Assessing citizen engagement

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October 2018

By Ruby Leahy Gatfield

We know that citizen engagement is at the heart of a strong democracy. It enables governments to deliver policies and programs that respond to citizens’ needs and helps to build trust in government systems and processes.

So, it’s important that we understand how well governments are conducting engagement activities. It’s not enough to know that more government agencies are engaging citizens on questions of policy and service delivery. We need to understand how effective their processes are, and the impact achieved.

In a recent discussion paper, developed in partnership with Amelia Loye, Director of Engage2, we draw on our experience of monitoring and evaluating initiatives across the social services to start the conversation about ways of assessing citizen engagement.

We found that while some agencies are inviting data and reporting on their processes well, it’s not always clear who was consulted, what they said, and how the findings informed the final program or policy. Transparent reporting on engagement activities means identifying the reach and demographics of people engaged, analysing the findings by cohort, and providing a line of sight between feedback and the final program or policy. Transparent reporting supports agencies to evaluate the impact of their work, ensures decision making is transparent and responsive, and builds public trust in government. It also contributes to Australia’s international commitment to more democratic and open government.

Monitoring and evaluation can improve the quality and impact of citizen engagement. Monitoring can help agencies track how well engagement is being done and support transparent and responsive processes. It can also help them refine and track their processes as they go to respond to emerging needs. Further, evaluation can help agencies demonstrate accountability, build the evidence base about how engagement works, and strengthen future engagement processes. In the discussion paper, we provide:

  • examples of positive engagement processes
  • introductory thinking about what a logic model for effective citizen engagement might look like
  • indicators for monitoring the process and impact
  • key considerations of the factors that may hinder or support quality evaluation.

If you’re keen to better understand the quality and impact of an engagement, you can read the discussion paper or contact Ruby at ruby.leahy.gatfield@artd.com.au