All posts by Ben Whitnall

Budget Simulator – now officially in 3 distinct editions (perfect for any occasion)

Budget Simulator is used by all sorts of government organisations, all over the world, to get insight into people’s priorities when they’re facing difficult decisions. No two decisions are exactly alike: sometimes, it’s about setting a budget to hit a fixed savings target. Sometimes, it’s about seeing where people make the trade-offs between tax and service level. Sometimes, it’s about getting a broad sense of people’s preferences when any resource (time, effort etc) is contested.

A simulator is supposed to be just that – a simulation, an accurate representation of the decision under consideration. So, to better support the different kinds of decisions Budget Simulator can, well, simulate, we’ve just formalised 3 main editions of the tool. So now it’s even easier to choose the configuration that suits your situation.

The three editions are:

Total budget

Screenshot of total budget edition of Budget Simulator

Users are presented with your total budget; they adjust spending in key areas until they’re happy with the overall balance of allocations.

Great for visualising your organisation’s spending, showing the scale of a budget challenge and giving people ‘the big picture’.

Personal bill/rates

Screenshot of rates edition of Budget Simulator

Users are shown a budget expressed as a personalised bill or tax rate – tailored to their situation. They adjust spending and see how these changes will directly affect their payments.

Great for helping people to understand the effect of choices on their own pocket.

Points allocation

Screenshot of points edition of Budget Simulator

Perhaps you want to understand people’s priorities in a way that doesn’t directly correspond to a financial figure. In this version, users are given a number of abstract points, which they can assign to their preferred areas.

Great for exploring the trade-offs between any set of options – budgetary or otherwise.

You can see some examples of how people have used Budget Simulator in different ways in our collection of customer stories.

And if you’re interested in using Budget Simulator yourself, or just want to find out a bit more about it, you can always drop us a line.

Citizen Space release announcement v3.1.15

We’ve just released our latest Citizen Space update. As with most of these smaller milestones, this one focuses on incremental improvements to the platform – a handful of ways we’ve identified to make it faster and smoother to use. Specifically:

  • Big downloads: sometimes, you’ll want to download a set of responses that includes files uploaded by respondents. This can make for some pretty hefty zip files – but we’ve improved the way these large files are handled so these downloads should now run noticeably quicker.
  • Security update: we’ve added in new protections against Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) attacks.
  • Minor fixes: you can now reliably download response files even if a respondent uses a special character in the title (&, ! etc). And we ironed out a sporadic glitch in the ‘Skip to main content’ accessibility link (we found some odd edge cases where it would take you to a different page).

v3.1.15 rolls out today to all Citizen Space customers. If you have any questions about the new release, you can always get in touch.

Tips and advice

18 (!) lessons from our first two user groups of the year

In the past couple of months, we’ve had Citizen Space user groups in Edinburgh and Belfast. As always, we hear a heap of useful things from our customers sharing their experiences at these events. Check out our round-ups of the respective days:

A full meeting room at the Citizen Space user group in Belfast

Skip Logic: a quick start guide

Do you ever use skip logic in your surveys? It’s one of those things that can be daunting if you’re not familiar with it, but is incredibly useful once you are. If you’re not sure where to start, or want to help train up colleagues, our quick guide could be useful. There’s also a bunch of more detailed instructions for setting up skip logic surveys in Citizen Space on our knowledge base.

A little help?

We’re looking for outcomes…

We’re currently undertaking some research into consultation outcomes – how organisations track and report on their findings; what, if anything, happens differently as a result; how input shapes decisions, that kind of thing. So:

  • Do you have any success stories – a time when you felt a consultation went really well?
  • Do you have any examples of when consulting has driven positive change and/or delivered better services?

If you’ve got any stories along those lines that you’d be happy to share, please do get in touch with us. Thanks!

All aboard

Welcome to our new customers!

Our latest Citizen Space customers include Nottinghamshire County Council and Torfaen County Borough Council  – a warm welcome to them. And remember: you can search through all consultations running on Citizen Space via the Aggregator.

