Caring for our Country was established in 2008 as the Australian Government’s flagship program to support better management of our environment and natural resources.
The initiative supports communities, farmers, land managers, local, state and territory governments, regional natural resource management bodies, industry bodies and Indigenous, environmental and Landcare groups to protect and conserve Australia’s natural environment and sustainability.
The Caring for our Country review was designed to seek stakeholder views about Caring for our Country, whether it had met its objectives and what issues the Australian Government may need to consider in developing future options to support sustainable natural resource management.
The review used a web 2.0 online forum and social media in addition to face-to-face, telephone and email communications to allow as many stakeholders as possible to discuss and give their views on the program.
The web 2.0 forum, which was hosted and moderated by Bang the Table, was supported by linked Facebook and Twitter accounts. The use of this social media aimed to drive online traffic to the web 2.0 forum and expand the reach of review communications.
The web 2.0 forum had several features designed to stimulate stakeholder interest and engagement, including:
- a threaded, multi-topic discussion forum;
- a news feed to provide updates as well as the ability to set up RSS (Really Simple Syndication) news feeds;
- social sharing through links to Facebook and Twitter;
- the ability to hold online stakeholder chats, one of which was hosted by the Hon Dr Mike Kelly AM MP, the then Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry;
- a video gallery, including a feature video, with videos filmed during face-to-face consultations;
- a photo gallery, including a feature image, with some photos taken during consultations;
- the ability to embed maps and slideshows;
- an online submissions form;
- a document library with reports relating to the review, including the review discussion paper;
- comment tagging and new comment notifications; and
- supporting information such as frequently asked questions, contact details and key dates for the review process.
The official review consultation period ran from 11 November 2010 until 20 May 2011, although contributions from stakeholders were still being received and accepted until November 2011. A review discussion paper was released on 21 February 2011 to invite stakeholder views. The web 2.0 forum, Facebook page and the Twitter account were launched in March 2011.
The web 2.0 review forum was closed to new comments in mid-December 2011, although it can still be viewed online. The Facebook and Twitter pages continue to be used to post Caring for our Country news updates, such as the release of the final review report in April 2012.
Australian Government Land and Coasts wanted to consult with as many stakeholders as possible about Caring for our Country and stimulate a Government-facilitated but stakeholder-led discussion.
We chose to use web 2.0 and social media tools to increase our reach to stakeholders, facilitate discussions and expand the methods stakeholders could use to contribute to the review. The web 2.0 forum and social media tools supplemented other, more traditional methods of communication such as print advertising, face-to-face consultations, written submissions, email newsletters and website information.
It was thought that these tools would encourage collaboration and exchange amongst a broader range of external and internal stakeholders than if the consultation had been limited to written submissions. They also allowed all stakeholders, including those located in regional, rural and remote areas, to contribute to the review, have discussions and share their views with rapid and interactive responses.
The importance of using accessible and interactive methods for communicating and partnering with stakeholders in Australian Government program design and delivery is a key focus of several Australian Government policies. These policies guided the review consultations and include Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, the Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0 report of the Government 2.0 Taskforce and the Social Inclusion Agenda.
Caring for our Country is delivered by Australian Government Land and Coasts, a unique cross-departmental team comprised of staff from the Australian Government Departments of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities; and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
7 March 2011
Options Considered and Approach Taken
In particular, the online chat with Parliamentary Secretary Kelly provided some valuable lessons about communicating with stakeholders online.
While the chat was well planned and went relatively smoothly, there were some minor technical issues on the day that affected the speed of comments appearing. This was mostly due to the fact that the platform used was not designed for live, fast-paced chats.
Lessons learned included:
• stakeholders are enthusiastic about the opportunity to chat with Government ministers and parliamentary secretaries;
• there is support for the sustainable nature of conducting some chats online, although stakeholders still value face-to-face opportunities; and
• the online platform used needs to be fit for purpose, stable and user-friendly.
Due to the success of using web 2.0 and social media in the review, we expect these tools will be used in consultations about future Australian Government investment in natural resource management.
Australian Government Land and Coasts has evaluated the review consultations and is willing to share its experiences with using web 2.0 and social media tools for the review with others pursuing similar projects in the future.
The Caring for our Country review engaged more than 4000 stakeholders, including people in remote locations. More than 2700 people visited the web 2.0 forum during the formal consultation period and there were more than 25,000 page views.
In addition, 173 people registered to participate in the forum and 234 comments were made. Agree or disagree buttons were available to respond to comments and 297 agree or disagree ratings were made. The number of people engaging with the review online has also continued to grow after the formal consultation period.
Video and document downloads were popular features of the web 2.0 forum. As of January 2012, the 27 videos on the forum had been played more than 2700 times and there had been more than 21,000 document downloads from the forum’s document library.
Stakeholder engagement data and feedback showed that online traffic was driven to the web 2.0 forum through Facebook and Twitter, so social media successfully increased interest in the Caring for our Country review. As of January 2012, Facebook and Twitter had encouraged at least 276 people to click through to the web 2.0 forum.
The web 2.0 and social media applications also increased stakeholder information sharing and discussion. As of January 2012, 226 people were following the review on Twitter and more than 2300 people had viewed the Facebook page.
Stakeholders generally commended the variety of consultation methods available throughout the review and felt there was a sense of openness and genuine engagement. A positive response from stakeholders was also received in response to the prompt release of an online consultation summary report, The Story So Far, which can be downloaded from the web 2.0 forum.
In addition, Facebook and Twitter allowed Australian Government staff to find useful information by following stakeholders.
While there was a moderation system in place for the web 2.0 forum and stakeholder chat with Parliamentary Secretary Kelly, contributors self-moderated their input.
The web 2.0 and social media applications were also found to be cost effective in comparison to traditional forms of advertising and consultation.
The review consultation was the first time that web 2.0 and social media had been used by Australian Government Land and Coasts. The use of social media is also a relatively new concept for the Departments of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
As with any new initiative, important learning occurred throughout this project. In future consultations, both departments will be able to draw upon the lessons learned from this positive social media experience.
Addition details or information
Further information about Caring for our Country is provided at www.nrm.gov.au
More information about the review is available at www.nrm.gov.au/about/caring/review/index.html
The review Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/CaringforourCountry
The review Twitter account is: http://twitter.com/#!/C4oC
Showcase Tags: gov.2.0.