All posts by LouiseC

Govcamp 2017: Bookcamp and the joy of sharing

This year was the 10th anniversary of UK Govcamp, an unconference that we’ve been attending and sponsoring for a number of years. For me, it was the fourth year of spending a frosty Saturday in London with a group of people to talk about UK public sector, digital, and – more than anything else – making things better.

Govcamp typically has a mix of those working in digital in government (at all levels), those who have at some point worked in digital in gov/public sector, and those who work with the public sector doing digital things.  We fall into the latter group, so I try to spend my time listening to what those in the know have to say and learning about the things being discussed. If I can chip into any session with valid experience or something that may be helpful to people in the room then I will, but largely I like to listen to the fast-thinking from others.

Let me tell you, if you need heartening evidence of how many progressive and intelligent people there are in and around public service, you should get a ticket to GovCamp.

On that note, last year I attended Janet Hughes’s excellent discussion on being bold and what boldness means. I have thought about that 45 minutes a lot since then as, ironically, I felt too shy during it to give my input. I made a resolution to break out of my comfort zone this time around and pitch a session.

Behold the advent of Bookcamp.

Bookcamp, why and what
I like to read, and a few weeks ago through the noise of Twitter I noticed a lovely-looking book pile posted by Kit Collingwood. Kit had in her photo ‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes, which I’d just finished. We hadn’t actually spoken before, but we do follow one another and from this photo I guessed we shared similar book taste.
I chose boldness and offered (somewhat out of the blue, I’m sure!) to lend Kit a great book called ‘A Whole Life’. This started a conversation in which we decided to exchange a couple of books with one another in real life, and ultimately led to us meeting in person a couple of weeks later at UK Govcamp. It was a refreshing and lovely way to make a new friend, plus I now have two excellent books to read.

Book swap. From Kit: Someone Like You by Roald Dahl; On the Other Side by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg. From me: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
Book swap. From Kit: Someone Like You by Roald Dahl; On the Other Side by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg. From me: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

Importantly, this little book swap got me thinking about the power of books, sharing (properly sharing) and kindness, and how inspirational reading long-form ideas can be. We wrote a blog before Christmas with a Delib recommended reading list, so I wanted to expand that idea to get recommended reading from a few people at UK GovCamp.
The idea was pretty simple:

  • Come along to the session, share what your favourite book is and why
  • Share one other thing you would recommend everyone to read if you could
  • Hopefully come away with some mind-expanding reading opportunities

Below is the list of recommended reading from our session. You can support your local library and take most of these books out from there (this link takes you to gov.uk to search for your local libraries):

Favourite books from the room: (links lead to Goodreads or the author’s own website)
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
The Magus – John Fowles
Hiroshima – John Hersey
The Bees – Laline Paull
A Fraction of the Whole – Steve Toltz
The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Good Omens – Neil Gaiman / Terry Pratchett
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Before I go to Sleep – S. J. Watson
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Quiet – Susan Cain
Wanderlust – Rebecca Solnit
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
Sharpe (and all the Bernard Cornwell collection)
Days Without End – Sebastian Barry
and fresh from a suggestion on Twitter: Independent People by Halldór Laxness

Bookcamp must-read choices for work/leadership/growth:
Transform, A rebel’s guide to digital transformation – Gerry McGovern
The E Myth – Michael Gerber
The Art of the State – Christopher Hood
7 habits of highly effective people – Stephen R Covey
Organising & Disorganising – Michael Thompson
From Arrogance to Intimacy – Andy Williamson and Martin Sande
The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
The Toyota Way – Jeffrey K Liker
South. The story of Shackleton’s last expedition 1914 – 1917 – Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton

NB: For those with a Kindle, South is free to download and is one of the best books I have read about leadership and bravery. It also feels strangely relevant for the turbulent times we’re living in.

