Practical Democracy Project

Practical Democracy Project: designing the ultimate democracy user-journey

The Practical Democracy Project is a series of events dedicated to looking at how technology can best be used to make every-day improvements to the democratic process – with a particular focus on policy-making at local and central government levels.

The overall aim of the Practical Democracy Project is to design the ‘ultimate democracy user-journey’.  On one side, we’ll be mapping out in practical terms how to create the best democratic user-journey for citizens, using technologies that dominate people’s everyday lives; on the other side, we’ll be mapping out the optimal user-journey for government officials/policy makers/elected officials.  The key point being that democratic processes are a two-sided affair, which need to be optimised for both citizens and government if they’re to work.

We’ll be running the Practical Democracy Project as an ongoing series of events held around the UK – with off-shoots (hopefully, if anyone’s interested!) in the US, Australia and New Zealand too.

Event topic ideas

  • Well-designed democracy: UX design in policy-making
  • Scale or no scale: how to scale public participation using technology
  • Security and identity in democratic processes: when to care the user isn’t really a dog
  • Process management: tips on running a rock solid policy consultation management process and how to avoid judicial review
  • Designing the ultimate democracy user-journey
  • Others??? (suggestions welcome!)

Event schedule

The first of the events in the series will take place on the morning of Wednesday 5th July (2017) at Newspeak House (London) – from 8.30am to 10.30am.

More event dates to come.

How to get involved

The Practical Democracy Project is very much a civic tech community project, and we’re looking for others to get involved.

Ways you can participate include:
  • Suggesting topics to run events around
  • Suggesting speakers
  • Participating in the events yourself

For more info or to kick in ideas, drop us a line on Twitter @delibthinks.
You can sign up and join us via Eventbrite

How Forestry Commission is opening up Dialogue with stakeholders

Would you like to involve citizens and stakeholders in the early stages of your policy making? Have you ever found yourself ‘in the field’, wondering if there were a simpler way to generate and collate ideas?

If so, you’re not alone. We speak to lots of people in public sector organisations who find themselves in the same boat. Victoria Tustian from The Forestry Commission was one of them.

Victoria is the Thetford Recreation and Community Manager. Not so long ago, she was looking for a simple way to engage audiences at the initial stages of decision-making. She decided to try out Dialogue – a tool we designed to help people produce valuable and actionable ideas through structured online discussion.

Victoria has since used Dialogue for a variety of consultations, including one that involved local people in finding a way to sustain valued visitor facilities at Birchden Wood.

We recently caught up with her to hear about her experiences.

Q: Why is participation so important for you in the early stages of policy making?

A: For us, a big part of participation is about increasing transparency. And we find there are a heap of advantages to working more transparently.

When people submit their ideas and get involved, they tend to feel real ownership for the project and want to see it through. We also find that consulting early on and providing good information gives people a better understanding of the decisions and processes, which makes them more open-minded about our solutions.

Q: How do you run these early stage discussions?

A: We use a variety of on and offline methods, including Dialogue. Creating an online discussion is becoming more of a first choice for us. It enables people who are less able to get out, or those who are always on the go, to get involved at a time that suits them.

Q: What are the benefits of Dialogue?

A: There are several main benefits. We get a good variety of participants and because the process happens online, the discussions are completely open. They aren’t taken over by one person, or one group. Everyone gets to have their say.

Being online, you decide when to get involved. You can book in dedicated time for reviewing, take turns to moderate – and respond quickly to any issues. For example, if you realise people need a bit more information or support, you can add to the discussion and help resolve any issues. You can also feedback as the discussion unfolds, which contributors appreciate.

I really like the fact the discussion happens in one place. It’s much more convenient for participants, and it’s easier for administrators. We don’t have to try and catch every email that comes in and it helps everyone keep track of the conversation. If people are feeding back on all sorts of disparate channels, we can’t always respond in a timely manner.

Q: Do you use other methods for consultation?

