Looking back on 2018

Looking back on 2018

Evolving democracy

Trust in democracy is at an all-time low. For the past four year’s the Museum of Australian Democracy and the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis have been conducting annual research into trust in the political systems and attitudes towards democracy. The research found that ‘while Australian value the stability of our political system they are not confident in it’s ability to deliver on more challenging policy issues’ and that Australia has reached a tipping point. The report released by the newly formed Democracy2025 echoes the annual Elderman Trust Barometer, which found that trust in government had fallen, for the second year in a row, from 37 to 35 per cent in Australia. I agree with the reports conclusion that we are at a tipping point and that representative democracy needs refreshing.

engage2’s focus for 2018 has been facilitating constructive dialogues about democratic processes and building engagement capabilities across government.

In July, we ran two events as part of the Vivid Ideas Program to discuss disruptions to democracy, democratic innovations and how democracy might evolve. We worked closely with The Mandarin and Futurist Ross Dawson, and Geopolitical Security expert Alan DuPont on these events and our esteemed panellists: The NSW Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd, Economist Nick Gruen, Iain Walker from New Democracy Foundation, Daryl Karp from the Museum of Democracy, Jamie Skella from New Horizon and Nathan Spataro from Flux. We recorded video interviews with the panelists involved in our Democracy is Being Disrupted: Governing in the 21st Century event and shared this blog about the findings of our live polling at the Evolving Democracy event.

I have also been writing for The Mandarin and have recorded a series of podcasts about digital democracy for representative government and how 21st-century governments are using data from citizens.

Building governments engagement capabilities

The response to these events, articles and podcasts encouraged us to run the EngageTech Forum’s in two locations this year – Wellington and Sydney. These events were encouraged by The Policy Project team in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Internal Affairs and delivered with the support of the Victoria University and Public Engagement Partners in New Zealand. The Department of Premier and Cabinet, Department of Finance, Service and Innovation in NSW and Smart Cities Council encourage the NSW which was also held during Spark festival. Executives of these organisations helped to open the Forums and encouraged staff across these governments to participate in them. We are also very grateful to our sponsors Bang-the-Table, Converlens, Spatial Media, HarvestDP, Our Say, Harava and Silverstripe.

The EngageTech Forums are for public servants who want to understand the technologies and data analytics techniques available for stakeholder and community engagement, and digital and information architecture considerations needed for smart, open and representative governments. The format is designed to encourage peer-to-peer learning using participatory and experience design methods.

113 participants shared how they are using technology for engagement. Participants represented 75 organisations including 44 Local, State and Federal government organisations across Australia and New Zealand. During the two events, participants discussed how they had been using tools, tips and lessons, their challenges, lessons and hopes. This information including the uses cases for more 44 tools was recorded and has now been shared with all participants in post-event reports. My team and I are also preparing a report summarising what we learned through the forums to release in early 2019. We hope these forums and reports will help governments maximise theirs (and their stakeholders) investment into engagement.

These events and publications are just one of the ways engage2 is trying to build engagement capabilities in government. You can find out more about engage2’s services here.

We are also pleased to see great interest in evaluating engagement from government agencies and consultants who work closely with them to develop and refine public policy, programs and services like ARTD.

Building sustainable, smart, resilient and inclusive communities

There are some incredibly intelligent people helping governments get smart about how they develop their cities and community in Australia and New Zealand, and I feel honoured to be among them. This year I became the Co-Vice Chair of the Smart Cities Council’s Centre for Civic Innovation taskforce, spoke at the Australian Smart Communities Association’s annual conference and then ran a webinar for 50 participants across Australia. I’m pleased to see the focus of this work move from technology to the role of people, relationships and collaboration in 2018. I was also interviewed about this, and how engagement and engagetech can help, on the Smart Communities podcast. Want to get involved? Check out this Guidance Note produced by the Civic innovation taskforce outlining some of the ways smart governments can work with their community and discuss it with your peers.

engage2 also worked with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage on their Sustainable Housing Study. We used stakeholder engagement, social research and design research methods together to explore how the development of more sustainable housing might be encouraged in NSW. We asked stakeholders to help us understand the process, the people and organisations making decisions and the barriers and opportunities. The outcomes of this engagement process are summarised in this report.

The biggest highlight for me though was being asked by the UN to Prague to discuss participation and inclusion for Sustainable Development Goal 16, target 7. The Economics and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC) team invited me, along with nine other practitioners from across the globe, to share engagement methods and lessons with representatives of the governments involved. I spoke on a panel with people from Africa, India, New York and the Czech Republic about ChangeCamp and the Innovation Academy. It was fun, and I’m now working on a couple of new projects with some of the people and organisations involved. I hope to share more about them in the new year too.

I was also really pleased to be invited by ARTD to work on a project with them for Beyond Blue about how they could improve engagement with the 8000 Blue Voices members. We also brought Sticky Designs into the mix, and it was great to combine our expertise in evaluation, engagement and design methods for such a high impact organisation and the volunteers they bring together to support people struggling in our communities.

Writing this, I am struck by my privilege and a strong sense of hope. It is an honour to work with these incredible people and organisations using their skills and resources to have the most positive social impact they can on our planet and communities.

Happy holidays everyone! I’ll be back on deck on the 7th January. I look forward to reconnecting with you when we are all refreshed and ready for the next stage of our work together.

Amelia

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