South Australia's Strategic Plan Community Engagment
Department of Premier and Cabinet, Government of South Australia

The Problem

The South Australian Government’s Strategic Plan (the Plan) was launched in 2004 in response to a resolution from the Economic Summit held in 2002. The Plan is a blueprint for the future of South Australia. It contains outcomes-focused targets across public policy areas such as economic development, environmental sustainability and social justice. These targets drive government policy making and resource allocation with state budgets framed around the Plan and the heads of government departments held accountable for the Plan’s achievement.

Although the Plan was developed by government, it was never intended to be just for government; rather it aims to focus all South Australians’ on working to deliver on jointly-determined goals. Despite this aim, public awareness of the Plan, and therefore broader contribution towards its achievement, was regarded as low with various surveys finding that only a small proportion of South Australians are aware of it. Broadening public knowledge and stewardship of the Plan to embed it into communities and therefore to drive sustainable change in South Australia can only be achieved if the plan reflects the needs and priorities of South Australians.

Limitations in technology and resources in the past resulted in the extent of the consultation being limited with many social groups unrepresented. Those that were physically and geographically isolated, refugees, young mums and children and many ordinary working people were some of the groups whose voice went unheard. It is therefore not surprising that the Plan was largely seen as a plan for government alone by those who were aware of its existence. More importantly as surveys undertaken prior to the update in 2010 indicated the broader community had either no or very low awareness of the Plan nor did they connect activity like services or policies with the Plan. The biggest community engagement exercise ever undertaken in South Australia was to change this.

Over the past 100 years governments have progressively taken ownership of problems and provided solutions. However, increasingly government is unable to meet the needs of citizens through its own resources alone. There is a need to support and re-empower communities to develop solutions themselves so that solutions are relevant and sustainable.

A key objective of the update of the Plan was to take the first steps to enable local communities to act on issues of concern. Accordingly, in order to be realised, the Plan needed to clearly articulate South Australia’s collective values explaining where South Australia is going and why. To start this process, multiple communities were invited to develop visions for the future. The community’s aspirations and visions for the future needed to be front and centre. As such, the Plan needed to really engage communities in order for their ideas to be a part of the future of South Australia.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
To develop a South Australian Strategic Plan (the Plan) which shapes policy, programs and services to meet the needs and priorities of South Australians, it is vital to bring people into the process of designing the Plan and continue to do this on a regular basis. Every four years the Plan is updated to ensure that it is responsive to the changing social, economic and environmental situation. The update process is overseen by the independent Community Engagement Board, supported by staff from the Department of the Premier and Cabinet – together they made up the Engagement Team (the team).

The 2010-11 update was the most extensive community engagement exercise ever undertaken in South Australia. In total 9200 people were engaged through a diverse suite of methodologies. In addition, over 500,000 people were contacted via email or social media to raise awareness of the Plan. The update asked the community to develop a vision for South Australia, ‘to 2020 and beyond’.

Never before had an engagement project been undertaken in South Australia that made such extensive efforts to understand what the community wanted for its future.

Previously unrepresented groups were specifically targeted - reducing the barriers of geography, language, cultural beliefs and social isolation. The use of innovative techniques reached a much wider audience. Online discussions were post-moderated; traditional government branding was replaced with colourful, socialised material in a range of formats and ethnic languages and the team took the time to gather qualitative stories from the community.

Unique elements included:
1. an integrated approach - with the website forming the hub of the engagement where participants could have their say, interact with each other and receive information. Summaries of face to face conversations were posted on the website and images and videos on Flickr, You Tube and Facebook, with participants invited to reflect on what they said.
2. a choice of channels – face to face, online, social media, postcards and surveys
3. going to people – in shopping malls, online, in community centres, schools, workplaces and churches
4. citizen-centric approach - different models were used to meet the needs of different groups, making sure it was a tailored and an enjoyable experience
5. engaging those whose voices often don’t be heard – in particular Aboriginal, multicultural groups and younger people, but also minority groups like Urghers and Sudanese.
6. innovative online tools - including social media and multi-media including video and images to allow as many people to participate.
7. asking children – To ensure the voices of our youngest citizens were heard, consultations also occurred with children across the state under the ages of 12.
All South Australians were given the opportunity to join the conversation. The premise being that if the Plan exists to drive policy for the whole state it must, if it is to be successful, reach the lives of all residents. Communities, families, businesses and individuals were invited to participate and the open consultation sessions were extensively advertised.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The Premier of South Australia proposed that the engagement be the most extensive in the state’s history. However, this was in response to a growing recognition by government that communities across the state were interested in determining the future of the state in collaboration with government.

The Premier appointed Community Engagement Board’s to give independent advice to government and act as a conduit between the community and government in relation to the Plan. This independence allows full and frank advice to be given to the government about the views of the community and enables participants to feel free to raise all of their thoughts in an open and honest way. To further assist this openness independent facilitators were engaged to support the Board.

A small secretariat within the Department of Premier and Cabinet designed and implemented the engagement strategy (face to face and online) and reported to the Board on a monthly basis.

With the assistance of Hieu Van Le, Community Engagement Board member and
chair of the South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission, the team
established consultation meetings with the Greek, Chinese, Italian, and culturally
and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. The team hosted separate consultations
for our largest ethnic communities, and more general consultation for the wider
CALD communities.

Government departments gave the team access to their constituencies, for example the team worked with the Department of Education and Children’s Services to consult with children under the age of 12. This involved about 350 children from preschools, child care centres and children’s centres across the state. Of these, 26 per cent were Aboriginal and 20 per cent were from rural, remote or isolated communities.

In addition, the team involved South Australia’s Strategic Plan Alliance 70 members and peak organisations in every step of the process and sought their assistance in analysing the information we had gained through the engagement process. Alliance members are peak bodies, advocacy groups, charities and social and environmental groups including the major not for profits in South Australia and other groups with a special interest including business people and lobbyists and academics.

Most importantly, ordinary South Australians from a wide range of communities and backgrounds are the key stakeholders in the Plan. From Naracoorte in the south of the state to Port Pirie in the north, from Wudinna to West Beach - over six months, 9,200 people from across the state shared their ideas and visions for a prosperous and sustainable future. Approximately 40% of people who got involved were from the metropolitan area, 19% from the regions and 41% engaged with us online or through our survey.

In more than 60 community meetings they expressed their hopes and fears, asked hard questions about South Australia’s future and debated, sometimes passionately, how we can balance competing priorities. Everywhere there were local mayors, councilors, local Members of Parliament sharing their aspirations along with builders, shopkeepers, farmers, business people, community workers, mums, dads, grandparents and students.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
‘People engage people’ was a key element of the strategy. The Engagement Team (the team) designed a socialised engagement strategy to reach as many people as possible by being interesting, fun and giving participants the confidence that what they contributed would influence the Plan and in turn shape the future of South Australia.

The strategy involved people from beginning to end. Initial focus groups helped the team design the process, including colourful, ‘un-government’ marketing materials, and to plan the types of engagement that would be most attractive. A multi-pronged strategy was developed to maximise reach and relevance.

Over 60 community meetings were organised from inner metropolitan to regional South Australia. They were an open invitation to the public and advertised in local media and to community organisations. Meetings targeting individuals and organisations from specific immigrant cultural backgrounds eg Chinese, Italian, Greek etc. Nine of these meetings were held as well as special visits to community centres where different ethnic groups gather. There was also a strong focus on consulting with women and people with a disability, specific meetings were held in regional and urban centres involving more than 300 women. These meetings were organised by the Premier’s Council for Women and hence run by women for women.

Through a children’s engagement strategy, 350 children were engaged through art, music, drama and photography, this number included consultations that were specifically inclusive of remote and isolated children, Aboriginal children, culturally and linguistically diverse children and children with additional needs.

An outreach program, targeting hard-to-reach and isolated groups such as young mums, refugees, Aboriginal South Australians, children and regional groups including farming communities used traditional print and electronic media as well as word of mouth from local councillors and community representatives.

People in major and regional shopping centres were also chance to voice their opinion. A further 2000 people with a disability and stakeholders representing people with a disability were consulted within forums across the state. These consultations aimed for maximum accessibility.

Furthermore, the team recognised the need to engage with those who are ‘time poor’ and the physically and geographically isolated; hence, a myriad of social media users including those on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube were engaged through a digital engagement strategy. Another strategy was to distribute reply-paid postcards, which allowed confidential, informal submissions to be made, to youth groups and aged care facilities. This was coupled with the opportunity to engage in formal submissions through open invitations to provide formal written submissions.

