Category Archives: Citizen Space

A fine example of a first consultation from the Canal & River Trust

The Canal & River Trust recently took the plunge into the world of Citizen Space for their public engagement activity. In the blink of an eye, they had set up their first Citizen Space consultation, asking the public for their views on planned improvements to 16 miles of London towpaths.

We asked Dick Vincent from the Trust a few questions:

Delib: How did the Canal & River Trust previously do consultation?

Dick: We didn’t have a standard system, but usually used Survey Monkey.

Delib: Why did you start using Citizen Space?

Dick: We looked at what was available and this was the one we liked best. Knowing that your servers are based in the UK was a big plus point.

Delib: What do you like about Citizen Space so far?

Dick: It’s easy to use and solid. Survey Monkey is like a Swiss army knife, but Citizen Space is more like a scalpel. Have you ever done an appendectomy with a Swiss army knife? It never goes well!

Delib: Has the Delib team been helpful?

Dick: Beyond compare. Amazingly so. They helped us pull off our plans in record time … it was a real joy. We had a really tight deadline (4 weeks!) so we didn’t even have time to do the proper training. Thankfully, it’s a pretty easy system to use and after a couple of hours of truly expert tuition via a web link with Alexis we could just ‘bash it out’, and then she did some last minute checks that made all the difference.  

A great first consultation

To return the praise, here are five things we really like about their ‘Better Towpaths for Everyone’ consultation.

1) Accessible language

Screenshot of an easy to read front page

Firstly, the Canal & River Trust have pulled off what can sometimes be a difficult feat – making a consultation readble and engaging. We liked the use of a video on the first page, and we expect respondents have smiled at their admission that: “Some might think that a great towpath is … well … a great towpath.”

They’ve avoided jargon and given concrete examples wherever possible too:

“… there are some small things you can suggest that will make all the difference. For example, you might know of a great place we could put in a new wheeling ramp or even a bench.”

2) Use of further info

Screenshot of a closed further info sectionScreenshot of an expanded futher info section with an embedded video

The Trust have made extensive use of Citizen Space’s ‘further info’ feature. This means you can include more background information about a particular topic or question that neatly concertinas away unless people choose to read it.

Using this feature is a great bonus because it means you don’t have to keep asking people to refer back to an earlier document to get more info on the current question – something that’s very offputting. It also means that nobody has to download big PDFs at the start of the consultation – instead, they can view the relevant part of the PDF embedded as they go along. This is especially important for mobile users.

Screenshot of an embedded pdf page in a further info section

The Canal & River Trust have done a great job of embedding PDF pages (and even videos) alongside the relevant questions, where they could have made the mistake of having a dozen planning and policy PDFs to download and refer back to.

3) Relevant sections

The Trust have made sure that not everybody has to trawl through all the sections of their large consultation – instead, they can just respond to the parts that concern or interest them.Screenshot of consultation section options

4) Events listings

The Canal & River Trust are making the most of their Citizen Space as an engagement platform by also running an events listing in the footer. Again, there’s optional further info to read about each event:

Screenshot of events section in the footer

5) Including other opportunities to engage

A consultation like this is a great time to engage further with an audience that’s already interested in the place or topic but may never have heard of your organisation before.

Throughout this consultation, the Canal & River Trust have seized the opportunity to tell respondents a little more about the Trust and flag up other ways they can get involved.

Screenshot of get involved section

All in all, we’re pretty impressed with this first Citizen Space consultation! And we even learnt the meaning of the word “gongoozling”.

A gongoozler is an old English word for a person who enjoys watching activity on the canals

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.

Taking public consultation online: interview with Western Australia’s EPA

Donna Weston is the Communications Coordinator at the Government of Western Australia’s Office of the Environmental Protection Authority (WA EPA). Back in 2012, they started running their public involvement activity (primarily more formal ‘comment on referral’ processes) on Citizen Space. We talked to Donna about her experience…

What sort of consultation do you do?

For us, it’s most commonly a standard process of information-gathering – inviting people to share information with us about any significant environmental impact of actions that companies or others are proposing. The responses we’re looking for are usually technical, evidence-based ones, more than gauging the public’s opinion or feelings about the proposals (that’s the responsibility of other agencies).

What kind of influence does the feedback you receive have on the EPA’s decision-making?

On occasion, comments provide new information that may not have been evident in the documents provided, prompting a change of thought on a proposal; other times, it might reinforce the initial direction. We always look at the feedback and ask, ‘has that issue been raised?’

