Category Archives: Heroic stuff we admire

People who are doing something awesome. Projects that are awesome. Thinking that’s awesome. In short, heroics :D

Digital Hero – Eachann Gillies

Hello again, gosh it’s been a while. For the latest instalment of Digital Heroes I have not one but two people which, to avoid confusion, have their very own posts. Both of them currently work for the Scottish Government Digital Engagement Team, helping to make all of their consultations digital (a huge task) and also trialling more progressive forms of involvement, crowdsourcing policy ideas on a wide range of subjects. We’ve worked with them for the last couple of years and it’s been awesome watching them undertake what is in effect an enormous change exercise. They’re both moving on to pastures new in the near future so if you need a horribly well qualified person to join your organisation, holler at them.

So, onwards to the thorny questions. This time we’re hearing from Eachann (Chris’ interview is linked at the bottom), the impossibly Scottish half of the team. Who is Eachann? What does he think about biscuits? Are we even sure he likes biscuits? Let’s find out.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?13147585_10153450560671143_890746488915378823_o
My name is Eachann Gillies, I hail from the west coast of Scotland. Currently residing in Glasgow.

2. What do you do for a living?
I do digital stuff. My proper title is ‘Digital Engagement Manager’, and my duties include managing Scottish Government consultations and running workshops to help colleagues engage digitally with their stakeholders and the wider public.

 3. Favourite band and / or artist?
This changes all the time but recently Kurt Vile’s ‘believe I’m goin’ down’  and ‘M83’s Saturdays=Youth’ have featured heavily.

4. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I’m going to cheat and say that these two aren’t mutually exclusive. You can exhibit maverick behaviour within the confines of your habits, after all. The reverse is also true!

 5. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
My first instinct is to say my partner but the question does stipulate ‘what’ rather than ‘who’ so I’d have to say my bike.

 6. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I can’t say I’m a huge biscuit sort of person, unfortunately. I think leave unsullied, though.

 7. Best gov site you’ve seen (other than and why?
I love the US Department of the Interior. Despite the bland name, their instagram feed is pretty great. They’re not doing anything particularly innovative but their content is spot on and has made me more determined than ever to visit the US. Runner up goes to @SWFifePolice and their #popupbob hashtag which makes me chortle every time I see it.

8. Best project you’ve worked on at SG and why?
This is still in its infancy, but I think our Digital Engagement workshops have huge potential.

 9.  Where do you hope gov will be in ten years in terms of digital democracy?
I hope that we’ll get better at understanding the importance of the communities, conversations and interactions that exist or occur online. People growing up today are at home in a digital environment and are developing relationships with the world in these kinds of contexts. If government isn’t there with them, inhabiting that space, that’s going to increase apathy and widen the gap between government and people.

 10. Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Ten years is a long time but…I’d like to continue helping government talk to/with people. It makes the most sense for this to happen digitally, so probably related to that. I find myself most happy when I’m working on something I believe in, so if not in government, then I’d like to be working towards improving conditions for cycling and active travel.

11. Any shout outs?
Shout out to Leah Lockhart for always working on something interesting, and to Mark Muir’s Digital Meetup group in Glasgow.

So there we have it, lots of insight, and an appalling revelation about biscuits. If you want to talk to Eachann about helping your organisation with a bit of digital engagement, Twitter is a thing you could use.

Until next time*

*Chris’s post is here.

Digital Hero – Chris Connolly

Hello again, gosh it’s been a while. For the latest instalment of Digital Heroes I have not one but two people which, to avoid confusion, have their very own posts. Both of them currently work for the Scottish Government Digital Engagement Team, helping to make all of their consultations digital (a huge task) and also trialling more progressive forms of involvement, crowdsourcing policy ideas on a wide range of subjects. We’ve worked with them for the last couple of years and it’s been awesome watching them undertake what is in effect an enormous change exercise. They’re both moving on to pastures new in the near future so if you need a horribly well qualified person to join your organisation, holler at them.

Onto the interview; first up we have Chris (link to Eachann’s post is at the bottom), an enthusiastic American who, for reasons unknown to me, has abandoned those shores in search of rain, gales and horizontal snow storms. Let’s jump right in.


1. What’s your name and where are you from?
Chris Connolly. Unless I’m in trouble, in which case it’s Christine. I’m originally from Chicago. I moved to Edinburgh three years ago to pursue a Master of Public Policy and ended up sticking around. Edinburgh is a pretty amazing place.

2. What do you do for a living?
I’m currently a Digital Engagement Manager at the Scottish Government. What does that mean, you ask? It means streamlining consultations by using Citizen Space and providing consultation best practice guidance and training. It also means supporting colleagues to better engage with citizens using digital tools and platforms. This can take the form of developing digital engagement strategies and upskilling colleagues.

