Delib – 2014 in review

We’re nearing the end of 2014, and we draw ever closer to what late crooner Andy Williams liked to call “the most wonderful time of the year”. But before we don not-so-ironic jumpers and settle down in front of a glowing Christmas special or two, we’d like to share some of the exciting things that this year held for Delib.

Our most widely used product, Citizen Space, has seen various changes and improvements (hopefully they are one and the same!) over the course of the year. “What changes? What improvements?”, I hear you cry. Well…

Skip Logic

Early in the year, we added skip logic to Citizen Space – a major expansion of the online survey functionality. Skip logic enables a respondent’s route through a survey to be conditional on the answers they give. This widened the possibilities for survey design significantly. One can create several different surveys within a single Citizen Space consultation, by asking them one or more filtering questions, and then bringing them to the appropriate section. Users have a better experience on surveys that use skip logic effectively, as they are spared the drudgery of ticking whole pages as ‘N/A’

Mapping

Example of Citizen Space's mapping component

We have also added a mapping feature to Citizen Space. Particularly valuable for consultations on questions of local planning and land use, this enables interactive maps to be embedded on the site. Users responding to a consultation on, for example, a new cycle pathway, can indicate on the map itself where they want a path to be located. Proposals for a new mixed-use development could have a plan of the site, and then map out where they would like each particular service to be located. You can check out mapping in action here.

Analysis – Improved filtering, analysis interface and charts

We understand that for our customers, being able to analyse responses is just as important as being able to create great surveys and consultations. That’s why we’ve made several improvements and additions to the analysis features in Citizen Space this year. We’ve improved the way filtering is done – so that the interface is clearer and easier to use. We’ve made it easier to navigate between questions when viewing ‘responses by question’. And we’ve added in some rather attractive charts that visualise responses to a question, which have proven very popular with our users.

Charts of responses by question

PDF embedding

We’ve made it possible to embed pdf files into the text of a consultation – on the homepage, in fact banks or in textboxes – using the text editor . With a neat icon tucked into the ‘What you see is what you get’ toolbar, users can upload a pdf, which is then incorporated into the page, in its own window – removing the need to host PDFs externally or manually create embed codes. This has been a particularly useful addition for many of our customers, who need to consult based on policy proposals in lengthy documents. Using the embed tool they can easily insert these documents straight into their consultation.


These are just a few of the most exciting new features that we’ve added in to Citizen Space this year. There have also been hundreds of little tweaks and fixes, the result of our developers’ hard work behind the scenes to make our product better and more appropriate to our customers’ needs.


Of course, Citizen Space isn’t our only product. Dialogue App and Budget Simulator also saw a busy year, going through constant iterative change and improvement.

In particular, Dialogue App saw significant improvements to its admin interface, new theming options, no limit to the number of discussions which can be run, improvements to exports and a generally enhanced user experience.


All three apps have also had great things done with them by our customers. Some of the highlights in digital democracy for us this year have been:

Transport for London consulted on a variety of issues, some of which have reached a huge total of responses. Their consultations on two new ‘Cycle Superhighways’ through central London attracted a lot of attention and well over 10,000 responses.

September saw the Scottish Independence Referendum which, whatever side of the debate you were on, was an invigorating exercise in democracy. The Scottish government is a long-time Delib customer and Citizen Space user – and its consultations on how the referendum should be run, back in 2012, as well as this year’s consultation on what the interim constitution of an independent Scotland would be were both carried out on Citizen Space.

Image of a tweet about the Northern Futures project with a video of Nick Clegg

Dialogue app powered the policy-crowdsourcing process that was behind Nick Clegg’s  Northern Futures summit. Citizens contributed hundreds of ideas and comments, as part of a process of public debate and political leadership, leading up to a successful summit in September this year.

Several local authorities across the UK – Derby, Edinburgh, Inverclyde, Hull, Enfield, Waltham Forest, and East Dunbartonshire – along with one Australian  (Melbourne, who’ve done a really interesting report of the consultation here) and one Canadian city (Calgary)  – have all used Budget Simulator to consult on how they spend their money. You can check out the latest to open – Hull’s – here.

