All posts by Matthew Hornsby

On leaving Delib – and why digital democracy is important

It’s with a heavy heart today that my six-month secondment at Delib has come to an end. It seems like yesterday that I first arrived at the company, with a wide eyed enthusiasm to get stuck in to the work of digital democracy. Unlike in many jobs, that initial enthusiasm hasn’t been worn down – but rather blossomed into a mature appreciation for what Delib, its partners, and its customers are trying to do.

‘Digital democracy’ – two words that are used individually with an abundance that makes their meaning elusive; join to form a term that has the potential to be doubly confounding. The thing is, there’s really not a better phrase to describe Delib, and the concept of digital democracy pervades the company’s ethos, its behaviour and the design of its products. Everything is done with the same vision – of using technology to increase the participation of citizens in public administration.


 

On a global scale, democracy appears to be contested. In countries like the UK, Ireland, Australia and the US, we worry that the traditions and institutions of public life have become complacent; dominated by elites, by business, or by media-driven populism. In the developing world, the trend of growth in the number of democracies appears to have dropped off; political freedom can no longer be taken for granted as a by-product of economic growth.

There’s also no consensus on whether technology is a blessing or a curse for democracy. In Andrew Keen’s recent book ‘The Internet is Not the Answer‘, he delivers a scathing critique of the techno-utopian idea that the information revolution would usher in a brave new world of empowered citizenry and free exchange of ideas. Instead, Keen argues, technology has helped drive inequality to historic levels, and compounded the power of elites. The public discourse often appears to be captured by the hyperactive immediacy of the hashtag, or the self-regarding mindlessness and aggression of the troll and the flame war.


 

All of this serves as a reality check for the idea that we are on an unstoppable conveyor belt to greater freedom and more enlightened societies. Technological change happens whether we like it or not. The hard part is making it work, and making it work for everyone. The internet has the potential to improve our society, but it won’t unless there are hard-working people out there making that idea a reality.

That’s where Delib comes in. A small group of dedicated, highly intelligent people, trying to make our little corner of the world a better place. There are no silver bullets, a minimal level of hype and jargon – just three products that offer clear and practical ways for people to get more involved in government. More people responding to consultations, in a more informed way; costs and time saved by councils and departments under severe financial pressure; policy crowdsourcing that goes beyond lip-service, gets people talking, and injects new life into public decision making.


 

All of Delib’s products are being constantly improved, the customer base is steadily growing, and those customers are surprising us all the time as they get better and better at engaging and involving people online. It’s a process that requires courage and integrity. Delib are a small company providing an excellent service to government, delivering low-cost projects within weeks – a world away from the cynical strategy and practices that have historically categorised some technology suppliers in the public sector. It’s not an easy business to get into and stay in, and it requires deep reserves of commitment.

This goes equally for Delib’s customers. Organisations in the public sector can all too often be very averse to trying new things. Moreover, there is often a nervousness around public participation – that the public won’t get it, or will ignore it, or will fill in the consultation form with vitriol about the state of the bins. However, everything I have seen so far has shown me that if you treat people with respect and frankness, like most of the organisations we work with have learned to do, they will respond in kind.

This is probably the biggest lesson I’ll take back to government, and I think it’s a good one. There’s an exciting future for digital democracy, but it can’t just be expected to come about by itself. It requires constant and careful work from everyone, not just government and developers. Delib can and should be an example to others for how to make it happen, one small step at a time.

 

Matthew

From next week I’ll be back in government, at HMRC, spreading the digital democracy good news! You can follow me at @Matth0rnsby

A people’s plan to fight cancer

We’re always excited to see the public bodies we work with here at Delib taking steps to engage people in more and more interesting ways, and to share examples of when they do it really well.

This week will see the end of a consultation by the Western Australia Department of Health on the future of cancer control in the state. It’s really well-designed, interesting and informative – exactly the kind of thing we like to see our customers doing!

The consultation opens with a video introduction from the state’s Chief Health Officer, Tarun Weeramanthri, presenting the project’s key goals – to get some genuine public input into the Department’s report on cancer, and for that input to be based on people’s own interpretation of the data and assessment of the choices that need to be made.