3. Favourite band and / or artist?
Oh no! This question has always been impossible for me. I tend to rely on Spotify playlists to fulfill my music needs. Is that too much of a cop out? Currently, I’m enjoying the Summer Throwback playlist.

4. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I like my routines but change is always welcomed; too much routine is boring. I think that working in digital engagement requires being a bit of a maverick thinker. It’s a dynamic and relatively new area that we’re still trying to navigate.

5. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
The dog, Breck aka Dirt Paws. He might be a demanding stubborn old man but he has a lot of character and can be good company when he wants to be. He basically rules the house. Oh and my partner, definitely shouldn’t leave her behind.Breck_Dog

6. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
You can keep your biscuits. If we’re talking about chips (ahem, crisps) then dunk them in all of the dip!

7. Best gov site you’ve seen (other than and why?
One project that I’m really excited about is the work of digital communications colleagues on transforming the website. The beta version ( has recently been released and offers necessary upgrades including being mobile and tablet friendly. The website is being built with user experience at its core with content based on analytics. You can even submit feedback on the site as it develops. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this.

8. Best project you’ve worked on at SG and why?
Oh wow – I’m finding these questions to be getting more and more difficult. Can I tap out now?

I’ve worked on a number of great projects and have had the opportunity to learn about various policy areas ranging from salmon fishing to social security. However, I think the best project I’ve been involved in was rolling out Citizen Space across the Scottish Government for all consultations. This demonstrated a real commitment to improving consultation and opening up the policy making process beyond government. We’ve received great feedback on the ease of using the platform both for respondents and teams consulting.

9.  Where do you hope gov will be in ten years in terms of digital democracy?
I would like to see governments continue to embrace digital engagement and working out loud. I’d like to see more empowered citizens who are given opportunities to engage and shape policy. A stronger commitment to feeding back to citizens on how their engagement influenced policy is important.

10. You’re leaving SG soon, what’s next for you?
It’s sad to have to say goodbye to the Digital Engagement team. I’m proud of the work that we’ve accomplished over the couple of years since the team launched. I know that the team will continue to do great work.

What’s next for me? I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m keen to continue work around citizen engagement. The appetite to engage has been growing since the Scottish Independence Referendum and Brexit. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the democratic sector!

11. Any shout outs?
The Digital Engagement team and everyone who has supported us. A big shout out to Christian Storstein and Alaster Phillips who will continue to take the digital engagement work forward. Also, thank you to the wonderful Delib team who have patiently dealt with my constant pestering.

So there we have it, 11 questions exhaustively answered; much credit is due. If you want to talk to Chris about helping your organisation with a bit of digital engagement, Twitter is a thing you could use.

Until next time*

*Eachann’s post is here.

Democratic Hero – Emma McEwan


A couple of weeks ago we heard from David Porteous, one half of the City of Edinburgh’s Senior Business Intelligence team and now it’s time to meet the ying to his yang, Emma McEwan. True to form, Emma has many a sound opinion on the future of this digital democracy stuff and she’s also really rather amusing to boot (once you get past the excessive pet ownership).

Let’s jump right in.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Emma McEwan and I’m originally from Irvine, which is on the west coast of Scotland and home of the Magnum… not the fantastically moustachioed P.I., but the leisure centre. I now live in Edinburgh.

2. What do you do for a living?
I’m a Senior Business Intelligence Officer.  My mum thinks I’m like a spy or something but really I manage a number of research and consultation projects for the City of Edinburgh Council.

3. Favourite band / or artist?
Ooh, that’s hard… I can’t pick. Instead, I’ve put my music on shuffle and these artists/bands were the first five:

1. Bjork
2. John Travolta
3. Girls Aloud
4. Biffy Clyro
5. The Civil Wars

Wait, John Travolta has completely thrown me! I’ve done the next five just to see if that is any better:

1. Lamb
2. Kylie Minogue
3. Mogwai
4. LCD Soundsystem
5. Nine Inch Nails

What I’ve now realised is:
1. ‘Shuffle’ is rubbish and basically just breaks up my music into alphabetical chunks;
2. The next lot probably would have included Katy Perry and Taylor Swift; and
3. I haven’t listened to the Grease soundtrack in a while.

4. Android or iPhone?
Android – purely because that’s what I have just now. I don’t particularly care. I just know how to use my phone to make calls, text and stalk people on Facebook when I’ve had too much wine. It does the trick.