We’re hiring: outbound comms

We need some comms help. We’ve got a lot of things we want to say and a lot of people to whom we want to say them. There’s way more ‘saying interesting things to the right people’ to do than we can manage with our current capacity (we’re a small team, about 20 in total). So we’re looking for a full-time content writer/researcher/reporter to join us and do a whole bunch of high quality, proactive communicating.

This is first and foremost a new business/sales role. We’re expanding our efforts to grow our customer base and you’ll be working closely with our sales team. Your primary responsibility will be to increase the number of people interested in us and our products, and to increase the level of that interest.

About you

There are three key things we need from someone to excel at this role:
  • exceptional at being articulate. You need to turn thoughts, facts, opinions and information into engaging content – quickly, repeatedly, with a good understanding of your audience and subject matter, to a consistently high standard, without a load of prompting or hand-holding.We get that digital democracy is quite a specific niche; we don’t expect you to know it inside-out before you apply and we will bring you up to speed but some interest in politics, civic society, democratic participation etc – and, more importantly, a capacity to learn fast – is pretty key.The exact form of the content will be up to you: it might include images, graphics and video but it will always include words, so we’re looking for an excellent writer.
  • relentlessly ‘outward-focused‘. You must be keen to engage with the outside world, happy making noise in public, energised by looking for new people to talk to. This job isn’t about refining internal company strategy or quietly working through a backlog of essays that need writing. It’s all about getting to know people in our network and market, understanding what they’d enjoy hearing from us and taking the initiative to bring those two things together. You need to get a buzz from getting stuff out into the world, seeing people share it and talking about us more and more.
  • sufficiently organised and driven to actually make it happen. This job isn’t about writing a certain number of words or researching a certain market segment and then handing the result on to someone else to do something with. Lots of the initiative and responsibility will rest directly with you. You’ll be researching material, writing thoughtful stuff about it and disseminating it to interested people yourself. So you need to be good at things like scheduling and contact management as well as ideas and words.
Beyond that, there are many possible ‘nice to have’ qualities: team player, nifty with statistical analysis, GSOH, frequent cake-baker etc etc. But if you can do this job, you can figure out things about yourself that add value and sell them to us in your application.

About the job

This is essentially a content production and dissemination role. Your primary responsibility will be conceiving, making and sharing interesting material, to build our presence, profile and influence and, above all, to provide our audiences with good service – stuff that makes their lives easier, helps them do their jobs better and ultimately improves civic society.
Specifically, your regular work will include things like:
  • Content research, news monitoring, regularly reading relevant books/studies/articles etc
  • Identifying and participating in relevant events
  • Planning content and contact campaigns
  • Producing timely thought pieces
  • Arranging interviews/content contributions from relevant experts/leaders in our field
  • Writing customer stories/case studies of our work in action
  • Producing documents, landing pages and other supporting material for new business campaigns
  • Producing a regular newsletter and other recurring email activity
  • Reviewing effectiveness of content, monitoring analytics
Our office is a professional-yet-relaxed open plan environment. We’re a small, smart, hard-working team and you’ll be working closely with our senior sales consultant, our team of account and territory managers and our marketers.
Exact salary depends on experience but it’ll likely be somewhere in the region of £23k-£27k.
If this sounds good to you, please get in touch. Send us a cover letter (to Jayne@delib.net) and your CV. We’re more interested in covering letters than in CVs. If we like the look of yours, we’ll get you in for a standard hiring interview.
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).

Democratic hero – Andrew Greenway

Welcome back to our Digital Heroes series – it’s been a while.

In the latest instalment, we hear from Andrew Greenway, a former civil servant turned independent consultant, who, in his own words does ‘a mixture of hacking bureaucracies and writing about them’.

Andrew has some fascinating insights on the future of digital democracy as well as some clear views on music tastes and biscuit dunking.

So, without further ado, let’s get on to the questions.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?

My name is Andrew Greenway, and I live in London. I grew up in Huntingdon, a town that I wrote the entry for in the book ‘Crap Towns 3’. It wasn’t all that bad.

2. What do you do for a living?

I’ve never been very good at answering this question.

I help governments and other big organisations run in ways that respond better to our rising expectations of what’s possible. Usually that involves some combination of freelance strategy, governance, capability building and design.

