Better Together
Participation and Partnerships Program, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Government of South A

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Globally, citizens are demanding greater involvement in government decisions that affect them. The rise of social media has brought with it a wide-held view that all opinions are valid and worth expressing, that expert views can be challenged, and that any individual has the capacity to take their views to a broader audience. Social media has allowed citizens to connect with each other on issues of concern. They expect to connect with the government too. The South Australian public sector was typical of many, in that decisions about policy development and program design were based on a culture of ‘expertism’ and were generally made in isolation from the community. In 2010, the South Australian Government took a major step towards greater community engagement when it consulted the community on the plan for South Australia. The consultation was a success, involving nearly 10,000 people in face-to-face and on-line consultation and the program won second place in the UN 2012 Public Service Awards. Throughout the consultation, the community made known its view that the government, prior to the consultation, had engaged in insufficient public consultation on important matters. In 2013, this concern, and the success of that campaign, including the award, created a powerful impetus for creating a more modern public service through a comprehensive program of citizen engagement. The Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill, issued a statement, ‘I passionately believe that people have a right to be involved in decisions that affect their lives and that the decisions emerging from a process of engagement are better decisions.’ (2013) He announced that his government would no longer use the strategy of announce and defend. Instead, it would debate and decide. This represented a significant shift in philosophy for the whole public sector. The great challenge was to make it happen, quickly and effectively. Governments face a frustrating reality when it comes to putting consultation policy into practice. The results of consultation activities are often disappointing, both in terms of the number of people engaged and the usefulness of the findings. There is scepticism amongst managers that consultation will garner any new ideas or useful feedback. A range of different processes or approaches are commonly used in local government, all of which have limitations or challenges. Town Hall meetings and public submission processes usually achieve limited participation and attract people who are highly involved with the issue under consideration and are polarised in their opinions. Attending a meeting or writing a submission requires citizens to go to considerable effort, and consequently there is a large element of self-selection bias. As a consequence, much effort is either ‘preaching to the converted’ or engaging with a vocal and often unrepresentative minority. The challenge was to get the whole public sector to commit to quality engagement with the community on many more issues, and to find different and better ways to achieve that engagement. This was seen as an innovative move in what is typically a conservative and risk-averse context.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The Strategic Approach The solution to the challenge is the Better Together program which: • Offers all South Australians real opportunities to engage directly in government decisions across all policy areas. • Delivers a world-first, whole-of-government community engagement guide that is modernising the entire South Australian public sector. • Presents a range of innovative demonstration projects to stimulate thinking about how to engage better. Please look first at the short, vibrant video for a summary of the principles of Better Together Objective The objective of Better Together is to improve public participation in government decision-making across the entire South Australia public sector. The Concept Better Together is a sector-wide citizen engagement program that: • Creates an environment and a range of drivers for many innovative approaches to community engagement • Is designed as a live, transparent, empirical experiment to trial innovative approaches in community engagement • Is based on action-learning - results would be shared, different perspectives would be sought on outcomes, lessons would be distilled, and learning would be applied to subsequent projects. Who Proposed the Solution? • The program was designed by the Participation and Partnerships Team, Department of the Premier and Cabinet (P&P) and the Premier’s Office. • The Community Engagement Board of the South Australian Government performed the role of senior mentor, advising on strategy and program development, in consultation with a broad range of non-government organisations. • The projects were conceived centrally by P&P and were to be coordinated and presented by the P&P team, often in collaboration with other government agencies. Target Audience • The community of South Australia (1.69m people) • The Premier and Ministers • Public sector leaders, managers and staff (104,000 people) Strategy The strategy was to: • Establish a powerful mandate by first engaging the Premier, Ministers and public sector leaders • Ensure high-level accountability • Provide a whole-of-government framework which could be adapted and implemented across all portfolios • Raise awareness, using an intentionally informal non-bureaucratic brand that could stimulate a community movement • Use a highly-integrated communications mix of social media, multi-media, traditional media and face-to-face communications across the program and in each demonstration project. For example, the project uses Facebook, Twitter, web, Pinterest, Storify, Youtube, Basecamp, voting software, blogging and Linkedin • Develop the skills and knowledge of public sector workers • Support and advise government agencies • Demonstrate innovative engagement . Implementation Better Together commenced in March 2013 with the launch of the Better Together guide for the public sector and the commencement of a suite of projects that used Better Together as a foundation for action. ‘Better Together: Principles of Engagement’ is a comprehensive policy and guide for the entire public sector as well as the foundation for the Better Together program ( It contains: • A strong statement about ‘why engage’ • A framework for assessing and developing engagement (IAP2) • A set of principles for best practice • An offer of consultancy services and hands-on support from the Participation and Partnerships team. The Better Together guide is: • An awareness-raising tool • A single public sector policy used by staff at all levels for assessing and developing engagement • The basis for training public sector staff in engagement • A charter which describes to the community how the government will engage with it • A clear signal to business and the community that government culture has shifted in relation to decision making. The guide is supported by • ‘Better Together Showcase’, which highlights the work of practitioners who have led and influenced engagement practice throughout South Australia. • ‘Learn and Lead’, which provides public sector employees the real skills to actively lead community and stakeholder engagement. • A Better Together community of practice through Linkedin, with more than 540 members.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