5. PC or Mac?
PC. Again, purely because that’s what I use at work and what my partner has in the house. If someone bought me a Mac I wouldn’t chuck it out…

6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
At work, our team do a lot of creative thinking so when I’m there I’d like to think I’m in the zone! When I get home it’s a different story though… I’m probably more a creature of habit there. I like routine, if you upset my routine it makes me grumpy. I’ll probably always have an android phone. I always do the housework on a Saturday morning. The cushions always need to sit a particular way on the sofa. I can tell if someone has touched my stuff.

7. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
My partner can find his own way out… I’d save the animals – Mabel the rabbit, Winifred the hamster and the degus, Munch & Tutuola! You might be wondering what a degu is. This is a degu. They are awesome.

8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I don’t dunk biscuits. I don’t like the risk of little soggy biscuit bits at the bottom of my cup. I could forget I dunked my biscuit and then panic that I’ve just found a bug in the bottom of my cup. However, I do enjoy dunking a chocolate bar into tea.

9. Best project you’ve worked on and why?
A few years ago we consulted on the Leith Improvement Programme, where we were looking for input on how to deliver a range of environmental improvements to the area. We spoke to a range of key stakeholders for this – local residents, businesses, commuters (particularly cyclists) who all had different views on the issues we were exploring. We used a few engagement techniques to gather feedback – online surveys, focus groups and public events. It was a really interesting project as people were so passionate about improving the area. It was the first time I’d used images/maps etc., in an online survey to illustrate the proposals and ask people their views, so that was really interesting. And I really enjoyed working with the project team – you could tell they were really knowledgeable about the issues. The public events were great to see in action, as they gave people the opportunity to speak to officers, make suggestions and have a genuine discussion on the proposals and why certain ideas wouldn’t be feasible. The feedback gathered was invaluable for the development of the final plans for the programme, and we adopted a similar approach for the consultation work we did for Edinburgh’s city centre.

10. Where do hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of online consultation/ digital democracy?
I’m already pretty amazed at the potential that using things like Citizen Space, Dialogue etc., have for gathering views and ideas from people. When I look back on projects like the Leith Improvement Programme, I think things would have been so much easier using Citizen Space in terms of illustrating the proposals and gathering views! My hope is that in the future we are able to use more online tools like these to make it easier for anyone to have their say on the matters that they care about, no matter where they are or when it is. I think making it as simple as possible for people is so important. I also hope that we are more creative in the different ways we engage with people – sometimes we need to be braver about trying out new things and not just sticking to the old tried and tested methods. I think no matter what, there will still be the need for offline consultation methods but we need to realise how powerful digital methods are for connecting us with a whole range of stakeholders too!

 11. Any shout-outs?
I feel like I’m writing my Oscar acceptance speech…

I’d just like to thank the rest of the Business Intelligence team. I work with a bunch of amazing people – they’re really supportive, incredibly clever and brilliant to brainstorm with if you have a project that is a bit complicated. They make work fun and you can always be sure someone will be up for a pint at the end of the day. And to my partner, Candy – who hasn’t banned me from Pets at Home’s adoption corner just yet!


So there you have it, a small insight into the mind of Emma McEwan; we laughed, we cried, we learned about Degus. Just make sure you don’t touch her stuff. Ever.

Until next time.

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!

Democratic Hero – David Porteous

DavidPB_WI’ve interviewed quite a few people for my ‘hero’ series over the years and whilst they’ve been variously informative, eye-opening and at times silly, I’m not sure any of them have been as downright funny as this one. So, “who are we going to hear from?” you might well ask… The man in question is David Porteous, Senior Business Intelligence Officer at the City of Edinburgh Council: writer, social researcher, grumpy human and erstwhile stand-up comic. He also supplied what can only be described as a portfolio of photos, so I’ve liberally embedded them throughout.

Put the kettle on.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
David F Porteous. (Close enough to) Edinburgh (as makes no difference).

2. What do you do for a living?
I’m currently a Senior Business Intelligence Officer working for the City of Edinburgh Council. I manage the largest face-to-face opinion survey conducted by any UK local authority and (on behalf of my employer) I hold the record for the UK’s best response to a budget consultation using I’m kind of a big deal.

3. Favourite band / or artist
I did not answer these questions in order and as a result when I come to this one it is with an enhanced understanding that I am a man out of time. To provide a robust answer to this question, I’ve used the metric “number of songs by that artist on my phone”. The clear winner was Various Artists with 320 tracks. Close runner-ups were McFly (including as McBusted) (58), Elton John (56), Bob Dylan (49), Bruce Springsteen (47) and Green Day (45). I have seen all of those artists in concert except for the Boss.