Finally, many people were reached through the Plan’s Alliance 70 partners – this these are peak bodies, advocacy groups, charities and social and environmental groups including the major not for profits in South Australia and other groups with a special interest such as ourselves the Young Women’s Christian Association (YMCA). Specialists, business people, lobbyists and academics were engaged in specific forums, such as the Environmental Forum and Business Leaders Forum.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
This initiative involved an exceptional engagement process - something to enjoy as well as something that was open, transparent and meaningful. A broad cross section of the community was involved in a range of community meetings, through focus groups, regional, metro and special interest sessions that were all linked to online platforms and spaces. The process itself was structured in a way that guaranteed independence, with the Community Engagement Board’s brief giving independent advice to government to promote full and frank discussion about the views of the community and enabling participant honesty.

The engagement process was made up of around four key stages outlined below.

Identifying visions - What was the community’s vision for the future of South Australia?
The Engagement Team (the team) held Community meetings in order to discern what this vision was; it was then open to all members of the community to discuss concepts further in other forums accessible online. These discussions were supplemented by feedback received from stakeholders and other interested individuals.

Framing and analysis
After the first round of consultation the feedback was collated, it was here that all the common views were identified and sorted into key themes and areas of focus. This information was then used in developing a set of goals that were used in a report to represent the views of people across the state.

Checking back
Having compiled this information, it was then taken back to the community, and 15 consultation sessions were held in order to ensure that it was in fact a true representation. To supplement these sessions, the team conducted an online survey that attracted 1433 people’s participation. All of this information together formed the advice regarding new visions, goals and targets for the updated South Australia’s Strategic Plan (Plan). It was essential that the process was open and inviting to all members of the community, representative of the population and inclusive of different views and values.

Report writing
It was at this stage that the report was finally pieced together and could be satisfactorily called a true representation of the views of the community. This became the advice that was provided in order to update the Plan.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Challenge 1. Will they engage?
One of the most obviously risks was that the concept of a strategic plan did not relate to the communities everyday lives. There was also the possibility that people would not wish to participate in a strategic planning exercise for the state. In addition, there was also the possibility that people might not make the connection between the Plan and a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.

The team held held community meetings that were well attended and created a sense of excitement and anticipation about the potential of the Plan to create a better future. Thinking big and sharing ideas in a dynamic and focused workshop format meant team was able to create an enjoyable experience for participants, where people felt that their contribution was genuinely valued.

Careful and intuitive listening and a respectful approach meant the groups were highly productive. Groups large and small grappled with big ideas and hard questions. Sometimes the conversation was intense, but with a good facilitator usually reached a productive outcome by the end of the session.

Challenge 2. Building trust with the community and accepting critical comment

The team had to create an open and transparent process that was open to hearing all views on all issues and then sharing these views however diverse or critical in public – on the update website.

After the first round of face to face consultations the team posted on the website videos, photographs and summaries of what people had said. The community was invited to check the summaries of the meetings and to amend them or add new comments.

Under the policy of online post-moderation (thought to be a first for an Australian
Government) all comments posted, however critical were to remain on the website. The team felt it important to allow anonymous comments. While some comments were critical, none was abusive and only one was inappropriate and hence removed.

All information was posted on the website for comment. This included written submissions, transcripts of informal submissions on reply paid postcards and relevant reports. In fact, many people visited the website and added their comments online or on the range of social media forums provided and many issues raised in the face to face discussions continued online.

Challenge 3. Representative of all South Australians
The Board wanted to make sure that the visions and goals were developed by as many people as possible and that everyone had an opportunity to participate. They also wanted to check back with the general community to ensure that the visions of those consulted were reviewed and prioritised by a statistically representative sample of people across the state.

To do this the team collected quantitative and qualitative data through an online survey.
1,433 people responded. At least 73 per cent of these people were not previously associated with the Board’s consultations.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The initiative was allocated an amount of $500,000 for the entire engagement process. This was to cover all materials (posters, post cards, invitations etc), multimedia, technology for social media and the development of a new website and radio and print advertising to promote the consultations. This also covered the cost of hiring meeting venue, transport and travel across the state to a multitude of regional centres and facilitation fees for the independent facilitators. The writing and editing and publishing of a report was also undertaken within this budget.

