• In a program of extensive scope, and many innovative projects which aim for qualitative outcomes, the full program benefit is hard to aggregate and measure.
• A quantitative measure, such as program reach (conservative estimate of 549,000 people since March 2013) is useful, even though it does not discriminate between people who know about the program and those who have directly and actively engaged with it.
• 87,000 people have engaged with the program directly, including registered website users (47,000 in the past four months), people who have placed their names on the database (20,000) the community of practice (543 members), Twitter followers (4,000) and YourSAy commenters (8,309).
• The number of people who voted for proposals in the Fund My Idea program is a good indicator at individual project level. In the first two Fund My Ideas, in small regional areas, 9,700 people voted for funding proposals.
• 660 people attended the first three Showcase events.
• Some ideas work so well that they are extended and replicated. Fund My Idea will transform the way government gives out grants. Lessons learnt in the program are now being applied to a new participatory budgeting project called Fund My Community.
• The public has been involved in 78 on-line policy deliberations through YourSAy. This project is scalable - the community can have a voice in many government decisions.
• Case studies also give an indication of program impact.
- The Kangaroo Island Citizen’s Jury ran in conjunction with the local council, looking at problems in government service delivery on a remote island in South Australia. It was so successful that the local council has repeated the initiative. As a result of the project, there is now a bill before parliament to establish a Kangaroo Island Commissioner to coordinate government services on the island. If passed, the bill will result in a new system of governance and administration. http://yoursay.sa.gov.au/project-2-government-service-delivery-on-kangaroo-island.
- The Better Together Challenge projects were provided with seed funding by P&P. This was matched by local funds. Leveraging funding makes these initiatives sustainable and replicable. One Challenge saw the environment department team up with the local council to address the intractable issue of feral animals on the Fleurieu Peninsula. The project had an unexpected but effective outcome - local environmentalists connected with farmers and recreational shooters to reduce populations of feral animals that were damaging environmental initiatives http://yoursay.sa.gov.au/project-1-safeguard-our-landscapes.
• Feedback received directly from the community also gives an indication of program impact.
- ‘This is the first time that the government has ever come and asked us what we want and how we feel. If you’d just come here and told us what to do, I would’ve walked out. But because you asked me, I stayed,’ Landholder, Better Together Challenge, Safeguard our landscapes, Yankalilla Community Forum, 25th September 2013.
- ‘I am really proud of this document and what it means we achieved as a Jury in such a short amount of time’, Kara Turner, Juror, Citizens’ Jury Number Two.
- ‘What an awesome outcome!! :D,’ Patrick Pacecca, on the response of the Core Reference Group to the Citizens’ Jury’s recommendations.
- ‘I’ve completely changed. Spirit of respect has permeated this event,’ excerpt from the slam poem ‘Mindshift’ written by the 37 members of the Citizens’ Jury.
- ‘The trial program of a pop-up Hub in the Riverland is evidence that the country cabinet meetings are working and the Weatherill government is listening to the concerns of regional communities,’ Tony Siviou, Chief Executive, Renmark Paringa Council
- ‘Berri club bowled over with relocation becoming a reality’, ABC News, 9/7/2014. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-09/berri-bowling-club-says-move-to-glassey-park-long/5584252
- ‘I think it's a really great way to get a sustainable decision. I also think it's something that would be more publicly acceptable when it's made by people,’ Patrice Pearson, Juror, Citizens’ Jury. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-22/citizens-jury-about-to-start-tackling-adelaide-street-safety-co/4834582
- ‘In essence, what came out of the exercise was a host of common sense. Just what you might expect from a bunch of informed ordinary people, unfettered by any political or economic imperative,’ Stephanie Johnson, The Adelaide Review http://www.adelaidereview.com.au/commentary/article/the-worst-form-of-government
- ‘Elected leaders who commission these plans need to listen to the people who pay them to deliver them. The citizens' jury model has a lot of weight and power because it's what people want, not necessarily what consultants want,’ Nathan Paine, Executive Director, Property Council
• The foundation document, Better Together, was designed to be transferable. It was structured and written with simplicity in mind, so that it could form the basis for good practice, could be the foundation for practical programs and could be replicated, if desired, across different organisations.