I wanted to extend my thanks to those who came along to the session and contributed to this excellent list. Also a special thanks to Paul Brannigan who came along and gave me a copy of his own book, The Spiral Mindmap, which was an unexpected and lovely thing to do.

I wanted to round this post off with a little snippet of info from the first session I went to about gender balance in tech. I’m sure others have written more eloquently about this particular subject in the past so I won’t try and tackle it in depth here. However, to carry on with the book theme: Jess Figueras mentioned that there are very few female characters in children’s books aside from your standard princess. Almost all animals in children’s books are male and most characters that get up to anything vaguely progressive or interesting are male, too. Not only that, but children’s books which are culturally diverse or contain LGBTQ characters are even rarer.

Books can shape how children begin to see the world and, the more the characters reflect them, the more they can picture themselves doing those things and being part of their own story. There are some great children’s books out there which allow girls to be astronauts and scientists and which reflect people of varied ethnicities and sexualities, but they’re not that easy to find. Here are a few you might like:
Blast Off – Linda C Cain and Susan Rosenbaum
The Mr Gum books – Andy Stanton
The boy in the dress – David Walliams
The BFG and Matilda – Roald Dahl
Zog – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Max and the tag-along moon – Floyd Cooper

and a few catch-all lists:

Happy reading 🙂

Introducing…Eric Lui, our new Civil Service Fast Stream secondee

Eric is the second civil service fast stream secondee to clamber the stairs of the old Bristol cork factory we call home. Here for six months to learn about life in an small supplier to government; the world of digital democracy and civic tech; and importantly, to discover the varied ways our users across government interact with our software, with citizens and with each other.

Here we take time to ask a few words of the man himself
< swivels chair around, puts on serious face, holds out microphone >

So Eric…

What’s your name and where are you from?A photograph of Eric standing in the Delib office

Eric Lui – and I’m from Northwood Hills…(near Watford)

What’s your professional background?

I’m in my second year on the Civil Service Fast Stream graduate scheme. So far I’ve had the opportunity to work in the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Defence and also the Department of Education doing a variety of commercial, finance and policy roles. Before that I had a stint working at an Apple store doing training and tech support. I love social activism so I’ve also done some volunteering for the Global Poverty Project.

What made you want to be seconded to a digital company/ Delib?

I am passionate about getting the public invested in politics and participating in democracy. Delib definitely ticks those boxes and even better it does it using innovative and forward thinking technology! Government is working hard to be more open and transparent and I think the applications created by Delib can be an essential tool in achieving this. What better way to learn than by working directly in Delib! I look forward to getting stuck in and participating in the digital democracy revolution.

What are you most looking forward to learning about?

Most definitely the culture and the working practices of a digital company, the ‘agile’ way of doing things effectively and efficiently. It will be fascinating to see how things are done outside of Government, especially in the digital space where I think it still has a lot to learn. I am a bit of a geek as well so getting some exposure to the development side of things will be exciting. Hopefully aside from learning I can also contribute too and bring some of my experiences in Government into Delib.

Your house is on fire, what do you save?

Myself and my spectacles because I’m as blind as a bat without them.

Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

Dunk away! My preferred dunker is the hobnob, aka. the SAS of the biscuit world due to its high tolerance for multiple dunks.

Favourite band and / or artist?

The XX, love moody atmospheric baselines. Recently I’ve also taken an affinity to artists wearing cool hats, Pharrell Williams and James Bay.

Bristol – historic, vibrant city or regional backwater?

Vibrant definitely. I’ve timed my secondment perfectly with summer so I’m looking forward to exploring the waterfront and all the festivals!

Anything else to add?

Yay to having Macs at work. I’m winning already!

We’d like to welcome Eric to the Delib team and hopefully we’ll be able to share our enthusiasm for participation in all its forms over the coming months.

How the Scottish #IndyRef showed us all how to do democracy

Here at Delib, we’re not political, but we are passionate about democracy. With the vote announced this morning, we look at how Scotland won at democracy during this momentous referendum.