A: We carry out stakeholder analysis and then work out the most appropriate means of engaging with them. We do use a range of offline methods, including ‘in the field’ surveys and drop-in sessions, but if we did this all the time, it could be exhausting, especially when resources are limited.

Q: How do you promote your discussions?

A: This is where the hard work lies. Without promotion there is limited participation and the discussions aren’t as productive as they could be. You also have to demonstrate hard work on the outreach front, and show that efforts were made to get people involved.

We identify our key stakeholders and then cascade information out. We use posters in the local area and send out emails directing people to Dialogue. For the right topics, we’ve found schools can be really helpful, as you can reach out to hundreds of people in one go. 

Working with partners and key stakeholders is also important as they can help cascade information through their own social media channels. Having all the consultation information in one place online is very important when using social media as it means other social media channels can link to it easily, but you still have control of the information to ensure it’s correct and up to date.

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It’s great to hear that Dialogue has made such a difference to Victoria and the Forestry Commission. We’re pleased to say that Dialogue has also helped over 60 other organisations, including the likes of the Scottish Government, HM Treasury and Bristol City Council.

Climbing Arnstein’s ladder?

If you work in consultation, engagement or public involvement, you’re probably aware of Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation.

It’s a bit of social research theory from the 60s, most famously summarised in this little diagram – a perennial favourite of any kind of white paper or documentation about citizen participation, and still seen on presentation slides all over the place today.

You can also spot echoes of the Ladder in things like IAP2’s spectrum of participation.

In lots of ways, that’s laudable. We’re all for applying rigour and research-based thinking to the work of involving people in decision-making. It’s important stuff, after all. And building on work that’s gone before, or developing theories for effective engagement – that’s all good.

BUT (you knew that was coming, right?)…

There can be an issue with Arnstein’s Ladder. We’ve seen it a few times, where it actually causes more problems than it solves, or sets people on the wrong track. And it can be especially dangerous when it’s seen as the definitive guide for public engagement. Here’s why:

The thing with Arnstein’s Ladder is that it has a value judgement built into it. Things at the bottom of the ladder are ‘bad’. Things at the top are ‘good’. (Just look at the words used in the lower sections: ‘manipulation’, ’non participation’, ‘tokenism’. They’re deliberately pejorative).

Thus, the goal for ‘good’ public involvement work must be to get to the top of the Ladder ASAP. If you rigidly stick to the Ladder, logically, you can end up thinking things like: ‘I shouldn’t spend time on informing or consulting – they’re low-down and BAD. I need to find a way to get this decision directly into CITIZEN CONTROL, because that (the theory tells me) is the pinnacle.’

And this is where it gets people into trouble. Because Arnstein’s Ladder was developed in response to a specific social situation and issue, in a particular time and place.

It was developed in a time of systemic unfairness and exclusivity towards black communities of urban planning processes in cities in 1960s USA. It’s an attempt to identify what might be done to rectify this issue, so we get things like direct citizen control put forward as a defence against corruption or malicious political intent.

But that is also exactly why Arnstein’s Ladder shouldn’t be extrapolated into some kind of universal model for public involvement. Because good involvement is about what’s appropriate to the decision at hand. And that needs a careful evaluation of each decision on its own merits. You can’t outsource that thinking to a single diagram.

There are loads of times and decisions where informing people is an absolutely essential part of effective participation – it’s not tokenism at all, or somehow a ‘lesser’ rung on the Ladder. Ditto consultation.

There are so many decisions where consultation is a formal, powerful, even legally recognised process for citizens to hold governments to account (Rhion Jones has some good chat on this, too). And, while there are plenty of times where direct citizen control can be an amazing, appropriate and effective way to operate a decision-making process (things like thoughtfully-implemented participatory budgeting schemes, for example), there will equally be many times where actually it’s entirely the wrong way to involve people in the process.