For example, we ran a consultation on a proposed shark cull, which raised international public attention. We had 10,500 responses in seven days. Many of the comments were primarily emotive, without offering new environmental information. Given our remit, these didn’t provide information the EPA could use to inform its recommendations to our Minister. But there were some really valuable contributions that did provide new intelligence on environmental impact.

We’re careful to be very clear about how we will use the information people share and what we will do as a result. We don’t promise to always make concrete changes based on people’s input because many responses touch on issues outside those the EPA can consider under its legislation, or may not be relevant to science-based decision-making.

How do you manage your consultations internally? Has this changed since adopting Citizen Space and doing more online?

Every referred proposal goes through a seven-day public consultation to help the EPA decide whether a formal environmental impact assessment needs to be conducted, and some then have up to two other consultation periods during the assessment. During 2015-2016, we ran 49 consultations – each of these needs to be processed by a small team so you can imagine how time-consuming this could be!

Running these consultations on Citizen Space saves heaps of time. For example, the ability to clone consultations has been brilliant. We use four or five template surveys that we clone and amend instead of starting from scratch every time. Cloning consultations also helps us maintain consistency, which is important for our processes, so that’s another bonus.

Responses and evidence submission used to be just via email; then we moved to a web-based list, but it was so clunky for what we were doing, and there were no analytical tools behind it.

For the sharks consultation and some others that attracted many responses, we used Citizen Space’s tagging system to track the key themes. Officers have found it very easy and helpful to tag responses with topics (like ’groundwater’, ‘vegetation’, etc) so they can analyse responses by themes. This is definitely an improvement on searching through an Excel spreadsheet!

What would be your top three tips for other organisations wanting to improve how they manage and run their own public involvement work?

  1. Know beforehand what you want to do, and be very clear about what you’re going to do with the feedback that comes in. You can’t go out and ask questions without a clear idea of what you’ll do with that info. You’ll lose integrity as a government department. Once the public loses trust in you, it takes a hell of a long time to win it back.
  2. Have a consistent, coordinated approach. Even if you’re a massive department, with different teams running your consultations, the public still sees you as a single entity. Using a single platform like Citizen Space really helps with consistency, but have a monthly meeting to compare the language and approach you’re using. A member of the public should have a similar experience each time they interact with you. Coordinate your activity. If you can, try not to have three consultations in two weeks, then nothing for six months. Organisations are getting used to planning their social media strategies two months ahead, so you should be able to plan your consultation strategy, too.
  3. Let people know where they are in the process. In our context, there are up to three points during the assessment process where the public are invited to give input. People sometimes jump up and down and say, ‘this is the first I’ve heard of this!’ But in many cases there will be more opportunities to comment coming up, so we need to make sure people are informed and understand that. I think all our consultations need to be honest and clear about the way the environmental impact assessment process works. With the sharks consultation, 95% of respondents had probably never been exposed to the process before, and we needed to clearly explain to those people what the nature of the consultation was and how the commenting process worked to show that we really were genuine about wanting their input.

Announcing Citizen Space v3

This is a big release announcement for us!

We’re delighted to say that Citizen Space v3 is here.

This is a major update: v3 is a complete visual overhaul of the public interface, along with a host of usability and accessibility tweaks – all designed to make it as easy as possible for the maximum number of people to get involved in the decisions that affect them.

If you already use Citizen Space, you won’t see any changes on your site just yet – your account manager will be in touch to let you know when we’re upgrading you to v3. (We’re planning to have everyone switched over by the end of the year.)

The backstory

With 100+ customers, 5,000+ admin users
 and 10,000+ consultations, we’ve accrued lots of insight into what it’s like to use Citizen Space.

Our last major update was about behind-the-scenes improvements for admin users. This time, we focused on the ‘front-end’ – the part your participants see. We know that good design overlaps with participation rate and user experience, so it was time to turn Citizen Space from a functional product into a beautiful one. The result is v3.

The changes

If you’re at all familiar with Citizen Space v2, you’ll immediately notice the differences when looking at a v3 site. There’s a lot of them, though, so here’s a little introduction to the major changes:

A visual overhaul

The most immediate thing you’ll notice about Citizen Space v3 is that it looks totally different. This new skin not only makes Citizen Space more modern and aesthetically-pleasing; it’s also built to be even easier to use on phones and tablets.

'Arlen Hill' Citizen Space front page 'Arlen Hill' Citizen Space mobile front page

Try resizing your browser window, or visiting the demo site from a mobile device. You’ll see that all the content rearranges dynamically so that it remains incredibly easy to read, navigate and interact with.

There’s richer use of imagery throughout the site, and we’ve picked a new typeface that’s pleasing to the eye (this matters when the majority of the content on your consultations is text).

