All posts by RowenaF

‘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.

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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!

5 transferable digital skills people learn through using Citizen Space

We get all sorts of customers using Citizen Space. Some of them specialise in the digital realm, and they’re happily creating consultations as soon as they first log in. For others, it’s one of the first digital tools they have used, because their job role up until now didn’t involve much online activity. These people are learning digital skills as they go when they create consultations in Citizen Space.

Most of these skills are transferable, so the tricks people learn using Citizen Space can be used for other applications and platforms, like WordPress and SharePoint to name just a couple. That means more members of staff in an organisation developing the skills to work confidently online.

Here are 5 transferable digital skills that people have learned using Citizen Space…

1) Working with rich media
Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 17.02.03

To create innovative and engaging consultations, some of our customers choose to embed rich media like images, videos, maps and audio. In order to add this content effectively, our customers need to gain confidence with image manipulation and embedding rich media content. Since it’s so important to add images that are an appropriate size for consultations, we find Citizen Space users becoming more and more adept at image editing and uploading too.

2) Building ‘readable’ web pages

People read differently on the web

People read differently on the web, and the government jargon you use every day is unlikely to mean much to your audience. The skill of translating complex documents into accessible, readable online content can take some practice – but if the public doesn’t understand what a consultation is talking about or what they’re supposed to do, the response rate will be low. Writing with a specific audience in mind is a very useful skill that Citizen Space customers learn to master in order to make their consultations successful.

The Government Digital Service have some handy guidance on writing for specific audiences on the web, which we like to signpost our customers to as a starting point. Citizen Space also includes a number of set and optional headers which can be used to help promote best practice on structuring a consultation in a user-friendly way.

3) Using basic HTML

Have a look at the HTML

You don’t have to know any HTML to use Citizen Space, but there’s easy access to the ‘source’ button in the text editor for customers who’d like to take a look at the code. People who are learning some basic HTML can practise and use their new skills to make simple changes like adding tables, line breaks or padding around images.

4) Building accessible content

Accessible to all?

Building accessible content that everybody can use is an important skill when working with any web application. Citizen Space meets W3C, WAI, WCAG 1.0 & 2.0, Level AA and aims for the enhanced AAA accessibility standard where practical. It also prompts users to add some vital accessibility elements to the content they input themselves. Our customers become familiar with these, along with learning some other tips and tricks that will come in handy for other digital projects. For example:

  • Adding in accessibility labels
  • Using alternative text with images
  • Using videos and other media to help people with low literacy levels

5) User testing

User testing

User testing is an important step in designing any website or online service. We encourage Citizen Space customers to do all the testing they can, from using the preview function while designing a consultation, to sending the preview link out to other people, and setting aside a testing period with some real users from the target audience before going live.

We see our customers coming to appreciate the value of user testing in making their consultations more successful, and learning how to best carry out this process. That knowledge will serve them well in any future projects to develop online services.

We like to help teams tool up

Our account managers frequently help Citizen Space customers with all these little functions and many others, talking them through how to do things and proudly watching them develop a good repertoire of digital skills. We provide a lot of user-friendly written guidance too that doesn’t assume any prior digital experience. Our quick start guides and comprehensive knowledge base allow users to work through the steps they need, while soaking up best practice guidance and teaching themselves some simple skills that will come in handy beyond Citizen Space.

10 things we wish you had been there to hear at our 2016 Scottish user group

We kicked off our 2016 user groups in fine style up in Edinburgh this week. This one was hosted in collaboration with the Scottish Government, and the day was particularly exciting as it included our very first Dialogue user group in the afternoon.  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.

SGusergroup
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. Timing is key

This is particularly pertinent as many of our UK customers are currently in purdah (pre-election period), so are not able to begin new consultations and would have needed to time their engagement activity carefully before this period began.

The key is ensuring consultation or challenge launch, promotion and feedback are timed correctly as this can impact on the success of the exercise. This might include timing promotion throughout the consultation period and not just at the start and end. Or when it comes to Dialogue, giving a challenge a specific window of time to run, as this can encourage participation:

“Dialogue has to be alive, the shorter a challenge is open the better”

Christine Connolly , Digital Engagement Manager, The Scottish Government

Our Dialogue Success Guide has a few tips on structuring when you run your challenges.

2. Using Dialogue for Participatory Budgeting (PB) can help generate ideas which may otherwise have not been heard

At the beginning of 2016, Glasgow City Council used their Dialogue instance  to consult on how they should save £130m in their budget consultation. In order to consult with as many stakeholders as possible, Glasgow ran their budget challenge at the same time as three associated events. What was immediately clear, was that the ideas generated at the events were different to those which had been received online. This helped ensure that views were heard from stakeholders who might not have otherwise provided their thoughts on the topic.

