It is this disconnect which has spurred government interest in civic engagement and crowdsourcing tools, to capture citizen thoughts and responses, and funnel them into the development of public policy and programs.
Dutch Professor Han Gerrits specialises in large-scale ideation and collaboration platforms and with KPMG uses sophisticated software to engage customers and citizens on a wide variety of issues ranging from product improvement to public planning.
Known as PIT — Power Ideas Together — the software is part of a broader program called the Innovation Factory, which KPMG and Gerrits operate. Gerrits says research from A.T. Kearney Analysis suggests innovation leaders spend three times as much time seeking and selecting ideas as innovation followers.
Using the PIT platform Gerrits has worked with several major European firms, Dutch airline KLM, mobile operator Vodafone, and brewer Heineken to build their innovation portfolio.
The tool has also been used for planning and civic design and improvement. New York State is using the platform to host a broad consultation around health care provision when the current Medicaid arrangements wind up. The platform is know as Medicaid Redesign Team Innovation Exchange or MIX.
Over recent years Australian agencies have been using a series of applications to engage with and understand their users and stakeholders. In NSW, the Have Your Say website hosts most of the state government’s consultations. The West Australian Health Department recently used a UK application called Citizen Space to drive a consultation about cancer control.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has created an Innovation Exchange to source ideas for more effective development programs. And the Australian Communications and Media Authority uses Instagram to discuss technology and research developments.
While there are agencies beginning to use more innovative engagement approaches, public consultations are still primarily being managed through old school processes, where interested citizens and stakeholders are invited to respond by email through submissions.
For agencies seeking to industrialise their engagement there are many civic engagement tools — mostly sourced from the United States. However Gerrits argues successful programs require planning, moderation and a structured program to ensure a quality result.
“It is not just about gathering ideas, it is about discussing them. This ensures engagement and buy-in,” he told the The Mandarin.
“You need to have structured and well defined questions. We try to get questions that are converging to a limited number of ideas.”
Gerrits also recommends using moderators to ensure a quality dialogue and to intelligently guide conversations.
He also says sourcing an energetic group of participants helps ensure a better result.
Source: KPMG Innovation Factory
According to Gerrits there are broadly three types of public engagement.
The first is citizen involvement seeks to have constituents be part of the solution process. He calls this an idea challenge, whereby citizens and consumers are directly involved in finding ideas to solve a community problem or to improve a service.
The second type of engagement is around collaboration, managing sophisticated stakeholders and end users to develop a solution or outcome. This enables all parties to participate and feel real engagement around an issue.
The third type of public engagement is using the public to inform and up date agencies and officials. Sending pictures of potholes or graffiti for example.
An idea challenge is not just a glorified box in the foyer for random ideas. Gerrits says it is important to manage the process to develop the ideas into proposals that are well understood and have benefited from a robust phase of public deliberation.
This ensures all available knowledge and experience is captured and the process moves for simple raw ideas to more elaborate concepts.
“It is important to remain open to better arguments and let all parties participate rather than just those with a commercial or member interest, such as a trade union.”
Gerrits says it is the tacit knowledge and insights bound up in the community that PIT seeks to draw out through this process.
Source: KPMG Innovation Factory
Another tip he suggests is to ensure a senior executive is involved. This guarantees organisation buy-in, but also signals to the community the agency is serious about the engagement.
It is also important to have budget resources to ensure completion of the proposed solution, so participants can see the result of their efforts. Feeding back the result as hard actions, empowers the process, and ensures citizens see the value of their participation and return for later civic engagements.
Gerrits says it is important to keep the user interface simple and intuitive and available on all devices and operating systems, as well as available in multiple languages. PIT also has intelligence to help sort ideas and to get insight into what’s going on in the community and to steer energy in the right direction.