Edinburgh Budget Simulator allocation page

NHS England made innovative use of Citizen Space to conduct very large scale internal surveys, creating registration forms for everything from volunteering to webinars – making us realise that Citizen Space’s use is in no way limited to just creating surveys!

And finally, The BBC Trust held an in-depth review of all six of the BBC’s radio services – a topic which is very dear to our own hearts! – using Citizen Space in the summer.

 

In summary, it’s been a great year, and we hope to see you all again in 2015 for more of the same!

 

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‘Tis the season…to consult on budgets

December in Bristol – an icy wind chases down the Avon and Christmas lights adorn the city centre – although the simultaneous prevalence of the hipster beards and semi-ironic Christmas jumpers make it hard for the out-of-towner to distinguish a Santa’s grotto from the many organic woodwork shops and concept cafés that line our streets.

Here in the world of public engagement, the season’s relative positioning with regards to the end of the financial year, means that it is a key time for public consultation on budgets. In the last few days we’ve seen two new Budget Simulator sites launched:

Inverclyde

Located a few miles down the river Clyde from Glasgow, Inverclyde is one of the smallest local authorities in Scotland – so it’s particularly great that they are using Budget Simulator to consult with all their citizens on where the £7 million of cuts they need to make should come from.

Screenshot 2014-12-05 15.53.32

Inverclyde have used the tool in an interesting way. They’ve focused heavily on their budget surplus – so the £7m that needs to be cut – rather than on the £196m that makes up the total. The design of the service area sliders gives citizens a focused view of the spending totals and areas that are up for cutting, rather than facing the often rather daunting task of administering those cuts to the entire budget. We’ll be interested to see how the response they get compares to other budget simulators. The council are doing a lot of work to engage the public at events and meetings, which they’re using to publicise the tool, and they’ve also headed their homepage with a good-looking banner showing the view out over the river – one of the advantages of being situated in one of the more picturesque parts of the country!

Hull

The city of Hull also went live with a budget simulator this week. Their design team have created a warm and welcoming theme for the homepage, based on their ‘Value Hull’ brand. This draws attention to what I feel is one of the real benefits of using a budget simulator – it helps citizens see exactly what their council tax is spent on, and lets them understand what cuts to local government budgets will mean in a straightforward way.

There’s a nifty animated video on the site – check it out here. Once you get into the simulator, it strikes you that the council have included their ‘ring-fenced’ areas, but made these impossible to change – helping citizens to understand the lack of flexibility that the council has in imposing budget cuts.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador have started using Dialogue App to get members of the public talking about and proposing ideas for the future of healthcare. They’ve got a video up on the site with Premier Paul Davis explaining the background to the exercise, and a good few discussions going already, broken down by theme. Check it out!

The future of Bristol’s libraries

And finally, the city council in our very own hometown of Bristol is leading a discussion on the future of the city’s libraries:

Screenshot 2014-12-05 16.02.16

The council have created an appealing, vibrant design for the site, with plenty of content and links. And the people of Bristol have not failed to make us proud (as always) of the city’s engaged and creative citizenry, having already contributed upwards of fifty ideas to the site.

On that note, I’d better finish off the week’s office tasks and prepare myself for the real legwork of the season – despite the prophecies of several notable boffins that AI technology is bringing us ever closer to robo-geddon, Christmas shopping won’t yet do itself.

See you soon!

 

Matthew @Delib

 

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Top Local Government Jobs this December

Delivery Manager – Greater London Authority (closing date: 4th December)
The GLA are looking for an outstanding digital Delivery Manager to support their web team in delivering the new london.gov.uk website. The ideal candidate will have experience of planning and delivering high profile digital projects in a political organisation, using and championing agile methodologies.

Digital and Design Services Manager – East Sussex County Council (closing date: 7th December)
East Sussex are looking for a talented Digital and Design Services Manager within the Communications Team, to help raise their communications and marketing to new heights, and to play a crucial role in improving customer service for their residents.

Community Engagement Officer x 2 – London Borough of Hounslow (closing date: 7th December)
Hounslow are recruiting two Community Engagement Officers who will lead on developing a new approach to community development and engagement across the borough.

