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© Department of Human Services

Department of Human Services

Communicating Major Payment Changes: Strategic Innovation and the Australian Government Department of Human Services 

In 2013,  the Australian Government commissioned an inquiry into child care and early childhood learning. The inquiry found that child care services are expensive, presenting barriers to parents re-entering the workforce, and that the existing child care fee assistance system was too complex.  

 

 In response to this inquiry, the government announced changes to child care fee assistance. The Australian Government Department of Human Services’ (DHS) role was to deliver and communicate the changes to  1.3 million affected families over a period of 18 months. DHS worked alongside the Department of Education and Training (DET) to communicate these changes. DHS conducted below-the-line communications, on a minimal budget.   

  

The key external stakeholders included DET, Australian child care providers and services, current child care fee assistance recipients and future recipients. Internal stakeholders included the New Child Care Subsidy Branch, the New Parents, Child Care and Programme Improvement Branch, the Communications Division, the Business Processing Branch and ICT.

'Child Care Subsidy' Video, © Australian Government Department of Human Services

The overarching goal of this communications strategy was to transition families from the old system to the new one. This involved raising awareness of the changes so affected families knew what to do to transition to the new payment scheme and when to do it.  

 

The objectives included:  

 

  • Give families confidence to complete their business.

  • Give providers confidence to understand and implement.

  • Develop a suite of communication products that gave families and providers the answers they need, when and where they need.

  • Support staff with the information they need to assist families and providers.  

  

The key messages underpinning communication activities were informational and instructional ensuring people were aware of the changes and what they needed to do. For parents, carers and DHS staff the key message was ‘these are the changes that are coming, and this is how you can access payments’. For child care providers the key message was ‘this is how the changes are impacting you and this is how you will receive payments’.   

An agile approach for implementing the plan was utilised to ensure communication activities remained useful for audiences. This meant adapting communication activities to meet the needs of key audiences. A range of channels were incorporated in the delivery of targeted messaging. DHS adopted a multidisciplinary, cross-departmental approach where teams across DHS and DET worked collaboratively. The Families Communication team led the same approach from a communications perspective, involving representatives from social media, web and media, ensuring consistency in messaging, easy escalation and quick approvals. The multidisciplinary team’s solution was a success due to effective collaboration by the various departments and teams.  

  

Tactics included:  

  • Web page alerts 

  • News items on the web page 

  • Proactive and reactive social media responses 

  • Promoted social media posts 

  • Podcasts 

  • Animations 

  • Infographics 

  • Letters 

  • Digital advertising in myGov shopfronts 

  • DHS website content 

  • Informational newsletters 

  • Publications 

'Child Care Subsidy' Video, © Australian Government Department of Human Services

DHS faced several challenges in executing the communications strategy. These included the overall scope of the project, catering to the needs of complex audiences and translating complex policy into plain English. DHS overcame these challenges by implementing a multidisciplinary approach where they worked collaboratively with DET to ensure consistency of messaging. They also utilised outreach staff to assist in communicating with difficult to reach audiences including those from ethnically and linguistically diverse backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.   

  

DHS is still concluding the final stage of the strategy and have not completed a formal evaluation. As a result, they were unable to provide comprehensive data however, they were able to comment that they feel the implementation of the strategy has helped successfully transition over a million Australian families to the new payment system. A key to this success was the cross-departmental and multidisciplinary team approach to implementation.