10 key learnings from our first local government Citizen Space user group

Our fledgling Citizen Space user groups have offered an opportunity for some of our customers to get together and learn what each other have been up to, how different organisations use the software, as well as being able to discover and discuss our future plans for Citizen Space.

Citizen Space user group

Following the success of our first ever central government meet-up, hosted by the Department of Health back in the summer, we were excited to take the opportunity to chat to more of our customer base from all over the country at our first local government group, kindly hosted by Birmingham City Council. If you missed the sessions this time we thought we’d put some of the main nuggets of consultation gold in a lovely blog, and here they are:

1) Aim to promote Citizen Space effectively internally

“As Birmingham is such a large council, it is great to be able to link everything up via Citizen Space”

Steve Rose – Head of Strategic Research

Citizen Space is essentially unlimited. This means that as many users, departments and consultations as an organisation requires can be created – but to get the most out of this the tool is promoted internally. Both Birmingham City Council and Staffordshire County Council discussed the benefits of their approaches to promoting Citizen Space internally.

Kristian Walker from Staffordshire often takes the time to pop round and talk to colleagues about Citizen Space when they are about to use the tool, which has been a proven approach used in other government departments in the past. With effective internal communications, and a network of Citizen Space champions, Birmingham City Council have been able to successfully roll Citizen Space out across their organisation and reinforce their standardised approach via a councillor mandate.

2) Decide on an adoption approach that suits your organisation

Most Citizen Space customers choose to adopt either a de-centralised or centralised model of working when it comes to using the tool. Which model to choose often depends on an organisation’s set-up or team structure. The user group presented an opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of both approaches, with some councils such as Bristol City Council choosing to switch between the two modes over the past few years, adapting to the needs of staff availability and the council’s structure.

3) Using other digital tools alongside Citizen Space can help with process

Citizen Space plays nicely with other digital tools. This means that rather than using Citizen Space as a hub in isolation, it is possible to combine it with a variety of applications. In order to help ensure that consultation owners and the team are aware of consultations going live, Bristol City Council have created email reminder notifications using an Excel document. With lots of organisations slowly moving towards using Gmail, Google Docs is also an option available to many more organisations for creating custom work-flow processes. Both tools can be used in order to set-up reminder emails, supplementing the email notifications already available in Citizen Space.

Leicester City Council also use an email-based reminder system, referring to this as a  ‘consultation tracker’, which is sent out to all service leads on a regular basis. Jay Hardman from Leicester City Council explained to the group how their Citizen Space and work-flow processes combined had worked to ensure the organisation was consulting effectively. The tracker lists a ‘forthcoming’, ‘done’ and ‘close-down’ section which, if not completed within 12 weeks, will flag the consultation owner’s name. This helps encourage consultation owners to complete their full consultation cycle, providing a better result for respondents.

4) Create Citizen Space champions to lead the policy area 

In a de-centralised approach, some customers choose to assign Citizen Space or consultation champions within each team. This helps ensure that there is always someone knowledgeable on-hand to help out, who also has an in-depth knowledge of the area of policy being consulted on. Birmingham City Council have chosen to adopt this approach with a further consultation lead as the main point of contact for all of the department champions.

5) Provide users with any additional guidance they may need, at a point when they need it

In order to ensure colleagues have all of the information in one place at the time when they will be running a consultation, consultation leads will sometimes choose to link to guidance from their intranet pages.  Jay Hardman from Leicester cited two key documents/principles which he normally links users to for an overview of online consultation:

Cabinet Office guidelines
– The Gunning Principles (the idea that a consultation must take place at a formative stage with sufficient reasons to allow for a considered response. Adequate time must also be given to respond and the feedback should be conscientiously be taken into account)

We at Delib also run an online knowledge base and an active blog, both with useful information for a variety of user levels.

6) Create a culture of continuous improvement and learn from past consultations

Leicester City Council have recognised that each consultation can present different challenges and outcomes, and as a result are learning how to operate a culture of continuous improvement. If a consultation doesn’t go exactly as planned, and especially if there are follow-up consultations, it is useful to ensure that challenges and learnings are acknowledged before running the next engagement exercise.

7) Help build users’ general digital skills via Citizen Space

Creating consultations in Citizen Space can help improve upon general digital skills. Being able to successfully set-up and then digitally promote a consultation encompasses many skills – from copy-writing through to general online dexterity, such as being able to upload images. Having trained a variety of organisations on using Citizen Space and running online consultations, we’re learning that becoming confident with using Citizen Space is linked to confidence in web-skills generally.

8) Encourage colleagues to plan consultations in advance 

Leicester City Council have created what they call a ‘public consultation tracker’ – if colleagues fill if in the key information about the consultation well in advance (12 weeks beforehand) then the consultation team will help out. This helps ensure that support is at-hand, but only if teams are organised enough to call in assistance early on in the process. The completion of an ‘intention to consult’ form means that the consultation team can advise early-on in the process.

9) Use Citizen Space to monitor performance 

Citizen Space is often used by a number of departments across an organisation, so some customers choose to provide their research team with access to key statistics in Citizen Space, as this can help with performance monitoring. Taking forward best practice from these investigations and making sure all departments reach the same level of consultation expertise can only be good for respondents across the board.

“Citizen Space helps monitor best practice so that we can help maintain the council’s reputation”

Kristian Walker, Staffordshire County Council

10) Create your own expert panel of consultation advisers

Online consultation requires a variety of skills ,which one individual alone may not be expert in. One way of ensuring that all the skills are in one place is to create a consultation panel/steering board, who may be able to provide oversight of all consultation happening within an organisation. This might not necessarily be solely a consultation team – it may also include a member of the web or communications team.

We’re hoping to continue running two user-groups a year in collaboration with customers. Watch this space for the next event!

Rowena

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