Public Participation (AU0015)
Action Plan: Australia National Action Plan 2016-2018
Action Plan Cycle: 2016
Lead Institution: Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
Support Institution(s): All Commonwealth entities (including the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission) Research sector, non-government organisations (including Australian Open Government Partnership Network, IAP2 and the Australasian Facilitators Network), private sector and the public
Policy AreasCapacity Building, Public Participation, Public Service Delivery
Objective and description: Australia will work towards improving public participation and engagement to enhance policy and service delivery outcomes for Australians. We will do this by establishing a new Australian Government framework for public participation and engagement. Status Quo: Government is comprised of a diverse range of organisations, with approaches to participation varying considerably across different departments and agencies. High barriers to participation and piecemeal or unpredictable approaches to consultation can lead to an inefficient and dissatisfying experience. The current mechanisms for consultation often do not fully meet the Government’s practical requirements for policy and program development. In addition, current mechanisms can be ineffective in enabling ‘co-design’. Numerous reviews have highlighted scope for improvement in the way the Australian Public Service engages with the public when developing policies and programs. For example, Peter Shergold’s Learning from Failure recommended that “the APS should promote new forms of civil participation, including digital and deliberative democracy techniques, in order to enhance consumer-directed care, improve customer service, encourage greater public engagement and inform the public economy”. There is a need to identify and disseminate information on good practices and help peer exchange between government agencies and across different levels of government. Digital technologies also open up new opportunities for engagement and there are a range of innovative techniques that could be further explored at the Commonwealth level (e.g. policy hacks, online challenge platforms and citizen juries). In addition, there has been a lack of investment in social media and on-line tools relevant to public participation in government decision-making. The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 also requires Commonwealth entities to work cooperatively with others to achieve common objectives, where practicable. Ambition: To design and adopt a whole-of-government framework that embeds meaningful, open, public and multi-stakeholder participation into the business of policy development and service delivery. Relevance: This commitment will advance the OGP values of transparency, accountability and public participation by: facilitating informed public participation; improving policy development and service delivery; enhancing transparency around government decision making; encouraging an ongoing sharing of information and views across interest groups that builds consensus on broad policy directions; and creating more engaged private and community sectors, and public. COMMITMENT DETAILS: OGP Grand Challenge Improving Public Services; Timeframes Late 2016 – July 2018; Lead agency Department of Industry, Innovation and Science; Other actors involved Government: All Commonwealth entities (including the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission); Non-government: Research sector, non-government organisations (including Australian Open Government Partnership Network, IAP2 and the Australasian Facilitators Network), private sector and the public
IRM Midterm Status Summary
15. Enhance public participation in government decision making
Australia will work towards improving public participation and engagement to enhance policy and service delivery outcomes for Australians.
We will do this by establishing a new Australian Government framework for public participation and engagement.
To design and adopt a whole-of-government framework that embeds meaningful, open, public and multi-stakeholder participation into the business of policy development and service delivery.
15.1 Undertake and publicly release a stocktake of current approaches to public participation to determine best practice activities (including international and domestic examples, user experience research, methodologies to encourage adoption, and relevant standards, such as IAP2 values).
15.2 Work with government agencies, the public and organisations outside of government to develop and implement a whole-of-government framework (with guidance / principles and potential public participation initiatives) for improving public participation and engagement across the Commonwealth.
15.3 Undertake pilot public participation initiatives, including working with the Digital Transformation Agency to more effectively use digital channels for engagement.
15.4 Review processes and iterate as necessary.
Responsible institution: Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
Supporting institution(s): Various
Start date: Late 2016 End date: July 2018
Editorial Note: This is a partial version of the commitment text. For the full commitment text, see the Australia National Action Plan available at https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/Australia_NAP_201...
Context and Objectives
Consultation practices in the Commonwealth government in the past have varied widely between, and even within, agencies. The aim of this commitment is to design a best-practice framework for public consultation that could be widely adopted.
There are limited formal obligations on Commonwealth agencies to engage in public consultation or otherwise encourage public participation in development and implementation of government policy. The Legislation Act 2003 requires ‘appropriate’ and ‘reasonably practicable’ consultation before legislative instruments – i.e. formal legal instruments made under authority of primary legislation which have a general rather than individual effect – are made. The form of consultation is not spelled out, though there is reference to the extent the consultation draws on expertise, and provides opportunities for people likely to be affected. This is done for example through general notification through advertisement and an opportunity to make submissions or participate in public hearings. Any consultation has to be described in the explanatory statement accompanying registration of the instrument. However, inadequate or even a complete lack of consultation does not affect the validity or enforceability of the instrument. Forms of public consultation are also expected in other circumstances, including in the preparation of regulatory impact statements as part of policy proposals with a measureable impact on business, community organisations or individuals,  or to comply with the Australian Government’s Digital Service Standard, which applies to new, redesigned or high volume public-facing Government services. In addition to these general requirements, individual agencies may also have their own standards or guides to consultation. This means that, in practice, there are a variety of consultation approaches taken in developing policy and services.
In interviews for this report, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science described the objectives of this commitment as increasing the understanding of the benefits of public participation within the public service, improving the capacity of agencies to engage in best practice consultation processes, and reducing the complexity involved in designing and implementing a consultation process. Implementing the commitment will provide examples of the benefits different forms of participation have made to policy design and implementation, and identify, and make recommendations to reduce, the impediments to adoption of best practice public consultation practices within government agencies.
The Commitment is therefore relevant to the OGP value of civic participation. It also seeks to increase public information on consultation processes used across government, including at the State, Territory and local government levels, and is therefore relevant to access to information. However, the scope and steps to implementation of the commitment are not clearly set out in the commitment text. The extent to which the whole-of-government framework would go beyond existing requirements and guidance relating to consultation processes is not set out. Importantly, the process of adoption of the framework is also not clear. Discussions with the Department suggest that a best practice consultation framework will be developed and implemented within the Department to demonstrate its value and encourage wider adoption, rather than to seek to have adoption mandated.
A framework which is adopted across government and does lead to adoption of best practice methods for public consultation and engagement could have a moderate potential impact in increasing public participation. However, the current range of informal requirements and guides relating to consultation and the lack of plans to require the adoption of any framework developed through this commitment could limit the framework in practice.
Milestone 15.1 was not started during the implementation period under review. A working draft of the discover phase report was publicly released after the period of implementation under consideration, on 14 July 2017. However, while this draft includes a discussion of the role of public participation, elements of community engagement, the role of technology and some initial hypotheses of what is limiting participation practices among government agencies, it does not include a stocktake of current practices and other elements including insights or themes of user experience research.
Interviews with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science indicate that this draft report and other work on the commitment has involved interviews with approximately 38 APS staff from 13 Commonwealth government agencies, as well as meetings with South Australian, Victorian and New South Wales government agencies. Outside of government, discussions were held with 36 people across 34 organisations in five different states and territories. A survey on engagement approaches, potential improvements and barriers to co-design was responded to by 13 government departments. A literature review of 67 sources was also publicly released on 10 August 2017. The extent and complexity of this research has delayed the release of the stocktake of current practices within the timetable set out in the commitment. Therefore, there was work done in undertaking the stocktake of current approaches for the purposes of Milestone 15.1 but the results of this work were not publicly available at the time of writing.
Milestone 15.2 saw limited completion during the implementation period under review. As indicated above, the draft report includes the initial elements of a framework for improving public participation and engagement based in part on interviews with government agencies and non-government bodies. The discover phase report was released in December 2017, along with a number of workshops and presentations. This report will be commented on in the end-of-term report.
Milestones 15.3 and 15.4 were not started as they derive from milestone 15.2. However, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, in interviews for this report, also indicated that the design of the framework will inform development of a platform that digitally enables community engagement in policy, program and service design that was recently funded through the Department’s Business Research and Innovation Initiative. Two organisations were provided with nearly $1million each to develop proof of concept prototypes, which will be included as demonstrations for the framework process. When developed, the platforms will contribute to milestone 3.
There are no early results for the implementation period under review.
A framework which can be used to assist agencies improve public participation and engagement to enhance policy and service delivery outcomes is currently only at an early stage of development. The IRM researcher recommends that the extent to which there is whole-of-government support for such an initiative needs to be demonstrated through a greater public commitment to the process or further integration into whole-of-government processes. The process by which the framework will be evaluated and adopted beyond the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science could also be made clearer.
 Interview with Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Canberra ACT, 6 September 2017.
 OGP framework project, https://industry.gov.au/innovation/Pages/Open-Government-Partnership-Framework-project.aspx#
 Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Canberra ACT, 6 September 2017.
 The discover phase report is available at https://www.industry.gov.au/innovation/Pages/Open-Government-Partnership-Framework-project.aspx# (accessed 9/4/2018)
 Australian OGP Commitment Dashboard, Commitment 5.2, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/commitment/52-enhancing-public-participation-go... (accessed 9/4/2018).
 DIIS, Business Research and Innovation Initiative - Proof of concept grant recipients, https://www.business.gov.au/Assistance/Business-Research-and-Innovation-Initiative/Proof-of-concept-grant-recipients.
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AU0017, 2018, Legislation & Regulation
AU0018, 2018, E-Government
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Independent Review of the Australian Public Service
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Digitization of Government Services
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Information Management and Access Laws
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Freedom of Information
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National Integrity Framework
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