Strategic Lead Digital Communications – Camden Council (closing date: 7th December)
In this role, you will be responsible for the production and delivery of the council’s Digital Communications strategy. You will work within the multi-media team to maximise the use of digital technology and social media.

Head of Technology and Procurement – Luton Borough Council (closing date: 8th December)
Luton BC are looking for someone bold and innovative who has the drive to be at the heart of their commercial approach.

Innovation & Review Manager – London Borough of Waltham Forest (closing date: 10th December)
Waltham Forest are looking for a dynamic and organised Innovation and Review Manager to work at the heart of transformation across the borough.

Performance and Data Manager – London Borough of Tower Hamlets (closing date: 15th December)
In this role, you will lead and support a team of data analysts within the Education, Social Care and Wellbeing Directorate, with responsibility for providing high-quality performance information and operation data, to support the development and improvement of education services in Tower Hamlets.

Web Communications Officer – Dacorum Borough Council (closing date: 15th December)
An exciting opportunity has arisen at Dacorum Borough Council for a Web Communications Officer. The role is focused on liaising with services to help improve their online content from a customer’s perspective.

Planning Policy Section Head – Watford Borough Council (closing date: 21st December)
Watford are looking for an individual with an exceptional track record in motivating teams, partnership working and project delivery. They will make a big contribution to moving from planning policy, to delivering new homes, jobs and associated infrastructure identified in the Local Plan Core Strategy.

Deputy Director of Finance – Camden Council (closing date: 23rd December)
An exciting opportunity for an experienced and successful senior financial leader to make a strong contribution to a challenging agenda.

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BIS give us a lesson in effective promotion with their sharing economy consultation

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) has recently finished conducting a call for evidence on an Independent review of the sharing economy. Feedback on the review is being collected in three ways:

BIS Independent Sharing Economy

What is the sharing economy and why is it important to conduct a call for evidence?

“The sharing economy is coming and it’s being driven by consumers” Debbie Wosskow

The sharing economy is a new set of business models, driven by technologies that are making it easier for people to share their property, time and skills. Examples include property sharing via services such as Airbnb and shared transport – for example Barclays Cycle Hire scheme. The call for evidence is being led via an independent review by Debbie Wosskow (CEO of Love home swap). Ms Wosskow’s tactics will be to ask for evidence both in the conventional government ways and digitally, aiming to produce an interactive report that will draw from the experience of workers and consumers too.

Effective survey design

In order to ensure the call for evidence was tailored to different respondents’ needs, the Citizen Space survey included the use of skip-logic to ‘route’ respondents to a set of questions relevant to them. Especially commendable was the use of survey routing by audience-type, with more open free-text questions for respondents from an organisation to enable extended commenting on the subject. The survey also included the use of fact banks, which enable respondents to view more information on the topic if needed.

Generate Twitter noise

The consultation picked up a large amount of traction on Twitter. The call for evidence opened on 29th September 2014 and on the same day attracted 806 tweets being posted within just 24 hours. Using the relevant hashtag #sharingeconomy in most tweets, it was easy to follow the conversation on Twitter.

BIS also tweeted the call for evidence at potential respondents who may be interested in the subject, which helped ensure a two-way conversation. A summary of some of the best Tweets which had been posted were also made available by BIS via a Storify post.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 16.13.12An extended period for comment with a sense of urgency created around the closing date

A sense of urgency was also created around the closing date of the call for evidence, with the consultation date being extended to enable more participants to take part.Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 16.08.53

Direct link and page through from GOV.UK

In order to ensure respondents could also find the call for evidence from GOV.UK a direct link through to Citizen Space was added under the call to action ‘Give your views on the sharing economy’.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 12.18.08A dedicated microsite and newsletter created as a hub for the review

The sharing economy review itself has its own dedicated micro-site, recently commended by Helpful Technology. The site links through to relevant posts about the review – namely a number of stories, sites and blogs . The site also provides an opportunity to sign-up to a dedicated newsletter for the review which links through to the call for evidence.

