| 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
• Better Together takes risks in an environment usually characterised by conservative approaches and minimal innovation. It was delivered in a strategic manner to build government capability and facilitate increased public participation.
• The political buy-in was unique. The Premier retains a strong commitment to the program (http://bettertogether.sa.gov.au/reforming-democracy) and is a champion for improved engagement practices. He attends many initiatives, including the Citizens’ Juries to personally ensure that the community’s recommendations receive a response from government.
• At the time of its establishment, Better Together was the only known whole-of-government community engagement framework for policy and programs.
• A larger number of innovative engagement projects are undertaken to demonstrate how new approaches will provide improved outcomes for communities and government. The first Citizen’s Jury held in 2013 is a key example (http://bettertogether.sa.gov.au/initiatives). Other initiatives introduced to South Australia include participatory budgeting via Fund My Community and Fund my Idea and open innovation challenges (A-Z Carbon Neutral Challenge).
• Initiation of the YourSAy website to use an innovative and rich mix of digital media to generate general and specific engagement with online discussions post-moderated to provide an authentic voice of the community.
• Co-design of a state-wide innovation framework that included hundreds of partners and non-government agencies.
| 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The Better Together initiative was authorised and led at a political level by the Premier, through the Department of Premier and Cabinet. The Department provides central agency leadership in responding to issues that affect South Australia’s future prosperity and works collaboratively with other government departments to ensure a whole-of-government approach is taken in achieving the Premier’s vision for South Australia.
The Better Together initiative is delivered with the oversight of the Senior Management Council (comprised of Chief Executives), who ensured cut-through and participation across all departments.
The Better Together initiative is implemented by the multi-disciplinary ‘Participation and Partnerships team’ (later renamed ‘Strategic Engagement’) and continues to be centred on a foundation of collaboration and partnerships. An immeasurable number of South Australians have benefitted from changes/improvements to policy, service delivery and projects due to their active engagement and participation in governments decision making processes.
• Over 1,800 public servants have participated in Better Together training
• 2,600 people have attended 10 Showcase events
• 930 public servants are part of an engagement practitioners ‘community of practice’
• Over 57,000 South Australians are registered (and active) users of the YourSAy website
• 50,000 unique visits to the YourSAy website each month
• More than 25,000 people participated in over 65 events are part of Open State 2016
• 147 projects entered in the Adelaide to Zero Carbon Challenge
• 63,000 citizens have been engaged through Community Conversations
• 37,500 citizens have participated in participatory budgeting projects
• 4,745 citizens have participated in more than 8 Country Cabinet events
• 1,150 citizens have participated in 5 GOVchat events
• 775 people have been directly engaged 5 Citizens’ Juries
• 55,600 people participated in a state-wide deliberation ‘Know Nuclear’
• 3,000 unique visitors to the Better Together website each month
| 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The overall approach of Better Together is to build capability across government to engage more effectively and provide real opportunities for South Australians to have input into decisions that affect their lives.
In 2013, the Better Together guide was designed to be a comprehensive foundation for the entire program. Following its release, and overseen by the Senior Management Council, the team began to deliver:
• A tiered training and education program for the public sector and senior executives.
• Launch of the Better Together website to provide tools and resources for the public sector.
• Launch of the YourSAy website to facilitate citizen involvement and increase transparency in governments’ decision-making processes.
• Demonstration projects designed to be fast-moving, grow organically and evolve over time in order to maximise program agility, dynamism and responsiveness (https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/initiatives).
Initially the Better Together program received a two year budget allocation of AUS $1.1M for the implementation across 2013/14 and 2014/15 financial years. Staffing commenced at 4 FTE’s and grew to to accommodate the increased demand and resources required to deliver the wide range of strategies and projects. During this time, many of the demonstration projects were reviewed and analysed to assess their impact and to support continued improvement.
Building on the success of Better Together, in August 2015 the Premier (with support from Cabinet) reinforced the government’s commitment to improved engagement through the launch of the ‘Reforming Democracy’ Policy statement. The Better Together program received a budget allocation of AUS $3M for 2015/16 and saw the team expand to include 13 FTE’s to deliver a revised program of activities and new commitments to support an approach of ‘deciding together, designing together and delivering together’.
Demonstrating the commitment to continual improvement, in 2015:
• The Better Together training program was evaluated and restructured to provide a more concise program including new training opportunities for Senior Management.
• The Better Together guide was revised, streamlined and updated using feedback from the sector and across government departments.
• The combined Better Together and YourSAy website were separated for two different audiences.
• Based on feedback and website analytics, the Better Together website was significantly restructured to offer a suite of practical tools, templates and resources to support government staff in implementing improved engagement projects. Case Studies were developed in partnership to showcase leading practice and demonstrate the value of robust engagement activities.
• The YourSAy website was expanded/improved to host a wider range of online engagement tools and to cater for the increasing demand of engagement projects. A key component was the introduction of an ‘Agency Hub’ to support capacity building and to enable government agencies to take an increased responsibility in their online engagement activities.
• Social media was integrated and expanded across all projects as an additional mechanism to connect with people on their preferred platforms.
• A number of proven initiatives were implemented aligning to a ‘lab-like’ function where demonstration of new methods/approaches were trialled and tested first, then replicated by other government agencies/stakeholders, then delivery entirely by a new sponsor/host in an ongoing function. This approach enables shared learning and capacity building across government and re-enforced a decentralised implementation model.
