Elizabeth Tydd plots course towards charter for public participation

By Harley Dennett

June 27, 2016

The OECD, in its publication Modernising Government: The Way Forward, describes open government as “the transparency of government actions, the accessibility of government services and information, and the responsiveness of government to new ideas, demands and needs”.

NSW Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd uses this definition when tackling how to implement her obligations under the state’s Government Information (Public  Access) Act which enshrines a commitment by the NSW government to its citizens that they can expect government decision-making will be open, transparent and accountable, and will promote public participation.

Late last year Tydd announced the NSW Information and Privacy Commission had begun working on the development of a charter for public participation, and has backed that up on Monday with a blueprint called, appropriately, Towards a NSW Charter for Public Participation.

“This report progresses my commitment to promote public participation and assist agencies in achieving success in their engagement with NSW citizens through a six-step process,” Tydd said. These steps include:

  1. Identify international leading practices
  2. Consult with citizens and government
  3. Assess existing public participation mechanisms
  4. Co-design citizen charter for public participation
  5. Culturally embed public participation
  6. Monitor and promote public participation.

Informed by the earlier work of other jurisdictions, in particular the Victorian Auditor-General’s better practice guide Public Participation in Government Decision-making, the IPC has focused on helping agencies themselves respond to their operating environment and accountabilities by giving them suitable reference material.

As for the charter itself, development work so far has included:

  • trialling a platform for canvassing the views of the public on approaches to public participation;
  • conducting a desktop monitoring of current practices and extant arrangements that manifest through the Agency Information Guides of principal departments to enable members of the public to participate in the formulation of agency policy and the exercise of agency functions; and
  • highlighting some of the resources being used across Australia and internationally to provide indicators to assist agencies to enhance their arrangements for public participation.

Tydd says IPC is committed to working collaboratively across the regulated sectors in creating the charter, “to ensure that agencies and citizens realise the benefits of meaningful engagement supported by the GIPA Act“.

The next steps include more consultation to understand attitudes to Agency Information Guides and public participation, and develop ideas for inclusion in the charter. IPC always wants to update its own AIG to be a model for other agencies, and work with the five state departments whose AIGs were undercooked. It will also host a summit on public participation.

Resources supporting public participation

Jurisdiction Resource Description
NSW Public Service Commission Advisory Board Collaboration Blueprint Research to provide advice on successful models of collaboration within and between  the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.  The Nous Group led the research and  examined leading practice in Australian and overseas jurisdictions, and collaboration  with academia. Findings were tested with knowledge experts as well as practitioners from all sectors, with the aim of gathering evidence that could be used to build on leading practice and challenge all sectors to work differently in the areas that show the most benefit in delivering improved customer outcomes.
Victorian Auditor-General’s Office Public Participation in Government Decision-making: Better practice guide The guide provides a high-level framework for agencies across the public sector to use when deciding how best to involve the public in government decision-making and implementation, and the principles and elements to audit the efficiency and effectiveness of public participation exercises.
Queensland Department of Communities Engaging Queenslanders: A guide to community engagement methods and techniques Introductory information on a range of traditional and innovative techniques to assist public officials at all levels and other practitioners to choose the most appropriate community engagement process. Strengths and weaknesses are summarised for each technique to support decision-making.
UK Minister for Communities National Standards for Community Engagement Best practice guidance for engagement between communities and public agencies.
Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development Evaluating Public Participation in Policy Making Strategic guidance for policy makers and senior government officials responsible for commissioning and using evaluations of public engagement. It provides an indication of the key issues for consideration when evaluating information, consultation and public participation, and offers concrete examples drawn from current practice in eight OECD countries – Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
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