Inclusion of existing research and relevant infographics

BIS also included reference to previous research conducted by PwC on the sharing economy, which helped contextualise the consultation.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 16.12.09BIS aims to produce a report by the end of the year following the call for evidence and we’re looking forward to seeing the results.

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A month in the life of a secondee at Delib

As it’s (just over) a month since I started at Delib, I thought I’d do a quick post with some of the things I’ve learned in my first few weeks. So here are five:

1. How things are done in an SME

Having worked in a relatively large government department, coming to a small startup has brought an interesting change in atmosphere. Departments tend to be split up into a lot of specialised teams. Whatever it is you need to know about, there’s someone who will know a lot more about it than you, and so one of the most valuable skills you can have is being able to find that person and get what you need out of them.

In a small business, that person isn’t there – so the skills needed are different. It’s down to you to either work out the answer yourself; usually an answer that gets the job done, rather than a perfect one, allowing you to concentrate on what you really need to do. After all, every minute of work lost costs someone money, and if they’re in the same room as you…

2. Being outside of Whitehall and central departments: government is much bigger than you think!

Delib’s client base is very broad – going all the way from central government departments to small district councils. Coming into contact with all of these organisations is a real reminder of what it’s often easy to forget – that the public sector and government is huge, and does a lot of things.

3.Digital literacy is a big challenge in government

The need for greater digital skills in government is one of the mantras of the ‘Civil Service Reform’ agenda that has been advanced under the current government, to the extent of becoming a bit of a cliche – although that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong! From my experience of Delib, however – a business that to some extent depends on government being reasonably digitally competent – it’s not necessarily in the same way or for the same reasons that we assume.

The reasons that are most commonly given for ‘digital illiteracy’ tend to be an ageing workforce and ingrained organisational resistance to change. These are certainly factors – but these aren’t exclusive to local government, and I think there are others at play that perhaps aren’t talked about as much.

The equipment that people are given to work with is also a big problem. It’s very hard to develop digital skills if email systems, internet browsers and desktop machines themselves are several years out-of-date. From my own experience, this can often be the case in central departments – and the situation seems similar in local government (perhaps understandably, given the pressure on budgets).

If we consider our public servants who deal with information as ‘knowledge workers’ – which, in my mind, we should – I think it’s important to make sure they have access to the technology they need. This isn’t without cost, but it might be more justified than sinking huge sums of money into bespoke IT projects that often add little to the quality of public services.

There is also the tendency for senior managers in organisations to exert an undue influence over the way technology is used. Big projects become totemic parts of ‘change management’ and are cloaked in nebulous project management terminology, but with the disadvantage that the people in charge have little real understanding of how it’s actually going to work or what it will really look like. Maybe I’ve become biased at Delib, but it’s definitely given me the impression that smaller organisations do tech better.

4. Designing a web service: aesthetics do matter

At the end of the day web services are all about the users. Their value is in making things easier and quicker to do.

It’s for this reason that one of the foremost concerns Delib’s customers have with the product is ‘how does it feel for the user?’. And whilst we might rightly accuse some web products of putting form over function, a visually appealing interface can make all the difference for a site that is designed to publicly engage with citizens and, in some way, make their lives easier.

The online world should be thought of in the same terms as a real, physical environment. It’s both a working space and a space for dealing with visitors and the public. We think a lot about the design and construction of our public environment. In some ways, however, us citizens of the information age spend our lives between two worlds  Given how much cheaper, easier and quicker it is to create a pleasant online environment, it’s surprising government doesn’t spend more time making it so!

5. What running a support desk actually looks like – managing ‘failure demand’.

Like most people, my previous experience with using ‘support desks’ was often that of communicating with a somewhat disembodied presence at the other end of a phone or an email. Manning the support desk at Delib has let me see behind the curtain…and it’s been enlightening.

In any case, I’ll be (slightly) more sympathetic when I call someone at a support desk, tell them my problem and they ask me to ‘create a ticket’…

And now, back to work on a rainy monday!

 

Matthew

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The NHS Friends and Family Test – can we help?