• Better Together continues to be a living document that is used on a daily basis, rather than a complex policy that is left on a shelf to gather dust.
• There has been interest from other jurisdictions in using it – the design is replicable and scalable.
• South Australian government agencies have written their own policies based on Better Together.
• The Better Together policy was taken up by local government in South Australia as well.
• The program is made sustainable through the training over 300 public servants who will fly the flag for community engagement in their own agencies.
• Resources for implementation and extension are not limited to the resources of Participation and Partnerships, but leverage the resources and budgets of many other organisations, as demonstrated by the Challenge projects and the implementation of the recommendations of the Citizens’ Juries.
• Better Together is uniquely a whole-of-government community engagement program. Its implementation has been extremely successful. Any jurisdiction is welcome to use it or adapt it for use in their public sector.
• All material on the YourSAy website, including the Better Together policy, is licensed under Creative Commons for the purposes of sharing with other jurisdictions.
• The P&P Team would be delighted to assist other jurisdictions to use Better Together and to benefit from the lessons learned.
The lessons have been consistently positive:
• The simultaneous top-down and bottom-up approach worked well.
• The top down approach directly addressed the wide variation in understanding at chief executive level.
• The program was delivered by a ‘central agency’, demonstrating that it applied to all parts of government. Previous work had been done by the ‘community’ agency, which gave the impression that engagement was relevant only to social programs.
• The bottom-up approach included training 300 public servants, and running a reference group comprising contacts from each department. ‘Advocates’ became a powerful group of people who pushed for change in their own agencies. Skills learned were transferred widely and cheaply across the public sector, resulting in the program ‘going viral’.
• Using both top-down and bottom-up approaches, in turn, influenced middle-management, a traditionally risk-averse group which can act as a blocker to culture change.
• The program used a ‘think big, start small and scale up quickly’ approach to implementation – it had a good foundation document which exemplified ‘think big’, quickly got some challenge projects running to use as case studies (start small) and then moved on to the implementation of a range of innovative demonstration projects, including YourSAy, which allowed for wide-scale community engagement (scale up quickly).
• The program design allowed for cost effective implementation across a wide range of community and agency contexts.
• Quality multi-layered engagement can and does involve groups who would otherwise be hard to reach as a result of disadvantage or other reasons. Special engagement programs for disadvantaged groups are not always needed if the engagement is done well. For example, Fund My Idea has reached a range of disadvantaged groups in the community. Where additional input is required from specific groups, they are addressed through specific YourSAy consultations, for example the Disability Justice Plan, http://yoursay.sa.gov.au/yoursay/disability-justice-plan.
• ‘Wicked problems’ that have been unable to be addressed through traditional means can be solved this way. For example, one of the Fund My Idea projects (Berri Bowling Club) had previously tried to negotiate relocation for 6 years. In the space of three months it was proposed through Fund My Idea, won funding by community vote, and relocation had started.
• Principles of best practice engagement applied in the private sector can work in the public sector, particularly in terms of responding to ‘customers’ within tight timeframes.
• Industry and academia can be leveraged to introduce innovation to the public sector without big cost or risk implications.
In summary, this program successfully addressed a number of problems that are considered intractable in the public sector:
• The poor quality of community engagement
• The difficulty of achieving wide participation
• The likelihood of preaching to the converted, or engaging with an often unrepresentative minority.
Better Together demonstrates that it is possible to engage broadly, reach disadvantaged groups and bring the community more effectively into government decision-making.
Citizen engagement, when designed and delivered innovatively, creates a powerful impetus for a more modern public service. Administration is transformed, the government is more responsive to the community and accountability is enhanced.
Better Together is a world-leading whole of public sector program for community engagement.