In New Zealand, central and local government conduct an estimated 1,500 to 3,000 stakeholder engagements annually and use methods that suit government, while expecting participation from people who are often time poor and sporadically available. Low participation rates are common.
Use of effective online engagement methods have enormous potential to help improve the quality of government decisions and consequently outcomes, by increasing stakeholder engagement and consequently ownership of outcomes, and to do so more cost effectively than via traditional methods.
There is no comprehensive online consultation and engagement service available to New Zealand government agencies. As a result, agencies repeat processes and investment in tool selection, procurement and service contracts and suffer disparate access to online engagement expertise.
The Government Online Engagement Service (GOES) project aims to provide a single source all-of-government online engagement service that assists agencies with the end-to-end management of the engagement process and improves the service delivery to participants. This will be done through the standardisation and automation of key aspects of engagement management, communication and contribution analysis. This would have the benefit of increasing public participation and engagement in government decision-making, as well as making the engagement process more efficient for agencies and their stakeholders.
The project is aligned with current strategic thinking across government which places an emphasis on delivering services and information in a user-centred manner, sharing solutions, reusing common technology, and delivering better services for less cost.
This presentation provides an overview of the current state of government's stakeholder engagement and outlines the service vision and next steps for the GOES project.
Other Presentations in This Series
This is one in a set of five presentations by the Digital Engagement team in Internal Affairs (DIA) on projects they are leading across government to improve how Government interacts with people online. The other four presentations are also available on the Web Toolkit:
- Digital Engagement Team Projects: An Introduction - Laura Sommer (Manager Digital Engagement) provides background information and an overview of the projects.
- Redevelopment of newzealand.govt.nz - Jared Gulian (Principal Advisor Digital Engagement) and Nathan Wall (Information Architect) review how the new website will provide all-of-government information based on users needs, with plain English content and features that are easy to understand.
- Domain Integrity Project - Rowan Smith (Senior Advisor Digital Engagement) talks about the current state of agencies’ web presence and creating an environment in which users can interact safely and securely with government online.
- Redevelopment of .govt.nz Domain Name Service - Jason Kiss (Senior Advisor Digital Engagement) discusses how the Government DNS system works, and planned updates to the features and security of this critical infrastructure.
Hi. Government does a lot of formal and informal engagement with its stakeholders. Whether it’s consulting on a discussion paper for the proposed changes to the Resource Management Act, or gathering feedback on proposals for the regional local body governance, or simply getting feedback on service provision, or the usefulness of information on a website, government relies on gathering feedback from its stakeholders. In fact, increasingly it relies on this under the expectations of the better public services programme.
Government needs to engage with a whole range of stakeholders, whether they’re individuals, community groups, business groups, non-government organisations, or other government agencies. These people and groups are government stakeholders because they’re interested in or will be affected by government’s decisions.
New technologies have led to changes in how people want to interact with government. Social media now enables everybody to have a voice, but government usually uses methods of stakeholder engagement that don’t allow for the free exchange of ideas and opinions in the way that people want to exchange their ideas and opinions. Government uses time frames and methods that suit government while expecting participation from people that are often time poor or sporadically available.
It’s often difficult for government to find the right people to talk to at the right time, so not surprisingly, low participation rates are really common. When the approach used doesn’t suit the desired outcome, that can limit the range of views gathered and their usefulness. Participants can feel undervalued when they invest their time and effort in engaging with government but have no visibility of how their contribution affects the outcomes.
For government, the analysis of submissions is extremely time-consuming and labour intensive. And a range of analysis methods are used, but generally how to do the analysis is one of the last things that they think about in the process. And there’s often little consistency across the analysis methods used for different engagement processes, so this limits the broader use of the information that’s gathered.
Sometimes engagement contributions can provide little gems of ideas that could be collected for a specific engagement process, but it might not be relevant to this process but might also be an extremely useful piece of information for another process within a different part of the agency or within a different government department. And all of those little gems get lost in the current processes.
Overall there’s a lack of knowledge, experience, and consistency of approach to stakeholder engagement across government. Online engagement, where social web tools are used is seen as a cheaper and easier option for government stakeholder engagement, but few people understand how to achieve effective online engagement. The knowledge that does exist is not shared across government and there’s duplication of investment in online engagement tools.
So for the Government Online Engagement Service, or GOES project, we’ve talked to a range of different people about their needs for online engagement tools. We’ve established a working group which is made up of people from large and small government agencies from local and central government and also from the non-government sector, such as the social services sector or the business and science communities. So the wealth of experience and understanding about stakeholder engagement in this working group was integral to the development of a service vision for the GOES project.
And the working group put out a survey late last year to government agencies asking them about their experiences of online engagement and what the requirements would be of an online engagement service. Then we had meetings with six different agencies who considered themselves to be potential early adopters of the GOES project.