6 years ago, public confidence in the NHS was rocked by the scandal emerging from the conditions of care at Stafford Hospital – administered by Mid Staffordshire NHS foundation trust, and making ‘Mid-Staffs’ a near-daily invocation in the corridors of the Department of Health , NHS England, and GPs and hospitals across the country.

The investigations and inquiries into the scandal revealed some of the conditions at the hospital, and the resulting media attention prompted a period of national introspection regarding the NHS.

When the current government came to power in 2010, it launched the inquiry to end all inquiries (following four under the previous administration) into failings at the hospital. The ‘Francis Report’ (named after its chair, Robert Francis QC) took three years to publish, and apparently considered a million pages of evidence.

Central to the report’s findings was the question of openness and dialogue: The culture of the NHS needs to be one of constant improvement rather than complacency;  Staff must have a duty to report failings; and – most importantly for our purposes here, patients must be listened to.

This – and a government that has put ‘patient choice’ at the centre of its health narrative – laid the backdrop for the introduction of the ‘Friends and Family test’ in 2013: a standardised survey, carried out by all NHS trusts, and centred around one simple question: ‘Would you recommend this service to friends and family?’

Alongside this, we are also seeing a growing range of digital applications aimed at improving dialogue around patient experience – such as Patient Opinion and iWantGreatCare – creating more and more of an expectation that health services are subjected to the same online scrutiny we are used to for other products and services.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the NHS is rolling out the Friends and Family test in GP clinics from December 2014, and next year will expand to more services, such as mental health, ambulances and dentists. Administering these tests will be a challenge for England’s 200 Clinical Commissioning Groups – and one that we hope Citizen Space might be up to the task of meeting!

How to implement the Friends and Family Test using Citizen Space

Inspired by our friends at Stockport CCG, who asked us how they might be able to use Citizen Space to implement the Friends and Family Test in their area – here’s a guide to how we think CCGs could use Citizen Space to carry out their Friends and Family tests, with links to our Knowledge Base articles to help you:

1) Set up each GP surgery as a department on your Citizen Space hub
2) Set up the person responsible for FFT at each GP as department admin for their surgery.
3) Create a single FFT survey on your hub for one surgery, then clone this survey repeatedly and rename each one until you have one for each of your surgeries.
4) Move each survey into their relevant ‘department’ and make your the relevant department admin the owner of the survey – so they have access to the responses and can manage the survey.
5) They can then share the F&FT link with their patients, and patients’ friends and families for them to fill in on their smartphones, or better still, on a tablet at the surgery
6) You don’t need to be involved beyond this other than for technical support and have no need to look at responses.

This means:

  • All responses are held in one place
  • They can all be analysed from one place
  • The survey can be carried out either online or on a terminal or tablet at the surgery (as long as it is connected to the internet!)
  • Quick, accurate response gathering, with the ease of using Citizen Space online analysis and results tools for reporting
  • By putting each surgery in its own department, responses are only accessible to the admins in that surgery (and overall site admins for technical support)
  • Surgeries could be benchmarked against one another if you wish

The Friends and Family test has not been without criticism from within the healthcare community (this report from the Picker Institute sums up some of these, as well as positive points around the FFT), but we believe that if administered effectively – and captures the views of a large and diverse proportion of the patient body – it can be a really useful tool for boosting patient engagement with health services.

As always, we’re happy to help all our Citizen Space users with suggestions on using the tool – so if you’d like us to work with you to solve a consultation need, then drop a line to your account manager (Louise or Rowena), call us on 0845 638 1848 or email support@delib.net.

 

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From the Valleys to Hackney, and sharing all the way

Hello again from Delib – we’re fresh from enjoying a slightly unseasonal Halloween – here in Bristol we celebrated All Hallows’ Eve at a positively tropical 20 degrees – leaving us unsure whether to gather round the bonfire, or put on our swimsuits and launch ourselves headlong into the Avon. However, a reassuringly brisk bonfire night got us back in an autumnal mood – and ready to knuckle down in the run up to Christmas!

In any case, here’s a round up of some interesting things happening in the digital democracy world:

1) The Swedish power company Vattenfall are using newsletters effectively to keep in touch with those who left their emails when responding to their Dialogue App on the Pen y Cymoedd wind farm in South Wales, which is now closed.

