Aspiring to the principles will help ensure engagements go beyond seeking buy-in, and instead tap the public’s expertise and lead to better policy, programs and services.
Too often, APS engagement emphasises managing stakeholders, rather than engaging to uncover useful expertise. That is, public servants often think of engagement as a way to get buy-in and minimise opposition.
While sometimes the circumstances suit this approach, other times it has serious consequences. At a minimum, it makes it harder to find the best solution.
With some complex issues, crucial expertise gets overlooked. It can foster entrenched views, limit opportunities for people with different views to influence, and reduces commitment to the end outcome, ultimately making it harder to gain and maintain buy-in.
In broad terms, people are very supportive of what they design, and less so when their opinion is polled.
Of course, public servants work in an environment with many legitimate constraints and pressures on their time and resources.
Following these principles will not always be easy or practical. Time and resource constraints, in particular, make it difficult.
Principle 1: listen
- We understand that there is expertise in the public that can help design and deliver outcomes and we are committed to listening more than telling.
- We will engage the right people as early in our processes as we can.
- We will try to remember what has gone before and not keep asking the same questions – relevant data from engagements will be appropriately shared and re-used.
- In the act of listening, we will strive to ensure diversity will be represented, and the voices of hard-to-reach or marginalised people will be sought.
What listening looks like
- We will think about who the right people to engage are, and the best way to hear what they have to say.
- We will think about when the right time to engage is, for them and for us.
- When seeking opportunities to listen we will be mindful of the conversations that have previously occurred.
Principle 2: be genuine
- We will be clear on our objectives and choose ways to engage that are fit for purpose.
- We will value people’s time.
- We will be accessible, creating the time and space for people to engage, and when we can we will engage in real time.
- We will articulate the value we see in working together.
- When we engage people we will provide feedback that closes the loop.
What being genuine looks like
- We will have considered the nature of the challenge or opportunity and choose the right way to engage to meet the objectives.
- We will not engage if there isn’t anything to discuss.
- We will clearly explain the value in engaging, for them and for us.
- We will think about how to let people know how their feedback was used.
Principle 3: be open
- We will be clear about what we are trying to achieve, the scope of our challenge and the potential for people to influence outcomes.
- We will use simple language.
- We will be open about our limitations and constraints.
- We will tell people what we are doing, the context in which it is occurring, and where their input and information is going.
- We will ensure that we use a range of modes to communicate with the public (e.g., face to face, phone, internet, etc.).
What being open looks like
- We will convey to the people we are engaging with what can be influenced, what has changed and what is fixed.
- We will provide sufficient information in a way that helps people know how best to make meaningful contributions.
- We will use appropriate channels to engage people, so we can target a diverse range of people with different expertise.