A ‘fair go’ framework for policy?

By Andrew Wills, Director IPAA Queensland 

It is widely believed that public policies should reflect the core desires and expectations of voting citizens. After all, it’s a key principle of democracy that governments should enact the values of the community through their decisions, reforms, budgets, services and investments.  

In Australia, the idea of the ‘fair go’ has long been proffered as a typically and uniquely Australian value.  

But – what does this mean? 

How can public servants responsible for providing advice to governments, decide on how policy options support this core ‘Australian value’?  

Griffith University researcher Associate Professor Cosmo Howard and his colleagues sought to tackle this problem in a recent article, A ‘fair go’ values framework for public policy published in the Australian Journal of Public Administration.  

The authors argue that we need to start by coming to an understanding of what a ‘fair go’ means. They also argue that in doing so, there are some key challenges to tackle, particularly in the public policy context. One inherent issue is that values mean different things to different people, and while a ‘fair go’ is generally thought of as an egalitarian notion – a fair opportunity for all, there are many ways of interpreting this. For example, as their framework points out, others may think about this in a market sense, where a fair go could mean having strong opportunities in a competitive market. While another perspective might define having a fair go as putting in an honest or strong effort. 

Secondly, they discuss how a ‘fair go’ framework should help to build consensus through the policy process. This is underpinned by much research in public administration which suggest that a key success factor in policymaking is the ability to build consensus amongst diverse stakeholder networks and interest groups.   

Coming back to where we started, if we assume that the ‘fair go’ is truly a core cultural value in Australia, then it could be very important for public administrators to think about how this can be embedded in public policies and programs. To address these challenges, the researchers present a framework that draws on cross-cultural theory. Within this framework, a ‘fair go’ is likened to the nature of the ‘American Dream’, treating it as a culturally embedded value, rather than something tied to a particular political ideology. 

A ‘fair go’ framework for public policy

As a result of their research, they present the model below. The model breaks ‘fair’ into two definitions (just and strong) and ‘go’ into three definitions (opportunity, effort and contest). They then cross tabulate these, to come up with six configurations or interpretations of ‘fair go’ as a cultural value.  

Six ‘fair go’ value configurations (Howard, Petter and Pietsch 2023, reproduced with author permission) 

The full article presents two comprehensive case studies wherein they have applied the framework – 1) housing policy, and 2) immigration policy.  From these analyses they find that the framework provides useful and creative applications. For example, the framework can be used to critically assess particular policy solutions or options by investigating their positioning within a ‘fair go’ framework.  

The authors go on to state that “value configurations like the ‘fair go’ form a constellation of accepted values which can apply to a policy area in a variety of creative and productive ways”. This could, for example, help to facilitate shared support for a particular policy across multiple stakeholders with different expectations and goals.  Applying such a framework could help practitioners to “better understand how potential values can be strategically managed or deployed by decision-makers to create change”. 

Knowing what ‘fair’ and ‘go’ could mean in a public policy context, how can you apply these principles to your own public purpose work? 

The full article A ‘fair go’ values framework for public policy is available on open access. A related piece is also available on The Conversation website.

Reference

Howard, C., Petter, P., and Pietsch, H. (2024). A ‘fair go’ values framework for public policy, Australian Journal of Public Administration, 83 (1), 88-105.

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Notes 

It is important to highlight that Associate Professor Cosmo Howard and his colleagues acknowledge that there has been some criticism of the notion of the ‘fair go’, as historically it has been thought of as excluding women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They point out that their framework seeks to find a broader and more inclusive application.  

Disclaimer 

The Australian Journal of Public Administration is published on behalf of the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA).