Ongoing engagement for OGP (NZ0009)
Ongoing engagement for OGP We will build a flexible and enduring platform for engagement between the New Zealand government and New Zealand communities around the Open Government Partnership. Objective: To ensure that government and communities are able to engage on open government topics using a variety of stable methods – including online platforms and face-toface meetings and other forums – as part of a wider engagement plan. Status quo: In facilitating the development of New Zealand’s National Action Plan for the OGP, the State Services Commission (SSC) has built an online platform to engage with New Zealand communities, using both government tools and software provided by an independent vendor. The SSC wants to build on this to improve engagement over the life of the next action plan. It is also supported in its work by an independent Expert Advisory Panel and a government officials group. The SSC intends to expand the ways people can get involved over the duration of the plan. Ambition: The SSC is committed to building a stable, fit-for-purpose platform for New Zealanders to engage with their government, using the technology and channels that people expect to use in a modern society. It will work toward ways of managing New Zealand’s participation in OGP that will reflect a spirit of co-creation with communities.
IRM Midterm Status Summary
Work with the Department of Internal Affairs to improve government’s access to, and use of, digital public engagement tools
Work with the Expert Advisory Panel to decide how best to report on progress against OGP milestones
Engage with New Zealanders to develop the approach to the next plan.
Responsible institution: State Services Commission
Supporting institution(s): Department of Internal Affairs
Start date: October 2016
End date: June 2018
Context and Objectives
The government offers ‘a range of guidance materials to help the public sector engage effectively with the public to increase transparency and support participatory government’.[Note142: ‘Engagement and consultation guidance,’ New Zealand Government: Department of Internal Affairs, accessed17 January 2018, https://www.dia.govt.nz/Engagement-and-consultation. ] Its online engagement guidance, released in September 2015,[Note143: ‘Online engagement,’ New Zealand Government Web ToolKit, 24 July 2017, https://webtoolkit.govt.nz/guidance/online-engagement/.] is the starting point for agencies. Govt.nz provides a consultation listing for central and local government agencies and the public.[Note144: ‘Engaging with government,’ New Zealand Government, 27 April 2017, https://www.govt.nz/browse/engaging-with-government/.] The pilot Government Online Engagement Service (GOES) is the survey software tool built on government’s common web platform. Other agencies have their own tools, platforms or processes for engagement with the public.
When developing this action plan, the SSC used two platforms: GOES and the tool used by Engage2. While government used these two existing platforms to broaden the scope of engagement, some stakeholders felt that this approach complicated their ability to engage in the development of the action plan, and others were frustrated by the process for entering multiple submissions and wished to present formal off-line submissions that they had prioritised.[Note145: HuiE!, 5 July 2017, interview with IRM researcher.] There was also a question as to why an external contractor’s site was used.[Note146: Jan Rivers, 11 July 2017, Laurence Millar, 7 September 2017, interviews with IRM researcher.] All stakeholders wanted ongoing engagement for OGP over a long period, using a variety of mechanisms, two-way communication and feedback—all premised on partnership and co-creation values.
This commitment seeks to reflect ‘a spirit of co-creation with communities’ when developing and implementing future OGP action plans. The stated ambition is the creation of a stable and enduring platform for New Zealanders to engage with government, ‘using the technology and channels that people expect to use in a modern society’. It is led by the influential State Services Commission (SSC) with assistance from the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA). It will also need to work with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) to align government’s participation advice with Commitment 7’s activities.
The commitment meets the OGP values of civic participation, and technology and innovation. Government is improving opportunities and capabilities for the public to influence decisions and to co-create the next action plan. Technological innovation is planned to advance transparency and accountability, by opening up an interactive information suite of tools for engaging with the public and jointly developing the next OGP commitments.
The specificity of the commitment is medium. While the commitment text is fairly clear regarding the online platform to promote engagement between New Zealand government and communities, the reader must interpret how the listed activities are relevant to the overall objective. For example, the objective lists certain methods for engagement (e.g. online platforms, face-to-face meetings) but the listed activities do not ensure that these methods for engagement will occur. Furthermore, measuring the completion of such deliverables is not straightforward.
If fully implemented, this commitment would have moderate potential impact. A key goal for OGP is hearing from the public. As the data would reflect information about the public, it could be a starting point for wider feedback. It is hoped that a better-informed public can more accurately convey its views. While this commitment could significantly and positively enable co-creation with stakeholders when creating OGP action plans, the commitment text does not indicate whether this platform will be used for other policy areas. While participation and engagement in the OGP process is important, this commitment does not transform government and civil society decision making on big policy issues.