4. Android or iPhone
I don’t care so much about this issue. I just want a nice phone that allows me to access the thousands of pounds of ill-advised purchases I’ve made on iTunes over the last seven years. I liked clam shell phones. Do you remember clam shell phones? Clam shell phones made me feel like I was in Star Trek, and I genuinely thought we’d reached a technological end time from which there neither could nor should be further advancement. Phablets activate my gag reflex.

5. PC or Mac
I care so much about this issue. PC. Buying a Mac means favouring form over absolutely everything else. I’m not going to tell you that everyone who uses a Mac is evil, they’re not – but they are definitely stupid. Mac users are the Trump supporters of personal computing. Suck on that, Mac using scum! (I have an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard – that is NOT the same thing, c.f. previous iTunes reference).

6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I haven’t read all of these profiles, but do people admit to being a creature of habit? I would think even if that were objectively true you would take all reasonable steps to conceal this – even from yourself. And what about those people who are all “wooo, look at how unorthodox I am” – you wouldn’t hire those people for any job involving keys, passwords or scissors.

If you rebel against everything you’ll never get the people in Starbucks to serve you – because you won’t queue, and you keep trying to buy coffee using an impromptu barter system that places an unreasonably high value on pocket lint and beat poetry – then you get no damn coffee, you fall asleep by 11am, and the day belongs to the creatures of habit.

Walk a wandering path, not a middle road. Have I answered this question?

DavidP27. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
Nothing. Everything important is backed up to the cloud, including my insurance documents. You’re owned by what you think you own. A good fire would save me the bother of vacuuming in that awkward spot on the window side of my bedroom. It’s blocked by the bed. I have to move furniture. And unless you’re in my bed already you can’t even see it. That side of the room is a total non-issue. Though, to be scrupulously fair, I also haven’t vacuumed the visible, near-side in quite some time either. PS – for some reason I’m single. Is it the McFly songs? It is, isn’t it?

8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I’m just going to hit you with science here. Heat and moisture activate aroma, and smell is the most important component of taste – dunked biscuits just taste better. Vaccinate your kids, vote to stay in the EU, dunk your biscuits – everything else is crazy.

9. Best project you’ve worked on and why?
A few years ago Emma McEwan (subject of a future profile) and I worked on the consultation for Edinburgh city centre. We spoke to business leaders, activists, local residents – a real mix of people who had different understandings of the issues. While traffic routes, pedestrianisation, public spaces, desire lines, signage (and so on, and so on) don’t feel exciting, the changes that have been introduced subsequently have impacted (hopefully positively) on millions of visitors and residents. It’s the first and only research project I’ve ever done where I can walk on a pavement that exists, in some small part, because I recommended it. And it’s always great to work with Emma, who brings passion and intelligence to all her projects.

10. Where do you hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of online consultation/ digital democracy?
Creative problem solving – which is, in my view, a major reason to involve people in decision-making – should be fun. I hope we get more accustomed to using that specific word – fun. There are cases where that might not be appropriate, but those are the exception and not the norm. When we begin by saying that local democracy is a serious issue, we immediately lose young people and most working age adults – who have plenty of other serious issues to deal with.

Engagement cannot simply be about a positive outcome, it needs to be arrived at through a positive process. In practice what that means is we in the public sector spend time on the mechanisms, spend time on the marketing, and interact with people as people – without trying to speak with the voice of our organisation in an attempt to offend to smallest number of people.

I want Jane, 27, mother of one, to come home after work and spend ten minutes checking up on what the issues are in her local community using simple software. I want her to feel connected to real people she can also interact with offline. I want this to be as normal and uncomplicated as using Facebook.

We need to accept gradations of involvement as being valid, which means not leaving decisions with (what we in Scotland would call) “well-kent faces” just because they’re the only ones who will turn up to three hour long meetings every two months. Digital democracy has the potential to reach groups who are currently as excluded from local government decision making as any other, and there needs to be continuous push-back against the challenge to using online tools. Offline consultation excludes far more people.

(Concluding by saying that) there will always need to be a place for both online and offline consultation (is boring, but probably true).


11. Any shout-outs?
Firstly to me – I’m also a writer and my books Singular, Good Witch and The Death of Jack Nylund are available everywhere. The audio book for Singular, read by me, can almost certainly be downloaded on the same device you’re using to read this. My website is

Secondly also to me, but for a different reason – I’m one half of the Cheerful Despair podcast about nothing (NSFW-ish: PG-13, there are no boobs, but we do swear) which will be returning for a second season this year.


So, there you have it: a short insight into the rambling mind of David Porteous. We laughed, we didn’t cry and we probably didn’t learn anything either. Ordinarily, I’d point out how you can connect with David on Twitter but I think he’s amply covered ways and means to get in touch.

