Digitally enabled community engagement in policy and programme design

Converlens emerged from the Australian government’s 2017/18 Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII) "Digitally enabled community engagement in policy and programme design" challenge. The BRII challenge linked into OGP Australia’s first National Action Plan. Deploying artificial intelligence (AI) to provide a smart layer of qualitative natural-language processing techniques (NLP), Converlens assists people in government to excel at managing the submissions and communications process.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Converlens unpacks the cardinal challenges that governments experience while engaging with communities: fundamental pain points that surfaced during problem-discovery research for the four-month feasibility study. For example: matching the right expertise to the ‘right’ government problems; including relevant contributions from ‘off-channel’ sources; and facilitating ongoing interaction with communities often left in the dark about an engagement’s outcome. Other issues include how to deal with large volumes of public input that may not receive sufficient review and response due to resource constraints; as well as ‘closing the communication loop’—that is, ensuring that those who participate receive fast, sufficient feedback. Deploying artificial intelligence (AI) to provide a smart layer of qualitative natural-language processing techniques (NLP), Converlens assists people in government to excel at managing the submissions and communications process. By automating aspects of this process, Converlens alleviates the administrative burden, enabling public servants to maximise their value contribution to pressing issues.

Converlens focuses on the practical problems faced by public servants tasked with administering engagements. These pain points include running the day-to-day tasks of building engagements with communities; reaching out to the right stakeholders at the right time; and handling and analysing communications in the review and feedback loop. Converlens’ public-participation tools are designed with government for government by people who get government’s fundamental needs. This toolkit combines to ease the administrative burden that so often thwarts successful outcomes due to resource, budget and time constraints, and offer agencies the ability to discuss and moderate the full suite of submissions internally—in a safe, controlled, managed-risk environment that facilitates radically leaner and more productive decision-making. By accommodating all levels of staff expertise and reducing the time it takes to conduct engagements, Converlens lowers the barriers to undertaking an engagement. Designed for public servants, Converlens’ improved toolkits and capabilities enhance outcomes for both sides of engagements, encouraging easier, faster and more effective engagements with greater frequency.

The beneficiaries of this undertaking are the stakeholders on both sides of engagements: government agencies and staff employing new capability; and the communities, citizens and organisations served through the application of a more inclusive and responsive engagement framework. Sharing engagement challenges common to public-service agencies in Australia, government agencies across the world would benefit from Converlens’ practical solutions. Governments also have a strong hand opening or closing channels for community participation, so a smart toolbox designed to conduct valuable engagements can encourage agencies to run consultation initiatives more frequently and convincingly, ultimately benefiting communities too. This can lead to a virtuous cycle, as increased trust on both sides of engagements leads to superior engagement levels and improved outcomes for all stakeholders. Improved analytical capabilities also assist governments to better harness community input for making decisions—AI, for instance, can save governments vast amounts of time when dealing with anything but the smallest number of submissions and facilitate better recommendations of who to talk to. By using automated, qualitative processing capability to address time consuming, yet low value work, AI-powered technology frees up extra time to help human staff make crucial value judgements and the smartest decisions when interpreting big data. Programmes like the BRII challenge also encourage the SME sector, which—in turn—provides government with a competitive, solutions-focused channel that is already delivering successful outcomes.
In 2017, Converlens secured a competitive, million-dollar grant from the government of Australia to help disrupt the public-engagement space with innovative civtech/govtech solutions. Today Converlens is available commercially for governments at local, state and federal level: not only in Australia, but internationally. This SME has also secured commercial contracts from the most senior department in the Australian government: the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, as well as state and local government departments. This serves as an important endorsement of the commercial viability of Converlens’ solution—a key BRII requirement. Thanks to support from the BRII and collaborative partners, Converlens streamlines the process of conducting public participation for government agencies, in turn empowering agencies to do their work with greater ease, speed and cost-effectiveness. Its entrance into the public-engagement space holds essential but far-ranging implications for international government agencies.

Innovation Description

Innovation Development

Innovation Reflections

Supporting Videos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Year: 2018
Level of government: National/Federal government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen

Innovation provided by:

Join our community:

It only takes a few minutes to complete the form and share your project.