Thursday, August 18, 2016

PM&C sets a new benchmark for public engagement in Open Government Partnership membership process

This morning the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), through its site, put out a call for stakeholders to express their interest in joining an Interim Working Group to help co-draft Australia’s National Action Plan (NAP) for the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

The approach that PM&C confirmed this morning is a very innovative and progressive one. I believe it is a model for government/civil society engagement in Australia that other agencies should pay close attention to.

PM&C proposed forming an Interim Working Group to decide which actions to put to the government for final sign-off and inclusion in the NAP.

The Group is expected to have up to 12 members, comprised of equal representation between government officials and civil society stakeholders. It will be co-chaired by a senior government official and a civil society representative.

Anyone can submit an expression of interest to join the Group, with expressions to outline relevant experience and expertise related to supporting transparency, accountability and open government.

It is extremely rare for government agencies in Australian to agree to 'share power' with external stakeholders in this manner during a decision-making process. The usual approach is to invite feedback from outside, but make decisions inside agencies, usually in a 'black box' manner.

The collaborative approach outlined by the OGP team in PM&C is a far more transparent and engaging one. It shows respect by granting near equal standing to external stakeholders and, through sharing decision-making responsibility, is more likely to result in shared ownership and ongoing commitment to implementing the decisions made.

The Interim Working Group announcement is the first public step progressing Australia's membership of the OGP  since the federal election. It follows a multi-stage consultation process which has included:

  • initial stakeholder information sessions run in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra in December 2015 (Disclosure - I ran them on behalf of DPM&C, the presentation slides are here and a video of one of the sessions here).
  • a dual consultation process in February/March 2016 involving both an external wiki collecting action ideas for Australia's NAP  (over 200 collated ideas here) and an internal consultation with government agencies to identify actions they could commit to.
  • a Canberra-based co-creation workshop in April 2016 involving roughly 60 attendees from civil societies, agencies and individual stakeholders which aimed to aggregate and filter the collated ideas into 10-15 actions for the NAP (outcomes here). My report on the workshop, which I attended is here.
I'm very optimistic about this process, as the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has demonstrated significant engagement and commitment to the outcome and a willingness to listen to and involve external stakeholders throughout the decision-making process.

I hope other agencies keep a close eye on this process and the outcomes and consider where a similar approach might help them achieve public goals in a more effective and sustainable way.

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