All posts by RowenaF

Introducing our 2017 London and Canberra User Groups

After kicking off our 2017 user groups in Scotland and Northern Ireland in April and May, we’re now firmly looking ahead to our next 2017 user groups in London and Canberra. The Department for Education have kindly agreed to co-host the London event with us on Thursday 12th October in their Westminster office. Hot on the heels of our London user group, we’re also getting plans in place for our Australian user group which will be in Canberra in late October.

In 2016, we ran no fewer than 5 user groups around the world: kicking off in Scotland before heading to Australia and finishing up in London. If you’re not sure what to expect, check out these learnings from our user group in London last year.

BIS-Digtial-Engagement-300x135
Image courtesy of @beisgovuk the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (UK)

Who is the user group for?
Site Admins, Digital leads, analysts, policy leads, communication managers – anyone using Citizen Space or Dialogue.

1-2 people will be initially invited from each organisation currently using Citizen Space or Dialogue. Tickets are free and will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. If you’re reading this and interested in speaking on the day, please email us.

What should I expect?
Talks will focus on all things digital engagement; our previous user groups have included:

  • An opportunity to meet fellow customers from across government
  • Show-and-tell of recent or upcoming engagement exercises by current users
  • Review of the process and challenges of how you do consultation
  • Roadmaps – we’ll talk through our plans for development and get your input
  • Digital surgery on any questions/topics requested

These sessions work best with real examples from the coal-face. If you’re interested in sharing how you do great consultation or if you have a proven process please get in touch.

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

After kicking off our 2017 user groups in Scotland last month, next up was our first Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man Citizen Space user group. The event was kindly co-hosted with Belfast City Council, who, alongside the Government of Northern Ireland  presented their experiences of using Citizen Space on the day. The user groups are a regular opportunity for customers to catch up, see how others in similar roles are using their platforms to manage their online consultation and engagement activity, and hopefully pick up some interesting tips and insights.

So, for the benefit of those who weren’t at the event, we’ve a quick round-up of eight things we wish you could’ve been there to hear. Without further ado:

1. The need to consult online is stronger than ever

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

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

2. Software is only part of the picture

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

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

3. Make time to close the feedback loop

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

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

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

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

5. Consider the ‘total’ consultation cost

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

As ever, big thanks to everyone who attended and for the customers who agreed to speak at the event. We hope you enjoyed the user group as much as we did – and if you didn’t have time to attend, don’t fret! We’ll be holding more user groups in 2017. (In 2016, we ran no fewer than five user groups around the world: kicking off in Scotland before heading to Australia and back to London.)

 

Introducing our first ever Ireland, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man Citizen Space user group

We are very happy to announce our first ever get-together for Citizen Space users in Northern Ireland, Ireland and the Isle of Man on Wednesday 10th May in Belfast. Customer user groups have been running since 2014, and are always a high point in the calendar for us. Annual meet ups have already been established in London, Scotland and Australia so we’re really excited to add another pin on the map!

What are the user groups about?

User groups bring together anyone who works in public/stakeholder consultation to share best practice and inspiration; they’re always a great opportunity to hear what others in your field are up to. (For example, check out some of our lessons learnt from the recent Scottish user group in Edinburgh.) User groups are also an opportunity to meet other users who might have a similar job role or challenge within their organisation.

What will the day involve?

The user groups focus on talks and conversations on all things digital engagement (as well as chats over a free lunch!), and tend to include the following:

  • Show-and-tell of recent or upcoming engagement exercises by current users. Review of the process and challenges of how you do consultation
  • Citizen Space roadmap – we’ll talk through our plans for development and get your input
  • An opportunity to meet other Citizen Space users from across local and central government
  • Digital surgery on any questions/topics requested

In previous years, we’ve had talks on topics like building a quality consultation process, how to structure analysis, digital transformation, managing promotion and how to create great consultation content; we’ve also had reports of good consultations (and bad ones) and what has been learnt from them, and much more besides.