And that’s the risk. A glance at the Ladder would make you think that ‘consultation’ is always lesser, or that ‘informing’ is just a rung on the way up to something more valuable. There’s a danger that the Ladder makes some activities appear inherently better or worse than others. This can get in the way of carefully planning the most appropriate forms of participation for each individual exercise.

It doesn’t always happen that way, and there’s a lot to be said for Arnstein’s theory. It’s just important to understand it for what it is, and not to see it as a universal panacea on the issue of ‘how do I best involve people in this decision?’

Lots has been written about this, so if you’re interested in getting more in-depth information, you could start with ‘Dare we jump off Arnstein’s ladder?’: http://oro.open.ac.uk/8589/1/Path_paper_Collins_Ison.pdf

 

Three useful resources for creating successful consultations

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been digging around and updating some of our resources. We thought you might be interested in these three.

The Digital Consultation Playbook

What it’s all about: A booklet offering strategies, advice and principles for creating excellent online consultations – even if you’ve never done one before.

How it can help you: The playbook provides guidance on pinpointing a target audience, creating an engaging question, promoting consultations – and more.

Zendesk

What it’s all about: A comprehensive online knowledge base, crammed full of practical advice, support materials and FAQs.

How it can help you: Zen Desk addresses some of the most common questions our customers ask. These include: how do I set out a challenge? What’s the difference between a radio button and a check box? And how can I get consultation questions approved internally?

Customer stories

What they’re all about: Practical examples from other organisations who have run successful public consultation exercises.

How they can help you: Our case studies can offer useful insights and provide ideas for future consultations.

There are lots of customer stories online. The Scottish Government,  The City of Melbourne and Forestry Commission are just three of them.

 

We hope these tools and support materials are helpful. Should you ever find yourself stuck, or in need of some guidance on delivering a great consultation, do take a look. You can always get in touch with us for a chat too.

Introducing our first ever Ireland, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man Citizen Space user group

We are very happy to announce our first ever get-together for Citizen Space users in Northern Ireland, Ireland and the Isle of Man on Wednesday 10th May in Belfast. Customer user groups have been running since 2014, and are always a high point in the calendar for us. Annual meet ups have already been established in London, Scotland and Australia so we’re really excited to add another pin on the map!

What are the user groups about?

User groups bring together anyone who works in public/stakeholder consultation to share best practice and inspiration; they’re always a great opportunity to hear what others in your field are up to. (For example, check out some of our lessons learnt from the recent Scottish user group in Edinburgh.) User groups are also an opportunity to meet other users who might have a similar job role or challenge within their organisation.

What will the day involve?

The user groups focus on talks and conversations on all things digital engagement (as well as chats over a free lunch!), and tend to include the following:

  • Show-and-tell of recent or upcoming engagement exercises by current users. Review of the process and challenges of how you do consultation
  • Citizen Space roadmap – we’ll talk through our plans for development and get your input
  • An opportunity to meet other Citizen Space users from across local and central government
  • Digital surgery on any questions/topics requested

In previous years, we’ve had talks on topics like building a quality consultation process, how to structure analysis, digital transformation, managing promotion and how to create great consultation content; we’ve also had reports of good consultations (and bad ones) and what has been learnt from them, and much more besides.

We’ve already sent out invites to customers for the day and spaces are filling up fast. If you are interested in attending but haven’t received an invite please email louise@delib.net. Watch this space for lessons learnt from the session 🙂

Top Australia and New Zealand public sector jobs this April (2017)

Each month, we round up some great digital, strategic and engagement/communications jobs going in the Australian and New Zealand public sectors. Here’s our April 2017 collection – if any of them look tempting, click through to find out more…

Community Participation Coordinator
Port Macquarie Hastings Council
Closing date: 23rd April 2017

Communications Officer
Closing date: 17th April 2017 

Public Contact Officer
Commonwealth Ombudsman
Closing date: 30th June 2017 

Senior Hearings Advisor
Auckland Council
Closing date: 23rd April 2017

Head of Public Engagement / Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki
Auckland Council
Closing date: 30th April 2017 

10 lessons learnt at our 2017 Scottish user group

We kicked off our 2017 user groups in a sunny and spring-like Edinburgh this week. Hosted in collaboration with the Scottish Government (special thanks to the Digital Engagement team!), the day involved a fantastic array of speakers and lots of discussion. The user groups are a regular opportunity for customers to catch up, to see how others in similar roles are using their platforms to manage their online consultation and engagement activity, and hopefully to pick up some interesting tips and insights.