Screenshot 2015-03-23 16.50.57

This is a great way to start. Having a senior official take ownership of the consultation immediately gives it a personal feel, and helps respondents connect with the organisation. It also clearly spells out to people why they should respond and what their responses will be used for.

That data is presented in an easily accessible and engaging way, using infographics, embedded videos of interviews with cancer experts, and other media.

Screenshot 2015-02-13 17.25.00

It’s great how WA Health have taken the opportunity not just to ask the public’s opinion, but to provide some really interesting content within the consultation – meaning most people will come out of the consultation knowing more than when they went in (at least I did).

The interviews with experts, infographics and external links are all interesting, easy to understand and helpful. The comparison of cancer survival rates between Australia and other OECD countries was particularly interesting (spoiler alert: The UK doesn’t come off well…)

Screenshot 2015-03-23 16.24.35

The survey also focuses the respondents on the choices that the state and everyone in it have to make when confronting an issue like cancer. Questions like whether alcohol or unhealthy food should be made more expensive can trigger immediate responses, often connected to emotions and political alignment. That’s why the consultation does a great job of demonstrating, based on that reducing cancer rates means having to make difficult choices on these issues.

You can check out the consultation here – and we’d thoroughly recommend doing so, even if you’re a long way from Western Australia!

 

 

Three big challenges for Open Government

A couple of colleagues from Delib and I had the pleasure of attending a workshop this week run by the Open Government Partnership Civil Society Network in Bristol, led by Tim Hughes from Involve.

The workshop brought together a mix of people working in digital democracy in Bristol and the area with the goal of discussing what the OGP has achieved so far and what the priorities should be in the future – then working up some new ideas of our own for how to make the vision a reality.

opengov2

To give some background, the Open Government Partnership was launched in 2011, bringing together governments and civil society around the world to promote transparency, build civic participation and tackle corruption. Each country that signs up produces an action plan, which contains a series of commitments to opening up government. The UK is now on its second action plan – which includes commitments to make more data open data, to practise ‘open policy making’, and to increase transparency among government contracts, amongst others.

The OGP Civil Society Network plays the role of coordinating civil society input to what government is doing, ensuring that the process of opening government itself does not become a closed one! They are also collecting the public’s contributions to a crowdsourced Open Government Manifesto – using (what else) our very own Dialogue App.

With a desire to make sure they avoid being too London-centric, they are running a series of workshops around the country this spring to engage with local civil society – and it was the inaugural session that brought them to Bristol.

opengov

Personally, I got a lot out of the workshop. In particular, listening to a group of people expressing their hopes and concerns for Open Government highlighted what for me are three of the biggest challenges in this area:

1. Turning transparency into participation

Working in government, the open government agenda tends to generally be very closely associated with open data and transparency. This is one of the areas where the UK has performed very strongly on a global scale – coming in at first place for 2014 in Open Knowledge’s Open Data Index. Sites like data.gov.uk are really impressive pieces of work, and the enterprising citizen now has an unprecedented range of government information available to them at the end of a google search.

However, I can’t help feeling that this strand of work only takes us so far. Whilst all of this data is useful, much of it is unintelligible to the ordinary citizen without being summarised or analysed by an expert. Such a focus on opening up datasets risks neglecting one of the other main strands of the OGP’s work – increasing participation. After all, what better incentive do citizens have to engage with the data that is available to them than if they are asked to make real decisions based on that data? There is also the concern that the section of the population that engages with open data tends to be predominantly well-educated, well-employed, and already in the orbit of government and policy.

Projects like the open policymaking pilots show a lot of promise – in the future I’d love to see government finding more ways to let citizens make, or at least contribute to, the decisions that the data can help inform.

2. Making the data useful to everyone

Following on from the point above, there are a lot of challenges relating how data is presented. We could perhaps imagine a matrix that plots clarity against obscurity on one axis, and useful accuracy against confusion/inaccuracy on the other. Typically, a lot of information released by government is either clear but confusing/inaccurate or accurate but obscure/unintelligible.

For the former I am thinking of press releases, ministerial speeches and infographics that use easy to understand language and visuals, but strip out the important detail to an extent that without context they are very little use in appraising the policy concerned.

For the latter, I mean the very lengthy delivery plans, parliamentary bills, and spreadsheets of data that are all publicly available, and comprehensive in their detail, but whose size and complexity mean that they are only really of use to the few people with the time and inclination to read them.

