When it comes to pioneers of democracy, add South Australia to the list.
The southernmost state in Australia has a long history in democratic innovation. In 1856, the South Australia Constitution was one of the most democratic in the world at the time, granting adult men, including indigenous men, the right to vote by secret ballot. Owning land was not a requirement for being a member of the House of Assembly.
South Australia was also one of the first places in the world to grant women the right to vote, and it was THE first to grant women the right to stand for election to Parliament, in 1895.
Even today, South Australia is at the forefront of democratic innovation. Most recently, Premier Jay Weatherill and his cabinet have undertaken the most ambitious public engagement approach by a state that we have seen.
Public Agenda President Will Friedman witnessed this approach firsthand, during a visit to Adelaide in late June. Will was invited by the Premier's Office to consult on the state's public engagement strategy and initiatives during the Better Together Showcase.
South Australia is making strides in incorporating public engagement practices into its approach to governance. Still, as with any major change effort, the state faces plenty of obstacles. Some government employees are naturally skeptical about a new way of doing business. For their part, citizens are used to looking at government as the problem solver and are not used to being asked to partner.
In Adelaide, Will met with Premier Weatherill and several members of his cabinet. He also collaborated with members of the South Australia public engagement team, delivering presentations and facilitating workshops, and gave a lecture on "Democracy as if the Public Matters" to several hundred people at the Hawkes Center in Adelaide.
Some of the insights Will shared with the South Australian government include good engagement practices for all policymakers and people looking to foster social change:
Pick the right issues. When seeking to begin or expand a public engagement campaign, it's best to select issues that fall at the intersection of what the public cares about and what the government cares about. It's also important to choose issues that are actionable by many parties, from public officials to community-based organization to individual citizens.
Find the right partners. Partnerships with community-based organizations can change the dynamic around engagement initiatives, especially if there is a history of broken trust between community members and the government. Such partnerships can also boost the participation of hard-to-reach communities and build capacity for community engagement beyond what the government alone may be able to do. Similarly, collaboration across governmental departments can be a good way to loosen up rigid silos, foster new collaborations across departments and spread engagement capacity across government.
Interested in hearing more about Will's trip down under? If you're a public engagement practitioner, definitely check out Will's presentation on "Designing Deliberation" here. You can also listen to and view the slides from his public lecture at the Hawkes Center on "Democracy as if the Public Matters."
More Notes From the Field
Our higher education team is in Cleveland this week facilitating a convening of higher education institutions involved in the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN).