informed
- Don’t complete feedback loop.
- People need to see the fruits of their participation. How do you get people to feel okay about a decision that doesn’t go their way?
Culture of risk aversion
- Self-censorship goes on too much in the public service.
- Nervous of consulting on ideas because of potential to get slammed for u-turns or left-field ideas.
- Social media difficult for government as it needs more authentic interaction - not so much 'government speak'.
'Need to be brave and create opportunity for participation and dialogue.'
Use of channels and digital tools
Multi-channel approach required
- Community organisations feel okay with digital, but people they work with more likely to be digitally disadvantaged.
- Māori engagement is about building relationships, which is best done in person.
- Digital engagement is good for specific needs, for example using Facebook closed group as a follow up to a sensitive topic (confidence that it was safe).
- Only take people off their preferred platform, for example Facebook, when you need to keep them safe, such as when protecting privacy.
- Multiple digital tools can be used to support face-to-face engagement, for example Kamo 'Place Race' used Google maps to help people track where they wanted reserves, then take photos and load on to Facebook.
How can government make it better?
Work in partnership
- Need to work across government, community and private sector on issues. GovHack is an example of the benefits of bringing different people together.
- Partner with organisations who have already got the trust and mandate from their community.
- Partner with groups who have the skills missing from government, for example the Data Futures Partnership worked with Toi Aria to facilitate workshops and build an online platform.
- Go where people are (democratise access to government), for example use local events, Facebook groups.
- Big issues need mix of approaches - blend face-to-face with use of targeted focus groups and surveys.
- Relate issues to what people know. For example, Toi Āria workshopped scenarios with people that they could relate to and got them to physically 'map' themselves to their own levels of benefit and trust. The same exercise could be done online.
- Shift away from short term engagements towards an ongoing conversation. This makes it easier to discuss issues quickly with communities as trust has been built.
- Use digital marketing tools (data, analytics, personas) to create targeted, appealing content for campaigns.
- Strong need to create more understandable, engaging content around issues under discussion.
- Gamify digital engagement and offer instant reward for participating. For example Our Data, Our Way provided a summary of where your response sat compared to the average response. (Gamification is the process of taking something that already exists — a website, an enterprise application, an online community — and integrating game mechanics into it to motivate participation.)
'If you invest in the relationship with your community communications can happen at anytime.'
- Provide people with reassurance that their stories and data will be kept safe.
- Trust frontline staff to respond - they know a lot about issues faced by their communities. Police are a good example of how they are using social media to build relationships with communities.
- 3rd parties (like NGOs) can provide safety or independence to those with low trust in government.
- Keep to tight, known timeframes and always update people with progress.
- Make sure that the people most affected by the policy get heard.
'Know who people are before you start talking.'