NSW information commission charts the course to a more open government

By Stephen Easton

Thursday June 21, 2018

New South Wales information commissioner Elizabeth Tydd has given public service leaders a comprehensive new guide to open government that positions public participation at the centre of public administration.

The aim is “enshrining the centrality of public participation in government agency decision-making” and encouraging agencies to fully realise the intentions behind the state’s almost decade-old transparency legislation, the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (which commenced in July 2010).

In particular, the act promised “government that is open, accountable, fair and effective” as its object — a goal that all liberal-democratic states should aspire to.

The new Charter for Public Participation, published this week, encourages agencies to create genuine and effective opportunities for NSW residents to be involved in administrative decision-making and policy development. It would be a valuable resource in any jurisdiction where mandarins are looking for better ways to handle community and stakeholder consultations, however.

“The Charter provides a practical roadmap for embedding the functions of the GIPA Act into everyday government agency activities. It provides practical information, steps, tools and case studies for agencies across the NSW Public Sector to achieve meaningful engagement with citizens,” said Tydd.

“Genuine collaboration between government agencies and citizens is essential to effectively harness citizens’ ideas, knowledge, wisdom and skills in the development and implementation of effective policies and service delivery.”

Tydd encourages agencies to invest in “new and effective approaches to public participation” that lead to something closer to “participatory democracy” where members of the public are armed with more of the information that government agencies possess.

“The Charter, together with the GIPA Act’s requirements for Agency Information Guides, support the sector’s commitment to Open Government and efforts to contribute to Australia’s commitment under the Open Government Partnership to enhance public participation in government decision-making,” said the commissioner.

The seven core values

Tydd urges everyone working in the public sector to have a look at the useful mix of principles and practical resources contained in the new guidebook, which is based around recommendations from the OECD and the seven core values espoused by the International Association for Public Participation.

  1. Public participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process.
  2. Public participation includes the promise that the public’s contribution will influence the decision.
  3. Public participation promotes sustainable decisions by recognising and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers.
  4. Public participation seeks out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision.
  5. Public participation seeks input from participants in designing how they participate.
  6. Public participation provides participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.
  7. Public participation communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.

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