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Enhance public engagement skills in the public service

What are your views on enhancing public engagement skills in the public service?Lead implementing agency/actor

Department of Industry, Innovation and Science


What is the public problem that the commitment will address?

Public policy problems are increasingly complex and this complexity is occurring in an environment of declining trust in government.  Numerous reviews, senior public servants and academics have emphasised that the APS can reduce the complexity and build trust by bringing more people and expertise into its work when they are needed.  Better approaches might allow the APS to translate the best technical, academic and practical advice into accessible, policy and programme relevant conclusions.

However, awareness and practical experience of how to engage the community beyond traditional information sharing and consultation is patchy.  There are good examples of more collaborative approaches, but this is not the norm.  Rather, APS engagement often has an emphasis on obtaining buy-in rather than accessing expertise.  And the APS still lags behind adoption of better engagement compared to local, state and international jurisdictions.  In particular, the APS has a gap in its capability to undertake deliberative, open and collaborative engagements.

What is the commitment?

Develop and implement an Open Dialogue Roadmap:  Australia will co-chair and take a leading role in the development of an Open Dialogue Roadmap, through OGP International’s Deliberative Processes Practice Group.  The Roadmap will assist public servants to design and implement open and deliberative engagement processes.

The Establishment of an APS Engagement Hub:  The Hub would be, in the first instance, a digital space.  It will ensure the initiatives under the first Action Plan’s Commitment 5.2 framework are delivered.  It will tie together elements of the framework and create a landing point for guidance, advice and support.  It will be iterated over time and has the potential to integrate engagement efforts across the APS.  Over time the Hub could act as a platform for general interaction between civil society and the APS.

How will the commitment contribute to solve the public problem?

The use of open dialogue and deliberative processes are proven ways to improve public sector engagement awareness and capability and foster an Open Government culture. Similarly, the development of a digital hub to provide a platform for knowledge management and retention, as well as the delivery of expertise and resources offer a proven method for building capability and raising awareness. Open and deliberative processes differ from traditional approaches to consultation by enabling richer communication between, across and among public sector agencies and their respective publics. Moreover, it offers a means of supporting more sustained forms of engagement rather than traditional event-driven approaches.

This is achieved through a rules-based exchange of ideas and information that focuses on responding to a question and/or resolving an issue.  In doing so, this type of process provides a more effective way of solving complex and contentious policy issues that have competing interests and the negotiation of trade-offs. These processes have already been successfully applied to radioactive waste (Commonwealth), Sports policy (Canada), Reproductive rights (Republic of Ireland) and Dog and Cat Management (South Australia)

The development of this roadmap will boost engagement capability, both in Australia and overseas. In particular, it will raise awareness and build a shared understanding of how deliberative processes work, why they are important to modern governments, and when they can be used effectively.  It will include a step by step guide on how to undertake deliberative engagements, as well as a Briefing Book that provides accessible answers to the top questions about public deliberation that are likely to be asked by political or senior public service decision makers. Implementation of the roadmap will be via the development and testing of a demonstration open dialogue capability. 

Why is this commitment relevant to OGP values?

This commitment will have a broad range of impacts, and specifically advances the OGP values of:

  • civic participation and transparency by allowing further access to information to ensure meaningful input from interested members of the public into decisions; citizens’ right to have their voices heard; and opening up decision making to more interested members of the public; and
  • technology and innovation for openness and accountability by promoting new technologies that offer opportunities for information sharing, public participation and collaboration; and making more information public in ways that enable people to both understand what their governments do and to influence decisions.

Additional information

  • Builds on Commitment 5.2 of the first National Action Plan
  • The Roadmap is also included in the proposed work agenda for the APS Reform Committee Policy, Data and Innovation stream.


Milestone Activity with a verifiable deliverable

Start Date: End Date:
Establish the Engagement Hub


Q3 2018


Q4 2019

Develop, finalise and publicly release the Open Dialogue Roadmap

Q3 2018 Q3 2019

Test and report back on the Open Dialogue Roadmap.

Q3 2019 Q1 2020 


Open Government Partnership Section, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science: ogp@industry.gov.au

Other actors involved 

State actors: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (APS Reform team). All Australian Government departments will be made aware of the work through inclusion on the working Agenda of the APS Reform Committee (Policy, Data and Innovation stream). Information and Privacy Commission NSW.

CSOs, private sector, multilaterals, working groups: OGP International’s Deliberative Processes Practice Group includes four other countries, and public sector and civil society representatives from each. In addition: IAP2, New Democracy, Open Australia Foundation, Open Government Partnership Network.

Discussion question

Is this draft commitment specific, relevant, and ambitious?


To participate, you’ll need to register for an account. You’ll then be able to respond to the questions under each of the proposed themes, leave a general comment or respond to those of other participants, and vote on comments.

We expect your comments to be respectful and relevant. As comments are moderated, they won’t appear until they’ve been approved. If, after submission, you do not receive a notification stating that your comment has been queued for review, your submission has not been successfully transmitted to us. In this case, please email your submission to ogp@pmc.gov.au and we will publish it on your behalf. Comments will close 8 July.

If you wish to make a longer submission, you can email us at ogp@pmc.gov.au. We’ll publish all submissions we receive.

The outputs from this and the face-to-face consultations will be made available to the Open Government Forum. At its meeting in July, the Forum will be asked to consider feedback and make final recommendations to government on the form of Australia's second Open Government National Action Plan 2018-20.


Submissions and comments received via email



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Open Government...

The Canberra consultation to finalise the National Action Plan were held on 27 June and were attended by four participants from civil society. The following comments below were received from participants on this draft commitment.

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Open Government...

The Melbourne consultation to finalise the National Action Plan were held on 29 June and were attended by 23 participants from civil society. The following comments below were received from participants on this draft commitment.