We’ve already sent out invites to customers for the day and spaces are filling up fast. If you are interested in attending but haven’t received an invite please email louise@delib.net. Watch this space for lessons learnt from the session 🙂

10 lessons learnt at our 2017 Scottish user group

We kicked off our 2017 user groups in a sunny and spring-like Edinburgh this week. Hosted in collaboration with the Scottish Government (special thanks to the Digital Engagement team!), the day involved a fantastic array of speakers and lots of discussion. The user groups are a regular opportunity for customers to catch up, to see how others in similar roles are using their platforms to manage their online consultation and engagement activity, and hopefully to pick up some interesting tips and insights.

So, for the benefit of those who weren’t at the event, we’ve a quick round-up of 10 things we wish you could’ve been there to hear. Without further ado:

1. Make time to consider the ‘total value’ of a consultation activity

During the morning session, we discussed what success looks like for online consultation. One of the topics that came up was considering the ‘total value’ of consultation activity – i.e. looking beyond just the number of responses. They may be less easy to track and measure but factors like the amount of time a citizen – or the organisation, for that matter – spends on a consultation, or the cost of the issues at hand, can give a richer evaluation of an exercise.

“Do the individuals who have been consulted feel that they have been considered?”
Eachann Gillies, Digital Engagement Manager,  The Scottish Government

2. Citizen Space helps organisations run an end-to end process

Police Scotland gave a fantastic and candid presentation reflecting back on their first couple of months of using Citizen Space. Prior to using the tool, reporting and results from consultation exercises weren’t always well-integrated (for example, surveys and the feedback on those surveys would often be on entirely separate sites). Now, using Citizen Space, it’s possible for the organisation to create, analyse and report back on the consultation all in one place.

3. Effective promotion is key

Police Scotland also talked about effective promotion. In order to ensure their consultation was a success, they drew up a timetable of thematic weeks of engagement which helped with their overall vision of getting to much-talked-about but hard-to-reach communities. During the process, they even used the admin side of Citizen Space to report back internally on the effectiveness of their outreach activity. (It’s always great to hear about people finding new and creative ways to use our platforms!)

4. Make reporting meaningful

There was general recognition that, sometimes, what is useful and meaningful to a chief exec might not be what citizens are looking for when it comes to reporting. We also talked about how the success of a consultation is not necessarily about big numbers (especially not if they become ‘vanity metrics’) – it should be about the substantive changes under consideration and their implementation. Reporting needs to be tailored to its intended audience, but should always focus on meaningful findings and actions (not telling people what you think they want to hear).

5. Trust your community managers and enable them to make decisions ‘on the fly’

If a community manager needs to go away and check that a post is OK before approving it, it can kill the flow of the conversation. Ensuring that they are well equipped and trusted in their role is key. If there is more than one person moderating ensuring they are in agreement on what can and can’t be moderated out is of paramount importance for quality control.

“What a beautiful thing to have these conversations in the open”

(Leah Lockhart, DemSoc)

6. Create welcoming online spaces

Online conversations are happening right now; government departments can choose to listen and be involved in them – which means offering a welcoming space. There was unanimous agreement that if you don’t give people the space to have their say, they’ll end up expressing their views somewhere else anyway. The conversation is going to be happening whether you as an organisation are listening or not – so better to be actively engaging!

7. Think carefully about scale

Sometimes going online and asking ‘huge’ questions about a topic isn’t as useful as taking ‘bite-sized’ chunks and breaking them down into digestible consultations or chapters. Something smaller and interactive might be more useful in the long run than asking broad questions.

8. We’re seeing a move towards ‘continuous democracy’

Whilst discussing trends in digital democracy in Scotland, Ali from The Democratic Society noted how we’ve started to see a move away from one-off engagement initiatives towards more ‘continuous democracy’. That is to say, involving citizens and stakeholders in decisions is increasingly part of business as usual – a default expectation of democratic organisations.

As a result, it has become more important to establish and refine the processes by which this continuous democracy operates. Rather than reinventing the wheel in a haphazard series of ‘one-hit wonder’ projects, consistency is key: repeatability, standardisation etc all make it easier to effectively involve people on a daily basis.

