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A recipe for cross-agency innovation – Croissant

The Ministry for the Environment is a recipient of the Digital Government Partnership Innovation Fund 2020/21 for its digital consultation tool, Croissant.

The funding round for 2021/22 is now closed.

The Digital Government Partnership Innovation Fund champions collaboration and supports diverse projects that promote system benefits within a digital government.

To complement and inform the final round of applicants, the funding team is profiling 3 successful applicants from the 2020/21 round of funding.

The second recipient to be featured is Croissant, a digital tool that enables better analysis of public opinion by tagging consultation submissions quickly and exporting the results for analysis. Croissant is produced by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE).

Case study insights

  • The submission tagging tool, Croissant, exemplifies the importance of cross-agency collaboration. Early on, the MfE team who designed Croissant understood that the tool itself could solve a common problem that many government agencies grapple with: manually processing of public submissions is time consuming and ineffective. The team developed the machine-learning interface to allow for easy multiple agency use.
  • Sharing system innovation and expertise between government agencies extends the overall benefit of digital solutions like Croissant. At the same time, it ensures investment in digital and data innovation delivers maximum benefit.
  • Digital solutions like Croissant show that purpose built digital tools can lift the public service’s capability to deliver better services for New Zealanders. By implementing machine learning to streamline the consultation process, the Croissant tool ensures the results of vital public input can be delivered more quickly and efficiently.
  • Through the success of Croissant, it’s clear that small-scale digital solutions that save agencies time are a key element of successful public-sector innovation. The team found that many government agencies were dealing with the same processing problems in their public consultation methods. Funding is often not made available for smaller-scale digital innovations however their impact on productivity is highly valuable.

Interview with IT Portfolio Coordinator, Kelsi Loader

We caught up with Kelsi Loader, who works as an IT Portfolio Coordinator at MfE and asked her a few questions about the project.

What is Croissant?

Croissant is a digital tool that enables better analysis of public opinion by tagging consultation submissions quickly, grouping them together and exporting the results for analysis. Public consultation is a function of almost all government agencies and Crown entities, so Croissant is a key enabler for all-of-government (AoG) public submission processes.

The initial challenge

In central and local government, agencies use public consultation to ask New Zealanders for feedback on proposed policies, plans and strategies so informed decisions can be made for the future of Aotearoa. One of the challenges that we see across agencies is the processing of submissions. Consultations can bring in tens of thousands of submissions in a range of different forms. It requires many hours of processing work to read and identify information and capture the feedback within each submission.

We recognised the opportunity to produce a tool that can essentially digitise submission processing for public service agencies. This way, we can reduce the amount of time and resources spent on processing individual submissions and ensure the results of public consultation are quickly available to inform government decision making.

How Croissant works

Croissant is intended to improve a specific part of the consultation process: the tagging of submissions. We can do this manually or by using machine-learning technology, which is essentially teaching the tool how to identify the key words in submissions that are most important to that consultation process.

Each consultation team sets up their own taxonomy and the team manually tag a small portion of the total submissions against these classifications. Once a threshold has been met (typically about 10%), Croissant will have learned enough from what has been tagged and be able to run those rules automatically across the remainder of the submissions. This reduces the need for someone to manually open and read every submission — a task which is often underestimated in terms of how much time and resources are needed to complete it.

The tool also enables the team to update the taxonomy to include concepts and suggestions within public submissions that could have otherwise been missed.

The overall result is that the stage for processing submissions is sped up, so we can focus more time on the analysis and reporting of the results of the consultation — the valuable output that comes from public engagement. This way we can deliver meaningful results back to New Zealanders more efficiently.

Key milestones

  • MfE was a successful applicant of the 2020/21 round of innovation funding to develop Croissant into a cross-agency digital tool.
  • In 2020, the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and MfE worked together on a pilot of Croissant. The funding from the Digital Government Partnership Innovation Fund has enabled us to progress the next phase of work more quickly and with AoG capabilities in mind.
  • We’re proud of the development of Croissant from a digital solution for MfE to an AoG submission-tagging tool that addresses a common problem.
  • We’re fortunate to have a platform through DIA with the Innovation Showcase that is helping to spark interest in Croissant. It’s encouraging to know that we’re building something that will likely be a game changer for many agencies.

Why innovation is important in the public sector

The context within which the public sector delivers its services is continuously changing. Innovation allows us to adapt dynamically to that changing environment, ideally getting ahead of the curve. This innovation also drives efficiencies in what services are delivered and how.

Croissant illustrates the collaborative and cooperative benefits of digital innovation, allowing agencies to work together to maximise efficiency through shared system transformation. By applying machine-learning technology, we’re able to develop more effective digital services for New Zealanders that can be rolled out across the public service.

About the fund

All New Zealand public sector organisations are eligible to apply for the Digital Government Partnership Innovation Fund with an overall budget of $5 million per annum.

The innovation fund is an initiative driven by the Digital Government Leadership Group, made up of 13 Chief Executives from across the public service.

Find out more:

Digital Government Partnership Innovation Fund

Read about other 2020/2021 innovation fund recipients.

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