In practice, I do a mixture of hacking bureaucracies and writing about them. In the not too distant past I was a civil servant, and worked in quite a few bits of the UK government, including the Government Digital Service, Government Office for Science and three other departments.

These days I work with international governments and some UK organisations. I also write about Whitehall in various places, trying to play the role of critical friend.

3. Who is your favourite band or artist?

I have a soft spot for Radiohead, Pink Floyd and John Lee Hooker, which I recognise as the tastes of someone twice my age.

I basically struggle with any music made after about 2004. My memory of anything made after that point is retained solely for the purposes of future pub quiz questions.

4. Android or iPhone?

iPhone – I am a fully-paid up member of the Apple cult. 

5. PC or Mac?

See above…  


6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?

Context is all. I was told more than once by ex-colleagues: ‘you’re not a typical civil servant are you?’. The tragedy of it is that I probably am, but I was saved from going down the usual paths by good luck and working with a lot of brilliant people who showed me the value of openness, agility and actually getting stuff done.

I would say I’m a creature of habit, because it turns out that almost nothing that I’ve written about the reform of the civil service is radically different from what similarly-minded people have been saying for at least fifty years. It is quite deflating to think you’ve come up with something new, only to find someone like Peter Hennessy got there before I was born. He’s a Lord now, so there’s surely ermine in my future somewhere. 


7. Your house is on fire, what do you save?

Assuming my fiancee is already long out the building, I’d grab a box of sentimental old letters, a laptop, and my passport. You may as well go and travel after something like that. 


8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

Unsullied. Soggy biscuits? No.  


9. Best project you’ve worked on and why?

During my time in the Cabinet Office I was product manager for the UK’s digital service standard and design manual. The idea was to set the bar not only for what digital public services should look and feel like, but how they were built too – the shape of the team, the data they cared about, and so on. The second challenge was to help teams around government meet that standard. 

It was great fun for lots of reasons. Everyone on the team brought something different to the mix. We worked in the open, and iteratively – getting the chance to draw on expertise from hundreds of people within and outside government in a very short space of time. We knew our management and minister trusted us. That gave us the space to do the right thing, and politely ignore any unhelpful conventions.

The idea of government digital service standards and manuals have since been copied all over the place – Australia, the US and parts of Canada have something very similar, many others are dabbling with the idea. It directly helped make millions of online government experiences simpler and quicker for people. I’m proud of that.

10. Where do you hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of online consultation/ digital democracy?

The gap between those thinking deeply about how the Internet-era is changing the role of government versus mainstream democratic debate seems to be getting wider. That’s a great pity, I think, and I would like to see it narrow. 

A lot of political argument focuses on levers – spending more on x, y or z, regulating this or that, running public services via the state or private companies, leaving the EU – that actually have a debatable impact on the reality of our daily lives.

They all sound important, transformational. But I’m increasingly sceptical that turning the money taps left and right in our public services really makes an appreciable, long-term difference to outcomes. Ditto Brexit. The real structural challenges in democracies run much deeper, and the current level of public debate largely distracts from that. The civil service’s internal discussions are not that much better. 

Failing to confront this kind of big, knotty problem is arguably making conventional politics and democracy more fragile. People can say with some justification, ‘What’s the point of all this? We always end up in the same place’. That is a worrying place to be. 

Closing that gap will require a lot of things to happen. One is our political and official class becoming far more comfortable with technology and the digital age. Much of that world still thinks in paper, even when it operates through the web.

11. Any shout-outs? 

There are lots – really, LOTS – of interesting and inspirational thinkers about civic tech, design and the like to be found on Twitter. A very small selection of them: Richard Pope, Kate Tarling, Janet Hughes, Sarah Gold, Ben Holliday, Matt Edgar, Kit Collingwood, Dan Sheldon. There are many more.

You should obviously follow me as well, but I’m rubbish at Twitter. 

 

So, there you have it: a journey into the mind of Andrew Greenway. You can see more insights on his Twitter feed (he’s not rubbish). And if you do ever meet up over a cup of tea, just make sure your biscuits aren’t soggy.

Until next time…

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.

——————————————————————————————————————–

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.

Health, involvement and digital: a UK perspective

Ben Fowkes, our Commercial Director, is currently meeting some of our customers and other movers and shakers across Australia and New Zealand. Among other things, he’s giving a series of talks on effective online involvement and consultation for government.

