Today PublicVoice decided that it was time to get out of the office to go pay a visit to the Ministry of Public Input and it’s creator Associate Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment while she was in Wellington selling the case that we need another government ministry to help citizens engage with the government.
At a public lecture hosted by the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University this afternoon we heard the case that we really need this Ministry of Public Input and she really did sell her point well that the whole lecture theatre was convinced that our current system does not work and needs an overhaul.
Associate Professor Marshment spoke about her proposed plans to establish the Ministry of Public Input with full staffing and even a Minister for Public Input to help the country engage with our politicians and government services more.
In our last blog post, we provided a detailed review of Associate Professor Marshment’s report into the idea of establishing the Ministry of Public Input and your more than welcome to view it here.
However, today we heard the case more in-depth as into what those in government think of the idea of public engagement and how they go about using the feedback from the public in their own decision making process.
Before you read further. We are required to provide a warning that in order to fully understand that politicians really do want to know what you think. You need to get rid of all those misconceptions of what you see in the media about politicians being bad and involved in dirty politics.
What did we learn today that is vital to understanding why we need a Ministry of Public Input?
1) Our Finance Minister Hon Bill English actually agrees with us that our current system of engagement is wasting money
One of the biggest things I got from today’s presentation is that currently how councils and government consult the public is wasting billions of dollars as it does not achieve quality results. Currently, we measure a good consultation by the amount of people who submitted not by the actual detail contained in their submission. A Ministry of Public Input main job would be to help assist getting that quality out of peoples input to put before the government to turn into a reality.
Hon Bill English summed up my point very well by saying in the research:
“If you want to compare cost and complexity there’s been billions wasted on high level broad based strategic consultation with the public where the public knew it was pointless and the bureaucracy designed it to be so. So I wouldn’t regard the participative version of consultation is necessarily more costly than the very wasteful apparently cheaper version.”
2) Ministers will actively try and seek others point of view just to influence their own view
Ministers currently rely on a lot of information to be collected for them and placed before them to be able to make a yes/no decision on a issue. In reality what the research found was that ministers don’t see things in black and white. In fact most of them are in fact open to change and are willing to listen but our current system for the collection of peoples views doesn’t allow them to raise to the top.
3) Ministers don’t like the Beehive, they prefer to be on the road talking to you
Now when I heard this, I couldn’t help but think of why they would want to leave the comfort of Wellington where they have servants and staff to do everything for them. They can even have their tea brought up to their office thanks to Bellamy’s and burn it off in the Parliament gym late at night.
In reality, our ministers like to get out and Associate Professor Marshment used an example from her interview with Hon Chester Borrows about how he likes to get out and about in the community to see what is happening at the grassroots.
4) Civil Servants who specialist in a particular area can use their bias against peoples input during the consultation process.
One of the main insights that needs exploring more is about how in our current system we call for submissions on a number of matters. These submissions are usually promoted by specialist departments within a government agency and managed by them as well but the views of those servants can deeply influence the outcome of a persons submission.
One of the beneifts of a Ministry of Public Input is the ability for the ministry to be able to handle consultations without any bias and are able to present information clearly to government departments without interference.
For example, if you made a submission on a DOCs use of 1080 and you was against it. The Department of Conservation would receive your submission but because the staff at DOC potentially have a preconceived view on the issue, the advice staff send onto the minister can contain a bias for or against.
A Ministry of Public Input would be a clear division between the public and the issue at hand whilst allowing for a clean debate with good reasonable data that a minister can make a decision from.
We loved our day out of the office learning about the potential for a better way to increase public engagement with our elected officials and hope to see more people take part. Without a doubt, this research is onto it and is a game changer which we hope could see this academic be the new CEO of the Ministry of Public Input one day.
On Thursday 21st August, Associate Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment will be speaking at a IPA2 event on her research to be held from 5.30pm – 7.00pm in the Mezzanine Community Room, Central Library, Wellington for those that want to hear more about this idea. To RSVP, please click here