It would be great to see more data that is both clear and comprehensive, giving the facts in a nuanced way that is also easy to understand. There already some organisations that do good work producing this kind of information – fullfact.org is a favourite of mine, and the BBC and Guardian Data Blog do a good job too.

In the future, I think it’s important for government to be filling this space more – working hard to make sure that everything published presents all the facts, rather than the ministerial office’s ‘lines’, and seeks always to inform, rather than to hide or deflect.

3. Turning Open Government into something big

One of the real difficulties when discussing Open Government is balancing expectations against reality in terms of the scale of what can be achieved. The concept promises a lot,  especially in the current era, with its distrust of politicians and parties. There’s also the sense that new technology should have the potential to redesign the way we participate in public life in the same way it has completely changed how we shop and socialise.

In this context, some of the projects that are being carried out – many of which are quite specific and policy-wonkish – might appear to be failing to address the issues at the required scale. What the government has done to improve transparency in aid spending, or what we do at Delib to help councils consult on budgets, is (we believe) good and important work, but it all often falls beneath the public radar despite our best efforts. At the workshop, there was also a sense that even for those us working in the sector, the goals and actions of the UK’s Open Government programme hadn’t been high-profile enough.

For open government to really capture the imagination of the wider public, we need to embrace big ideas, and these ideas need representation at the top of our political system. The OGP has called on political parties to commit to open government going into the general election – let’s hope they do!


Thanks again to Tim and Jo (with support from Development Initiatives and VOSCUR) for facilitating a fun and thought-provoking session – see you again soon!

Matthew 

BBC3 consultation

The future of the BBC is in your hands!

If you’re reading this, congratulations for surviving the twin perils of Friday 13th and Valentine’s Day (although there’s bad news for the susperstitious amongst you – this year the 13th of March will again fall on the dreaded day).

In the Delib office, the broaching of V-Day at our weekly catch-up meeting elicited a collective moan of despair – but hopefully there are some more committed romantics among our much-beloved users and partners.

Today, we thought we’d bring you some recent excitement from the online consultation world. The BBC Trust’s consultation on the future of BBC 3 closes today; and the IWA are crowdsourcing a new constitutional convention for Wales.

Last chance to have your say on the future of BBC3

In a consultation that closes today, the BBC trust are asking the public’s opinion on the future of many of the BBC’s TV services. Most notably, they are proposing to remove BBC Three from the television airwaves and make it a purely digital channel, available from the BBC iPlayer website. This goes together with a proposal, in line with current TV viewing trends, to create more ‘web-only’ content, that will be premiered online rather than on a broadcast schedule as it traditionally would have been. Fear not for your water-cooler conversation topics, though:

“Programmes that contain spoilers, or ones that have a sense of shared viewing experience such as The Apprentice or The Voice...are unlikely to or would never premiere online.”

BBC_Three.svg

The removal of BBC 3 from broadcast hasn’t been without controversy – there has been a prominent petition gathering campaign, savebbc3, arguing that the channel should be kept in its current form (there’s even a rally taking place today in London).

There are plenty of arguments for and against the closure. From the BBC’s perspective, it’s a way of making £50m of annual cost savings in a focused way, allowing it to invest more in or protect its other services, rather than having to keep cutting spending across the board. For opponents of the move, it will get rid of a channel that has helped a lot of innovative and diverse content, artists and actors get exposure to a big audience.

So, if you feel strongly about when or where the public will be able to tune in to Russell Howard’s Good News or Snog, Marry, Avoid?, get yourself over to the BBC Trust’s Citizen Space and let them know your views – the consultation closes at midnight today!

IWA convention

The public debate about the future of the UK’s constituent nations that was inspired by last year’s independence referendum in Scotland has been taken up in Wales by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. The prospect of further powers being devolved to the Scottish government from Westminster has raised the question of what a new arrangement with Wales might look like, but the IWA are trying to take that further for a discussion on Wales’ future.

Screenshot 2015-02-16 16.35.45

The IWA’s idea is inspired by the movement in Iceland to crowdsource a new constitution in the wake of financial crisis and political upheavals. They are running the exercise in phases, with a new topic for discussion every one or two weeks. These range from the economy and Europe to the big question about Welsh nationhood – ‘What is Wales for?’ – and are generating all kinds of fascinating ideas and discussion.