3. Processes are made for sharing

One of the most useful outputs of our user groups is hearing how our users create processes around their tools which can then be shared with other organisations. In our first UK user group in 2014, we heard how Leicester City Council had implemented a consultation tracker to manage their consultation activity – an idea for an effective process which came up again during our Scottish user group. If a consultation wasn’t listed on the tracker by a certain date it, then it wouldn’t be published on Citizen Space: this helped Leicester CC to ensure consistency in approach by giving them enough time to create quality consultations.

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Image source: Leicester City Council

4. Review and improve little and often

Both Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Government are not only reviewing their processes internally, but are also asking their respondents to feedback to them on how they have found the consultation. They do this by asking a standard question at the end of all surveys, meaning it’s possible for them to track satisfaction levels and to review their approach to online consultation.

5. Making the most of the Citizen Space support page can really help internal processes

One of our digital heroes, Emma McEwan presented how Edinburgh City Council have adopted their Citizen Space in the last couple of years. Following the launch of Citizen Space version 2 last year, Edinburgh were able to add in a support page to their instance detailing how to get support with online consultation from inside the council, and also sharing an issues log of what questions or queries had been raised and the associated answers.

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6. Make the most of the digital toolbox already availableScreen Shot 2016-04-28 at 10.31.29Making the most of existing digital tools can help compliment an engagement exercise. Glasgow City Council have one of the largest Twitter followings of any local authority in the UK. With this expertise, they decided to take a similar approach to running their budget challenge on Dialogue as they do on Twitter.

“We didn’t want to be too heavy-handed in our approach when it came to moderation. We really wanted to let the conversation flow as much as possible on Dialogue like we do on Twitter”

Gary Hurr, Strategic Web and Customer Care Manager, Glasgow City Council

In order to ensure that Glasgow City Council ran a well-promoted budgeting exercise, its chief executive hosted a Twitter Q&A and they published the outputs on their budget page. In order to feedback on the whole process, the council used Storify to display the Tweets received.

7. Don’t let anything slip through the net: supporting your users

Digital engagement includes a broad spectrum of responsibilities and knowledge learnt. Tools like Zendesk can help ensure this knowledge is recorded and shared in the right way and that your colleagues’ requests for your expert help don’t get lost in your overflowing inbox. At Delib, we use Zendesk to manage our online support and knowledge base of help articles. It’s a pretty big job to keep this updated, but an important one to support the thousands of people that use our software. The Government Digital Service (GDS, UK) has also been using Zendesk since 2012 and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS, UK) also uses Zendesk to manage its digital ticketing work flow.

8. Make something you are proud to share and use plain English

This was a key message from most customers at the user group and one of Edinburgh City Council’s key learnings since adopting their Citizen Space instance in 2014. Making something you are proud to share goes hand in hand with giving yourself the time to pilot surveys. Often you will know when a big consultation is about to spring up, but the smaller ones can slip through the net without any quality assurance run against them to check whether they have been translated from policy speak to plain English.

9. Running internal meetings with colleagues can help share important messages about how you do online consultation

Another of the key questions which came out of the user group was around how to encourage different teams to begin doing online consultation (adopting a de-centralised approach) and to ensure the quality of consultations they are running is high. To help solve this, Edinburgh City Council run regular internal meetings with their Citizen Space ‘power users’ alongside their own internal user group twice a year to share information and best practice.

10. Decide early how you are going to analyse and feedback to respondents, but be open to adapting your planned approach

Before launching the budget challenge on their Dialogue instance, Edinburgh City Council decided that they would get back to the top five highest rated ideas as part of their feedback process. As it turned out, the top five which had the highest rated average vote didn’t fully capture other ideas which generated equally important discussions, so they responded to the top fifteen ideas: adapting their feedback criteria appropriately.

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 2016 with London up next. In 2015, we ran no fewer than 5 user groups around the world: kicking off in Scotland and finishing in Australia.  Here’s a summary of the other user groups we ran around the world last year:

London: October 2015
Perth (Western Australia): October 2015
Canberra (ACT, Australia): October 2015

Digital Heroes – Glenn Cowling and Lettie Pope

Glenn Cowling and Lettie PopeBack in November, I had the pleasure of traveling to Canberra to meet the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science – including the excellent Glenn and Lettie. Determined to establish, amongst other things, important facts such as their biscuit-dunking preferences, I gave them the full digital heroes treatment. This is, quite literally, what they said…

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
GC: Glenn, I was born in Canberra and have always lived here. I’ve been in the public service for 13 years now and working at the Department of Industry for the past 10 years.
LP: Lettie, I was born in Zimbabwe and have been in the public service living in Canberra for the past 9 years. I’ve been at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science for that period but in several different divisions within the department.

2. What do you do for a living?
We’re both Digital Online Communications Officers and Statistical Liaison Officers for the department. This means we get to represent the department on different issues related to this every six months.

3. Favourite band and / or artist?
GC: My favourite band of all time has to be Queen 🙂
LP: I’d have to say Adam Lambert. He’s my favourite at the moment.

4. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
GC: Maverick Thinker
LP: Creature of Habit
(“Well, that’s why we make a good team then”, chuckles Glenn)

5. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
GC: Urm, myself!
LP: My children
(Very noble answers – you sure you don’t want to chuck in, say, a letter from Arsene Wenger? :p)

6. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
GC: I don’t normally dunk biscuits.
LP: It depends on the biscuit really. Are we talking about Tim Tams?! I don’t like soggy in the bottom of my tea.

7. What does digital democracy mean to you (or maybe, what should digital democracy mean)?
GC: In my opinion, digital democracy means that everyone has their say. In this day and age with web accessibility and digital-first being so key, it’s a great thing to think about how we can make the most of the opportunities available to us now.
LP: Digital engagement is so important. It means that everyone has equal opportunity to get involved.

8. Where do you see the field of digital democracy/ digital engagement in ten years? Opportunities and pitfalls?
GC: Online voting would be great. I think initiatives like this will be on the rise anyway. It’s also about having a greater availability of information on all devices. The younger, digitally native population will hopefully help with this. They are the ones driving the digital train!
LP: For me it’s about a greater availability of information for everyone. Or Terminator?!

9. Best project you’ve worked on at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and why?
GC: I’d actually have to say getting the consultation hub (Citizen Space) up and running and educating people in a more online space. Showing them the benefits of consulting digitally and educating our staff on the benefits of a digital first focus has been exciting.
LP: It’s nice to provide something to the department which holds the benefits of being both time-saving and cost-effective. It’s a great feeling to know that we’re providing a tool that has been endorsed by our secretary so we get the benefits from this too (Citizen Space has been endorsed at executive level in the Department of Industry)

10. Any shout-outs?
GC: I’d have to say thanks to Delib for the wonderful support. If we ever need to send a support email, it actually gets responded to! Thanks also to our manager, Cas, for allowing us to dedicate the time and educate our staff on digital engagement.
LP: I agree it’s great to tell our clients that the support email actually works and to have faith in that 🙂

(I promise I didn’t even give them so much as a mildly-threatening glower in these answers…)

So there you have it!

Friday consultation round up

It’s April – and for those of us in the UK that (hopefully) means Spring sunshine and lighter evenings! The Easter break has provided a momentary pause for some customers; whilst others have been as busy as ever creating and publishing a range of consultations. Thanks to our Citizen Space Aggregator, we are able to quickly see what our customers have been consulting on. Here are our top picks of consultations running this week:

1) East Sussex County Council (UK) is consulting on changes to library opening hours

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 12.08.34This consultation is well laid out – making use of bullet points to ensure the key changes are clearly communicated on the consultation overview page. In order to ensure the survey is provided in an alternative format, a printable option is included as an attachment which can be easily downloaded by respondents. The online survey itself is also structured in a ‘non-linear format‘ which enables respondents to comment on as many or as few libraries as they like. Nice custom logo added, too.

2) The Department of Health (UK) is consulting on how to improve support for carers

A lot of preparation went into this survey, and the design pays special attention to ensuring the views of all carers are collected, including those of young and unpaid carers. Skip logic has been used to direct respondents to appropriate questions for them – an important step to save their respondents time.

The consultation also makes use of rich media on the overview page with an embedded video introducing users to the subject:

3) The Scottish Government (UK) is consulting on landing controls for the Scottish crab and lobster fisheries

The Scottish Government has been especially busy the past couple of weeks, publishing a number of consultations. One of the consultations that caught my eye is on ‘landing controls for the Scottish crab and lobster fisheries’. This engagement exercise seeks the views of those with an interest in these industries in order to inform policy decisions. Scotland’s fishing industry is an important part of rural life in Scotland, and this consultation seeks to improve the overall health of this industry via improved landing controls.
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The consultation uses relevant images and documentation, as well as a custom logo to clearly indicate that the consultation is being run by Marine Scotland. To ensure that respondents are clear on the whole approach being taken, the policy document is embedded on the consultation overview page using Citizen Space’s document embedder.

4) Winchester City Council (UK) is using its Citizen Space as a sign up form for its Citizen’s Panel

This simple, but clear example of using a survey as a sign up form, highlights the continued diversity of uses for Citizen Space beyond consultations and surveys. Winchester City Council has made effective use of the custom call to action to clearly indicate what the sign up form is being used for.

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5) The London Borough of Southwark (UK) is consulting on Southwark Park

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 12.19.54The London Borough of Southwark is running a great example of a follow-up consultation which is being run exactly a year after the initial engagement exercise. In March 2015, Southwark Council consulted with local residents and park users on a number of options to improve Southwark Park. The council is in now developing the plans for the new building and nursery site based on the feedback received in March 2015.

To ensure that residents are both aware of the consultation and can have their views heard, Southwark has linked associated events: this includes having Council staff available throughout Easter half-term to discuss the proposals. The survey is short and makes effective use of fact-banks to present the plans in development.

That’s just a small selection of some stand-out consultations being run. Tell us if you have a consultation to shout about, it’s one of the things we love doing doing the most! Until next time…