9. Analysis needs planning

Getting the right results for analysis stems from asking the right questions. For colleagues in policy teams, how can we make sure effective analysis is borne in mind – especially at the early/planning stages of a new policy or decision?

““Running a consultation and not thinking about analysis before you start is like getting in a car without knowing where you’re going””
Eachann Gillies, Digital Engagement Manager, The Scottish Government

10. Context is king

It needs to be easy for respondents to participate (people’s time is precious, after all). Small details to reduce the ‘friction’ of consultative processes can make a big difference. For example, The Scottish Government have had some really positive feedback from respondents on their practice of using carefully-placed ‘fact banks’ in their surveys – giving contextual detail/background information immediately alongside each question. This helps people give informed responses, which in turn hopefully leads to better decisions in policy-making.

 

As ever, big thanks to everyone who attended and for the customers who agreed to speak at the event. We hope you enjoyed the user group as much as we did – and if you didn’t have time to attend, don’t fret! We’ll most certainly be holding more user groups in 2017 (In 2016, we ran no fewer than 5 user groups around the world: kicking off in Scotland before heading to Australia and back to London.) Up next this year is our first user group in Belfast – on May 10th.

Until next time, Edinburgh 😉

 

 

 

‘Digital democracy in practice’ – seminar/Q&A with Exeter University students

One of the best parts of my role as an account manager is to get out of the office and spread the word about digital democracy. Last week, I was fortunate enough to return to my old stomping ground – Exeter University, in south west England – and give a talk to third year politics students. (The third year module on ‘civic engagement’ makes reference to online tools generally and Delib specifically.)  It was a real delight to be there for the afternoon. I just wish the module had existed when I was at uni!

Whilst writing my presentation on ‘digital democracy in practice’, I was also able to reflect back on the changes in online consultation and digital in government from 2011 to now. I chose the end of 2010/start of 2011 as a starting point, as this is when Martha Lane Fox’s influential report on the revolution not evolution of directgov came out – a report which marked a bit of a sea change and the beginnings of gov.uk. This was also a useful reflection point for me as I started working at Delib a few months later!

One of the key changes I have seen since 2011 is a shift from one-off ‘singular (project-based) democracy’ which costs government thousands of pounds in websites/one-off builds towards more ‘continuous democracy’ in 2017.  Government departments can now consult more regularly using low cost online tools. The result: more cost-effective solutions for citizens and improved transparency.

The second key shift I have witnessed is a more deep-rooted cultural change in working practices. Government departments are increasingly adopting more agile, lean and collaborative ways of working. Scenes that you see posted on gov.uk’s blog simply wouldn’t have existed in 2010.

Source: gds.blog.gov.uk

During the session, we reviewed some of the key grounding principles, focusing on the Gunning and consultation principles before applying these to real customer examples and teasing out some of the key challenges government departments face. I then opened up the session to questions. Here’s a flavour of the topics which came up from the students and an idea of how I answered them:

+ How does digital democracy help open up the conversation beyond ‘the usual suspects?’

Digital democracy can help open up the conversation to a broader range of participants by providing a different medium through which to conduct those conversations. Customers have indicated that using digital tools has enabled them to reach a broader audience group, which is fantastic. That said, if you are consulting a niche group on a specific topic, you may find that some of the ‘usual suspects’ still turn up, but who’s to say that they will be the only ones there contributing to the discussion?

+ How can social media help these conversations and government departments in 2017?

Social media can both promote and dilute the conversation you are hoping to have in my experience. If you start a conversation on one social media platform or digital engagement tool and it spreads across other platforms, sometimes the conversation can become disparate. It may also become difficult to analyse if there is no obvious flow or output from the discussions taking place.  When used well, however, social media can be a great opportunity to get into spaces where these conversations are already happening or to open up participation to individuals interested people/groups.

In order to use social media effectively, civil servants need to be equipped with the right community management skills. Luckily, there are an increasing number of short, free courses opening up such as this one from Future Learn on using data from social media platforms to understand public conversations. I’m hoping to check the course out to help with the guidance we give our customers.

+ Are these methods inclusive or do they often exclude certain generations?

