A Few Questions with Matthew Scott

Citizen Space is used to run an awful lot of consultations (as you may have noticed) and Matthew Scott 2occasionally our customers need to outsource their analysis and reporting, for one reason or another. One of the companies who provide such a service are TONIC, a research consultancy based in Kent, headed up by Matthew Scott. And, sure enough, he is the subject of this latest instalment of my fine interview series. Who is Matthew? What does he do for a living? More to the point, does he dunk his biscuits? Let’s find out…

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Matthew Scott and I live in Kent.

2. What do you do for a living?
I started TONIC 10 years ago because it was frustrating working as an employee in public sector bodies that struggled to be innovative and truly democratic. I wanted to improve the way public services were designed and run – generating insights from their customers and looking at service users as assets who can deliver services as well as use them.

TONIC has been great fun as we have had the chance to be involved in lots of exciting projects, making real change happen and ensuring that the public get their views heard and get to make a real difference.

We take an inclusive research and evidence-based approach to all our work, priding ourselves on our transparency and commitment to doing an excellent job every time.  All our team are experienced practitioners and commissioners as well as researchers, and really bring these qualities to their work. For our independent public consultation analysis, this means we can get to a deeper understanding of the responses and help organisations to interpret and implement what the public and stakeholders are asking for.

3. Favourite band/artist?
Difficult to answer this as I like many styles of music, but for band I would go for Led Zeppelin.

4. Android or iPhone?
iPhone – although I have a nagging doubt that it may not be any better than Android, just sleeker!

5. PC or Mac?
Definitely Mac – more intuitive, quicker for the jobs I need it to do and absolutely reliable when under pressure.

6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
A bit of both. For analysis work, it is good to habitually follow trusted processes which lead to reliable and robust findings. However, I also need to be flexible and creative when running co-design workshops with service users and providers, or running deliberative events to find out new things and help create original ideas. Albert Einstein said “imagination is more important than knowledge”, so I find it is best to try to forget what you know when working creatively and have an open mind to new ways of doing things.

7. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
My wife and 3 children.

8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
Unsullied, but then chased down with tea.

9. Best project you’ve worked on and why?
I really enjoy all our projects, but a series of independent public consultation analysis projects we have run for the Department of Health have been particularly memorable due to the large number of responses received – over 1 million in total!  I remember my surprise when I arrived at our offices one morning to find an entire room full from floor to ceiling with boxes of responses for us to analyse.  That image will stay with me for a long time. Once we had got to grips with all the data, it was gratifying to see our analysis take shape, with key themes emerging that we could explore in detail – we made some great mind maps from this.

We pride ourselves on treating each individual response fairly, giving each one equal value regardless of who it is from, or how detailed it is.  The work was to a challenging turn around time, and we managed to meet the deadline, getting excellent feedback from the Department.  The output of our work fed directly into policy changes, and it is always gratifying to see democracy in action, where people’s views directly shape a policy.

10. Where do you hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of online consultation/ digital democracy?
There are some very exciting innovations about with the use of apps and user-led pressure groups (such as 38 degrees) where you can see people power in action, causing politicians to reconsider and even getting big corporations to behave more responsibly. This kind of action that holds business and Government to account is a good thing for encouraging democratic engagement in a time when people are becoming disenfranchised with the mainstream political offer – reconnecting individuals with the issues that directly affect them and the planet.

We work a lot with organisations that use Citizen Space, and I particularly like how intuitive it is for us to use in analysis, being able to code qualitative data in real time and get accurate snapshots of current quant data.  From a user’s perspective, consultations on Citizen Space are always easy to access and respond to – not too pedantic or demanding to put people off or stop them engaging. We always see good completion rates when people use this platform – much better than with Survey Monkey!

I feel sure that as technology continues to develop, and everyone has improved access to it and the ability to use it effectively, that we will see greater democracy across the world.  People will begin to demand the right to be consulted on important decisions.

From a work perspective, we are developing some exciting new online ways for colleges and universities to engage their students in improving wellbeing. We are also trialing a digital democracy approach to engaging public service users in continuous evaluation and improvement of the services they receive, whilst rewarding them for their time and offering more chances to get involved in shaping and delivering new approaches.

11. Any shout-outs?
To my wife, Easterly. We started TONIC together and she always manages to look at our projects with a fresh set of eyes, providing much needed challenge to make sure we provide a high quality service every time and push ourselves to give our best. It wouldn’t be the same without her.

So there you have it, eleven questions both posed and answered. You can check out TONIC’S website here, should you be so inclined, or bother Matthew on Twitter over here.

Until next time.