We’re really excited by what the IWA are doing – channeling some of the excitement about democracy that the Scottish referendum injected back into some sectors of the UK’s public life. This week’s new topic is the welfare state in Wales, and you can get involved in the debate online here.


 

Both of these exercises are all great examples of public bodies trying to open up the debate about issues that previously might have been decided by a small group without members of the public ever having the chance to make their views heard – and digital tools are an important part of making this happen.

Here’s hoping this is a trend we’ll see more and more of 2015!

Delib’s top tips for online safety

Happy new year to all Delib customers!

One of the stories that’s been making the news over Christmas and the New Year is the ongoing fallout of the cyber attacks on Sony, supposedly by North Korean hackers. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to everyone the devastating effect that cyber crime can have on a business or on government.

We may not all be involved in global geopolitical struggles, but we should all take a few simple steps to protect our sensitive information:

1. One of the easiest things to do is to make sure that you use strong passwords that are unique to each account. A password manager like 1passwordCredential Manager for MS users or Keychain for Mac users is useful for this – letting you store all your passwords locally on your machine, removing the temptation to either let your browser store them, or to reuse the same password. You can also keep a hard copy of important, shared passwords – but this should be kept in a safe or somewhere equally well protected.

2. It’s worth remembering that emails can be quite vulnerable as a form of information storage. In particular, you should avoid sending passwords or any sensitive information via email – telling it to someone over the phone or in person is a much safer method. If you think of emails as postcards, then you will avoid writing anything in them you may not wish others to see!  If you really need to send something securely over email, you can do this using email encryption or a password-protected zip file for attachments, but please still provide the password via phone or in person and not over email.

3. Emails and all kinds of other messaging services can be vulnerable to spam and phishing attacks. These kinds of attacks are getting ever more convincing, so it is a good idea to make sure yourself and your colleagues are aware of their distinguishing features – and remember to take a ‘safety first’ approach when you receive strange or unsolicited emails, even if they seem to come from a trusted source such as your bank.
A few easy initial checks are:
Check the email address the message has come from – does this look genuine? Check it against the organisation’s website.
Do they address you in the way you would expect?
Check the footers – do they look normal?

4. Make sure your software is up to date! In particular, you should be sure to keep your web browsers current. No one should really be using Internet Explorer 6 or 7 as of 2015 – these older browsers can lack protection from common vulnerabilities.

5. Think carefully about the possibility of physical data theft and human error as well. If your staff use laptops, make sure they are password protected and consider having removable media controls in place (for example, preventing content from being downloaded onto USB drives) – although remember that there is a trade off here in terms of convenience for staff. Make sure to keep your offices locked and secure. If you receive emails or work-related information on your mobile, ensure it has a passcode lock on it as a minimum.

6. Make sure that you have good and up-to-date antivirus software installed on all office machines. There is plenty of good antivirus software on the market, and you don’t have to spend too much to get basic protection.

7. Keep your machine(s) backed up. It can be a hassle having to keep backing up your system, but accidents can always happen, so it’s worth it to make sure you don’t lose important data for good.

8. Be careful on public wifi – ensure you are on an encrypted connection when doing anything which involves your information or anyone else’s. Remember that telephone calls can be listened in to and unencrypted wifi connections can be susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks.

 

Within Delib we take our own information security, and that of our customers, very seriously. Richard and Alan in our team make sure none of us make any of the above mistakes, and we occasionally have review meetings to remind us of the golden rules of information security  – so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need some specific advice on keeping safe online!

Matthew @Delib

Delib – 2014 in review

We’re nearing the end of 2014, and we draw ever closer to what late crooner Andy Williams liked to call “the most wonderful time of the year”. But before we don not-so-ironic jumpers and settle down in front of a glowing Christmas special or two, we’d like to share some of the exciting things that this year held for Delib.