• A series of new initiatives were co-designed and implemented included ‘Fresh Thinking Challenges’, Collaborative Economy pilots and Civic Tech demonstration projects.
• The 2016 Open State festival was an Australian centrepiece for collaboration, innovation, ideas and enterprise (https://openstate.com.au/os-2016/). It received funding of AUS $400K to be delivered and attracted over 25,000 attendees to 65 events, in turn delivering over $11M of economic value to the state. Due to its overwhelming success, Open State has received additional funding of AUS $750K to be replicated in 2017.
| 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Led by the ‘Participation and Partnerships’ team within the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, it was imperative that Better Together was co-designed and delivered in partnership with community and key stakeholders. This enabled the Department to lead by action and reinforce the application of the Better Together Principles of Engagement from its very inception.
The government engaged significantly with:
• The Premier and the Cabinet, who led the initiative at a political level.
• The Senior Management Council (Chief Executives of all SA Government Departments) who helped oversee its design and implementation.
• The Community Engagement Board, comprised of community leaders to develop and extend the program, linking it to best practice in industry and academia.
• Community sector organisations (NGOs) including peak bodies, which assisted in program design.
• The State’s Economic Development Board and the business community.
• An internal program reference group, made up of officers who represented their agencies, advised implementation and took the role of change leaders in their own departments.
• A community of practice, both within and outside government to advise on a holistic training program for government.
• An international network of public participation thought leaders and experts including, Harvard Professor Mark Moore (USA); Dr Will Friedman - President of Public Agenda (USA); Simon Burall – Director, Involve (UK); and Beth Noveck, Co-Founder and Director of The GovLab (USA).
• The general public in the design and evolution of the YourSAy website to ensure it retains a user centric design.
All initiatives of the Better Together program (eg Citizens’ Juries, Simplify, GOVchat, Country Cabinet, Challenges, Participatory Budgeting, Open State) remain focussed on achieving deep and meaningful engagement from the very early stages of co-design, through to implementation, ownership and evaluation. Our ongoing partnerships and collaboration across the government and non-government sectors is a defining factor in our success and reputation.
| 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
• An adaptable and scalable sector-wide community engagement guide – Better Together (2013), endorsed by the Premier, Cabinet and Senior Management Committee. This guide became a mandate for all public sector agencies and provided a consistent framework to support best practice engagement activities across all South Australian government agencies. Building on this success, the Premier strengthened his original commitment with the release of a new policy titled Reforming Democracy.
• The YourSAy website exemplifies how government can lead a holistic approach to online engagement across a wide range of projects, policy deliberations and government decision-making processes. YourSAy boasts over 57,000 registered users who engage on matters of importance to them. To date, over 270 engagement projects have been hosted providing a one-stop-shop for citizen engagement with government. Each YourSAy engagement hosts a post-moderated discussion forum enabling people to connect directly with decision makers and requires an engagement summary/report to increase transparency and accountability of how citizen input was considered.
• Better Together has a strong focus on building capacity across the government sector and delivers a comprehensive tiered training program to support best practice engagement. It has built an online community of practice with over 935 people to share experiences, challenges and learnings. Over 1,800 people have attended Better Together training, and 2,600 people have attended Showcase events, and hundreds of senior executives have participated in other learning activities.
• Better Together has led a number of projects to demonstrate the value and benefits that deliberative processes can bring by creating a new balance between experts and the public and giving government confidence that public judgement (rather than opinion) contributes to sustainable decision-making. A significant outcome was the introduction of Citizens’ Juries as a new tool in South Australia to address complex or wicked problems. Of significance is the recent state-wide conversation regarding “South Australia’s potential future role in the nuclear fuel cycle” where over 55,000 people were actively engaged.
• Open State explored how open and transparent decision-making and open innovation can help to address complex challenges like transforming our economy, climate change, and rapidly changing technologies. Held over ten days, Open State had more than 25,000 attendees from overseas, interstate and within South Australia. Over 65 community events, workshops and activities focused on bringing more people into government decision-making and the development of solutions to issues that affect our state were hosted by community and business organisations, government, and universities.
| 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
• The public sector is risk-averse, fear based and a lack of awareness and understanding of engagement practices and outcomes. There is a tendency to avoid public engagement if it may raise contentious issues or difficult questions. A range of demonstration projects were initially led by the Strategic Engagement team (eg Citizens’ Juries, Participatory Budgeting, Simlify, Country Cabinet) to show how robust engagement process can help government reach appropriate and sustainable solutions that are citizen focussed.
• Many public sector senior executives, directors and managers believe that they know what the community wants, and that additional consultation or engagement is “inefficient or unnecessary”. There is a culture of ‘expertism’ that discourages people from making evidence-based decisions. The Better Together team has initiated a specific training program for senior executives to help them understand the value and benefit of meaningful engagement activities, so in turn they support and facilitate improved practices within their area of responsibilities.
• There is a broad variation in both understanding of, and skills in, community engagement. Better Together had to cater for this diversity by supporting and training those who knew little, delivering tailored training sessions, and encouraging existing experts and advocates to push boundaries and trial and test new approaches and methodologies to support fit-for-purpose engagement strategies.
• Changing the culture of the South Australian public sector continues to be a sizable task. To address these issues we required a sustained, consistent effort and the agility to lead and respond in different ways. The Senior Management Council was leveraged to support and integrate the Better Together Principles with existing government systems and processes as well as providing as top-down approach to provide an authorising environment and to embed engagement as ‘business as usual’ across government.