Newsletter from Vattenfall

Spending a bit of time and effort following up with respondents in this way can help keep the community going after the dialogue has officially closed. Getting information about how many people have been involved in the discussion shows people that what they have been involved in was something significant, and that their contribution had an impact. They’re also probably more likely to get involved if you ask them to respond to another consultation that affects them!

Read more about the ‘Power in the Valleys’ Dialogue here.

2) The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, or BIS for short (pronounced ‘bizz’ among government insiders…) are closing their consultation on the ‘sharing economy’ shortly.

The staunch capitalists among us might be offended at just the idea of ‘sharing’ and ‘economy’ appearing on the same sentence – but the fact is, services like Zipcar and Airbnb are becoming more and more popular, to the extent that they almost threaten their counterparts with more traditional business models. We all have stuff lying around, from spare rooms and cars to tools and dogs (see www.borrowmydoggy.com), so why not let someone else use it while we’re not?

The power of web technology to create new connections between people is what makes this possible – and incidentally, is also what makes the engagement facilitated by our apps possible. So BIS using Citizen Space to consult people on a new social benefit of technology is just what we like!

PS. for the opposite (or perhaps the dark side) of tech that enables the sharing economy, see “jerktech”…

3) Hackney Council in London has launched an online consultation on its draft transport strategy for the 2014-2024. The plan itself is a considerable document, with a set of six ‘daughter plans’ that focus on specific areas of transport – understandable perhaps, given that it’s a ten-year plan for a fast-growing area of London with a lot of specific challenges.

There are a few things we particularly like about Hackney’s consultation. The team have made good use of the events feature to publicise the public meetings they are holding on the plan. Users can see a calendar of events, and with a couple of clicks can download the event straight from the website into their own calendars.

We’re also impressed by Hackney’s rather nifty interactive transport map, which lets users raise local transport issues by directly pinpointing them on the map – a great way to help  citizens engage with local issues and make it easy for them to give feedback.

Screenshot 2014-10-31 16.53.47

 

That’s all for this week! Have a great weekend!

Matthew

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A ‘Few’ Thoughts from Ali Stoddart of Demsoc Scotland

At Delib, we’re big fans of the Democratic Society or Demsoc as pretty much everyone Ali_Sknows them. They do interesting, useful work that promotes and builds the wider democratic sector and, more importantly, they’re a thoroughly nice bunch of people. One of those people is Ali Stoddart, a surprisingly loud, ceaselessly keen and properly Scottish individual. Ali has just started Dem Soc’s first ‘regional’ office in Edinburgh which shows a remarkable, some would say foolhardy, amount of trust in him. Therefore, I thought we should hear a bit about his background, his thoughts on biscuits and his hopes for a post indy ref Scotland. Unfortunately, whilst Ali is a very bright guy he does struggle with brevity; you probably want to put the kettle on for this one.

1.  What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Ali Stoddart, I come from Glasgow via Aberdeen. Spent my early youth in the Granite City but escaped the Haar and moved back West to Glasgow where most of my family are from. Where you are born is not necessarily where you are from…

2.  What do you do for a living?
I am Community Engagement and Scotland Lead for the Democratic Society (Demsoc). My job involves running projects and events that help make more participatory democracy a reality through small, repeated experiments. I have recently opened our office in Edinburgh, and make up the Demsoc team in Scotland.

I love my job as it is very eclectic: one day I am helping senior civil servants think about improvement to citizen engagement within their institutions; the next I am on my hands and knees helping to pump up a tire on a bicycle, disguised as an Elephant, to be used in a Village Fete Jousting Competition… I think that is what they mean by “on the ground community engagement!”  I’m not afraid getting my hands dirty when it comes to giving citizens the opportunity to get involved in decisions and services that impact on their lives. I feel Demsoc is as much about ‘doing’ as it is about ‘thinking’ when it comes to implementing participative democracy.

3.  Favourite band and/ or artist?
I would have to say Beirut. Zach Condon is an unbelievably talented musician who has managed to channel Eastern European musical influences into melodic alternative pop music. I had the pleasure of sharing a pint with him during the Edinburgh Fringe a number of years ago. He is, needless to say, a very nice guy.