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Peter Timmins

This commitment is public service-centric in the way it is framed and explained.

References to the Roadmap and the Hub will leave people outside government scratching their head.

A rewrite might sensibly emphasise how the commitment will address widespread public dissatisfaction with government attempts or failures to engage or listen.

The Uluru Declaration from the Heart provides a recent case study.

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Cameron Shorter

In order to be impactful, this commitment needs to extend beyond dialogue and facilitating the sharing of ideas. It needs to extend to the more important issue of collaboration during acquisition, implementation and deployment.
We need to recognise that governments around the world are all solving very similar problems, and the most efficient way to address these problems is to work on them collaboratively. However, cross-agency and cross-jurisdiction collaborative implementation is the exception rather than the rule. This can usually be traced to the difficulty of explaining and applying collaborative techniques within government frameworks.
I recommend this commitment be extended to cover the providing of tools to measure and implement cross-agency collaboration. This commitment will require a lot of work, however many of the techniques needed can be derived from Open Source community processes.
I discuss this topic in more detail here: http://cameronshorter.blogspot.com/2018/03/what-could-open-government-le...

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Barbara Reed

Enhance public engagement skills in the public service: this is definitely a desirable commitment. The success (or lack of it) in engaging with civil society in the OGP experience could be used as a telling case study about what works and what doesn’t. Complaint handling and responsiveness to the general citizenry where technology is mediating interaction is also an area which creates potential citizen dissatisfaction. This also converges with the issue of trust raised as a general theme. If repeated unsatisfactory, dismissive or technologically compromised feedback, complaints or engagement mechanisms are experienced, overall the citizen trust in government is undermined. The high profile cases of citizen experience with Centrelink and around the opt out provisions of MyHealthRecord of the past few years could provide case studies.

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Open Government...

Dr Colleen Lewis has provided the following comment below:

The realisation of this commitment could start with an examination of the engagement process for the OGP and the finalisation of the NAP 2.  Through the following series of questions, I am highlighting issues the public service may wish to address in relation to these matters, and in respect to other projects that may require enhanced public engagement skills in the public service. What steps have been taken to engage with the broader civil society and to inform the vast majority of Australians of the Open Government Partnership and how it will improve their daily lives? How were the commitments outlined in the draft NAP 2 arrived at and who was involved?  Were there opportunities for the majority of civil society to have a voice in the process and the determination of commitments, if they so wished? When positions were advertised for civil society members were advertisements placed in newspapers and credible, widely read online forums that called for and actively encouraged people from the broader community to apply?

Were OGP public meetings advertised in a variety of forums and were these forums likely to reach a large cross section of civil society so they could attend meetings hosted by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) to discuss various facets of the OGP? Should the public service expect that interested members of civil society will come to meetings they have organized at a particular time and place? Should it consider also going to forums where many groups in civil society join together, and if so how might this be done?

Many grass root associations, clubs, not-for-profit organisations etc. are constantly looking for engaging and interesting guest speakers.  Volunteering to be a guest speaker at these type of forums, in order to explain the Open Government Partnership to civil society, would broaden the number of people who know that we have an Open Government Partnership and that the Government is seeking input from civil society before finalizing the commitments that will form the NAP 2. Who is championing the OGP from within the public service? As far as I can ascertain, hardly any one of the original public service members involved in the OGP are still involved in the project. The successful implementation of a public policy usually involves people who are best defined as champions of the policy. What champions have been identified inside and outside of the public service to concentrate on the Open Government Partnership and the NAP 2?

Clearly, the champions from the public sector and civil society need to work together to ensure that civil society is informed about why Australia is a member of the OGP, what measurable benefits it will deliver, how they will be delivered and when.  This is necessary for a variety of reasons, not the least being that taxpayers fund the OGP’s Australian arm. Champions need to have the capacity to engage the interest of members of the broader community and as such conversations with civil society need to be free of language common to the public service, but perhaps not beyond. Telling a cross section of civil society that the bureaucracy is going to “Develop and implement an Open Dialogue Roadmap”, which does not appear to involve members of civil society in the design of the Open Dialogue Roadmap, is unlikely to resonate favourably with a broad cross-section of civil society. 

“The Establishment of an APS Engagement Hub” that will, in the first instance, be a digital space will, among other things, “create a landing point for guidance, advice and support”.  It seems it has the “potential” to integrate engagement efforts across the APS.  “Over time the Hub could act as a platform for general interaction between civil society and the APS”.  Exactly what does “over time” mean?  Is it one year, five years or ten years? All policies have “potential” but when is this potential likely to be realized?

The draft NAP 2 tells us that this commitment will contribute to solving the public problem by the establishment of a “rules-based exchange of ideas and information that focuses on responding to a question and/or resolving an issue”.  The sentiments expressed here are encouraging, but how many people in civil society know that Australia has a signed up to the OGP?  How many people in civil society are familiar with what a “rules-based exchange of ideas and information” means and will deliver in practice?  How is the broader civil society to learn about the creation of a “deliberative” process facilitated by a “Briefing Book” and what that will mean in practice for them?

We are told that the commitment is designed to “specifically advance the OGP values of: civic participation and transparency; and … technology and innovation for openness and accountability (original emphasis).  However it is narrow in its reach and is focused on “opening up decision making to more interested members of the public”.  Should it not, in the first instance, be focused on informing the broader civil society about the OGP and its values?  If this were to happen would it result in an increase in the number of “more interested members of the public”?  It is very difficult to be interested in something if you do not know about it.  

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Open Government...

Dr Colleen Lewis has provided the comments below:

  • The lack of meaningful community engagement by the public service is more of a cultural issues than a technical matter.
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