Informed Participation, a deliberative methodology

Informed Participation is a unique way to bring the public into government decision making. It gives government a method to solve complex issues with the public in a way that gives them a meaningful role in balancing competing interests. Public policy is becoming increasingly complex and trust in government is declining, so new innovative ways of engaging with citizens is needed. This method shifts engagement from obtaining buy-in to building ownership and creates more legitimate solutions.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The Australian Government views Open Government as integral to its efforts to respond to a changing and increasingly complex policy environment. Public deliberation is of special interest. As a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), Australia is required to develop biannual action plans that advance the OGP’s mission to promote more open, accountable and responsive governments. Australia’s National Action Plan 2018-20 is helping to promote use of public deliberation through a commitment to develop and implement an Open Dialogue Roadmap. Australia’s Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (the Department) plays a leadership role in this project.

The Department co-chairs the OGP Practice Group on Open Dialogue and Deliberation, an international committee of engagement experts from government and civil society. The Group is collaborating on the Roadmap, and is making the case for greater use of public deliberation and developing a methodology that would work for citizens, stakeholders and for governments. The approach is called Informed Participation.

Complexity is the driving force behind this effort. Complexity results from a growing convergence of policy goals that were traditionally housed in different departmental silos, such as environmental protection and economic development. Today, governments work to align these goals across departments, but this can bring different values and/or interests into conflict, which must then be balanced.

Typically, these trade-offs are made by officials from behind closed doors, possibly supported by public consultation. However, the legitimacy of the process is increasingly called into question. The public often see the decisions as arbitrary and unfair. Informed Participation takes a different tack. Instead of trying to get “buy-in” for the decisions, it aims at building a sense of “public ownership” by giving the public a meaningful say. This not only increases legitimacy and trust in the decisions but makes them more resilient and sustainable.

This kind of engagement is very different from public consultation – and can raise concerns among officials. The Roadmap addresses these concerns. It not only shows why public deliberation is needed, but why governments can trust it to work. While Informed Participation has many innovative features, we will mention just four:
• Designed to Fit: There are many good deliberative models, such as citizen’s juries; but, it is a mistake to rely on any one model. Different issues require different tools. Informed Participation is a methodology, not a model. Rather than forcing issues to fit into a preferred model, it instructs officials how to design the process to fit the issue.
• Principled and Systematic: The methodology breaks process design into an ordered series of planning steps, such as setting clear objectives, selecting the right participants, and setting clear boundaries for participants’ role in decision-making. The process is analytical, systematic, and guided by fundamental principles, such as transparency, inclusiveness, and evidence-informed decision-making.
• Disciplined and Fair: Informed Participation gives the public a meaningful voice in decision-making but, in exchange, participants must agree to some “rules of engagement.” These require participants to be open about their views, listen to one another, adhere to evidence, and agree to work together respectfully to try to accommodate their differences.
• Government-Friendly: Informed Participation recognises that governments don’t normally share decision-making, and by doing so poses concerns around transparency, accountability, privacy, and more. The approach has been designed to accommodate these concerns and addresses them along the way.

In Phase I of its work, the OGP Practice Group launched The Deliberation Series and released three major publications, introducing and outlining Informed Participation.
▪ Volume I – Deliberation: Getting Policy-Making Out From Behind Closed Doors
▪ Volume II – Informed Participation: A Guide to Designing Public Deliberation Processes
▪ Volume III – Informed Participation: A Workshop on Designing Deliberative Processes

The papers are available on the OGP website and the Department’s website, at Volume IV is in progress and will focus on narrative-building.

The Department has successfully employed Informed Participation in the development of its Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ethics Framework, the refresh of the Office of Northern Australia’s five-year Strategy, the design of Australia’s third OGP National Action Plan and Austrade’s Tourism 2030 Strategy.

Further, this work is closely aligned to the study that stems from the 2017 OECD Recommendation of the Council on
Open Government, which looks to promote innovative ways to effectively engage with stakeholders to source ideas and co-create solutions.

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