Stakeholder and Citizen Participation in the Australian Public Sector
As the use and reach of social media continues to grow further and adapt, organisations from both the public and private sector are required to use these channels to not only deliver information to stakeholders and citizens, but to engage with them and respond accordingly to any negative or positive feedback. Bingham, Nabatchi and O’Leary (2005) suggest that this is in relation to the Australian public sector, especially when organized by the movement as part of policy development.
The Australian public sector is moving towards a more citizen-centric organization, where both stakeholders and citizens are allowed to make a collective decision so that the government is able to develop policies and design services that respond to individuals’ needs according to their circumstances.
Involving stakeholders and citizens to support the public sector in decision-making and delivering of services have to take into account the emergence of new technologies, mainly through the web and social media.
In this essay, I will talk about an example of a limitation by using new technology, and discuss how the Australian Taxation Office make use of Web 2.0 to engage and interact with their stakeholders and citizens.
Is embracing new technologies not without its limits?
It is argued that government departments are starting to embrace new technologies to make public policy more open and inclusive, with caution (Suggett 2012). In regards to Suggett’s argument, an example of government departments embracing new technologies would be the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and their #CensusFail on the 9th of August 2016. In a bid to move into the online-verse of technology to be more inclusive, while keeping the paper form available, an overload of traffic crashed the Census website, which was blamed onto hackers with no ounce of proof from the government. According to News.com.au, Troy Hunt, one of the world’s experts on data breaches, said, “the most likely explanation is that the ABS was just not prepared properly (Chester 2016).” A challenge for this case in relation to Suggett’s argument, is how the government operates and engages with channels? What governance arrangements need to accompany such engagement (Suggett 2012)?
Engaging Stakeholders with Web 2.0 tools.
There are many ways in which stakeholders and citizens can be engaged; some of these examples range from information collaboration and sharing responsibility in decision-making. According to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (2011), the government is using Web 2.0 tools increasingly with “a modern interface of engagement and as a means of engaging with citizens. According to a study done in Romania, the researcher concluded, “public organisations have gradually become aware of the benefits that social media tools may have on their communication with their stakeholders (Cmeciu 2004).” This means that public organisations that use Web 2.0 tools shape the new public space by providing another forum for deliberated enhancing discussion, and “promoting a democratic exchange of ideas and opinions (Kahane et al. 2013).”
Web 2.0 tools are encouraging forms of engagement, including technologies such as social media, wikis and blogs. They enable stakeholders and citizens with information sharing, collaboration and capacity building. These new approaches in technology can place stakeholders and citizens at the centre of a relationship with the government and the policies.
The Australian Taxation Office and use of Web 2.0 tools to engage citizens and stakeholders.
A prime example of a government department engaging with stakeholders and citizens successfully using social media is the Australian Taxation Office. From my own personal experience, I work in the Learning and Development part of the Taxation Office in Melbourne. MacNamara, Sakinofsky and Beattie (2012) state that the ATO’s overall objective is to increase the usage of e-tax, which is an online tool created to appeal competent internet users. Most of these users would use social media as well.
Other objectives for using social media provides citizens with the additional means to access information and be educated, increase the ATO’s online presence, promote the ATO Web Site as the single source of authority as well as increasing engagement to create dialogue and share views.
The ATO’s online engagement started in 2008 with a Facebook page promoting e-tax, which has since been promoted to an official page with currently 109,399 likes, a Twitter account set up in 2010 with currently 45,719 followers and a YouTube page created in 2011 with now 7,235 subscribers.
Each of these social media platforms is used for different objectives. For example, the ATO’s YouTube channel is used to deliver educational messages and information. Twitter is used for short, direct messages where citizens can ask customer enquiries, whereas Facebook is the most official platform, which is best for sharing and commenting.
While the main challenges are managing privacy and confidentiality, the ATO have implemented high-level security settings, bank details and tax file numbers are not to be revealed under any circumstances and key-word tracking that is used to eliminate profanity.
Bingham, LB, Nabatchi, T & O’Leary, R 2005, ‘The New Governance: Practices and Processes for Stakeholder and Citizen Participation in the Work of Government’, Public Administration Review, vol, 65, no 5, pp. 547-558.
MacNamara, J, Sakinofsky, P & Beattie, J 2012, ‘Other Government Departments and Agencies’ e-democracy initiatives and learnings’, E-Lectoral Engagement: Maintaining and Enhancing Democratic Participation through Social Media, pp. 1-94.
Cmeciu, C 2014, ‘Web 2.0 Communication and Stakeholder Engagement Strategies: How Romanian Public Organisations use Facebook,’ Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol 143, pp. 879-883.
Kahane, D et al. 2013, ‘Stakeholder and Citizen Roles in Public Deliberation,’ Journal of Public Deliberation, vol 9, no 2, pp. 1-37.
Chester, R 2016, ‘Census fail: ABS says hackers attacked website despite denials, after nearly $500,000 was spent on load testing servers’, News Corp Australia Network 10 August, viewed 11 August 2016,
Dahle Suggett 2012, Strategies and Challenges for the Australian Public Sector, viewed 11 August 2016,