So, for the benefit of those who weren’t at the event, we’ve a quick round-up of 10 things we wish you could’ve been there to hear. Without further ado:

1. Make time to consider the ‘total value’ of a consultation activity

During the morning session, we discussed what success looks like for online consultation. One of the topics that came up was considering the ‘total value’ of consultation activity – i.e. looking beyond just the number of responses. They may be less easy to track and measure but factors like the amount of time a citizen – or the organisation, for that matter – spends on a consultation, or the cost of the issues at hand, can give a richer evaluation of an exercise.

“Do the individuals who have been consulted feel that they have been considered?”
Eachann Gillies, Digital Engagement Manager,  The Scottish Government

2. Citizen Space helps organisations run an end-to end process

Police Scotland gave a fantastic and candid presentation reflecting back on their first couple of months of using Citizen Space. Prior to using the tool, reporting and results from consultation exercises weren’t always well-integrated (for example, surveys and the feedback on those surveys would often be on entirely separate sites). Now, using Citizen Space, it’s possible for the organisation to create, analyse and report back on the consultation all in one place.

3. Effective promotion is key

Police Scotland also talked about effective promotion. In order to ensure their consultation was a success, they drew up a timetable of thematic weeks of engagement which helped with their overall vision of getting to much-talked-about but hard-to-reach communities. During the process, they even used the admin side of Citizen Space to report back internally on the effectiveness of their outreach activity. (It’s always great to hear about people finding new and creative ways to use our platforms!)

4. Make reporting meaningful

There was general recognition that, sometimes, what is useful and meaningful to a chief exec might not be what citizens are looking for when it comes to reporting. We also talked about how the success of a consultation is not necessarily about big numbers (especially not if they become ‘vanity metrics’) – it should be about the substantive changes under consideration and their implementation. Reporting needs to be tailored to its intended audience, but should always focus on meaningful findings and actions (not telling people what you think they want to hear).

5. Trust your community managers and enable them to make decisions ‘on the fly’

If a community manager needs to go away and check that a post is OK before approving it, it can kill the flow of the conversation. Ensuring that they are well equipped and trusted in their role is key. If there is more than one person moderating ensuring they are in agreement on what can and can’t be moderated out is of paramount importance for quality control.

“What a beautiful thing to have these conversations in the open”

(Leah Lockhart, DemSoc)

6. Create welcoming online spaces

Online conversations are happening right now; government departments can choose to listen and be involved in them – which means offering a welcoming space. There was unanimous agreement that if you don’t give people the space to have their say, they’ll end up expressing their views somewhere else anyway. The conversation is going to be happening whether you as an organisation are listening or not – so better to be actively engaging!

7. Think carefully about scale

Sometimes going online and asking ‘huge’ questions about a topic isn’t as useful as taking ‘bite-sized’ chunks and breaking them down into digestible consultations or chapters. Something smaller and interactive might be more useful in the long run than asking broad questions.

8. We’re seeing a move towards ‘continuous democracy’

Whilst discussing trends in digital democracy in Scotland, Ali from The Democratic Society noted how we’ve started to see a move away from one-off engagement initiatives towards more ‘continuous democracy’. That is to say, involving citizens and stakeholders in decisions is increasingly part of business as usual – a default expectation of democratic organisations.

As a result, it has become more important to establish and refine the processes by which this continuous democracy operates. Rather than reinventing the wheel in a haphazard series of ‘one-hit wonder’ projects, consistency is key: repeatability, standardisation etc all make it easier to effectively involve people on a daily basis.