These changes aren’t just to make it look cool – it’s all about accessibility. From easy-to-read line lengths and spacing to mobile-friendliness – plus, of course, all the W3C guidelines – these design decisions make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to use Citizen Space.

More theming options

You also get a host of new ways to control what your Citizen Space looks like and to present engaging, attractive consultations.

Set a sitewide logo and wallpaper, for visual consistency across all your consultations.

Apply your brand colours across your whole Citizen Space site, so that it looks and feels like part of your organisation.

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.51.42

89. Manage themes - pink 89. Manage themes - grey

There’s also a whole range of per-survey theming options. For example, for each consultation, you can choose to use one or more logos or a unique banner or a simple block colour or the sitewide wallpaper. This means you can tailor the presentation of individual surveys – especially useful on projects with their own branding, or where you’re working with a number of partner organisations.

Improved search, sort and filter

It’s now super clear and easy for your participants or users to search for a specific consultation, including an advanced search with filters, and some quick, simple sort options.

'Arlen Hill' find consultations page

A whole new page

An About page for your Citizen Space instance! Fully editable, use it to provide loads of helpful background information for anyone who lands on your consultation site.

Citizen Space v3 'About' page

Improved navigation

V3 sports some new features to help people find their way around the site quickly. We’ve made the survey title visible on each page, so your users don’t forget where they are.

Useful info in the sidebar tells people how far through the survey they are, when it closes and other useful information, like relevant contact details.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.41.13

Plus unmissable, customisable call to action buttons:

Improved surveys

There are lots of other little tweaks in v3 that will make your surveys even better.

The survey fields now have improved line lengths. And your images and other embedded media will resize fluidly with the browser window size, making sure everything’s always easy to view.

Improved preview

Preview has got comprehensive. You can now preview every page of your consultation, including the ‘response submitted’ page, and a handy drop-down menu enables you to see what it’ll look like when it’s an open, closed or forthcoming consultation.

You can also switch quickly between any page of your consultation using the preview drop-down menu.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.22.12

The future

We’re really pleased with Citizen Space v3, and we think you will be too. We’ve made all these changes with the aim of increasing accessibility, minimising friction and maximising participation, making it easier for you to create engaging consultations.

As ever, there’s comprehensive help available on our online knowledge base: https://delib.zendesk.com or get in touch any time with your comments or questions.

“Without Citizen Space, our consulting would be a very dull exercise.”

Clackmannanshire Council wanted to do consultation better. We asked Maciej AlexanderPerformance & Information Officer at the council to share their experience of switching to Citizen Space…

What was your public engagement like before you used Citizen Space?

“Local governments tend to have a poor history of engaging with stakeholders. Here in Clackmannanshire, we recognised that we could do things much better. I think communication always is an issue, both externally and internally. We wanted to address this problem and ensure we do our best to engage with as wide audiences as possible.

“Prior to the introduction of Citizen Space, we had several (at least!) licences of another online survey tool across the whole of the Council. Although we did have an internal consultation database, it wasn’t very user-friendly, and coordinating all the surveys, let’s be honest, was a pain. Needless to say, the costs of individual licences kept rising!

“There was an understanding of what needed to happen, but we couldn’t quite find the right way of communicating and engaging with our stakeholders.”

Why did you choose Citizen Space?

“We wanted a more coordinated approach to consulting and Citizen Space is just what we needed. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like someone just said: ‘Go with Delib, they’re great.’ We did our homework and we did it pretty thoroughly. We approached other organisations that provided similar services. They seemed good, but what ‘sold’ Delib was their proactive approach, flexibility and the amazing ‘we asked, you said, we did’ section of Citizen Space, which we use to report back on the actions we have taken in response to consultations… Not to mention their staff’s wicked sense of humour and, naturally, a competitive price.

“In the blink of an eye, we got access to the demo site – no-one likes buying a pig in a poke. But it wasn’t until we had training delivered by one of the staff that we realised how much more there is to Citizen Space. Surprise, it’s not only an online survey tool! It is indeed a comprehensive engagement tool. Nine months on, we see Citizen Space as Clacks’ ‘notice board’, where we advertise consultations, public meetings, and put out questions to the public.”

What’s your experience of using Citizen Space as a council?

“I think we must be adding at least one new consultation to Citizen Space per week. Most recently, we have used Citizen Space to consult our residents on the very contentious topic of budget proposals. The online tool allowed us to present our proposals in a clear and concise way with a simple Likert-type scale the respondents seem to like.