We’ve been following this with interest, from the initial discussions and consultations, to the fiery passions and clamour of the final few weeks. Arguably, it is the fervour with which this campaign has been fought, particularly in its latter stages, that has led to a record number of citizens registering to vote and standing up to make their voices heard on the future of their country. The result: a voter turnout of over 84.5% – the highest in the UK since the general election of 1950.

Some basic rules of engagement were followed as part of the referendum:

A simple question was asked > in a defined timescale > with full inclusion of the Scottish public in the journey to polling day.

The seeds of change were sown in 2012 at the beginning of this referendum process, when the Scottish Government ran the Scottish Referendum Consultation (using Citizen Space).

The consultation asked the Scottish people to become part of the machinery of democracy and to shape the structure of their referendum. It asked nine questions, ranging from whether 16 and 17 year olds would get the vote, to how voting could be made easier for them to take part.

An image of the nine questions in the Scottish Referendum Consultation
The nine questions in the Scottish Referendum Consultation

To keep things completely transparent, the responses of all consenting participants were published in full on the site.

What we really loved about this consultation was that the public response to the questions asked, was directly actioned by the Scottish Government. When it asked whether 16 and 17 year olds should get the vote, the public said yes – so it happened. The nature of the referendum question and the ballot paper were decided by the respondents to the consultation. This was true of all nine questions – no response was left unread, no voice left unheard.

By asking Scottish citizens to be involved from the outset, the result has been that they have responded in their millions to vote and to own the process.

There will be many people in Scotland today understandably feeling defeated, but their participation in the vote means their assembled voices cannot be ignored. Their actions may also be the catalyst for significant, democratic and constitutional change across the UK.

We have a number of Scottish customers using our apps; Scottish Government, Clackmannanshire Council, East Renfrewshire Council, East Lothian Council, East Dunbartonshire Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Scottish Borders, Edinburgh City Council, Forestry Commission Scotland and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, and we’ve worked with more in the past.

One thing we have known for a while is that Scotland does democracy well, and now the rest of the world has been able to see it too.

It’s the Friday consultation round-up

This blog comes courtesy of Megan Bennett. Megan has just completed her AS-levels and has been working with us this week, learning about digital democracy and looking at how local and central government use consultation to develop their public services.

It’s Friday again! Yay! And the best thing about it being Friday is that it’s time for another round up of super consultations. So, let’s see what’s been going on…

A strategy for cycling – Bristol City Council

The poster for Bristol City Council's draft cycling strategy consultation
The poster for Bristol City Council’s draft cycling strategy consultation

Bristol City Council is consulting on its Draft Cycle Strategy to look at the way bikes are used in the city. Bikes are a convenient and environmentally-friendly way of getting around, and those who have visited Bristol will know that the city wholeheartedly embraces this mindset, so I’m sure a lot of people will have a relevant response to this consultation.

Whether you live in Bristol or not (and whether you’re a fan of cyclists or not), the council’s explanatory document is a brilliant example of how proposals can be put into plain language to make it more accessible and encourage participation. There are some pretty nifty statistics on pages 5 and 6 of the draft as well, if you like that sort of thing.

North West Leicestershire’s placemaking exercises
North West Leicestershire District Council is giving residents of local villages Moira and Donisthorpe the chance to have their say via a Placecheck. It allows residents to suggest ideas for their local area that will have a significant impact upon their lives. This is a great opportunity for citizens, and something that more and more councils are starting to do.

London Borough of Sutton’s budget consultation
Many consultations on Citizen Space ask residents to provide their thoughts on some of the difficult decisions that councils have to make. The London Borough of Sutton has one such consultation, asking residents to help them shave £40 million off their 2019 budget. A hard task that I would not like to be solely responsible for – good thing everyone can get involved. This is a great way for citizens to contribute because it encourages productive discussion and provides a space for residents to have a real say in issues that directly affect them.

