Real-world example: consulting a ‘hard-to-reach’ group; crossing the digital divide

The Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) in South Australia works to promote and protect the human rights of adults with decision-making disabilities. They provide information and education to the public, individual and systemic advocacy, investigatory services and act as guardian of last resort.

The OPA used Dialogue App to ask their community about how they think the OPA should promote their rights.

David Cripps is an Advocate at the OPA and oversaw the Dialogue App project. We caught up with him to find out more about it:

Before using Dialogue App, how did you know what the people of South Australia wanted in regards to guardianship?
We used old-fashioned education like community presentations and stakeholder meetings. Attendances varied and people are very concerned about basic human rights like self-determination, illness and disability in their stakeholder groups.

Was this why you wanted to use the tool?
Yeah, to add value and expand on our existing consultation and engagement.

One of the questions put to the public was ‘how can we promote rights better?’ Did you have any idea what people wanted to discuss before embarking on Dialogue App?
We were very moved with the responses – the stories people were prepared to share with us were incredibly moving.

One of the highest rated ones was self-advocacy; about how it’s not a practical idea for people who are disempowered.

One example was someone living with an intellectual disability and they had difficulty speaking up. It was an incredibly sad story that came from the heart of someone.

People found the consultation to be a safe place to discuss their concerns and they felt like they could participate equally.

There was an issue of digital divide – it wasn’t just about people living with an illness or disability. It might have been easier for professionals who had internet access. It is hard to assert yourself and make choices if you are disadvantaged in the first place.

What about the types of people who took part? What were their backgrounds?
Looking at the comments people made, there were a lot of differences in stakeholder groups.

There were more people engaged through Dialogue App who identified themselves as someone with a mental illness compared to someone with a disability.

There was a degree of unfamiliarity with this method. Crowd sourcing has been around for awhile but it is particularly new in this sector.

Were there any obstacles for people wanting to submit ideas? For example, a disability or language difficultly which may have prevented them from taking part?
The digital divide would be the biggest thing. Not everyone having access to the internet or a computer. We went to advocacy agencies to let them know what we were doing.

We found people who had a mental health issue were more engaged through our website.

What were you hoping to find in regards to the mental health guardianship laws?
The outcome was to garner ideas to inform the advocacy agenda in South Australia.

We have met our outcome goal – we have been told some powerful stories and we’d like to promote them further.

One of the ideas mentioned was there being a gap in higher education for welfare professionals. We liked this idea and told them the OPA would take it further.

We wouldn’t have heard these conversations had we not used this method for community engagement.

The beauty and neatness of this method is the issues stay as a live topic and people can comment during the duration of the consultation.

Why is it so important to have the people’s input?
It is important from a relevance perspective. The promotion of rights and self-determination is particularly important.

The relevance and credibility in our stakeholder groups and finding out the types of issues people face is also important.

I believe you spent time in the field, face-to-face with people? How was that experience?
I did a lot of networking and recognised there might be a reluctance to engage with the internet.

I targeted the not-for-profit sector and made a lot of calls to let people know what we were doing.

What is the process now? How do you use the information you obtained through the Dialogue App discussions?
Some of the information is informing our advocacy agency now and some will shape advocacy positions in the future. We will promote them further and publish them further.

Did the consultation give you any new ideas not previously thought of by the OPA?
The strength of the method. There were bullying and inequality contributions from people who were very critical of human services – but they felt they could contribute and felt their contribution was valued. In turn, we got relevant comments from professionals.

There are issues with inequality on the internet but it didn’t feel like it happened here. It was a space people felt they could be honest in.

The issues most people had were close to their heart but they felt like they could share them.

David’s responses illustrate one of the things we love about Dialogue App: not only is it capable of generating a large quantity of ideas and comments, but its structured format also means you can get really high quality interactions with people. And running a user-friendly online consultation alongside other channels of engagement allows you to maximise the opportunities for people to participate in the way that suits them.

That can all sound rather technical but one of the practical consequences is just this: Dialogue App gives people a space to tell stories that you might not otherwise hear. And that’s hugely valuable.

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