Our most widely used product, Citizen Space, has seen various changes and improvements (hopefully they are one and the same!) over the course of the year. “What changes? What improvements?”, I hear you cry. Well…

Skip Logic

Early in the year, we added skip logic to Citizen Space – a major expansion of the online survey functionality. Skip logic enables a respondent’s route through a survey to be conditional on the answers they give. This widened the possibilities for survey design significantly. One can create several different surveys within a single Citizen Space consultation, by asking them one or more filtering questions, and then bringing them to the appropriate section. Users have a better experience on surveys that use skip logic effectively, as they are spared the drudgery of ticking whole pages as ‘N/A’

Mapping

Example of Citizen Space's mapping component

We have also added a mapping feature to Citizen Space. Particularly valuable for consultations on questions of local planning and land use, this enables interactive maps to be embedded on the site. Users responding to a consultation on, for example, a new cycle pathway, can indicate on the map itself where they want a path to be located. Proposals for a new mixed-use development could have a plan of the site, and then map out where they would like each particular service to be located. You can check out mapping in action here.

Analysis – Improved filtering, analysis interface and charts

We understand that for our customers, being able to analyse responses is just as important as being able to create great surveys and consultations. That’s why we’ve made several improvements and additions to the analysis features in Citizen Space this year. We’ve improved the way filtering is done – so that the interface is clearer and easier to use. We’ve made it easier to navigate between questions when viewing ‘responses by question’. And we’ve added in some rather attractive charts that visualise responses to a question, which have proven very popular with our users.

Charts of responses by question

PDF embedding

We’ve made it possible to embed pdf files into the text of a consultation – on the homepage, in fact banks or in textboxes – using the text editor . With a neat icon tucked into the ‘What you see is what you get’ toolbar, users can upload a pdf, which is then incorporated into the page, in its own window – removing the need to host PDFs externally or manually create embed codes. This has been a particularly useful addition for many of our customers, who need to consult based on policy proposals in lengthy documents. Using the embed tool they can easily insert these documents straight into their consultation.


These are just a few of the most exciting new features that we’ve added in to Citizen Space this year. There have also been hundreds of little tweaks and fixes, the result of our developers’ hard work behind the scenes to make our product better and more appropriate to our customers’ needs.


Of course, Citizen Space isn’t our only product. Dialogue App and Budget Simulator also saw a busy year, going through constant iterative change and improvement.

In particular, Dialogue App saw significant improvements to its admin interface, new theming options, no limit to the number of discussions which can be run, improvements to exports and a generally enhanced user experience.


All three apps have also had great things done with them by our customers. Some of the highlights in digital democracy for us this year have been:

Transport for London consulted on a variety of issues, some of which have reached a huge total of responses. Their consultations on two new ‘Cycle Superhighways’ through central London attracted a lot of attention and well over 10,000 responses.

September saw the Scottish Independence Referendum which, whatever side of the debate you were on, was an invigorating exercise in democracy. The Scottish government is a long-time Delib customer and Citizen Space user – and its consultations on how the referendum should be run, back in 2012, as well as this year’s consultation on what the interim constitution of an independent Scotland would be were both carried out on Citizen Space.

Image of a tweet about the Northern Futures project with a video of Nick Clegg

Dialogue app powered the policy-crowdsourcing process that was behind Nick Clegg’s  Northern Futures summit. Citizens contributed hundreds of ideas and comments, as part of a process of public debate and political leadership, leading up to a successful summit in September this year.

Several local authorities across the UK – Derby, Edinburgh, Inverclyde, Hull, Enfield, Waltham Forest, and East Dunbartonshire – along with one Australian  (Melbourne, who’ve done a really interesting report of the consultation here) and one Canadian city (Calgary)  – have all used Budget Simulator to consult on how they spend their money. You can check out the latest to open – Hull’s – here.

Edinburgh Budget Simulator allocation page

NHS England made innovative use of Citizen Space to conduct very large scale internal surveys, creating registration forms for everything from volunteering to webinars – making us realise that Citizen Space’s use is in no way limited to just creating surveys!

And finally, The BBC Trust held an in-depth review of all six of the BBC’s radio services – a topic which is very dear to our own hearts! – using Citizen Space in the summer.

 

In summary, it’s been a great year, and we hope to see you all again in 2015 for more of the same!

 

‘Tis the season…to consult on budgets

December in Bristol – an icy wind chases down the Avon and Christmas lights adorn the city centre – although the simultaneous prevalence of the hipster beards and semi-ironic Christmas jumpers make it hard for the out-of-towner to distinguish a Santa’s grotto from the many organic woodwork shops and concept cafés that line our streets.

