In 2008, 1000 Australians gathered to debate and discuss the future of Australia and to develop a citizen’s agenda for the country to adopt by the year 2020.
Problems and Purpose
Recently, Australia has seen falling public confidence in its government which can be problematic for the overall civic health of the country and can lead to declining engagement with political processes over time .
To increase public participation and civic engagement, the prime minister invited Australian citizens to the Australia 2020 Summit in April 2008 with the specific purpose of finding solutions to the challenges for the country and creating a national agenda to be implemented by the year 2020 .
Background History and Context
In 2008, early into the first term of his tenure as Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd began to develop a plan for a citizen-led meeting aimed at setting the national agenda for the year 2020 . By inviting the public into the deliberative process, the Prime Minister aimed to develop a direction for the country focused on long-term goals and issues rather than the short-sighted thinking most politicians adhere to due to the normal electoral cycle in Australia . The ensuing summit would be called the Australia 2020 Summit and tasked its participants with developing new ideas and strategies to create a better future for Australia .
Prior to the 2020 Summit, Australia had already been using community engagement to find new strategies to include citizens in the decision-making process and build stronger consensus around government policies. In 1998, “community cabinets” were established to promote local representatives engaging with their constituents by consulting on policies and local issues .
In 2001, Labor leaders in Western Australia held several public forums to develop recommendations on a contentious regional issue, the use of road trains. The forums included participants from relevant stakeholder groups and through deliberation created an action agenda which was ultimately adopted by the regional government .
Additionally, the city of Perth held a deliberative forum in 2003 with the goal of creating a strategy for the city to become the “world’s most livable city by 2030.” Over 1000 participants took part in the forum and helped develop an action plan which the city has used to implement the recommendations of the forum .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The summit was organized, supported, and funded by the Australian government. Additional support and organization were provided by 95 volunteers to the summit .
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The summit was facilitated by chairpersons selected by the government. Each chairperson was responsible for one of the 10 separate agenda items, or streams, of the summit . Every agenda stream would have two co-chairs– a government minister and a notable individual in that field.
The co-chairs were responsible for the selection of participants. Each stream would have 100 participants. Attendees were either invited to participate by the co-chairs or were chosen after applying and nominating themselves to participate in the summit. The specific selection process was not made public . Participants were not monetarily incentivized to participate in the summit and were personally responsible for whatever costs were required to attend .
Participants represented a diverse background of expertise and interests and ranged from ordinary citizens to renowned specialists in their field. They included farmers, health workers, lawyers, scientists, actors, and many other professions . However, the range of participants was limited to those who were invited by the co-chairs of the summit or who had the motivation and interest to nominate themselves to participate .
Methods and Tools Used
The method of public participation used at the Australia 2020 Summit was a citizens' summit. A citizen’s summit is a typically large deliberative process organized by officials to gain insight on a topic or form a better understanding of public opinion . Deliberation was the main communicative process used by the participants during the activities of the summit .
The summit took place over two days on the weekend of April 19-20, 2008 . The content of the summit was divided into ten streams each of which dealt with a separate aspect of policy discussion. The stream topics included productivity/education, the economy, climate change, rural communities, health, families/communities, indigenous Australians, the arts, governance, and security . Each separate agenda stream had two co-chairs .
Participants were divided evenly between the ten streams, so each stream had around 100 participants. Prior to the summit, participants were provided with an information guide for their stream which summarized the main issues to be discussed and raised several open-ended questions. This information was provided to help create positive and informative discussion during the summit .
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The deliberation of the summit was done in-person. Each day would include general sessions where all participants would meet. Stream sessions would follow each general session . The overall structure of deliberation was mostly up to the discretion of the separate co-chairs who would act as the facilitators of the discussion in each agenda stream. Some would create very stringent rules about debate and discussion while others would give more room to participants to set the agenda and what they would like to discuss .
How deliberation was structured and framed was also largely up to the co-chairs of that stream and their particular facilitation style. Some would allow participants to weigh the tradeoffs of a certain option while others would move through discussion by voting on the priorities of the group .
Participation in these stream sessions mostly moved through speeches in favor of one idea followed by discussion amongst the large group advocating for that position. Some breakout sessions would give time for more focused deliberation. At the end of the session, each stream reported out the main ideas to the general session .
