8 lessons from our first Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man Citizen Space user group

After kicking off our 2017 user groups in Scotland last month, next up was our first Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man Citizen Space user group. The event was kindly co-hosted with Belfast City Council, who, alongside the Government of Northern Ireland  presented their experiences of using Citizen Space on the day. The user groups are a regular opportunity for customers to catch up, see how others in similar roles are using their platforms to manage their online consultation and engagement activity, and hopefully 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 eight things we wish you could’ve been there to hear. Without further ado:

1. The need to consult online is stronger than ever

During the morning session, Patricia Flynn from Belfast City Council spoke about the journey which led them to adopt Citizen Space, as well as lessons learnt since adoption. One of the key messages which came up in both Patricia’s talk and throughout the day was the need to be ‘consistent and sophisticated in approach’ towards online consultation. Using Citizen Space has helped Belfast City Council to highlight the importance of keeping the public’s trust through running effective consultations for example. Emma Penney from Gov NI also echoed this in her afternoon talk:

““It feels like the public are expecting to be consulted more with the advent of social media etc”
Emma Penney, Digital Transformation Consultant, Department of Finance and Personnel, Government of Northern Ireland

2. Software is only part of the picture

Adopting Citizen Space often helps customers to evaluate their associated consultation processes. For some customers it provides an opportunity to start afresh, for others it’s a chance to build upon lessons learnt previously.

“At the end of the day the software is only part of the puzzle. We need to make sure managers understand that a consultation should meet certain standards”
Patricia Flynn, Strategic Planning & Policy Officer, Belfast City Council

3. Make time to close the feedback loop

A consistent theme and challenge throughout the day was the need to report back on both consultation results and the final outcomes (i.e what has actually changed as a result of the consultation). Emma Penney from Gov NI suggested that perhaps it’s useful to have a team or individual responsible for prompting reporting back. She’s found that this can help remind colleagues to report back who may have simply forgotten to add a report back onto Citizen Space, or ensure feedback is public for example.

4. Citizen Space can form a central piece of your consultation tool box

A question we often get asked is about supporting a variety of needs of different respondents. For example, if broadband is patchy in an area, or respondents would prefer to have a variety of response mechanisms, how can this be supported by Citizen Space? Luckily Citizen Space includes features like the ability to add offline responses, which means that any respondents who would prefer to complete a paper copy can still use this method but have their response centralised alongside online responses.

“Citizen Space is one tool but it helps you grip and hold everything that happened around that consultation in one place”
Patricia Flynn, Strategic Planning & Policy Officer, Belfast City Council

5. Consider the ‘total’ consultation cost

It can be useful to critically review how much a particular consultation or project has cost an organisation. Often it’s easy to quantify the cost of events or software, which might have fixed costs associated with them. However, it’s often difficult to accurately report on the number of officers involved in a consultation and how much of their time was dedicated to the project.

6. Online tools like Citizen Space can help to reach a larger demographic

Using demographic information in consultations and surveys alongside data from services like Google Analytics can help to critically evaluate the ‘reach’ consultations are getting. A couple of the attendees remarked how they felt that using Citizen Space compared to previous methods had helped to improve the demographic spread of respondents.

“We’ve found that Citizen Space has helped to access a much bigger demographic than what we had seen before”
Patricia Flynn Strategic Planning & Policy Officer, Belfast City Council


7. It’s OK to switch back and forth between a centralised and de-centralised model of use for Citizen Space

We often talk to customers about the benefits of either a centralised or de-centralised approach to using Citizen Space. There often isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach and Emma Penney from Gov NI spoke about their experiences of first using a centralised then de-centralised approach, before choosing to re-centralise their departments and use of Citizen Space. Being flexible and agile in your approach and associated processes can help ensure that this is easy to do.

8. Consider the media that is most relevant to each type of respondent

Citizen Space includes the ability to use rich media such as images and videos in a flexible way. Sometimes consultation documents are written, copied and pasted into Citizen Space and published in haste as text. Gov NI are pushing the boundaries by getting colleagues to think about what media might be most useful for respondents – do they prefer visuals and videos over text for example? Emma Penney from Gov NI also spoke about her vision for a digital content creation team in the future which would help with using appropriate media for the audience and context. Such a team could be used to help support such exercises in the future.

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 be holding more user groups in 2017. (In 2016, we ran no fewer than five user groups around the world: kicking off in Scotland before heading to Australia and back to London.)