Birmingham City Council’s short breaks for adults with learning disabilities

An image taken from Birmingham City Council's Citizen Space site showing a collection of adults and carers to promote their consultation on short breaks for adults with learning disabilities
Birmingham City Council’s consultation on short breaks for adults with learning disabilities

Birmingham City Council is running a consultation based on disabled people and their carers, an often under-represented group in society. In this consultation, the short break service for adults with learning disabilities is being reviewed and improved with the help of disabled people, carers and anyone else who has an opinion. This is a very worthwhile service and the only people who can really tell the council how to improve it are those who use it or have the opportunity to use it. This shows a good use of consultations to reach people who actually use the services they are consulting on.

 

DECC’s consultation on the Government Electricity Rebate proposal
The Department of Energy and Climate Change is consulting on delivery requirements for the Government Electricity Rebate proposal, which will rebate £12 to domestic electricity account holders in Britain. This will affect pretty much everyone (27 million households to be precise) and cost the government around £620 million, so it is important that everyone can make their voice heard.

Those are just a few of the interesting consultations that are live this week. To see all the current public consultations being run on Citizen Space, check out the Citizen Space Aggregator

Guest Blog: Social media tools for public organisations

This blog comes courtesy of Megan Bennett. Megan has just completed her AS-levels and has been working with us this week, learning about digital democracy and looking at how local and central government use consultation to develop their public services.

As an A level student lucky enough to be doing work experience with Delib, I have had the unique opportunity to learn more about how democracy can be increased through the use of online applications. Here I’ve been looking at how social media tools can help organisations to build an online presence and promote their engagement activity.

The stats

As of last month there were approximately 1.28 billion Facebook users, 343 million Google+ users and 255 million Twitter users. It is estimated that by 2017 there will be a total of 2.33 billion social media users, nearly a third of the global population, up from 0.97 billion users in 2010*. These social networks can be referred to as tools when they are used to promote online consultations. Modern organisations can use the upsurge to get a broader, more accurate and therefore more democratic public opinion on new policies or budgets.

*statistics and figures taken from: http://www.statista.com/statistics/278414/number-of-worldwide-social-network-users/ and http://www.statista.com/statistics/272014/global-social-networks-ranked-by-number-of-users/

What are the benefits of using social media as a tool to promote online consultations?

1. Increased awareness of the organisation and increased traffic to website and the consultation – social media is possibly the best way to increase awareness of an issue or consultation as users can share and discuss it with each other.

An image of Avon and Somerset Police's Flickr feed
Avon and Somerset Police use Flickr to show what they are up to

2. Greater favourable perceptions of the organisation and a better understanding of the perception of the organisation.

3. Organisations are more able to monitor conversations and frequency of conversations about them or their consultations.

4. Improved insights about their target markets and development of targeted activities, such as consultations aimed at specific groups based on what they have been shown to want.

5. These tools can also help improve democracy in local communities.

An image of Bristol City Council's YouTube account
Bristol City Council use YouTube to show what happens behind the doors of city hall.

A working example:

Leicester City Council had a good outcome from their online consultation on the redevelopment of a skate park, but it was the lively debate on Facebook that prompted the council to take a phase two of the consultation out to the skaters themselves. The council also used the ‘We Asked, You Said , We Did’ feature on Citizen Space to feedback this decision, showing they had listened to their audience and adapted their approach.

Feedback from Leicester City Council about a consultation on skate park redevelopment
Feedback from Leicester City Council on their innovative and flexible approach to consulting a specific audience

Using the right channel for the right audience

Many organisations have lots of accounts on a wide variety of social media websites. This is important as each website appeals to a different type of user, expecting a different type of content.

An image of Transport for London's Facebook account
Transport for London use Facebook amongst other tools

An organisation could not effectively use the same content on LinkedIn and Instagram as these both have different target audiences. Organisations need to carefully consider their audience and what platform would be the most suitable. Once you know your target audience for each channel, you can create consultations that appeal to these people and broadcast them on the relevant form of social media in order to boost the response.