The participants were not given a role in creating the final product of the summit. The final product was a summit report meant to summarize the main ideas discussed in each stream. The report was instead assembled and published by the summit organizers. The recommendations were then distributed by the government to the relevant agencies and officials .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Immediately following the conclusion of the summit, the organizers released the Australia 2020 Summit - Initial Summit Report. The initial report included the themes and ideas discussed in each stream but was not comprehensive and limited mostly to the discussion occurring during the first day of the summit . A month after the summit, the Prime Minister released the full Australia 2020 Summit Final Report. The full report was more comprehensive and included much greater detail on the range of issues touched on over the weekend .
The government would not officially respond to the ideas discussed at the summit until the next year and at that point only endorsed nine points from the summit . Based on the recommendations of the summit, two specific programs – the Bionic Eye Project and the National Disability Insurance Scheme – would eventually become adopted policy by the Australian government .
The summit was able to create a final report highlighting possible solutions and ideas to address the major issues facing the country. However, the extent that the summit was able to create sustained engagement and participation was somewhat muted by the fact that the participants mostly included already highly active and engaged citizens .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Many participants left the summit feeling excited and enthusiastic about the debate and discussion of new ideas and interesting solutions to the tough challenges that lay ahead for Australia and the world  .
However, overall, the views of the success of the program have been lukewarm at best . Almost immediately, some participants were concerned with how the organizers of the summit reflected their discussion and their suggestions for policies to be adopted by the government. According to these participants, it appeared that many of their ideas were not included in the final report .
Additionally, the summit has been criticized because the participants have been seen as not representative of the general population . This is in part due to the recruitment methods of the summit which seemed to focus on experts and stakeholders rather than ordinary Australians. The summit has been criticized for the structure of deliberation of the streams. For the most part, the summit did not allow for extensive opportunities for small-group discussions during stream sessions . In a chapter comparing the 2020 Summit with the somewhat similar 2009 Australian Citizens’ Parliament (ACP), Janette Hartz-Karp and Lyn Carson found that the ACP did a much more proficient job at creating space for citizen engagement and involving public participation in the policymaking process .
 Hartz-Karp, J., & Carson, L. (2013). Putting Citizens in Charge: Comparing the Australian Citizens’ Parliament and the Australia 2020 Summit, in Carson, L., Gastil, J., Hartz-Karp, J., & Lubensky, R. The Australian Citizens’ Parliament and the Future of Deliberative Democracy. pp. 21-34. The Pennsylvania State University Press.
 Department of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. (2008a). Australia 2020 Summit -Final Report. https://apo.org.au/sites/default/files/resource-files/2008-06/apo-nid15061.pdf
 Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (2008b). Australia 2020, about the summit. https://web.archive.org/web/20080214182739/http://www.australia2020.gov.au/about/index.cfm
 Participedia Contributors. (2019a). CASE. Federal Community Cabinets (Australia). https://participedia.net/case/573
 Participedia Contributors. (2019b). CASE. Road Trains Summit. https://participedia.net/case/4510
 Participedia Contributors. (2019c). CASE. Dialogue with the City. https://participedia.net/case/42
 Participedia Contributors. (2020). METHOD. Citizens’ Summit. https://participedia.net/method/5086
 Participedia Contributors. (2019d). METHOD. Deliberation. https://participedia.net/method/560
 Mocker, The. (2018). The Mocker: Kevin Rudd’s 2020 summit best forgotten. The Australian. https://www.theaustralian.com.au/commentary/opinion/the-mocker-kevin-rudds-2020-summit-best-forgotten/news-story/c50a65605d0db884588b1774d8b6f85f
 Steffen, W. (2020). More than a decade after the 2020 Summit, Australia is at a 'fork in the road.’ The Canberra Times. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6873904/more-than-a-decade-after-the-2020-summit-australia-is-at-a-fork-in-the-road/
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s tweet on his Twitter account referencing the summit: https://twitter.com/MrKRudd/status/984609633435254789?
YouTube video from Sky News Australia featuring Judith Sloan, a participant at the summit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEz9mTschMs
The contents of this case study were compiled by Adam Williams, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Any opinions expressed in this document are those of the author or other cited sources and are not necessarily the opinions of the Clinton School.