Making Policy Together: Reflections from the NSW Refugee Youth Policy Initiative

A report prepared by Sydney Policy Lab for Multicultural NSW offers insights on how we can better enable young refugees to directly influence the development of the public policies that shape their lives.

After many years of declining trust in established institutions, there have been increasing calls for and efforts to include people from the broader community in public decision-making.

This is emerging at all levels of governance, and is underpinned by the potential to develop innovative ways of finding consensus on and solutions to long-term and complex challenges. Accordingly, the decade ahead may present new opportunities to reshape the relationship between people and their governments.

It is in this context that the Refugee Youth Policy Initiative was born. This is a unique NSW Government initiative led by Multicultural NSW and the NSW Coordinator General for Refugee Resettlement that seeks to include young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds in the process of decision making about settlement services policy in NSW.

The Sydney Policy Lab formed a learning partnership with Multicultural NSW, resulting in a report that seeks to contribute to practice-based evidence and enrich understanding of what works and what does not work in efforts directly to include people in policymaking processes, particularly regarding initiatives that include people who are experts by direct experience in the policy matters being considered.

This report found that public participation in policymaking, at its heart, can have most impact when it is underpinned by two fundamental factors:

  • a willingness to innovate – to try something new, and
  • a willingness to share power and responsibility with members of the public.

It provides a number of insights and key recommendations for propelling participatory policymaking forward.

Reflections from the NSW Refugee Youth Policy Initiative

Key insights

Institutional leaders and influential champions can play a key role in building momentum and conditions for innovative approaches to policymaking to thrive.

The value of participation in policymaking, and the new ways of working that it entails, can be difficult to capture in pre-determined outcomes on a limited timeframe. Balancing the need to demonstrate policy outcomes with the need to test new processes is key.

Engaging communities and including lived experience in policymaking requires a substantive and ongoing time commitment. For engagement to be meaningful, deep, and durable, relationships need to be fostered between and across governments, collaborating organisations and participating communities over a significant period of time.

Barriers to new forms of public participation such as educational prerequisites, time commitments and income loss limit the accessibility of participatory initiatives to those who live especially challenging lives. These barriers should be addressed collaboratively with participants across all stages of a participatory process.

Methodologies such as Participatory Action Research can be deployed in participatory processes to amplify the voices of experience-based experts – people who possess specialised knowledge based on first-hand experience of a social issue – and equip them to represent the communities with whom they share such experience.

Bringing people with lived experience of policy issues into decision-making processes requires special consideration of the day-to-day power dynamics in interactions between those people and government or other institutions.

The expertise required to run participatory processes well is wide-ranging and distinct from the technical forms of expertise usually required to make policy. Government must look beyond the public sector to build collaborative relationships with a range of people, institutions, organisations and communities.

Long-term capacity building in the special skills required for participatory policymaking is an essential component of any public participation initiative. This is true for public servants, just as it is true for participants.

Download the full report here (PDF, 4.5MB)

Research team: Professor Susan Goodwin, Sanushka Mudaliar, Isabelle Napier, Professor Marc Stears

Project partners: Multicultural NSW, Refugee Youth Policy Initiative