Better Together
The Department of the Premier and Cabinet South Australia

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
In South Australia, the public sector was typical of many government institutions; 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. There was not a considered approach to shared problem identification and solution development which reinforced an existing low level of trust that citizens had with government and supported a growing frustration and disconnect between policy makers and people. By 2010, the South Australian Government took a major step towards improved community involvement by developing a four year strategic plan, and proactively seeking community input in this process. The consultation was a success involving nearly 10,000 people in face-to-face and on-line conversations. However an additional and unexpected outcome occurred; the South Australian community sent a clear message to government that public consultation was insufficient on all other matters. In 2013, the success of that consultative campaign and the concern that was raised 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 the following 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.” He announced that his government would no longer use the strategy of “announce and defend”. Instead, it would debate and decide. The challenge was to transform words into action in a Westminster based system where individual Ministers control different agencies/departments and are responsible for policy development and implementation. It required both an innovative and a systematic approach to building organisational capacity within the public sector and embed a culture of civic engagement across all South Australian government agencies.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The Better Together initiative was developed to significantly improve public participation in government decision-making across the entire South Australian public sector. Key components of the initiative include: • the creation and articulation of overarching policy statements (Reforming Democracy, Modern Public Service) that included the delivery of targets and new approaches, • at robust framework to be applied across the entire public sector, receiving executive management buy-in and endorsement (Better Together: Principles of Engagement); • capacity building to support a culture of engagement where government agency employees are adequately equipped with the knowledge, skills and capability to execute meaningful and robust engagement activities (Better Together: Training, resources and advice); • a centralised online platform where all South Australians could easily participate in decision-making processes and on topics and issues that are of importance to them (YourSAy website); and • leading by example and experimenting with alternative and innovative engagement methods/tools to demonstrate the value of ‘fit-for-purpose’ engagement activities (Better Together initiatives).

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The Better Together initiative provided a strong mandate for government to do things differently. It required both an inward facing approach to enable, empower and build capability of government to engage effectively with the community it represents and governs, as well as outward facing mechanisms that allowed everyday people to be involved in the decisions that affected their lives. The objective of Better Together is to improve and increase public participation in government decision-making across the entire South Australia public sector. Target Audience • All citizens of South Australia (approx. 1.69m people) • The South Australian Government, Premier and Ministers • SA public sector leaders, managers and staff (approx. 104,000 people) The Better Together initiative commenced in March 2013 with the launch of the Better Together guide for the public sector and the commencement of a suite of demonstration projects and extensive training program. The Better Together Principles of Engagement guide (2013), was developed in collaboration with the government’s Senior Management Council (comprised of all Chief Executives) and provided a strong mandate to genuinely involve people in decision making processes. The Better Together guide is: • An awareness-raising tool. • A single public sector policy used by staff at all levels for developing engagement practices. • The basis for training public sector staff in best practice 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. A strategic program of training and capacity building activities is delivered to empower and enable public servants to plan and deliver effective engagement strategies. To date over 1,800 public servants (2% of the public sector workforce) have been trained in the Better Together Principles of Engagement. Over 2,600 people have attended 10 Better Together Showcase events or other training opportunities. Formal evaluation and participant feedback remains overwhelmingly positive and training is delivered monthly to meet demand. Presentations to senior executives across government agencies continues to support an authorising environment for improved engagement. Practical advice and support is provided to hundreds of projects across government and the Better Together website provides tools, templates and resources to support best practice engagement. The Better Together website averages 3,000 monthly unique visitors demonstrating the importance of providing accessible resources to support citizen engagement. A community of practice has been established to create an environment of learning and support, and has grown to include over 935 participants (LinkedIn group). Another key element is to trial, test and demonstrate new approaches to engagement and to showcase how new tools and methodologies can deliver widely acceptable and sustainable decisions. A focus is placed on deliberative processes where people are brought together to reach public judgement on big issues facing our communities. Better Together led with a range of initiatives ( that initially included Citizens’ Juries, D3 Digital Challenges, Country Cabinet, Simplify, Fund my Idea and GOVchat. With the Department of Premier and Cabinet leading the implementation of alternative engagement methodologies, it has provided a necessary foundation for other government agencies to follow. The YourSAy website is purpose built to provide a one-stop-shop for citizens to get involved in the South Australian Government’s decision-making processes. It was developed to provide government agencies with free and complimentary online engagement tools, and to increase transparency and trust in decision making by reporting back how government has considered and included community input. An integral and mandatory part of YourSAy is the two-way, post-moderated discussion forum. To date the YourSAy site has over 57,000 active registered users (5% of enrolled voters) and has hosted over 270 online engagement projects.

