What else did we learn?
Lessons on inclusion and diversity cover face-to-face interactions, language as a barrier, digital access and literacy and civic education.
Inclusion and diversity
Use face-to-face for creating relationships
Pōwhiri — starts with a Karanga — says who the people are coming — who they are and what they are talking about. Whaikōrero. Know who people are before you start talking.
Building trust and increasing political engagement with communities who traditionally have high rates of digital exclusion and low political engagement requires ongoing investment in face-to-face relationships.
Communities with high rates of digital exclusion include families with children in low socio-economic communities, people living in rural communities, disabled people, migrants and refugees with English as a 2nd language, Māori and Pasifika youth, offenders and ex-offenders and Seniors.
Relationship building needs to be built into a mechanism, not just relying on a single person who can leave an organisation and take the knowledge with them. A non-government organisation (NGO) interviewed suggested government use Memorandum of Understanding as a mechanism to lock-in an ongoing, constructive relationship. This also allows trust to build between government and communities who experience digital exclusion.
Language is a barrier
To increase people’s involvement in decision making, government has to make information easy to understand. Every group interviewed commented that the information government publishes is typically difficult to understand. People talked about there being too much information or that it is poorly communicated. (This information came from interviews at Pātaka.) Even the public servants involved in this research said they don’t like long discussion documents.
Recent evidence, that 40% of adults are unable to read at a functioning level, highlights that easy-to-read, accessible information is a keystone of inclusive engagement.
Consultation documents are typically difficult to read, with a 2017 audit finding that 45% are aimed at a university educated reading level.
Other groups have to be considered when writing information for increased participation, such as English as a second language readers, people with cognitive impairments, and dyslexia for example. Doing this means there is clarity and transparency, as well as a potential increase in participation amongst diverse, more ‘silent’ voices.
Digital access and literacy
Being unable to afford data or devices, and not having the skills to use them, were highlighted by people as barriers to engaging with government. Ideas that came up from the research to help address lack of access and skills included the use of community outreach, like piggybacking off local events, such as using the library bus in South Auckland.
Government is just a humongous system with so many wires attached to it.
There is a strong call for government to do a much better job of explaining what it is, and what it does, and why that matters. Young people interviewed talked about people helping them register to vote, but no-one explaining why voting matters, how they can have their say — not just in elections — but in other government decisions. There is a common theme that the complexity of government makes engaging too difficult.
International research shows that if people don’t understand how government works, and how they can participate, their trust in it decreases.
This is true of New Zealand, with a 2016 survey showing 50% of respondents losing trust in Government Ministers and Members of Parliament.
While voter turnout rates in New Zealand is better than some other countries, it has been on a downward slide since the 1960s, when it reached 90%. There was a slight rise in turn-out in the 2017 elections with 78.8% of people voting (of people enrolled to vote), compared to 77.9% in 2014. However, there is still significant room for improvement in encouraging young people to vote and to get involved in government decision making.
Participants in the research project also shared ideas about how government could achieve a digitally supported participatory democracy.