The first of these was last week, to around 100 delegates from various health bodies, looking at the idea of digital involvement in their field.

Very briefly, for those of us who couldn’t be there in person, here are some of the points he covered:

A bit of UK context

  • Local health is…complicated. CCGs, CSUs, lots of organisations merging or otherwise changing structure, frequent shifts in management, policy, priorities etc.
  • There are interesting initiatives like NHS Citizen and NHS Digital.
  • There are certainly steps towards increasing digital capacity/skills nationally but (as is almost always the case), culture change takes time.
  • It’s not always a straightforward environment in which to operate. And anything with a whiff of IT/software/infrastructure systems about it is seen as especially complicated.

Principle vs practice

  • And yet… Even amongst lots of complexity and caution, broadly, everybody ‘gets’ that public involvement is important; there is a desire to find ways for people to have their say in their healthcare.
  • The principle of public involvement is well-established (as are a decent number of standards, policies and processes as a result).
  • However, the ways in which that is undertaken – people’s practice in this area – continue to develop and change – especially as a result of digital tools.
  • That includes straightforward modernisations to existing mechanisms, such as traditional surveys being conducted online (e.g. https://nhs-digital.citizenspace.com/). But it’s also about the changes in culture/behaviour that follow with digital approaches.

Some notable developments we’re seeing

  • Online in general continues to become more the accepted norm – just look at the considerable growth in the number of consultations on Citizen Space (have a look at the Aggregator); we’ve also been seeing more desire for training in digital skills, including for engagement/patient involvement teams.
  • In particular, there’s an increasing recognition of the importance of responsive/mobile – have a look at any round-up of browser stats and you’ll see the same trend: tablets and mobiles have been quickly growing as the main way to access the internet. Health organisations are catching up to this reality and we’re seeing greater consideration for mobile users in their technology procurement and design processes.
  • As with government in general, GDS etc, there’s a definite rise in ‘design thinking’, and the importance of good quality, well-crafted content (see, for example, some of the lessons that the Department of Health shared at one of our previous user group sessions.)

If you work in public health and are interested to find out more, have a look at how health bodies, including Stockport CCG and NHS England, are already using our tools to improve their public consultation activity online – or drop us a line.

Top UK #localgov jobs – March 2017

As we do every month, we’ve rounded up some great digital, strategic and engagement/communications jobs from the UK local government sector. Here are some that may take your fancy this March…

District Councils’ Network Policy & Research Officer
Tandridge District Council on behalf of the District Councils’ Network
Closing date: 9 March 2017

Consultation and Engagement Officer
Dorset Councils Partnership
Closing date: 12 March 2017

Digital Media Officer
Erewash Borough Council
Closing date: 12 March 2017

Senior Consultation Officer
London Borough of Hackney
Closing date: 15 March 2017

Consultation & Communications Manager
London Borough of Hackney
Closing date: 15 March 2017

Communications Officer
Derby City Council
Closing date: 19 March 2017

Head of Councillor Support and Democratic Process
Cornwall Council
Closing date: 22 March 2017

Local Plan Manager
London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Closing date: 27 March 2017

Strategic Policy Leader (Corporate Policy & Community Planning Partnership)
Aberdeenshire Council
Closing date: 27 March 2017

Senior Planning Officer (Policy)
Epping Forest District Council
Closing date: 9 June 2017

Top Australia and New Zealand public sector jobs this February (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 February 2017 collection – if any of them look tempting, click through to find out more…

Digital Communications Officer
National Library of Australia
Closing date: 5 Feb 2017

Digital Communications Officer
Baw Baw Shire Council
Closing date: 5 Feb 2017

Manager Digital Transformation
Adelaide City Council
Closing date: 8 Feb 2017

Democracy and Governance Manager
Southland District Council
Closing date: 8 Feb 2017

Communications Officer (Digital)
TasWater
Closing date: 10 Feb 2017

Audience Research Manager
National Museum of Australia
Closing date: 12 Feb 2017

User Experience Designer
Department of Internal Affairs (NZ)
Closing date: 15 Feb 2017