This topic also came up at a conference I recently attended called NotWestminster as we were working with a case study which featured retired users. It was interesting how quickly some of the group jumped to assumptions. I wouldn’t say that digital democracy excludes certain generations and the idea that the older generation not necessarily having strong digital skills isn’t always true. Often the blocker is confidence in digital which isn’t necessarily age-based. Where there are gaps (sometimes referred to as ‘the digital divide’), the UK government often looks to address them – for example, via setting up departments within GDS, such as the assisted digital team.

+ Do you find that government departments look at the cost-benefit analysis of running online consultation?

Some government departments that we work with are starting to drill into more of the details and nuances in this area, which is great to see. For example, we heard from BEIS at our 2016 London user group about working with statistics and conversion rates from gov.uk (they got from a 3% conversion rate to an impressive 25% by studying what worked well). BEIS are really hot on their analytics at the moment and I’m excited to see what they are going to do next.

+ Do you have plans to expand outside of English speaking territories?

Our current goal is to continue our expansion within English speaking territories. But it would be great to work in more countries around the world one day! Our main blocker to this is being able to translate all 3 applications (though it is something we’re looking at). Government structures are fairly similar in the countries where we work at the moment, but expanding to new countries always means learning more about the particularities of their context.

+ Where’s next for deliberative discussion?

So what will the next 5+ years hold? Well, the biggest challenges I see are around standardisation and sharing of best practice. This is perhaps not new or unique to online consultation but does hold one of the biggest opportunities in my opinion. Jodie Lamb, a Communication and Stakeholder Engagement professional recently posted about what she had learnt whilst working in New Zealand. Sharing best practice or having ‘hands across the ocean’ is key. If something has already been trialled in the UK and failed, then let’s ensure that digital teams in Australia and NZ learn from this. There are also some really exciting projects and learning opportunities coming out from countries like Iceland, Brazil and Estonia. Sharing best practice is key.

The future of government and effective online consultation lies in the hands of the next generation of digital leaders. Learning that modules like this one on civic engagement exist is really exciting. I’m hoping that this talk will pave the way to other opportunities to talk to young digital leaders in the future.

Notwestminster 2017

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual Notwestminster 2017 event which was held in the town of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire in the UK. Notwestminster focuses on local democracy and attracts a broad range of attendees from across government, academia and those with a general interest in all things democracy. The event involves a great combination of workshops, lightning talks as well as plenty of time for thought-provoking chats in-between.

We all popped a (slightly sleepy looking) owl on the map to mark where we had traveled from to get to Notwestminster

The day kicked off with a series of inspiring lightning talks (20 slides with 20 seconds per slide). Jacqui Gedman was first up, with her talk on ‘active citizens’. Jacqui advocated that government can get a much ‘better product’ by engaging with people locally on the ground. She also strongly believes that, often, it costs a lot less than councils think to engage locally and the results can bring much better outcome for citizens. Jacqui also advocated treating residents as citizens once again (as apposed to ‘customers’) – a theme which echoed throughout the morning workshop sessions.

“We need to consider residents as citizens again and not just as customers” (@GedmanJacqui)

Another stand-out lightning talk for me was Emily Warrillow’s moving account of how Jo Cox inspired her to get involved in youth politics. Emily recalled how Jo was not only an inspiration to her but also a good friend. Emily’s interest in local politics started when her mum encouraged her to attend a local planning meeting on how to use an abandoned building; an interest which developed into her becoming a youth Councillor and more recently being awarded the Diana award. Emily is a real inspiration for young leaders.

Next up were a series of workshops, which we could choose between depending on our interests. The first workshop I participated in was about argument mapping: a concept which focuses on mapping out discussions. This topic was of particular interest to me as I’m often encouraging or advocating the benefits of using our Dialogue tool to our customers. Argument maps help to display the flavour and essence of a debate and take aim to ‘de-personalise’ the argument. They have been traditionally used to map discussions in the houses of parliament, and we pondered over whether they could be used more readily in local government. Could argument maps be used to layout the decision making process for development control meetings for example?

