This page belongs to: APS framework for engagement and participation

Ways to engage

The 4 ways to engage are:

  • share: when government needs to tell the public about a government initiative

  • consult: when government needs to gather feedback from the public about a problem or a solution

  • deliberate: when government needs help from the public because a problem involves competing values, and requires trade-offs and compromise

  • collaborate: when government needs help from the public to find and implement a solution.

The way public servants should engage the public will depend on a consideration of the following issues:

  • the complexity of the problem, whether the problem has already been framed, if there is a shared understanding of the problem
  • what is in scope for influence, and what has already been decided
  • who will be involved in delivering the solution.

The framework is not intended to imply that one way of engaging is, in and of itself, better than another. For example, it is not necessarily ‘better’ to collaborate than to share information.

The relative merit of the different ways depends on the circumstances. When planning an engagement, public servants should ask themselves: which of these ways will best engage the expertise I need to solve the particular problem at hand, given the constraints I am under?

Share

Does government need to tell the public about a government initiative?

Sharing information is where communication is one-way, from the government to the public. People receive factual information to describe an event, new initiative or changes to an existing process.

Typically, sharing information is a good approach in the following circumstances:

  • a decision has already been made
  • the intention is to share information after the fact to inform the public about changes or new initiatives
  • the information to share is concise, user-friendly and comprehensive
  • it is clear to the receiver of the information that the intention is to merely share information.

The promise to the public when sharing information is simple: ‘we will keep you informed’.

‘Share’ engagement visualisation

When to share information

  • The problem is simple and known.
  • A solution has already been decided.
  • The solution will be implemented by the government.

Examples of information sharing

Information sharing is the most familiar and common way of engaging:

  • Government agencies routinely use websites to share information about their work.
  • They also use social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Linkedin), and more traditional mediums like television, newspapers, poster advertising and radio.
  • Some information sharing is face to face, e.g. a Town Hall meeting.

Innovative examples of information sharing include digital solutions, like:

  • IP Australia’s ‘IP NOVA’ - a free cloud-based data visualisation tool that enables anyone to explore the intellectual property landscape based on IP Australia’s open government data
  • The Australian Tax Office’s ‘Alex’ is a virtual assistant, which uses natural language processing to help with general tax inquiries.

But innovative information sharing can also be ‘low-tech’:

  • South Australia’s Open State Festivals: 10-11 day festivals of events, exploring how collaboration, innovation, ideas and enterprise can address the complex challenges of the future. The 2016 event attracted 25,000 attendances at 60 events. The 2017 event was attended by 17,500 people, with 171 events across six themes: Future Food, Future Human, Future Enterprise, Future Planet, Future Cities and Future Democracy with over 165 events. For more information, do an internet search for “Open state South Australia”.

Consult

Does government need to gather feedback from the public about a problem or a proposed solution?

In consultation, government starts by posing a question or topic for the participants (usually citizens and/or stakeholders) to consider, then asks them to provide their views on it. The process to gather views can take different forms, such as a town hall meeting, a design thinking workshop, a submission, or an online survey. Ideally, when provided with this opportunity to comment, participants’ views and lived experiences should be supported with quantitative data or analysis.

Typically when an engagement is a consultation the following characteristics are present:

  • Participants are provided with an opportunity to present their views to decision-makers, and provide evidence and arguments in support or in opposition of them.
  • Decision-makers should assess these positions on their merits, but they are not obliged to accept or act on them.
  • Decision-makers should provide the rationale for their final decisions.

The promise to the public here is: ‘we will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge concerns and aspirations, and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision’.

'Consult' engagement visualisation

When to consult

  • The problem is not overly complex, but neither is it simple.
  • Government wants feedback on a proposed course of action or a few solutions are being considered and the public’s views will be considered in deciding which solution to implement.
  • Ultimately, government will weigh up the pros and cons of each solution, and take responsibility for implementing the solution.

Examples of consultation

Supported school transport is provided to some children and young people with disability so that they can travel to and from school. Currently, supported school transport is delivered by state and territory governments with arrangements differing in each jurisdiction.

As the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is rolled out across Australia, a discussion paper was released requesting feedback from the public on whether current arrangements for supported school transport should continue or whether the potential model for supported school transport could work under the NDIS.

See examples of consultations on the Department of Social Services consultation platform.

Our department’s consultation hub lists current and closed consultations. The public is able to find relevant consultations, relevant documents related to them, and provide submissions.

As an example, one consultation was the International Space Investment Initiative. For this consultation, the Australian Space Agency sought views on the design of the inititiative, in particular from businesses and researchers that are currently engaged, or would like to be engaged, in international space projects.

Deliberate

Does government need help from the public to balance competing values and interests and achieve trade-offs and compromise?

In a ‘deliberate’ engagement people are asked to help identify and frame an issue, and/or develop a strategy that the government commits to deliver. Participants discuss to find common ground and collectively arrive at an agreement. Participants need to be able to support their lived experiences with evidence and facts. Government must be willing to trust the process to deliver recommendations it could work with.