• P&P took risks in an environment usually characterised by conservative approaches and minimal innovation. • At the time, Better Together was the only known whole-of-government community engagement framework of which the team was aware. Many State and Federal jurisdictions had frameworks for one department, or projects running in one policy or program area, but none had an overarching framework for all portfolios of government and for both policy and programs. • The results were made transparent and the findings shared so that both community and government could learn from these new approaches. • The political buy-in was unique. The Premier has a strong commitment to the program. He attends many of the events in the program, including the Citizens’ Juries and ensures that the community’s recommendations receive a response from the government (see for example, ) • Better Together uses an innovative, rich mix of media to generate both general and specific engagement. Sites are post-moderated rather than pre-moderated, so that the authentic voice of the community is given expression. Real-time collaborative project software (eg. Basecamp) is used to co-design and collaborate with citizens, businesses and the non-government sector.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The Better Together guide was designed to be a comprehensive foundation for the program. Following its release, the team began to plan and deliver a raft of projects that were designed to be fast-moving, grow organically and evolve over time in order to maximise program agility, dynamism and responsiveness. This program has succeeded, in part, because of this dynamic approach in which a raft of connected projects stimulates a broader ‘innovation system’. Many of these projects are significant, and have their own implementation plans. • ‘Better Together Challenge’ encouraged government agencies to use the Better Together six principles of engagement and provided support to those agencies to deliver innovative approaches to engagement within just 90 days. The challenge of delivering a project in 90 days sent a powerful message across government and the community that the public sector was not going to take its usual slow approach to responding to the community. • ‘Citizens’ Juries’ are framed around the theme ‘One tricky policy problem. Countless potential solutions’. A randomly selected Jury of approximately 35 people from across South Australia is tasked with deliberating on an issue that is currently polarising the community. It operates at arm’s length from government, ensuring independence and integrity of the juries’ recommendations to government. • ‘YourSAy’ gives all South Australians the opportunity to talk directly to the government through an online platform about a broad range of issues which are vital to the public. Many government organisations have these kinds of sites. This one is different – it is the central point of contact for all departments and for collaboration between departments, as well as for the community to have its say on many issues. The benefit of having a central site with consistent messaging is borne out by community usage. The site was revamped in July 2014 and has attracted 47,500 registered users and 286,115 page views in just four months. • ‘Country Cabinet’ gives people from all walks of life in regional and remote communities a chance to talk face-to-face with the Premier and Ministers about the issues that matter to them. Many others are engaged through social media channels. • ‘Fund My Idea’ offers regional communities grant funding of up to $AUD50,000 in total for one or more projects for the local community as part of Country Cabinet. The community proposes the project ideas and votes for the best proposals on-line through YourSAy. 4,000 people voted for the best ideas in the first Fund My Idea and 5,800 voted in the second Fund My Idea. • ‘Schools as Community Hubs’ engages the community in determining how school facilities can be shared by the whole community. • ‘Simplify’ engaged the community and the public sector workforce in how to make the government more innovative and efficient. • ‘Unleashed’ stimulates innovative uses of government data being released to the community. • ‘State Branding’ – the community and the business sector were engaged in developing a new brand for the entire state, which can be used and adapted by any South Australian citizen, business or organisation. • ‘GOVchat’ will allow the public to talk directly to Ministers and departmental chief executives by telephone and through social media on four evenings each year. The public are invited to talk about their needs, ideas and any problems they might have with government services. • ‘Fund My Community’ is a participatory budgeting trial for government grants which has recently commenced.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The government engaged significantly with the community in the development of the program. This included: • The general public • Specific groups experiencing disadvantage. The Leaders Institute of SA (a non-government leadership development program) led an initiative in which leadership program graduates met with and collected information about the engagement needs of a variety of disadvantaged groups, eg. women, indigenous people, young people and the elderly. These views were incorporated in Better Together. • The Community Engagement Board, which involved community leaders to develop and extend the program and to link to best practice from industry and academia • An internal program reference group, made up of officers who represented their agencies. This group advised on program implementation and took the role of change leaders in their own organisations • Community sector organisations (NGOs) including peak bodies, which assisted in program design. • The Premier and the Cabinet, who led the initiative at a political level • The Senior Management Council, which is made up of the chief executives of government departments • The business community • A community of practice of individuals, both within and outside government, who have an interest in community engagement • The State’s Economic Development Board. • In many individual projects it was possible to have a specific group engaged directly in deliberation, but to give the whole community an opportunity to contribute via social media such as Twitter. For example, the recent Citizen’s Jury directly involved 35 people in face-to-face deliberations and engaged a broader group of citizens through social media including Twitter (134,000 accounts were reached and 87 people contributed 501 tweets) and YourSAy (37 submissions) and through email submissions (38). The program focused on achieving deep community engagement from the very early stages of program design forward.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