In order to score ultimate hipster points I should declare that I am delighted, Edinburgh based trio, Young Fathers have won the Mercury Music Prize. Their song “Get Up” should be hard to listen too because of how low the bass is, but the catchy vocal hook transforms the song completely. Listen to it here.

4.  Android or iPhone?
iPhone

5.  PC or Mac?
PC, but that may change as the majority of the Demsoc team are all Apple Zealots… I may be forced to rebel from Emperor Gates.

6.  Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
That is tough. I would say I am creature of habit when it comes to theoretical stuff; I like to stick to what I know, which is participative democracy. However, when it comes to putting the democratic theory into practice I would say I am much more open to trying new methods and seeing what happens. All failure is learning and all that… Fortunately, most of the time things seem to work.

7.  Your house is on fire, what do you save?
Other than loved ones, it would definitely be my electric piano, Yamaha P-155 , which I have had for 11 years, and has graced many a stage in Glasgow and Edinburgh, when I was in a Blues Pop band called Alan Panther and the Energy Treadmill. That was fun.

8.  Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
Chocolate Digestive – Unsullied.

9.  Best project you’ve worked on at Dem Soc and why?
There are so many to choose from but I will narrow it down to two: one for its direct, on the ground, impact; and the other for its huge potential.

The first is a project we did with Lewes District Council called the Zero Heroes Community Competition which was effectively an experiment to see if the council could use participatory budgeting as a carrot to encourage behaviour change around the not-so-sexy issue of waste and recycling. Although it was really hard work, as scheme covered the whole district, it ended up being incredibly rewarding. All of the areas managed to win some money for funding local projects chosen by the community and this resulted in over 140 ideas being generated, some of which will be funded and make a difference to the area. Furthermore, the project has encouraged the Council to be more confident when it comes to thinking about future citizen participation.

Secondly, I would have to say our work with the Scottish Government on Collaborative Government in Scotland. We have been working a lot with SG’s Strategy Unit and, former Delib Blog Interviewee, Christian Storstein, on thinking about how to improve the Scottish Government’s engagement and consultation techniques and create stronger a relationship between government and the people of Scotland.

We started the process in July with a workshop that brought together senior civil servants and members of civil society to discuss how the Scottish Government should go about creating a more collaborative ethos to their work and the attendees came up with a set of shared intentions about how to take the agenda forward. It is really exciting and hopefully the start of something transformative for Scottish democracy. It is early days yet but I really like the idea of government “collaborating to create collaboration” and establishing a lot more opportunities for co-creation with citizens on policy and other aspects of governmental work. You can read the report from the workshop here.

 10.  Now the dust has settled, what’s your feeling about the whole indy ref palava?
First off I have to say I was delighted about the level of engagement that came out of the #indyref discussion. It was a privilege to walk around the streets of Edinburgh talking to voters about their relationship with democracy which you can read about here and here.
I feel that the reason that the turn out was so high was because people actually felt they could have an impact on something, which is unusual in other electoral situations.

Therefore, the independence referendum has energised Scottish Democracy and provided a fantastic opportunity for a more involving and participative democracy in the future.  The issue is now harnessing all of that potential democratic energy.

Furthermore, I don’t think it should be about Yes/No or 45%/55% any more as that is divisive. It should be about all citizens in Scotland deliberating and working together to create policies they feel will improve Scotland. You can read my short submission to the Smith Commission here. You can read more thoughts on the #indyref here and here.

11.  Where do you hope Scotland will be in 10 years in terms of public consultation/ digital democracy/ open governance? Opportunities and pitfalls.
Wow… In ten years time I would hope that Collaborative Government in Scotland, or something like it, is the norm. A Scotland where people feel more connected to politicians and civil servants; where there are a range of digital and offline tools available for people to co-create with the people they have elected to represent them; and where there is a political culture that shares power with people, as opposed to wielding power over them. Basically, the utopia outlined by, Demsoc governor, Andy Williamson and Martin Sande in their book From Arrogance to Intimacy: A Handbook for Active Democracies.