Next up was a workshop on ‘how can local government encourage people to engage’? run by The Democratic Society team. On my table, we were tasked with discussing the role and identity of local government. We began by identifying what local government means to us; given that local government has a duty to deliver over 700 services on average, how can we improve the perception of local government to citizens that it exists for more than just service delivery? Esko Reinikainen, co-founder of The Satori Lab, had an idea at the end of our round-table of creating an augmented reality map to help educate stakeholders on where and how money from local government is used and distributed.

The afternoon wrapped up with a final series of lightning talks, one last workshop and a ‘lessons learnt’ presentation back. So what were the main recurring themes for the day? Here’s a handful I picked up from attendees:

  • Vary and adapt chosen methods of engagement to suit the individuals being consulted with
  • Create open spaces for debate (not just ‘we’ve decided x, what do you think?’) and be clear on the next steps
  • The need to better understand how young people want to be engaged with – else there’s a growing risk of apathy towards politics
  • Engagement and research need to be more closely connected.
  • We need a much bigger effort to connect up innovators in local government (and avoid re-inventing the wheel).

Of course that’s not ‘it’ for Notwestinster 2017 – let’s keep these conversations flowing outside of these events (as we always advocate at the end of the day). Twitter’s normally pretty good for that…

And finally, special thanks to the Notwestminster organisers for bringing the event together and having us along. Roll on Notwestminster 2018!

 

 

Some digital democracy events we’ll be attending this week

This week sees a sudden spate of digital democracy-related events – and they’re even all free to attend… hurrah! Here’s a little round-up of where we’ll be and when, if you fancy attending or popping along to say ‘hi’….

Source: https://www.ukgovcamp.com/

Wednesday 8th February from 4pm – Public Service Camp – The Royal Naval Volunteer in Bristol

At 4pm today a few of us will be heading over to ‘Public Service Camp’ (neatly abbreivated to ‘PubCamp’) in one of our favourite Bristol pubs, The Royal Naval Volunteer (this may or may not be because it’s directly opposite our Bristol office). PubCamp (organised by @jukesie) is a ‘minimal viable meet-up’ with no speakers, no formal introductions and no pressure. Just a bunch of people talking about the ‘internet of public service’ in a nice pub for a couple of hours. Come along and meet Louise, Natalie and Ben x2. Sadly, I’ll be in the office manning the fort!

Thursday 9th February from 1pm – taking control of politics: can digital democracy help? – London

On Thursday, Ben. F will be attending a workshop and meetup in London run by the Democratic Society. The workshops will focus on the topic of identifying which online tools/platforms could be most powerful for people to engage with politicians and will have a European focus. There’s still a handful of spaces available if you’re reading this and interested in attending.

Saturday 11th February – NotWestminster – Huddersfield

We’re finishing off the week by attending NotWestminster in Huddersfield: an event we’re sponsoring again this year. Last year the lovely Alexis attended and this year I’ll be representing Delib. Check out Alexis’s blog from last year for a flavour of what NotWestminster is all about.

After kicking off 2017 with another highlight in the Delib event calendar in the form of GovCamp (which Ben. F and Louise attended), we’re excited to see what the rest of 2017 brings. We’re also in the process of getting dates in the diary for our 2017 user groups kicking off in Edinburgh. Here’s a flavour of what we covered in 2016. Watch this space for more info!

 

Highland Council launch first challenges using Dialogue

Highland Council are the latest Scottish Local Authority to start using Dialogue to run structured discussions online. Since launching their site nearly a month ago, things have quickly gotten into full swing. Ideas have already been suggested, responded to and even acted on – an impressively fast feedback loop, which is great to see!

Highland’s first two challenges were targeted at staff, to discuss how the council can be made more commercial and efficient.

Highland Council Dialogue

The Council had run a similar exercise 5 years ago, using a physical suggestion box in the head office. However, Highland Council is one of the largest local authorities geographically in Europe; with lots of staff working remotely, face-to-face engagement can be difficult. (Some staff can go years without physically checking back in at head office!)

As a result, the Council had been looking for both an opportunity and the right approach/tool to effectively open up these topics to discussion. They saw Dialogue recommended in a report by DemSoc for the Scottish Government and recognised that it was well-suited to their purposes. (An online tool was especially appealing as it would allow people to participate from anywhere with an internet connection!)