9. Analysis needs planning

Getting the right results for analysis stems from asking the right questions. For colleagues in policy teams, how can we make sure effective analysis is borne in mind – especially at the early/planning stages of a new policy or decision?

““Running a consultation and not thinking about analysis before you start is like getting in a car without knowing where you’re going””
Eachann Gillies, Digital Engagement Manager, The Scottish Government

10. Context is king

It needs to be easy for respondents to participate (people’s time is precious, after all). Small details to reduce the ‘friction’ of consultative processes can make a big difference. For example, The Scottish Government have had some really positive feedback from respondents on their practice of using carefully-placed ‘fact banks’ in their surveys – giving contextual detail/background information immediately alongside each question. This helps people give informed responses, which in turn hopefully leads to better decisions in policy-making.

 

As ever, big thanks to everyone who attended and for the customers who agreed to speak at the event. We hope you enjoyed the user group as much as we did – and if you didn’t have time to attend, don’t fret! We’ll most certainly be holding more user groups in 2017 (In 2016, we ran no fewer than 5 user groups around the world: kicking off in Scotland before heading to Australia and back to London.) Up next this year is our first user group in Belfast – on May 10th.

Until next time, Edinburgh 😉

 

 

 

Top UK #localgov jobs – April 2017

It’s time for the monthly round-up of great digital, strategic and engagement jobs from the UK local government sector. Take a look at our picks for April.

Consultant
NPC London
Closing date: 25 April 2017

Communications Manager
KANTAR London
Closing date: 15 April 2017

Senior Officer
Cotswold district council
Closing date: 27 April 2017

Leisure and Community Officer
Fareham Borough Council
Closing date: 7 April 2017

Stakeholder Engagement Specialist
Black & Veatch
Closing date:  N/A

Kent Planning Officer
Natural England
Closing date: 14 April 2017

User Researcher (Government Department)
City of London
Closing date: 30 April 2017

 

Hiring: UK Sales Manager

I’m Ben, the Commercial Director at Delib. Since 2001 we’ve been developing software to help governments consult their citizens on matters of policy.

Sometimes the issues discussed are small, local and niche; sometime they’re of national concern, making the headlines; regardless, they’re always important to the people affected.

We help to give these people a voice by providing technology that allows them to submit their views and opinions and we’ve been doing this since 2001. But, before anyone can use our platforms, whether it be the government or the citizen, someone has to sell them and that’s where you come in.

The job, briefly

Delib operates a consultancy-focussed sales team that helps people to understand our software platforms and their potential applications.

Sometimes the job involves people approaching us, sometimes we have to find them ourselves, but either way they can’t buy anything unless they understand how the platforms work. As such, a big part of what I do and indeed, what you’ll eventually do, is demonstrating them – most of the time we do it remotely via screenshare, sometimes we do it in person.

In order to make those sales we do all the usual stuff – operate a CRM system, audit markets, look for emerging markets, plan sales-based marketing campaigns, obsess over individual and company pipelines, establish short, medium and long term sales targets and yes, we also have strict KPIs, which you’ll be expected to hit.

The job will require you to not just learn product knowledge, but also, in time, become an expert in the market we work with – government. Government is great: it keeps countries, cities and regions running; it provides health care; fixes roads; polices our streets; runs judicial systems and pretty much everything else in between, and, largely, governments are full of people who care about what they do. But (and it’s a big but) government is not always easy to work with.

This role will require you to learn about its structures, its attitude, its bureaucracy and yes, its sometimes sluggish buying pace. We need someone with patience and an eye for the long game. If you want to make a sale every day, or even every week, this isn’t the job for you.

You will be directly responsible to me and you will definitely not be required to manage people or a team.