Typically, when an engagement is a deliberation the following characteristics are present:

  • Deliberative engagements take a rule-based approach. Participants are provided with an engagement plan which sets boundaries for how far and in what way citizens and/or stakeholders will participate in decision-making.
  • The process begins by giving participants an opportunity to present their views to decision-makers, provide evidence and arguments in support of them, and reply to opposing views.
  • Once views have been presented, participants engage in deliberative discussions about the best way to frame the problem, identify issues and develop solutions, subject to the boundaries and rules set by the plan.
  • In the discussions, participants are expected to listen to each other, learn about each other’s concerns, discuss similarities and differences, weigh evidence, and work together to find win/win solutions that strike a better balance between competing values and interests.
  • They develop recommendations, that are provided to government for a final decision.

The promise to the public can take the form of: ‘We will look to you for advice and innovation in formulating solutions. Subject to the boundaries and rules set by the engagement plan, we will incorporate your advice and recommendations into final decisions to the maximum extent possible.

‘Deliberate’ engagement visualisation

When to deliberate

  • The problem is complicated or complex.
  • For help in framing what the problem is and what the issues are, or if there is a need to establish a shared understanding.
  • When a consultative process where government deliberates on the issues alone will create winners or losers.
  • Government and the public work together to frame the problem and identify any issues and develop solutions, but government is responsible for implementation and delivery.

Examples of deliberation

A citizens’ jury is a group of randomly selected people that are representative of the broader community, who are briefed by experts to help resolve an issue. They have been used for a range of issues - including healthcare provision, public service funding, insurance policy, the environment and even constitutional change. The South Australian Government has used them to consider road safety, and cat and dog management. Find out more on the SA Government’s YourSay platform.

Please note that citizen juries are a deliberative engagement type only when the jury makes a recommendation, and it is up to the government to decide whether it will implement the recommendation or not. When the jury’s decision is final, the government is merely a facilitator of the process.

For further examples of citizen juries and other deliberative engagements see the Democracy R&D website.

The Australian Government is aiming to build a single storage facility to permanently dispose of low-level and temporarily store Australia’s intermediate-level radioactive waste. The recent amendments to the National Radioactive Waste Management Act (2012) formalises the importance of broad community support before a site could be selected.

The facility will not be built in a location if the nearby community does not want it. The community has been provided with information from experts, and given time and space to deliberate prior to voting on the matter.

See how communities had their say on the site for the facility.

Collaborate

Does government need help from the public to find and implement a solution?

A ‘collaborate’ engagement is a very specific way to engage - not simply a vague or general approach that might involve some stakeholders. It involves a commitment between governments, citizens, and/or organisations to pool their resources and align their efforts to achieve a shared goal that no one person or organisation has the resources to solve alone – not even government.

In these engagements, people work with the government to define an issue, develop and deliver proposed solutions. Participants share decision-making and implementation of solutions. Again, participants need to be able to support their lived experiences with evidence and facts. Government must be willing to trust the process to deliver recommendations it could work with.

Typically, when an engagement is a collaboration the following characteristics are present:

  • Like a 'deliberate' engagement, collaborative engagements also take a rules-based approach. Participants are given an engagement plan that sets boundaries for how far and in what way citizens and/or stakeholders will participate in decision-making.
  • The process begins by giving participants an opportunity to present their views to decision-makers, provide evidence and arguments in support of them, and reply to opposing views.
  • Once views have been presented, participants engage in constructive discussions about the best way to solve the problem, subject to the boundaries and rules set by the plan.
  • The participants should assess different options on their merits and adjust their views accordingly.
  • There needs to be an agreement on government’s role versus the community’s role in implementing and delivering any recommended solutions. This could take the form of an agreed action plan.
  • The final decision on how to proceed remains with government.

The promise to the public can take the form of: ‘we will look to you for advice and innovation in formulating solutions. Subject to the boundaries and rules set by the engagement plan, we will incorporate your advice and recommendations into final decisions to the maximum extent possible. We will need your help to implement the solutions together’.

‘Collaborate’ engagement visualisation

When to collaborate

  • The problem is complex.
  • The public’s help is needed in coming up with a solution.
  • Government and the public need to pool resources and align effort because no one person or organisation can solve the problem alone.

Examples of collaboration

‘Empowered Communities’ involves Indigenous leaders from eight regions across Australia working together with government and corporate Australia to reform how Indigenous policies and programs are designed and delivered. More information is available on the Empowered Communities website.

The Co-design Community Engagement project involved the Commonwealth Department of Human Services (DHS) joining with other levels of government, citizens and NGOs in a collaborative planning process to deliver better services to the community. The project involved a series of community dialogues in nine sites across Victoria. In each dialogue, up to 30 participants met at least four times to identify and discuss ways to improve services for selected groups. All regions then produced action plans with clearly stated responsibilities to improve services for government and community service participants.

APS participants, and the majority of non-APS participants, reported that the project had been highly successful. The project led to further adoption of co-design and collaboration at DHS. Read the report on the DHS website.

Research behind the ways to engage

The research undertaken in the design of the framework shows there is value in creating a shared understanding and language about how the APS engages.

To do this, the framework defines the ways public servants can engage. There are existing definitions and approaches to public participation that offer inspiration in this respect, particularly the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)’s work. But user research suggests the definitions adopted by the Ontario Provincial Government are well suited to the APS, and they resonated with people inside and outside the APS.

The Ontario Provincial Government’s engagement definitions have been used as the building blocks for the ‘ways to engage’ within this framework. This foundation has been built upon and adapted to reflect the APS context and the user research.