C. Execution and Implementation

 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 ( 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 ( 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. To date: • 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 ( 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 ( 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.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The initiative has an extensive scope, with a focus on capacity building and the delivery of numerous innovative projects. Qualitative outcomes (refer to response to question 5) and the impact and direct benefit to the public is difficult to aggregate and measure. Our success is best demonstrated by adoption of citizen engagement into policy and program creation. Better Together uses case studies to measure the impact of new or improved engagement processes/methodologies. Fifteen examples can be found on the Better Together website. A prominent example is the ‘Streamlining Tuna Industry Regulation’ project where direct outcomes from improved engagement included: significant red tape savings band reduction of the referral period from six weeks to two days, reduced industry application fees by 25%, aligned government processes with the farming cycle with an estimated industry benefits of $700K per year. Another example is ‘Create your perfect National Park’ where the engagement process was co-designed to include computer gaming to engage children in an otherwise adult dominated process. Using a popular computer game, ‘Minecraft’ brought ideas from 40 schools and engaged 11,000 people to inform the future management of South Australia’s National Parks. Better Together aims to build capacity of government agencies to lead and support improved engagement within their own respective areas. Two examples that demonstrate the direct impact of our work include the Department of State Development (DSD) and the Department for Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR). Both agencies have used the Better Together model as a foundation, and then scaled and adapted it to embed a culture of engagement within their respective departments. DSD has built an internal ‘community of practice’ (Engagement Ninjas) trained hundreds of staff, built internal systems/processes and significantly increased the number and quality of engagements ranging from mining legislation to specific Aboriginal (first persons) engagement. Similarly DEWNR have taken a holistic departmental approach to embed robust engagement processes by training over 250 staff, delivering over 40 online engagement projects through YourSAy and created an internal network to trial and test new and innovative engagement tools. Recommendations from Citizens’ Juries have had a direct impact on legislation and improving outcomes for citizens. Notable examples include: • Establishment of a new State Planning Commission. • Changes to the ‘Late Night Trading Code of Practice’ to reduce alcohol fuelled violence. • Installation of 21 new CCTV cameras to create safer pedestrian transport corridors. • New cycling laws that saw the practical introduction of legislation to legalise cycling on footpaths. • Amendments to the Dog and Cat Management Act to mandate the registration and licencing of dog and cat breeders. Through our online participatory budgeting projects, over $2.5M has been directly allocated by the South Australian community. The processes ensures local communities nominate, and then vote for the projects they deem will deliver the best outcomes for their communities. Evaluation of Fund My Community assessed regional distribution of funding allocated against regional disadvantage scores, highlighting that the community’s funding distribution more closely matched disadvantage, than the previous ‘expert’ panel distribution.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The Premier’s policy statement Reforming Democracy is a widely distributed and publicised document that all South Australians, businesses and NGO’s can hold government accountable to, ensuing that government is fulfilling its promise of democratic reform. The policy outlines a number of specific outcomes and targets that are measured and reported against publically, demonstrating the SA Government’s commitment and action and progress towards this priority. The Better Together Principles of Engagement has created a powerful platform for citizens and everyday citizens to hold government accountable for the delivery of genuine and fit-for-purpose engagement processes; including reporting back how community and stakeholder input was considered and how it has influenced government’s decision-making processes. Of interest is how the principles are being used internally, where civil servants reference the Better Together mandate and use the Principles to instigate change (for improved engagement practices) with senior managers who can sometimes be unsupportive of new engagement process and including people in government’s decision-making processes, particularly on controversial or polarising topics. The YourSAy website has supported over 247 individual projects/decisions where South Australians have been engaged on a wide range of government projects, decisions, service delivery and programs. The YourSAy site has significantly increased transparency, where the government is held accountable to respond publically to citizen input, report back what they heard, how they have considered the input and the outcome of the final decision. Many of the engagements on YourSay are directly related to government service delivery, where clients and end users are engaged (either online or through traditional methods) to share their ‘lived-experiences’ to enable the review and improvement of government services that best meets the needs of our community. Engagements range from the introduction of a new public transport ticketing system, to bushfire management, criminal justice, dog and cat management, planning and development, child protection and domestic violence. The Country Cabinet Program has been designed to take government out into rural South Australia and connect directly with citizens to listen to, and respond to local issues and concerns. A key feature of this program is a reporting commitment where within 90 days of the visit a formal report is developed and distributed back to the community. This report holds government accountable for their response to local needs and has significantly increased openness and transparency with the government’s decision-making processes.

 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 Better Together Principles of Engagement (Principle 2 – We know who to engage) make specific reference to inclusive processes and support a considered effort to identify and engage hard-to-reach groups. Often the engagement projects delivered by government agencies seek alternative tools and methods to engage and capture the views, ideas and aspirations of vulnerable people. A series of practical resources are available on the Better Together website ( to encourage and support inclusive engagement and to reach traditionally disengaged cohorts. Of the numerous engagements held, specific projects may target women or vulnerable cohorts. An example includes an engagement where government specifically asked women in South Australia to identify key issues affecting them ( Over 1,396 people responded and provided direct input to the Premier’s Council for Women, who then advocated for improved services to address the top five issues identified (violence against women, employment and work, health and wellbeing, economic disadvantage and financial security, and education and training).

Contact Information

Institution Name:   The Department of the Premier and Cabinet South Australia
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Dan Popping
Title:   Manager Engagement  
Telephone/ Fax:   0424198265
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   PO Box 2343
Postal Code:   5001
City:   Adelaide
State/Province:   SA

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