• The project is funded over two years, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 to $AUD1.1m, through government appropriation. • The above costing is inclusive of technical costs such as web site and software. • The program has had a variable staffing level of 4 - 8 staff. • These resources were leveraged by training, advising and working with further staff across government and people in the community sector. For example, The Children’s Voice project, a Better Together Challenge, partnered with the Department for Education and Child Development and the University of South Australia. It aimed to engage children and young people in decision-making in their local communities. The outcome was an internationally-recognised, innovative model of children and young people’s participation. This model of participation is being embedded in Australia’s first accreditation framework for Child Friendly Cities being developed by South Australia in partnership with UNICEF Australia. The children and young people’s views from the three communities will contribute to those cities striving to be the first three UNICEF Australia Child Friendly Cities in 2015.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
• A simple, powerful, accessible and adaptable public sector-wide community engagement guide – Better Together. This guide was later made into a directive for all public sector agencies. • Strong reach into the community – a conservative estimate is that 549,000 South Australians have been reached directly by the program and 87,000 have actively participated in projects face-to-face or through social media. 78 online consultation programs through YourSAy have encouraged the public to become directly involved in policy deliberations. • Direct skill development to 300 public servants through Learn and Lead and reached approximately 500 additional public servants through the Showcase program. • A range of highly-creative, innovative demonstration projects that engage the community in decisions about the issues that matter to them in very different ways (see direct quotes below). • Integration of community engagement as a priority in a broad range of government policies, principles and processes, for example: - establishment of community engagement as the key foundation of the government’s policy platform A Modern Public Service in 2014 - establishment of community engagement as an indicator in the public sector’s performance assessment strategy, the High Performance Framework - establishment of community engagement in the sector-wide values statement for the public sector - assessment of the degree of community engagement undertaken as a required component of all submissions to Cabinet - inclusion of community engagement as a key driver for the Change@SouthAustralia reform program

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
• The Community Engagement Board, comprising members of the community, met regularly to not only assist in the development of the program, but also to monitor the implementation and ensure outcomes were achieved. During the 18 months since the initiative commenced, 78 community consultations have occurred online, three challenge projects, two Citizens’ Juries, two Country Cabinets, three Showcases and 22 Learn and Lead programs have been delivered. • The response to Better Together programs is monitored and demonstrates an extraordinary take-up across government, at other levels of government and into the non-government sector. Events fill quickly, people contribute to the community of practice, and agencies ask for advice on how to engage. The program has reached an estimated 549,000 people in a state with a population of 1.69m. • Specific projects are evaluated individually. See, for example, Verdict on the Jury • Project outcomes are now detailed in the YourSAy web site, eg Riverland Country Cabinet • The High Performance Framework measures employee perspectives across the public sector. The survey elicits information on how well departments engage with the community.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
• The public sector is risk-averse. There is a tendency to avoid public consultation if it is likely to raise contentious issues or difficult questions. Intractable issues are considered too hard to solve and are not considered open for discussion. The South Australian public sector is no different in this regard. • Many public sector executives, managers and workers believe that they know what the community wants and that further consultation is unnecessary. There is also a culture of ‘expertism’ that discourages people from making evidence-based decisions. • There is a broad variation in both understanding of, and skills in, community engagement. The program had to cater for this broad variation, by supporting and training those who knew little, to spurring on the experts and advocates. • Changing the culture of the public sector to address these issues requires a sustained, consistent effort and the agility to lead and respond in different ways. • Keeping the continued commitment of leaders is a critical issue in the strategy. • Executives and managers need to ‘walk the talk’ frequently to make the program more effective. • The Premier would like the program to be extended further to all policies and programs – the challenge is now to ‘hardwire’ it into everything we do across the sector.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
• 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. - 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 • 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. - ‘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. - ‘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 - ‘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

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
• 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.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
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, • ‘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.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Participation and Partnerships Program, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Government of South A
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Gail Fairlamb
Title:   Director, Participation and Partnerships  
Telephone/ Fax:   61 (8) 8226 2644
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   PO Box 2343, Adelaide
Postal Code:   5000
City:   Adelaide
State/Province:   South Australia

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