Here in the world of public engagement, the season’s relative positioning with regards to the end of the financial year, means that it is a key time for public consultation on budgets. In the last few days we’ve seen two new Budget Simulator sites launched:

Inverclyde

Located a few miles down the river Clyde from Glasgow, Inverclyde is one of the smallest local authorities in Scotland – so it’s particularly great that they are using Budget Simulator to consult with all their citizens on where the £7 million of cuts they need to make should come from.

Screenshot 2014-12-05 15.53.32

Inverclyde have used the tool in an interesting way. They’ve focused heavily on their budget surplus – so the £7m that needs to be cut – rather than on the £196m that makes up the total. The design of the service area sliders gives citizens a focused view of the spending totals and areas that are up for cutting, rather than facing the often rather daunting task of administering those cuts to the entire budget. We’ll be interested to see how the response they get compares to other budget simulators. The council are doing a lot of work to engage the public at events and meetings, which they’re using to publicise the tool, and they’ve also headed their homepage with a good-looking banner showing the view out over the river – one of the advantages of being situated in one of the more picturesque parts of the country!

Hull

The city of Hull also went live with a budget simulator this week. Their design team have created a warm and welcoming theme for the homepage, based on their ‘Value Hull’ brand. This draws attention to what I feel is one of the real benefits of using a budget simulator – it helps citizens see exactly what their council tax is spent on, and lets them understand what cuts to local government budgets will mean in a straightforward way.

There’s a nifty animated video on the site – check it out here. Once you get into the simulator, it strikes you that the council have included their ‘ring-fenced’ areas, but made these impossible to change – helping citizens to understand the lack of flexibility that the council has in imposing budget cuts.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador have started using Dialogue App to get members of the public talking about and proposing ideas for the future of healthcare. They’ve got a video up on the site with Premier Paul Davis explaining the background to the exercise, and a good few discussions going already, broken down by theme. Check it out!

The future of Bristol’s libraries

And finally, the city council in our very own hometown of Bristol is leading a discussion on the future of the city’s libraries:

Screenshot 2014-12-05 16.02.16

The council have created an appealing, vibrant design for the site, with plenty of content and links. And the people of Bristol have not failed to make us proud (as always) of the city’s engaged and creative citizenry, having already contributed upwards of fifty ideas to the site.

On that note, I’d better finish off the week’s office tasks and prepare myself for the real legwork of the season – despite the prophecies of several notable boffins that AI technology is bringing us ever closer to robo-geddon, Christmas shopping won’t yet do itself.

See you soon!

 

Matthew @Delib

 

A month in the life of a secondee at Delib

As it’s (just over) a month since I started at Delib, I thought I’d do a quick post with some of the things I’ve learned in my first few weeks. So here are five:

1. How things are done in an SME

Having worked in a relatively large government department, coming to a small startup has brought an interesting change in atmosphere. Departments tend to be split up into a lot of specialised teams. Whatever it is you need to know about, there’s someone who will know a lot more about it than you, and so one of the most valuable skills you can have is being able to find that person and get what you need out of them.

In a small business, that person isn’t there – so the skills needed are different. It’s down to you to either work out the answer yourself; usually an answer that gets the job done, rather than a perfect one, allowing you to concentrate on what you really need to do. After all, every minute of work lost costs someone money, and if they’re in the same room as you…

2. Being outside of Whitehall and central departments: government is much bigger than you think!

Delib’s client base is very broad – going all the way from central government departments to small district councils. Coming into contact with all of these organisations is a real reminder of what it’s often easy to forget – that the public sector and government is huge, and does a lot of things.

3.Digital literacy is a big challenge in government

The need for greater digital skills in government is one of the mantras of the ‘Civil Service Reform’ agenda that has been advanced under the current government, to the extent of becoming a bit of a cliche – although that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong! From my experience of Delib, however – a business that to some extent depends on government being reasonably digitally competent – it’s not necessarily in the same way or for the same reasons that we assume.

The reasons that are most commonly given for ‘digital illiteracy’ tend to be an ageing workforce and ingrained organisational resistance to change. These are certainly factors – but these aren’t exclusive to local government, and I think there are others at play that perhaps aren’t talked about as much.