Staffing was provided by the Department of Premier and Cabinet. A small team of initially four people grew to a bigger team of people seconded for the exercise. At the height of the consultations about ten people were working together on the engagement on an employed basis with volunteers and in kind support provided from other government departments and the Alliance members. At the end of the six months engagement process the small original team remained in place to collate the material and write the report to government on behalf of the Board.

Alliance members and government agencies also provided in-kind support for the initiative in the form of access to promotion and marketing channels and access to membership list. The YWCA provided support for the initiative by promoting the engagement to its members.

In-kind support for the initiative was also provided by the Community Engagement Board members and their representative community organisations. This support ranged in nature from providing advice on how best to engage with a particular demographic cohort to practical assistance facilitating sessions and arranging forums.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
The online engagement strategy (social media, website, multi-media and staffing capability) was created to engage the community in order to update the South Australia’s Strategic Plan (the Plan). The Community Engagement Board (the Board) has since recognised the importance of online community engagement in government decision making. Acknowledging the success of the method used in this initiative, the Board recommended in its report that “the South Australia’s Strategic Plan website continue as an important mechanism for engaging with South Australians, enabling improved understanding and meaningful interactions between community and government.”

Following the launch of the Plan the Premier announced that the online engagement capability would be retained. As a direct result of the Plan update it is increasingly understood that sharing this experience and expertise with agencies across government delivers on the Cabinet Office’s role of leading innovation and enhancing quality in policy making by promoting best practice in community engagement. Therefore, Cabinet Office is continuing to engage with the community online and through partnerships, adapting and learning from the online engagement experience using social media to make connections between government activity and the Plan.

Furthermore, the team behind the initiative is assisting other governmental agencies with not only government-community engagement but also with intergovernmental online engagement. The experiences and lessons learnt throughout the process of devising and implementing this initiative have also produced a wealth of knowledge on developing online strategies. These strategies will assist in making it easier for the government to utilise the benefits of online dissemination of information and vitally make their online portals and website interfaces much clearer and more user friendly for community members.
There have also been requests topresent on the engagment experience so that that the initiative may be used as a best practice case study at 12 national conferences in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide on marketing other government initiatives and community engagement across the country.

The broader community engagement process has raised awareness of the need for better practice across government and accordingly is also informing the development of a new community engagement policy to be implemented across all government agencies and new initiatives are being developed around community participation and policy making in 2012.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
‘Back to Basics’
For this initiative to be a success by any measure it was essentially a ‘back to basics’ approach. It was understood that the audience which would be targeted was the community and as such, the approach needed to be specific to their needs. As the initiative progressed the lessons become clearer and louder. It was found that it was not only vital to promote the type of engagement that was being requested of the community, but the subject matter had to be presented in a way which specifically appealed to them. The final South Australian State Strategic Plan (the Plan) had to be phrased and promoted in a way in that was self promotional in the sense that it, itself, became a meaningful conversation catalyst.

Targeted Demographics / Flexible Approach
In order for the engagement to actually produce results and ultimately affect the Plan, specific questions had to be framed for specific audiences. This meant that questions had to be structured and asked in a community friendly manner in order to engage the diverse educational, cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the community. The Engagement Team (the team) designed consultations to be self shaping and flexible to the needs of the groups involved. Facilitators used different engagement methodologies for different groups and developed the methodology with the appropriate community leaders.

Online Engagement / Use of Social Media
In this digital age there was recognition that the promotion and also the engagement needed to happen online. Through this, it was learnt and acknowledged that effective digital engagement strategy means listening to the community and responding quickly to comments and questions. This notion of quick response time and quick feedback was also found to be a vital part of the initiative and the promotion of its success.

A crucial element in the gathering of information was the assurance that anonymity was allowed throughout the engagement process. Although in some cases names were voluntarily given, anonymity allowed a more truthful and honest engagement from the community.
Finally, an important realisation was that cultural change takes time; however, this being the case, gains can be made in the meantime.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Department of Premier and Cabinet, Government of South Australia
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Gail Fairlamb
Title:   Principal  
Telephone/ Fax:   (08) 8226 6094
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   State Administration Building, Victoria Square
Postal Code:   5000
City:   Adelaide
State/Province:   South Australia
Country:   Australia

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