“Unlike other online survey tools, Citizen Space is very visual and interactive. It is also very fluid, allowing us to customise our consultations to reflect the topics we’re exploring. We very often liaise with graphic designers to create something unique and appropriate to what we’re consulting on. We use images, Google maps, Facebook, Twitter and digital libraries to better communicate with our stakeholders – something other tools did not support to this extent. Without Citizen Space, our consulting would be a very dull exercise.

“It’s not like we completely rely on Citizen Space to do our work for us though. Since we introduced Citizen Space to the Council, we have developed a consultation toolkit, which explains the most appropriate methods of carrying out consultations; their strengths and weaknesses. We also now run consultation training. Citizen Space has been a breath of fresh air and ‘nudged’ us to re-think the way we engage.

“Like any system, Citizen Space is not perfect (it’s close though). But whenever we have had an issue with the system or couldn’t do something, we contacted Delib and they fixed it straight away or in the space of a couple of hours (I wish my mobile phone network was as efficient!).

“As much as Citizen Space makes our work easier, it also makes us think differently about the way we engage with our stakeholders and residents. It’s a great tool supported by a very proactive and knowledgeable team of developers and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to organisations wanting to improve the way they consult.”

How we’re working to build better digital consultation: the road to Citizen Space v3

Towards the end of 2015, we were excited to tell you about Citizen Space v2.

(For those who don’t know, Citizen Space is our all-in-one-place tool for online participation. Governments and other public bodies use it to manage and run their digital consultation activity.)

Now, usually, we work by making lots of small, iterative improvements to the product: we upgrade customers to new versions regularly, and we aim to get 6 updates out every year. But it’s been ~6 months since we sent a release announcement. So what gives?

Our plan of continuously improving the product certainly hasn’t changed. The reason we’ve not shipped a minor release recently is in fact because we’ve been busy working on a major new version instead: Citizen Space v3.

v3 will be a sizeable refresh of how Citizen Space is presented. It’s responsive, it’s even more customisable and it will make your consultations look gooooood.

We’re in the midst of v3 development right now. It’s a big piece of work (Citizen Space is a large product, used by myriad public sector organisations and hundreds of thousands of citizens.)

Here are 3 headlines about the way in which we’re approaching the task:

1. Carefully!

These days, Citizen Space has 100+ customers, 5,000+ admin users, 10,000+ consultations and has processed more than a million responses. That means that any change we make to the product is a significant one, with potentially wide-reaching ramifications.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 16.33.07

That’s a lot of important material that we need to make sure we handle appropriately. It’s a lot of people’s jobs that can be made significantly easier if we get it right (or more of a hassle if we don’t!) And it’s a lot of opportunities to for people to get involved in decisions that affect them – which we always want to make as easy as possible.

We’re very conscious of the importance of these things, so we’re making sure that our development affords them due respect. We continue to use an agile/lean approach – but we’re also taking a lot of care about the details of how migration from v2 to v3 will work before we deploy anything.

One quick example: we’ve identified a few customers to be v3 early adopters (in consultation with them, of course!) We’ll move them on to v3 as soon as it’s ready and get their feedback on the experience. This will help us make sure the system and the process of transition are as good as they can be, in preparation for upgrading all of our customers worldwide.

2. Based on user needs – for citizens

Citizen Space has always been about making it ever-easier for citizens to participate in governance – to get involved in the decisions that affect them.

With v3, we’re especially animated about accessibility – in the broadest sense of the word. So, yes, we’re continuing to emphasise compliance with W3C guidelines to make sure, for instance, people with visual impairments find it easy to take part in consultations.

But we’re also making it incredibly smooth and simple to use Citizen Space on a smartphone or tablet – because it’s important that mobile users find it easy to take part in consultations. If there’s a correlation between your socio-economic group and the likelihood of accessing the internet via phone rather than desktop or laptop, that makes the mobile user experience an accessibility issue. Being able to give your feedback on transport services while you’re sat on the bus is an accessibility issue.

And we’re looking at things like readability, layout and use of imagery – not just because we want Citizen Space to be ‘shiny’, but because that’s an accessibility issue, too. We don’t want people to be excluded from taking part in a consultation because they literally find it hard to read the information.

One quick example: we’re spending a lot of time researching and experimenting with line lengths and typeface size. Seriously: if we can make it even 5% easier to read a consultation overview, that’s one more barrier to participation lowered, and that’s got to be a good thing.

3. Based on user needs – for public sector staff

Some digital democracy initiatives seem to think the opportunity the internet offers is to overthrow, bypass or otherwise counter government. But we’re convinced that the way to improved governance and better democracy is to work with the public sector – to better enable decision-makers to do their job well. That’s where real, substantive change happens.