The equipment that people are given to work with is also a big problem. It’s very hard to develop digital skills if email systems, internet browsers and desktop machines themselves are several years out-of-date. From my own experience, this can often be the case in central departments – and the situation seems similar in local government (perhaps understandably, given the pressure on budgets).

If we consider our public servants who deal with information as ‘knowledge workers’ – which, in my mind, we should – I think it’s important to make sure they have access to the technology they need. This isn’t without cost, but it might be more justified than sinking huge sums of money into bespoke IT projects that often add little to the quality of public services.

There is also the tendency for senior managers in organisations to exert an undue influence over the way technology is used. Big projects become totemic parts of ‘change management’ and are cloaked in nebulous project management terminology, but with the disadvantage that the people in charge have little real understanding of how it’s actually going to work or what it will really look like. Maybe I’ve become biased at Delib, but it’s definitely given me the impression that smaller organisations do tech better.

4. Designing a web service: aesthetics do matter

At the end of the day web services are all about the users. Their value is in making things easier and quicker to do.

It’s for this reason that one of the foremost concerns Delib’s customers have with the product is ‘how does it feel for the user?’. And whilst we might rightly accuse some web products of putting form over function, a visually appealing interface can make all the difference for a site that is designed to publicly engage with citizens and, in some way, make their lives easier.

The online world should be thought of in the same terms as a real, physical environment. It’s both a working space and a space for dealing with visitors and the public. We think a lot about the design and construction of our public environment. In some ways, however, us citizens of the information age spend our lives between two worlds  Given how much cheaper, easier and quicker it is to create a pleasant online environment, it’s surprising government doesn’t spend more time making it so!

5. What running a support desk actually looks like – managing ‘failure demand’.

Like most people, my previous experience with using ‘support desks’ was often that of communicating with a somewhat disembodied presence at the other end of a phone or an email. Manning the support desk at Delib has let me see behind the curtain…and it’s been enlightening.

In any case, I’ll be (slightly) more sympathetic when I call someone at a support desk, tell them my problem and they ask me to ‘create a ticket’…

And now, back to work on a rainy monday!

 

Matthew

The NHS Friends and Family Test – can we help?

6 years ago, public confidence in the NHS was rocked by the scandal emerging from the conditions of care at Stafford Hospital – administered by Mid Staffordshire NHS foundation trust, and making ‘Mid-Staffs’ a near-daily invocation in the corridors of the Department of Health , NHS England, and GPs and hospitals across the country.

The investigations and inquiries into the scandal revealed some of the conditions at the hospital, and the resulting media attention prompted a period of national introspection regarding the NHS.

When the current government came to power in 2010, it launched the inquiry to end all inquiries (following four under the previous administration) into failings at the hospital. The ‘Francis Report’ (named after its chair, Robert Francis QC) took three years to publish, and apparently considered a million pages of evidence.

Central to the report’s findings was the question of openness and dialogue: The culture of the NHS needs to be one of constant improvement rather than complacency;  Staff must have a duty to report failings; and – most importantly for our purposes here, patients must be listened to.

This – and a government that has put ‘patient choice’ at the centre of its health narrative – laid the backdrop for the introduction of the ‘Friends and Family test’ in 2013: a standardised survey, carried out by all NHS trusts, and centred around one simple question: ‘Would you recommend this service to friends and family?’

Alongside this, we are also seeing a growing range of digital applications aimed at improving dialogue around patient experience – such as Patient Opinion and iWantGreatCare – creating more and more of an expectation that health services are subjected to the same online scrutiny we are used to for other products and services.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the NHS is rolling out the Friends and Family test in GP clinics from December 2014, and next year will expand to more services, such as mental health, ambulances and dentists. Administering these tests will be a challenge for England’s 200 Clinical Commissioning Groups – and one that we hope Citizen Space might be up to the task of meeting!