Many government agencies and organisations use social media to monitor public opinion on key topics, to extend the impact of campaign messages and to build a retainable audience for campaigns over extended periods. In this way, social media can be used to get an idea of what proposals would be the most popular with citizens, once again helping to get a more widespread and accurate response.

Help with managing your online presence

An image of the Forestry Commission's Twitter account
Forestry Commission sharing via Twitter

A good idea may be to use a social media management tool. There are a number available including HootSuite, SocialOomph, Buffer, SproutSocial and many more – do some research into which is best for you or your organisation. A certain amount of trial and error may be required, but it won’t be a waste of time if you are serious about using social media to promote consultations. These programmes can also tell you a bit about who your followers are, for example, their age, gender, how often they tweet etc. Some can even tell you the best times to tweet based on when most of your followers are usually online.

Social media is a great opportunity for organisations to take advantage of. While there are always risks to a strong presence online, it would be a good idea to consider these against the potential advantages – not least the increase in the democratic process through opening up consultations to a wider audience, many of whom may not have even been aware that such things existed.

We made things for Citizen Space – a look back at 2013

It’s a new year!  Not only that, but we’ve almost made it through January – the monthly equivalent of a long, hungover bus ride home.  As 2014 stretches out before us with all the promise of a brand new notebook, we reflect upon how we spent the months of 2013.

It’s easy to be engrossed in the day-to-day and not realise the big achievements made when you look at things as a whole.  The same goes for public engagement; all of those individual consultations, public events and budget discussions have collectively reached a huge number of people whose responses are vital in shaping public services.

Here at Delib, we work to 10 regular development milestones per year and try to fit as many useful features, updates and fixes as we can into each – we’re a very small team, but a busy one!  Now seems a very good time to run through all the significant developments we made to Citizen Space in 2013:

New features added:

Survey cloning

Editable ‘call to action’ link text

Consultation preview link for anonymous users

Ability to remove duplicate or test responses

Help links throughout Citizen Space (wherever you see the [?] icon)

 

Key feature improvements:

Total responses at a glance

Editing and improving the way a consultation URL is presented

PDF summary report improvements

Email list management – improved working with MailChimp and other mail services

Citizen Space makeover (many small, but cumulative style improvements)

Consultation finder results listed by close date

Easily turn-off-and-on-able social media widgets

 

Key pioneer features created:

Event pages and calendar

Response moderation and publishing

Not only that, but our development team carried out 109 bug fixes and behind the scenes improvements in 2013 too.

We’ve previously written about the iterative and Agile* way we work; this allows us to be flexible and responsive (and also help keep the Post-It note industry alive!).

A photo of kanban boards
Just some of our kanban boards with their many colourful post-its

Your feedback is vital in helping us to know how important a potential feature or enhancement is to you – the majority of the above improvements were down to suggestions and support queries generated by our users.

You might not also know that you can collaborate with us if you have an idea for a feature which isn’t on our roadmap, but is something you really want.

“What’s planned for 2014?” you might ask.  Well for starters, and it’s a big one, there’s Skip Logic (otherwise known as survey routing), something many of you have asked for.  This will be winging its way to your Citizen Space instance in the next week or so with some helpful supporting articles on our Knowledge Base.

Another 2014 aim is to help as many customers as we can to become centres of excellence for consulting, through training and support and sharing best practice.

We’re keen as mustard to know what your plans are for 2014, so tweet us @delibthinks, email info@delib.net, send a carrier pigeon, come and see us at any of our lovely offices or just give us a call for a chat – we would love it!

0845 638 1848 (UK)

1800 034 129 (Australia)

+44 1173 812 989 (Anywhere else)

*For extra reading on Agile, the UK Government Digital Service have a great blog post on working in an Agile way. https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2012/12/19/the-agile-wall/