Last year the Government Information Services team at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) reviewed the Government Online Engagement Service (GOES) pilot.
The main focus of the review was on the service that we had provided to agencies, and finding out their pain points when engaging. However, this was only half of the picture and didn’t take into account people’s experiences of engaging with government, which is a critical missing link to make sure what’s delivered meets people’s needs, not just organisations.
This was a great opportunity for us to get into the community and listen to people’s views directly. We wanted to hear from the widest variety of people we could within the time we had.
Talking to people
First we went to the annual #WellyTech event to hear initial thoughts and ideas, and to test out questions with a digitally-engaged crowd.
- Do you feel you get to have a say in what government does?
- How do you want to have your say?
- What would make you want to have your say?
- What might prevent you from having your say?
With our refined questions, we headed to Pātaka Art + Museum in Porirua where we met and talked with people face-to-face in their amazing community space. This was a great place to hear a broad range of views across all demographics. I personally enjoyed spending time with teenagers who had recently voted for the first time and were keen to share views on their understanding and experiences of government.
We also used remote online testing to reach more diverse geographic, ethnic, gender and age groups. We asked them a series a questions through an online survey about how they would like to have their say with government. We also developed a basic prototype to test the idea of how they might like to engage through an online platform. This was a great way to hear from a variety people around New Zealand within a short period.
Alongside talking to individuals, we also interviewed some non-government organisations, ran workshops with government agencies, and reviewed what other governments are doing overseas.
Some of the themes that emerged included:
- People want to be kept informed through the process and of the outcome.
- Government needs to be a part of the conversation –it’s about two-way communication, not just talking at people.
- People want to know how we will be using their information.
- Online forums require a careful balance between anonymity versus verification.
Inclusive and human
- Information, including context, needs to be provided in a way that is engaging and easy to understand.
- Government needs to go where people are using both digital and non-digital channels together.
- People want to engage through a variety of channels both digital and non-digital with the ability to self-select.
- When engaging with Māori and Pasifika, initial contact ideally should be face-to-face.
Open and transparent
- Relevant information and data needs to be publically available to help people make decisions about issues.
- People want to see government working in the open so they can trust the process.
- Government needs to partner up with other organisations that already innovate with engagement eg Toi Aria, Action Station.
The full report how digital can support peoples participation in government provides a summary of our insights and recommendations from the discovery research.
This research has informed DIA’s work on making access to more sophisticated engagement tools available for government agencies. We are also updating the engagement advice and guidance for agencies published on Digital.govt.nz. By sharing this research, we hope that these lessons will help inform future open government initiatives to close the digital divide.