The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) regulates animal welfare in NZ, and it currently has two proposals out for public consultation. Interested parties have until Thursday 19 May to get their submissions in.
I’m finishing my own submission (which I’ll post here later because they’re all available via OIA requests anyway) but I want to gather a few thoughts on the public consultation process itself–starting with their campaign video:
I’ve been critical on Twitter of MPI’s animal welfare comms strategy (or, ahem, lack thereof) and I’m afraid this video does nothing to change my mind. I’ve no issues with the informational content per se, and I’ll give them kudos for the well-done captioning (even though they’re required to do it). However I do have a problem with the visual communication. With all due respect to individual employees, the decision to go with an animation style best described as infantalising was a mistake. Neither the public nor animal welfare concerns are childish, and this aesthetic does not make me trust the Ministry to take either seriously.
The video was ostensibly supported by public information meetings, but I was unable to attend one and don’t know what they actually involved. (I’d love to hear from anyone who did go!) And I did manage to find an interesting internal briefing document (pdf) but that still left me–like the vast majority of NZers–to fend for myself through a 100 page proposal, detailing 85 animal welfare regulations, and then prepare a written response–all within 5 weeks. I mean no disrespect to people when I say that even those who care deeply about animal welfare would find this a rather challenging task, and it’s highly unlikely that anyone else would engage at all. If this is what the government genuinely believes is effective education and public consultation, I think we have a serious problem.
Imagine instead that MPI had created videos that summarised the proposed changes, and outlined the implications for different stakeholders.
Or imagine they had created an interactive guide to the proposed changes that allowed people to focus on issues that concerned them, and to submit our comments directly online.
Imagine if every week they had held a Q&A session on social media. Or put information booths in your local supermarket.
Imagine if the government had the ability to imagine us as more than a public-in-waiting! Imagine if they knew that publics are created by the things that concern us, and had to provide proper tools for us to decide what kind of public (citizen, country) we want to be!
And while we’re imagining… What if MPI wasn’t in charge of regulating or managing animal welfare at all? What kind of public consultation would that allow?
MPI reports that they’ve received 190 submissions so far. Although I’d definitely like to see more submissions, my fear isn’t that MPI will think only 200 of 4.5 million people care about animal welfare. My fear is that they won’t understand the direct role they’ve played in making it so hard for us to let them know we care.
PS. I know there are people who only want to know how things get paid for, and I’ve got a simple but genuine answer: NZers need to demand a change in priorities on how our tax dollars are spent. We need to start acting as if we have that power, because we do.