In our experience, civil servants and public sector staff are invariably passionate about hearing from the public. They want to listen well and to make good decisions, informed by the people they affect. The more that can be done to enable that, the more it will happen. That’s why we always want to make sure our tools work for those working in the public sector as well as the public themselves.

With v3, we’re talking a lot about helping our customers to be excellent at their jobs. That means everything from a public-facing design that will make all sorts of surveys look beautiful to training guides and support articles that will help staff build their digital consultation skills.

One quick example: we’ve been talking a lot with customers (for instance, at our user groups) about options they’d like to see, and we’re bringing in even more customisable content and admin-controllable settings so that organisations can really make Citizen Space ‘their own’. Again, if we can make it even 5% easier to get internal buy-in on running more public consultations, it’s another big win for increased participation.

You can expect to hear more about Citizen Space v3 in the next couple of months as we move towards roll-out (all our current customers will be upgraded for free, as ever) – both in terms of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

And if you’re not currently using Citizen Space and would like to see it in action, you can always have a browse of the 7,700+ consultations on Aggregator or get in touch to book a demo.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 11.12.56
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!

How our Citizen Space customers are consulting with cyclists

Thanks to our Citizen Space Aggregator, it’s possible to quickly identify who our Citizen Space customers are consulting with and on what topics. Among the many audiences our customers are increasingly seeking views from are cyclists.  Here’s a quick round-up of some of the ways they’re going about it:

Using illustrative visuals

Transport for London (TfL) are currently consulting on further improvements to lorry safety in London: a consultation which includes some excellent illustrative visuals. These images clearly depict the differences being proposed (namely, having lorries operating in London that are fitted with vision panels in passenger side doors for improved visibility of cyclists).

4 Lorry interior with panel_colour
Source: TfL ‘Further improving lorry safety in London’ consultation


Embedding videos explaining schemes

The London Borough of Enfield are using their Citizen Space instance to consult with residents on the fourth scheme of their ‘Cycle Enfield’ project, for which they recently secured £30m of funding from Transport for London. This funding is proposed to be used for new cycle routes, improving the use of existing routes, developing green ways, secure bike parking  and investing in local projects. All these proposals are clearly explained in the introductory video on the consultation overview page which respondents can watch before completing the consultation.

Consulting on strategic issues: new super routes

Camden Council are consulting on ‘Brunswick Square Walking and Cycling Improvements‘, a project which which aims to capitalise on proposals from nearby schemes which have identified Brunswick Square as an important intersection of east-west and north-south cycle movements. In order to clearly present the proposed changes, Camden Council have included side-by-side images of both current and future state for the square. This helps respondents re-imagine how cycling can become a key part of improvements.

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Running staged local consultations and associated events

Southwark Council are currently consulting on improvements to a number of quiet ways: a network of bike routes for less confident cyclists using mainly low-traffic back streets. The council are consulting 6 different areas of the borough in total; including running 4 different consultations concurrently. One of these examples is the ‘Elephant and Castle to Crystal Palace Quietway (QW7) Turney Road‘. In order to provide cyclists with the opportunity to comment, Southwark have also included a number of associated events which are running on a weekly basis in nearby schools and town halls. Both the events and associated consultations are linked from the consultation hub page:

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Transport for London are also holding a number of public events as part of their consultation on the new East-West cycle super highway from Paddington to Acton. Again these events are clearly displayed on the consultation home page.

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Use tables to detail proposed changes

Edinburgh City Council used tables on the consultation overview page of their ‘Roseburn to Leith walk cycle link and street improvements consultation‘ to present proposed changes in a clear format to respondents. By breaking down the changes by geographical area, cyclists can quickly see which changes apply to them.

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Consulting on ‘hyper-local’ issues: bike hangars

A small handful of our customers have also been consulting on ‘bike hangars’ recently: an example of ‘hyper-local’ consultation. For instance, both Camden Council and Southwark Council are consulting on where bike-hangars should be installed. Using images of how the bike hangars will look helps residents consider how they’d feel about them being installed in their own neighbourhood.

2014 09 17 LB Southwark - Hayles St - Bikehangar Installation -1- -2- blurred
Source: London Borough of Southwark

Lots of the examples above provide ideas for how to make the most of the consultation overview page. Here’s a handful of top tips for optimising your own cycling surveys:

Have you seen any great examples of methods to consult with cyclists online which we haven’t included above? We’re always interested in seeing how our customers are making the most of the tools at their disposal!