Cape York’s reform journey takes a digital direction with Pama Platform

Background

In 2005 “The Cape York Reform Agenda” was written by Noel Pearson and published by Cape York Institute.  It outlined the societal and environmental issues facing the people of Cape York, calling out the issues and behaviours within the region that had become accepted as the norm.  These range from substance abuse, poor health, an acceptance of a lack of opportunity, violence, poverty, and no real economy.   

The Agenda also recognised the role of passive welfare in contributing to dysfunction, disadvantage and a lack of responsibility within Cape York Indigenous communities. The essence of this Agenda was to “ensure that Cape York people have the capabilities to choose a life they have reason to value”. -Noel Pearson 

Establishing more effective incentives for positive behaviour has been identified as one of the tools to support the restoration of social order: 

 “The incentives inherent in current welfare arrangements in Cape York have led to an unemployment trap with all the resulting social consequences.”.  – Noel Pearson 

In Cape York, new incentives were developedin the form of programs, in many cases with the support of Jawun secondees, and were prescribed to those in need of support mechanisms by the Family Responsibility Commission (FRC).  

These programs and services included Opportunity Products, developed by Cape York Partnership (CYP) to encourage and support individuals and families to manage and take responsibility for their finances, their health, their home and their children’s education.  Programs are delivered via “one-stop-shop” O-Hubs across the four reform communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge. 

There has long been an idea of a virtual system that would allow community members to access and manage their affairs independently of O-Hubs, with incentives for positive behaviour including regular saving plans, contributions to children’s education, regular school attendance and responsible tenancies.   

Jawun secondees have supported the development of a single account approach through a number of projects since 2011, with many iterations of name and concept. 

Approach

In 2017, the establishment of Pama Futures as a regional empowerment model enabled individual communities across Cape York to identify and voice their specific priorities and needs.  The concept of a “one-stop-shop” approach was raised by multiple communities as a way to consolidate employment, welfare, education, health, home ownership and justice for individuals and families.   

In 2018, BCG secondee Hugh Dixson joined the Pama Futures team on a three-month secondment to support the development of a pilot model for the then-named Opportunity Account as a mobile app.  Working with digital applications developers, the team established the framework for the app to include the integration of CYP products, financial institutions and welfare agencies.  The team successfully gained funding for the project to proceed through the federal Department of Social Services’ “Try, Test and Learn” Fund in late 2018.   

Although Cape York communities are remote and communication options are poor, pre-paid mobile phone ownership is common, as is digital capability.  With the advancement of financial institutions and government applications, the addition of an Opportunity Account mobile app was seen as a natural progression and the best option for ease of access. 

The key approach was to build an account to support individuals and families to build financial literacy and gain a sense of achievement by providing visibility of their account balances.  This would be achieved by utilising lessons from behavioural economics to incentivise positive actions and nudge individuals towards their targets.  

“Pama is a user-facing, mobile-friendly, responsive web-based application that supports Indigenous people in money management, health, education, employment and homeownership.  The game-changer at the center of this innovation is the creation of Opportunity Accounts, or lockable accounts, which allow users to allocate a portion of their income towards certain goals according to their life stages – for example, child-rearing expenses, education, personal development and home ownership. These funds are locked to prevent access except for the dedicated purpose, which addresses issues of ‘humbugging’ and poor financial literacy among Indigenous people.”  

  • Agnes Lloyd, Project Manager, Pama Opportunity Platform 

Throughout the development phase, a number of technological issues with the app’s build required a new approach to the delivery method for the account, and a major switch occurred as the app became a web-based platform with mobile functionality.  This overcame both technological and financial constraints and allowed more flexibility for future scalability and expansion of services included in the account. 

In late 2020, virtual secondees from Microsoft Mitch Denny and Prashant Bhatnagar joined the O-Club Team, as it was then known, in the establishment of a “Minimum Viable Product” in preparation for the launch of a pilot in early 2020. With both technical and financial marketing expertise, secondees supported two critical areas of development for both the launch and future scalability of the platform. As explained by Mitch Denny, 

“Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it serves humanity and so better understanding of the factors facing Indigenous communities allows us to build better technology.”   

Outcomes

In early 2021, Pama Platform was launched across selected communities in Cape York. Access is via either desktop or other device connected to land-based internet or via mobile device and data. 

Pama Opportunity Accounts (financial) have been split into 5 categories to provide support at every stage of life for both individuals and families: READY Account (aged 0-5), SET Account (aged 6-26), GO Account (all ages), Bayan Account (home deposit) and Personal Saver (individuals). 

In addition to financial accounts users have access to information on community and social events, a region-specific employment portal and job noticeboard, parenting and orbiting programs and a home loan calculator.  Each time the user accesses the portal they are allocated points as an incentive.  These points are accumulated and can be exchanged for experiences and goods at certain levels.  There is also the opportunity to participate in challenges with prizes for the highest achievements, such as a steps challenge and reading challenge. 

The pilot is currently underway with 160 Pama users actively engaging with the product, providing rich analytics and user data on engagement and uptake of initiatives and responsiveness to prompts. 

The value proposition for the Pama platform can be broken down into four key categories: maintaining a persistent connection with users, having a wide reach across communities, being co-designed in the users’ community context, and reducing the time and cost of service delivery. 

Next Steps

Pama envisions becoming a single-entry-point service hub that builds and supports individuals and families, a scalable plug-in for remote communities where third-party providers are able to highlight and push content about their products and services via the platform.  In addition to CYP entities, the service will include government bodies, enabling them to administer initiatives cost-effectively and in a timely manner, corporate entities engaged in social innovation opportunities, social responsibility and inclusion, and external service providers through integration to their software, CRM or other offerings. 

Given the limitations on the current funding model, the next steps will be securing finance for the existing platform operations, development of a new operating model for Cape York Operations to manage the platform as it scales up, retaining and growing the user base, making continuous improvements, delivering new offerings and introducing new support partners.