The opportunities are the growing, but fragile, desire from the public and government to explore the participation agenda further, and the potential of technology available. (I am not a technological determinist, more a digital democracy potentialist).

The pitfalls are the traditional political pressures of time and the need for constant success. Once more people realise that monumental change, like reshaping our 19th Century Representative Democracy into a more Participative system for the 21st Century, takes a lot of time, effort and learning, we may have a better chance of making it a reality and being part of something more.

12.  Best gov site you’ve seen and why? Other than GDS.
I’m going to go with the Paris city council participatory budgeting site. The new mayor Anne Hidalgo has got all the bits right – commitment from government (€450m over five years, in increasing amounts), a “participation charter” that sets out what people can expect, an attractive easy-to-use interface, open voting rules (anyone who lives or works in Paris can vote), and even publishing the results as open data! The fact that the money available will increase each year shows that they are experimenting and learning as they go. So, by the time there are very large sums of money for Parisians to play with the Council will know what works best when it comes to city-wide participatory budgeting.

So there you have it, an exhaustive interview with the man behind Dem Soc Scotland. If you want to talk to Ali about how he can help your Scottish organisation or initiative, you can find contact details here and his Twitter account here. If you do call him, just remember to hold the phone away from your ear…

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We’ve some important work going on behind the scenes….

Over the past couple of months we’ve been focusing our development efforts on improving our hosting and associated product environment via an appropriately titled ‘production infrastructure sprint’.

Although this doesn’t sound as exciting as adding features to our products, it’s a vital part of Delib’s service to our customers, as it helps to ensure that we continue to meet our uptime and performance commitments.  Here’s a little overview of what we’ve been up to.

Photo of our sprint calendar

What we’ve been doing

Up until recently we hosted all our customer instances on large multi-tenancy servers. ‘Multi-tenancy’ means that several Delib customer sites run side-by-side on the same machines, although all their data is stored in separate databases.  These servers live in secure data centres, physically located in the same territory as the customers they serve.  The data centres are responsible for providing Internet connectivity for the production servers.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been moving customers slowly and carefully in batches from our current hosting providers to new providers who can better meet our service and uptime requirements.

Why we’re changing our hosting infrastructure

The reasons for migrating to new hosting providers are threefold:

1. Improvements in availability

In the UK, we are moving all our hosting to Rackspace, the market leader in cloud hosting, which offers a 100% uptime guarantee.  Since our uptime is necessarily bounded by that of our upstream providers, it’s important to use the best that we can get.  We are researching the best providers in other territories, to ensure that we continue to meet and exceed our commitments for all our customers.

We use a server monitoring service that notifies our account managers and developers by text message whenever a customer’s instance is unavailable for any reason (even if it’s in the middle of the night) so we’re all keen to ensure that these improvements pay off as soon as possible!

2. More hosting options for customers

After migration, every Citizen Space and Budget Simulator instance will live on its own virtual machine.  This allows us to offer different hosting packages for different usage patterns: we can now tailor the system specification (RAM, disk space, number of processors) to the requirements of the customer.  Furthermore, large spikes in one customer’s traffic can no longer adversely affect the response times of other customers’ sites.

Dialogue App instances will continue to run on a multi-tenancy setup by default.  However, customers with heavy usage requirements (eg large, heavily-publicised national dialogues), will have the option to host their Dialogue App instance on its own machine.

3. Consistent configurations and automation

As our number of customers grows, our developers have been spending more and more time engaged in administrative tasks such as rolling out new instances and upgrading existing customers.  While this is vital to the business and to our customers, developers would much prefer to spend their time developing new features and fixing bugs in the products.

At the same time as moving customers to the new hosting infrastructure, we’ve been improving our suite of developer tools so that more of the day-to-day tasks can be done without developer intervention.

For our customers, this means that planned maintenance should soon be able to take place, as far as possible, outside working hours.  It also means that developers will have more time to spend on improving our products, resulting in a better user experience for our customers and end users.

Find out more

If you are interested in finding out more about the improvements we are making please feel free to get in touch with either Louise or Rowena.

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