A major problem in government is understanding the views of its stakeholders. (Those are impacted or can impact the activity). This is made more complex by the fact that many who have views that deserve to be heard are not well-represented in traditional governmental decision making. Our paper just published online by the Journal Business Ethics seeks to help improve the quality of stakeholder engagement in public policy. Stakeholder engagement has to go a long way beyond just asking citizens over a certain age to cast the occasional vote. (At the risk of returning to unpleasant subjects, the Brexit vote showed that it is one thing to be asked a question, another to know what the alternatives really entail).
I was lucky to be able to work on this with my co-authors. These were Jennifer Lees-Marshment, at the University of Auckland, an expert on political marketing and political management, and Aimee Huff, at Oregon State, an expert on qualitative work. Working with colleagues outside my traditional area allowed me to participate in some really interesting research that I would not normally be able to get involved with.
Jennifer had conducted extensive discussions with policy makers which formed the basis of our thinking about how to increase engagement. Who should be involved? How should they be involved? We developed the principle that engagement needed to be Broad. (I.e. involve relevant parties including all those with a moral claim to be involved and those with a strategic claim to be involved — those who can help make policy happen). Engagement must also be Deep. There are a lot of policy questions that need more than just a knee jerk reaction. For example, most of us aren’t prepared to have a meaningful conversation about medical ethics without a lot of background support. Finally, the engagement needs to be Continual. It isn’t enough to ask people and then never go back to them, perspectives change with time and knowledge.
To create the sort of broad, deep and continual engagement needed we suggest a role for a permanent department responsible for engagement. Engaging with the public by government is challenging but we hope our article gives advice on how to improve it.