To ensure that staff were aware of the challenges being run on Dialogue, Highland Council first advertised the discussions on their staff Facebook group. Line managers were also informed and briefed to encourage team members to get involved. In less than a month, the council have already received over 200 ideas, 300 comments and 1,000 ratings.

Whilst they could have chosen to make the discussions private and invite-only, Highland opted to make them publicly visible to provide transparency on the conversation as it unfolded.

In terms of administering the Dialogue, Highland Council added a few starter ideas which helped make the first few days of launch a success. This meant that the initial ideas and feedback were pretty rapid. They were soon hearing suggestions like, for example, creating a creche at the council HQ.

They set up the Dialogue to use a post-moderated approach to ensure that ideas like this could naturally flow. The admin team also set themselves up as active members, adding their own comments and participating in the discussion – making it clear that the Dialogue was exactly that: a two-way conversation (not just a ‘black box’ exercise).

“We’re trying to let the Dialogue be as wild and organic as possible” (Dr Stephen Carr, Principle Policy Officer)

With ideas rolling in, the next steps are to review all the suggestions and take some of the best ones forward to a business case stage. One idea which has already been taken forward to implementation stage, for example, is the removal of blue paper towels – saving the Council thousands of pounds.

There’s also value in suggestions which it may not be possible to take forward. For example, removing water coolers from offices: a good idea but one which turned out to be impractical for some offices with older pipes. Highland administrators were able to comment on the idea and share this feedback with participants, making it an informative and educative process to boot.

Highland already plan to use Dialogue as part of their upcoming public budget exercise, and they have three other discussions in the pipeline too. We’re looking forward to seeing how it continues to take shape – watch this space!

A mini Scottish adventure of sorts

One of the best parts of my role as an Account Manager is to get out of the office and visit customers. When people first start using Citizen Space, they often want a day or two of training to help them make the most of it. When we train customers, we go to them – so when Falkirk Council requested an in-house training day, I got to jump on a flight to Scotland.

We’ve got lots of customers in that part of the world so I also thought this would be a great opportunity to stay on for a couple of days and meet other customers nearby. The last time I was in Scotland was for our annual Scottish user group back in Edinburgh back in April, so it was nice to pop in and see how people having been getting on since then.

View from Falkirk's offices
View from Falkirk’s offices

First up were Falkirk Council. Falkirk originally chose to adopt Citizen Space to improve their online consultation processes and centralise their consultations in one location. My role here was twofold: 1) to help users get to grips technically with the tool and 2) to help the organisation establish processes for consulting online effectively.

Training sessions are aimed for up to 10 attendees and people are often at really different starting points: some might be consultation experts but with limited digital experience; others might be really web-savvy but just not familiar with Citizen Space in particular – there’s usually a real range.

Happily, a training day on Citizen Space is not just about how to use the tool: it also helps teach attendees about consultation best practices and hone their digital skills. For example, one of the attendees on this session had come along specifically because he considered himself ‘not very tech-savvy’ and therefore if he could use Citizen Space, anyone could! So we were both pleased when he found it, in fact, pretty straightforward to successfully create an example consultation – complete with images, maps and videos embedded.

After training Falkirk, next on my list of customers to visit was Clackmannanshire (who’ve been using Citizen Space since 2013). Clackmannanshire – or Clacks as they’re often known – use Citizen Space for consultations on everything from customer satisfaction to local schools surveys. One of the things we chatted about a fair bit was reporting – not least because I said they’d done a great job with their report on the creation of a Tullibody South Campus (good transparency of data, nice mix of qual and quant content etc). It was great to pop in and meet the team.

img_0725
Stirling Castle

After visiting Clacks, it was time for a quick lunchtime walk up to the famous Stirling castle before heading to meet SEPA who have recently moved into some new offices. I trained SEPA back in 2012 when their Flood Risk Management Team originally adopted Citizen Space. Since then, their corporate comms team have adopted Citizen Space and a new director is putting digital high on the agenda.

As SEPA’s team are geographically dispersed, Citizen Space is a great way of providing a standardised consultation workflow which is shared across head office staff, colleagues working in smaller offices and people working remotely. It was great to stop by, meet the new contacts and chat them through some of the changes in the latest release of Citizen Space v3:

“v3 is great. It looks really inviting and helps make respondents feel like they are still on one of our sites” (Lorna Bryce, Campaigns and Marketing Manager, SEPA)

Chatting to SEPA, it was clear that it’s not all about the newest features we’ve released;  sometimes, it’s about reminding people what they already have available in Citizen Space and using these tools to their best advantage. For example, the PDF document viewer – which can be used to consult on plans or documents. Consultees can review the documents and then comment directly beneath, mitigating the need to download the information first. This feature was originally co-developed with SEPA when they were running their Flood Risk Management plan but the communications team hadn’t yet started using it to full advantage so it was great to chat them through how to include it.

Last stop was East Renfrewshire, who are based just south of Glasgow. East Renfrewshire are a small council who have primarily been using Citizen Space in their education team – but are now looking to roll it out more broadly across the council. Our main contact at East Renfrewshire actually works in two different roles so it’s really important that he can let colleagues ‘self-serve’ from Citizen Space.

In order to get people geared up to manage their own consultations, East Renfrewshire find it helpful to first sit-down with members of staff and give them a face-to-face run through before setting them up as a user. Recent consultations run on Citizen Space have attracted as many as 1 in 9 residents in the local area responding which is exciting.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-15-31-58

Having worked with a number of different Scottish customers in the past 5 years, I can say there’s a great ‘energy’ towards all things digital democracy in Scotland. There’s a real determination to actually get people involved in decision-making.

And on a journey to the station, I was reminded that when it comes to engaging with locals and getting an opinion on a recent or upcoming change, taxi drivers are often more than happy to give you the lowdown 😉

How to customise your Citizen Space support page, with some help from Edinburgh City Council

Lots of large organisations use Citizen Space to coordinate all the consultation activity across their many departments. That means there can be lots of users with varying levels of experience setting up consultations.

These guys often need a quick bit of help and guidance without having to call the person responsible for overseeing consultation activity every time they have a question. They’ll need guidance about internal protocols like consultation layouts and language use, as well as technical support.

Citizen Space includes a fully-editable support page in the back end for this purpose. We added this feature after requests from customers – and it’s a great idea. This is a page that a Citizen Space overseer can customise to provide help to the other admin users across their organisation. By default, it includes a link to our Citizen Space quick start guide and the Citizen Space knowledge base. But you can also add your own, organisation-specific help and guidance. That’s exactly what Edinburgh City Council have successfully done with their Citizen Space.

Since adopting Citizen Space in 2014, an increasing number of people and departments at City of Edinburgh Council use the platform. A team of four in the strategy and insight team oversees the use of Citizen Space, supporting nearly 50 users with a mixture of experience across different departments in the council.

Edinburgh have used their support page to clearly link through to their consultation framework and a list of service leads. Presenting this information at a point when users are starting to build consultations helps to make sure they understand the council’s consultation standards, and who to contact if they have any queries.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 16.15.52

Edinburgh City Council have also taken advantage of the Citizen Space .pdf embed feature by including a ‘lessons learned’ log. This log lists all the issues that people have already identified with online consultation, and any recommendations or follow-up needed. This helps to prevent users asking questions that are already being addressed or have already been answered, saving everybody time.

The Citizen Space support page can also be used to link through to further resources that admins could use to make their consultations more interesting and engaging. The support page could link through to a bank of stock banner images or free stock images, for instance. You could also use the page to communicate about training sessions and meetings.

Edinburgh also hold their own Citizen Space user group on a bi-annual basis which enables them to bring all of the council’s Citizen Space users together regularly. That’s a great way to make sure everyone across a large organisation is on the same page, share tips and best practice, and address any difficulties anybody is experiencing.

A big thanks to Edinburgh City Council for their fine example. If your organisation has found any other innovative uses for the Citizen Space support page, feel free to drop us a line!