How to implement the Friends and Family Test using Citizen Space

Inspired by our friends at Stockport CCG, who asked us how they might be able to use Citizen Space to implement the Friends and Family Test in their area – here’s a guide to how we think CCGs could use Citizen Space to carry out their Friends and Family tests, with links to our Knowledge Base articles to help you:

1) Set up each GP surgery as a department on your Citizen Space hub
2) Set up the person responsible for FFT at each GP as department admin for their surgery.
3) Create a single FFT survey on your hub for one surgery, then clone this survey repeatedly and rename each one until you have one for each of your surgeries.
4) Move each survey into their relevant ‘department’ and make your the relevant department admin the owner of the survey – so they have access to the responses and can manage the survey.
5) They can then share the F&FT link with their patients, and patients’ friends and families for them to fill in on their smartphones, or better still, on a tablet at the surgery
6) You don’t need to be involved beyond this other than for technical support and have no need to look at responses.

This means:

  • All responses are held in one place
  • They can all be analysed from one place
  • The survey can be carried out either online or on a terminal or tablet at the surgery (as long as it is connected to the internet!)
  • Quick, accurate response gathering, with the ease of using Citizen Space online analysis and results tools for reporting
  • By putting each surgery in its own department, responses are only accessible to the admins in that surgery (and overall site admins for technical support)
  • Surgeries could be benchmarked against one another if you wish

The Friends and Family test has not been without criticism from within the healthcare community (this report from the Picker Institute sums up some of these, as well as positive points around the FFT), but we believe that if administered effectively – and captures the views of a large and diverse proportion of the patient body – it can be a really useful tool for boosting patient engagement with health services.

As always, we’re happy to help all our Citizen Space users with suggestions on using the tool – so if you’d like us to work with you to solve a consultation need, then drop a line to your account manager (Louise or Rowena), call us on 0845 638 1848 or email support@delib.net.

 

From the Valleys to Hackney, and sharing all the way

Hello again from Delib – we’re fresh from enjoying a slightly unseasonal Halloween – here in Bristol we celebrated All Hallows’ Eve at a positively tropical 20 degrees – leaving us unsure whether to gather round the bonfire, or put on our swimsuits and launch ourselves headlong into the Avon. However, a reassuringly brisk bonfire night got us back in an autumnal mood – and ready to knuckle down in the run up to Christmas!

In any case, here’s a round up of some interesting things happening in the digital democracy world:

1) The Swedish power company Vattenfall are using newsletters effectively to keep in touch with those who left their emails when responding to their Dialogue App on the Pen y Cymoedd wind farm in South Wales, which is now closed.

Newsletter from Vattenfall

Spending a bit of time and effort following up with respondents in this way can help keep the community going after the dialogue has officially closed. Getting information about how many people have been involved in the discussion shows people that what they have been involved in was something significant, and that their contribution had an impact. They’re also probably more likely to get involved if you ask them to respond to another consultation that affects them!

Read more about the ‘Power in the Valleys’ Dialogue here.

2) The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, or BIS for short (pronounced ‘bizz’ among government insiders…) are closing their consultation on the ‘sharing economy’ shortly.

The staunch capitalists among us might be offended at just the idea of ‘sharing’ and ‘economy’ appearing on the same sentence – but the fact is, services like Zipcar and Airbnb are becoming more and more popular, to the extent that they almost threaten their counterparts with more traditional business models. We all have stuff lying around, from spare rooms and cars to tools and dogs (see www.borrowmydoggy.com), so why not let someone else use it while we’re not?

The power of web technology to create new connections between people is what makes this possible – and incidentally, is also what makes the engagement facilitated by our apps possible. So BIS using Citizen Space to consult people on a new social benefit of technology is just what we like!

PS. for the opposite (or perhaps the dark side) of tech that enables the sharing economy, see “jerktech”…

3) Hackney Council in London has launched an online consultation on its draft transport strategy for the 2014-2024. The plan itself is a considerable document, with a set of six ‘daughter plans’ that focus on specific areas of transport – understandable perhaps, given that it’s a ten-year plan for a fast-growing area of London with a lot of specific challenges.

There are a few things we particularly like about Hackney’s consultation. The team have made good use of the events feature to publicise the public meetings they are holding on the plan. Users can see a calendar of events, and with a couple of clicks can download the event straight from the website into their own calendars.

We’re also impressed by Hackney’s rather nifty interactive transport map, which lets users raise local transport issues by directly pinpointing them on the map – a great way to help  citizens engage with local issues and make it easy for them to give feedback.

Screenshot 2014-10-31 16.53.47

 

That’s all for this week! Have a great weekend!

Matthew