At the end of the first year of implementation, the SSC has begun the work with DIA to improve government’s access to, and use of, digital public engagement tools. DIA has reviewed and analysed government’s current engagement process. Their draft review, provided to the IRM researcher on 26 September 2017, but not published in the period of this review, concludes that there is a broader demand for tools that cover a variety of engagement methods e.g. co-design and participatory design. These user-centric methods support better decision-making, more successful policy implementation, social engagement and trust in government. The draft review also pointed out that agencies would value a single source for advice and guidance about consultations and engagement.[Note147: . ‘Review: Government Online Engagement Service (GOES) Pilot,’ NZ Department of Internal Affairs, September 2017. Unpublished.]
The next steps proposed by DIA in the draft review are ‘a discovery piece to identify and define options to extend the digital engagement service beyond the present online engagement service (GOES) pilot; and phasing out the GOES software tool in order to ‘support 2-way citizen conversation and deliberative participation’.[Note148: Id.] Interviews with the public are planned.
The government has completed work with the Expert Advisory Panel (EAP) to decide how to best report progress of OGP milestones. Officials now report to the EAP using a commonly agreed template, and these reports are published on the OGPNZ website following approval at the preceding EAP meeting.[Note149: ‘Our Progress,’ Open Government: New Zealand, accessed 17 January 2018, www.ogp.org.nz/our-progress/.]
The activity to engage with New Zealanders to develop the approach for the next action plan was started ahead of its formal start date of October 2017. This was done to enable progress ahead of the 23 September 2017 general election. Government’s mid-term self-assessment report states that the SSC has been laying the ground work for developing the next plan by ‘gathering insights from key stakeholder groups, building a more dynamic stream of information for NZers’, and ‘working to secure use of a digital platform for co-production, and neutral consultancy services to facilitate co-production’ of the next action plan’.[Note150: National Action Plan 2016-18 Mid-term self-assessment, Open Government Partnership: New Zealand, 2 October 2017, www.ogp.org.nz/assets/publications/New-Zealand-Mid-term-self-assessment-2016-18.pdf.] It states that commitment lead officials and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment are meeting regularly and assessing international initiatives such as engagement work by the UK foundation, NESTA. They are looking at how to ‘draw in voices beyond the easier to reach ‘usual suspects’.
Several stakeholder organisations (HuiE!, CommVoices, Public Service Association, Combined Trade Unions, VolunteeringNZ) have advised the IRM researcher that they are meeting regularly with the SSC ahead of the formal start in October 2017.
The work with DIA on digital tools for better engagement with New Zealanders and the engagement with New Zealanders to develop the approach to the next plan will be further reported on in the end-of-term report.
Government’s draft review of its current engagement process looks ahead to achieving system-wide transformative change through two-way citizen conversation and deliberative participation. The IRM researcher considers planned interviews ‘to ensure that government engagement is genuinely people-centred and it is easier to participate’ [Note151: . ‘Review: Government Online Engagement Service (GOES) Pilot,’ NZ Department of Internal Affairs. ] to be a welcome step.
Some stakeholders interviewed by the IRM researcher find the OGPNZ website difficult to navigate, they want OGP work and progress on the commitments actively publicised through other social media outlets, noting there was little evidence of activities beyond Wellington since the action plan was announced in October 2016. Some seek the ability for a wider group of the public to co-create the next action plan.[Note152: Cath Wallace and Jan Rivers, ECO, 11 July 2017, interview with IRM researcher.] Others seek inclusion of commitment activities outside of Wellington.[Note153: Fuimaono Tuiasau 20 July 2017, interview with IRM researcher.] They endorse the commitment’s activities to use a variety of stable methods and an OGP action plan process based on partnership between government and the public. Some seek a stronger social infrastructure to allow for open communication for civil society groups and for tracking OGP action plan progress,[Note154: Associate Professor Michael Macaulay, Victoria University of Wellington 12 July 2017; John Hall, Fortress Social Services Charitable Trust Board, 7 July 2017, interviews with IRM researcher.] a good, simple and clear platform, not just a holding place for discussion, ‘using more bespoke technology designed to support deliberation’ and report back to all who deliberated on what was done and why ideas were rejected,[Note155: Max Rashbrooke, 16 August 2017, interview with IRM researcher.] and an appreciation of ‘co-ownership with the public’.[Note156: Miriam Lips, Professor of Digital Government, Victoria University of Wellington, 25 August 2017, interview with IRM researcher.] Internet New Zealand advocated for only one platform and asked ‘Why build it ourselves?’[Note157: Jordan Carter, Jay Daley and Debbie Monahan, Internet NZ, 6 September, 2017, interview with IRM researcher.] Some stakeholders are sceptical about government’s commitment to co-create the next action plan.