In February this year, we held a workshop with a group of people from government agencies aimed with some people from government stakeholder groups, such as the Family Budgeting Service, the Wellington Youth Council, SeniorNet, the National Council of Women, Citizens Advice Bureau, and the Retailers Association. So that was a group of people who represent a wide range of government stakeholder groups. And we asked them to discuss some user scenarios and gathered their feedback on what they think GOES should look like.
So what we learned from all of this engagement on online engagement was that when agencies choose to use online tools, they use a range of tools, often cloud-based solutions that are low cost and easy to deploy. But they don’t always choose the right tool for the job. They often have concerns about the use of offshore hosting for these solution as a service product through the web. And they’re concerned about data security and integrity because of that offshore hosting.
And also, the tools that they use don’t always suit their requirements as well. But agencies are making do with what they can find and what they can afford. They recognise that the information they gather through these ranges of different processes is siloed from every other engagement process. So that limits the value of that information gained, and particularly when they are asking the same groups of people the same questions over and over again.
Stakeholder feedback is relied on by government, but engagement projects are usually not funded or resourced sufficiently and have restricted time frames. So government sticks to what it knows how to do and uses solutions to gather single directional feedback.
When agencies do attempt deliberative or discussion-based engagement, they often lack the expertise and resources to do it well. So responses from our survey showed that there was high demand for a government online engagement service. But the cost model for charging agencies to use that service has to be competitive and flexible to fit the business need and the agency size.
There’s strong stakeholder support for better use of early deliberative engagement processes. But there’s also concern that if online is seen as the default option because it’s considered to be cheaper by government, then whole sectors of society can be left out of the process.
So what we’re aiming for the GOES project is we want to enable government agencies to apply engagement approaches that are appropriate for their stakeholders. This doesn’t mean that online is the only channel. There’ll still be times when public meetings in town halls and postal submissions are appropriate. It means that online would be the primary channel and then we would need to fold in and have a cohesive mix of different approaches, depending on what the engagement process was.
We want to ensure that government agencies have the capability to effectively and efficiently analyse their engagement inputs, so that’s all the submissions and the contributions that they get, and also to be able to coordinate and reuse online engagement capability across government. We want to be able to do this so that we can increase the opportunities for stakeholders to easily engage with government in a more meaningful way, and therefore improve participation in the government decision-making process. And overall we want to achieve better quality government decisions based on better engagement practices.
We also want to make it easier for both government and stakeholders to leverage online engagement tools and for agencies to collaborate and focus resources on quality engagement practices so that agencies and stakeholders can get better value for their investment in the process.
So the vision for GOES project is to establish an online engagement community practice. And we want to establish that across government so engagement practitioners can get together and collaborate and share their experiences and also talk to each other about the timing of their engagement processes so that they’re not necessarily engaging with the same stakeholders at the same time and asking similar questions. A key role of that community of practice is to co-create and therefore own best practice guidance material for online engagement.
The tools component of GOES, which is on the right side of this, this will include an engagement listing on the redeveloped newzealand.govt.nz website. And this is where people can find, select, and browse and search for different government engagement processes, whether it’s formal submission processes and consultations or feedback processes. So this will enable people to be able to subscribe to topics of interest or particular engagements to find out what updates are happening. So this is a way of, along the same lines as newzealand.govt, you’ve got one place to go and find out about it.
And with the ability for subscription, you might not have to go back all the time. You can be alerted to new things happening in any area of your interest. This will be self-service management so that agencies can go in and manage and maintain their own engagement listings.
GOES also plans to provide a range of online engagement components for agencies to use. And this includes things like online survey functionality or submission upload forms or a discussion forum functionality. There’ll also be some limited functionality for contribution analysis. That allows high-level breakdowns of engagement inputs and capabilities to compare across engagement processes the information that’s gathered, within the bounds of the relevant legislation, like the Privacy Act. Underlying these tools will be a stakeholder management system that agencies can use to track their engagement and their interactions with the stakeholders.
Soon we’ll be launching the Community of Practice, and we’re doing this in collaboration with the Victoria University School of Government. We’re working on the business case for the GOES project at the moment. The guidance material is going to be collaboratively developed with the Community of Practice. And we’re starting with a framework that outlines what’s needed, and we have parallel engagement research that we know is happening, where that fits in.
We’ll be taking a phased and iterative approach to product development, and we’re basing it on the common web platform. We’re following in the wonderful steps of newzealand.govt redevelopment project, and we’re learning everything about how their processes worked and how we can leverage that. And once we better understand the agency demand and stakeholder usage patterns for the initial GOES platform, we’ll grow the platform by developing additional functionality or integrating with other products.
Through GOES everyone will have the ability to be better informed about engagement opportunities. Agencies will be able to share their engagement experiences and have greater facility to collaborate on engagement projects. Through the use of good evaluation practices, case studies, and showcasing we’ll be able effect change over the long term to raise the bar for online public engagement practice, always learning from each other and from past experiences. And with greater use of more open and transparent processes will come greater buy-in of the outcomes of decisions made.
And as for all of our team’s projects, we’ll be posting updates on our project and learnings on the government web toolkit.