Your core market will be government in the UK and Republic of Ireland and we also do business in Australia, New Zealand, mainland Europe and North America, so the job definitely requires someone flexible enough to work in the evening, or the early morning – not all the time but it will happen. It’s also probable that you’ll end up on a plane to visit the Australian team or help with expansion in North America at some point in the future.

Why I like to work here

Delib is a fairly unique opportunity to do something that actually matters and improves people’s lives on a grand and a small scale.

Internet tools alone won’t strengthen democracies, but without them it’s downright impossible to improve the ongoing relationship between citizens and their government. It’s also pretty damn satisfying to see something you’ve sold mentioned on the news or seeing citizens Tweet nice things about using it. More than that, if you’re the kind of person who wants to see how government works from the inside and access its people and its occasionally grand buildings, there’s probably not a better way other than joining the civil service itself.

Aside from our social mission, I also like Delib’s somewhat unconventional working environment. The dress code when you’re in the office is roughly ‘wear clothes’, using business speak is almost grounds for dismissal and we operate that most wondrous of things – flexi-time.

We also do all the usual tech company stuff – Macs, second screens, 25 types of (arguably pointless) tea, our own mini festival – in short, it’s one of the better working environments you’ll come across.

For better or ill, (I’d say better) I run my own day and so does everyone else. You need to be able to crack on without constant supervision, which suits independent people down to the ground. The culture here is ‘do the right thing’ rather than ‘say the right thing’.

What do I want from you?

  • Simply put, I want you to persuade potential customers that our platforms are the best for their needs, and I need you to do it month in, month out.
  • Government is generally slow at buying anything, so you’ll need to be an expert in managing a long term pipeline.
  • Our market is finite, so I need you to be good everyday. Our reputation is our livelihood and whilst it might be frustrating if someone doesn’t want to buy anything from you this month, they probably will next year; such is the world Delib inhabits. If you can’t handle the rejection without being rude, unhelpful and gruff, you won’t help Delib succeed.
  • If you’re the kind of sales person who’ll do anything to make the sale, from endless pestering to making false promises, don’t apply. I need someone who understands why I say that and also someone who believes in it.
  • I also want you to learn about the world of digital democracy and get to know the in-crowd. This means keeping up with the latest developments, expressing opinions in the right channels (blog posts, Twitter etc) and getting on the London train to show your face in Whitehall.
  • You can definitely spell and know where to put a semi-colon.
  • This job involves plenty of writing, as well as being comfortable on the phone (I hope that one goes without saying), and it’s important that you can explain complex ideas simply and honestly.
  • You’ve probably worked in business to business sales for at least 3 years and you understand how the entire end-to-end sale process works, from initial contact to final contract.
  • We’re not looking for a graduate (although we do hire those for other roles) or anyone else who needs the basics explained, so please don’t apply if that sounds like you.

The type of person we’re looking for

Consistently the best people we’ve hired into consultancy / sales roles are smart, passionate and nice. So you need to be all of these. Specifically for this role you need to:

  • Good at communication : you’ll be spending a lot of talking to government folk on the phone and face-to-face, so you need to a good communicator. You’ll also need to be happy doing presentations in front of senior folk, and be good with words.
  • Hard working : you’re going to need to put in some hard yards, and not shy of picking up the phone to get a sale closed if needed.
  • Charming : charm goes a long way in life. You need to have it in spades.
  • Process orientated: when you’re doing with lengthy governmental procurement processes, you need to make sure that you keep on top of process to make sure the sale doesn’t slip.

The job is based in Bristol, it’s cool and getting cooler. Don’t live here already? Move, you won’t regret it.

We’re offering £30-35K p.a. depending on experience. Please attach a covering letter to your CV and send them to jayne@delib.net.

We follow the HMG Baseline Personnel Security Standard and you will therefore need to satisfy basic eligibility criteria/certain conditions of employment (e.g. nationality rules/right to work); and provide appropriate documentation to verify ID, nationality, employment and/or academic history, criminal record (unspent convictions only).

No applications will be accepted via recruitment companies.