Given the delay in publishing the review, the IRM researcher questions whether the intention to have improved digital public engagement tools by the start date of developing the next action plan (January 2018) is achievable. The SSC has subsequently advised that preparation for the public engagement process to develop the next National Action Plan is underway. It will utilize digital tools and feed insights developed in the course of this milestone into the planning for the engagement. Milestone one’s finish date is June 2018. The SSC has also said that this work isn’t tied to the next National Action Plan.[Note158: Comment from SSC during pre-publication review, 22 December 2017.]
One set of progress reports against OGP milestones has been published at the What’s Happening section of New Zealand’s OGP website using the format agreed with the Expert Advisory Panel.[Note159: ‘Our Progress,’ Open Government: New Zealand.]
Many stakeholders interviewed by the IRM researcher discussed how OGP participation can address the seeming tension between representative democracy and participatory (or deliberative) democracy. They noted that New Zealand’s representative system of government requires public participation in decision making and politics and gave examples of requirements for consultation in many New Zealand laws (e.g. Local Government Act, Resource Management Act, Conservation Act) and institutions (e.g. select committees, petitions, freedom of the press). They described deliberative democracy as an approach to particularly difficult issues that complements existing institutions between elections, not as a replacement for representative democracy, and they looked forward to using it to develop the next plan. They sought a two-way OGP communications strategy which includes listening to each group’s views so that all gain trust and confidence.[Note160: Max Rashbrooke, 16 August 2017; Sir Geoffrey Palmer, 25 August 2017; Simon Wright, 31 August; Laurence Millar, 7 September 2017, interviews with IRM researcher.]
The IRM researcher recommends that this commitment be completed in the remaining period of the action plan and that commitment activities one and three are updated to ensure effective development of the next action plan. These recommendations build on the feedback from stakeholder interviews. For commitment activity one, the SSC should bolster work with the Department of Internal Affairs by selecting a suite of tools and procedures to be used for public engagement across central and local government. For commitment activity three, engaging with New Zealanders should be modified to encompass ‘co-creating’. Action plan development should include greater participatory involvement. As for the second and completed commitment activity, the IRM researcher recommends that reporting of each milestone against its end-date is added to the template, to assist with OGP progress reporting.
The IRM researcher also notes that activities foreseen by this commitment are essential for a country to participate in OGP. Therefore, it is advisable for the government to successfully develop an enduring platform as an OGP mechanism to create and implement an effective action plan, and to do this as a regular OGP operational activity rather than including it as an action plan commitment. The IRM assesses the consultation mechanism during development and implementation of the action plan in a separate chapter of the IRM report (see 3.3 Civil society engagement).
IRM End of Term Status Summary
SSC completed Milestone 3. The external provider contracted by the SSC to lead the engagement with New Zealanders on the approach for the next action plan used several channels. These included an online pre-engagement survey to almost 800 respondents, interviews with representatives from community organisations, and the Expert Advisory Panel. The then associate minister launched formal engagement on the next action plan on 4 April 2018. [Note92: “How a Plan Is Developed,” Open Government Partnership New Zealand, http://www.ogp.org.nz/new-zealands-plan/how-a-plan-is-developed/. ] The new Minister, the Minister of State Services continued this approach. The third national action plan was released in December 2018 and will be assessed by the IRM in 2019.
Did It Open Government?
The IRM researcher notes that this commitment complements this 2016-2018 action plan’s Commitment 7’s work on improving knowledge of tools and techniques policy makers can use to create more open and user-led policy. The IRM researcher also acknowledges the 2018–2020 action plan statement that “across government, responsibilities related to public participation have evolved separately and are somewhat ad hoc.” [Note101: “Third National Action Plan,” Open Government Partnership New Zealand, 24, http://www.ogp.org.nz/new-zealands-plan/third-national-action-plan-2018-2020/.]
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