Until next time.

How The Australian Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science used Citizen Space to consult on ways of working

The Australian Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science have been using their Citizen Space instance for the past two years to run a variety of external and internal consultations. Endorsed by their executive, the department’s use of the tool is only continuing to grow.

One consultation which particularly caught our eye, and which was presented by the consultation team during our ACT user group in Canberra, was their series of internal ‘ways of working’ surveys. The aim of these surveys is to determine how different members of staff like to work in order to inform how their new work space will look.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 12.27.33

In order to create the survey, the department enlisted an external company to create a series of images to depict the topics at hand. Spread across 10 key themes ranging from ‘chat’ through to ‘create’, the survey asks respondents to rate how important each of the different themes are to them.

“Using these kind of images are not so ‘government’ which I think helps” (Paulette Pope)

The consultation also helps to identify how different individuals like to work across different divisions and in different roles in the organisation. Using Citizen Space’s survey cloning feature, the department could create the survey and then clone it for each additional division. This helped ensure that the data was kept separate across the different divisions being consulted with. The data could also be broken down by staff role – meaning the department could look for similarities in how, say, project officers like to work.

The department was also able to take advantage of Citizen Space’s private consultation feature in order to run the consultations. An additional benefit of running these internal ‘ways of working’ surveys on the platform is that it has helped to promote the use of Citizen Space internally: the department saw a noticeable spike in the use of Citizen Space following the initial phase of the project. The message of ‘digital first’ is also being seen and reinforced by the whole department.

The consultation outcome has helped the team shape the way that their offices are fitted out. The project is able to move a whole floor or division out, consult and see what their preference is before taking into account the feedback and moving them back in. Depending on the staff preferences identified through the survey, each office will be fitted with different desks and layout.

“There has been a direct correlation between feedback from the survey and how the offices have been fitted out” (Glenn Cowling)

The program and changes which are happening here also help to improve the health of workers – to ensure they have sufficient breaks, the work setup they need and are supported in managing an appropriate work-life balance.

Thorough consultation informing substantive change, run via Citizen Space? That’s the kind of thing we’re always pleased to hear about.

A Few Questions with Matthew Scott

Citizen Space is used to run an awful lot of consultations (as you may have noticed) and Matthew Scott 2occasionally our customers need to outsource their analysis and reporting, for one reason or another. One of the companies who provide such a service are TONIC, a research consultancy based in Kent, headed up by Matthew Scott. And, sure enough, he is the subject of this latest instalment of my fine interview series. Who is Matthew? What does he do for a living? More to the point, does he dunk his biscuits? Let’s find out…

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Matthew Scott and I live in Kent.

2. What do you do for a living?
I started TONIC 10 years ago because it was frustrating working as an employee in public sector bodies that struggled to be innovative and truly democratic. I wanted to improve the way public services were designed and run – generating insights from their customers and looking at service users as assets who can deliver services as well as use them.

TONIC has been great fun as we have had the chance to be involved in lots of exciting projects, making real change happen and ensuring that the public get their views heard and get to make a real difference.

We take an inclusive research and evidence-based approach to all our work, priding ourselves on our transparency and commitment to doing an excellent job every time.  All our team are experienced practitioners and commissioners as well as researchers, and really bring these qualities to their work. For our independent public consultation analysis, this means we can get to a deeper understanding of the responses and help organisations to interpret and implement what the public and stakeholders are asking for.

3. Favourite band/artist?
Difficult to answer this as I like many styles of music, but for band I would go for Led Zeppelin.

4. Android or iPhone?
iPhone – although I have a nagging doubt that it may not be any better than Android, just sleeker!

5. PC or Mac?
Definitely Mac – more intuitive, quicker for the jobs I need it to do and absolutely reliable when under pressure.

6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
A bit of both. For analysis work, it is good to habitually follow trusted processes which lead to reliable and robust findings. However, I also need to be flexible and creative when running co-design workshops with service users and providers, or running deliberative events to find out new things and help create original ideas. Albert Einstein said “imagination is more important than knowledge”, so I find it is best to try to forget what you know when working creatively and have an open mind to new ways of doing things.

7. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
My wife and 3 children.

8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
Unsullied, but then chased down with tea.

9. Best project you’ve worked on and why?
I really enjoy all our projects, but a series of independent public consultation analysis projects we have run for the Department of Health have been particularly memorable due to the large number of responses received – over 1 million in total!  I remember my surprise when I arrived at our offices one morning to find an entire room full from floor to ceiling with boxes of responses for us to analyse.  That image will stay with me for a long time. Once we had got to grips with all the data, it was gratifying to see our analysis take shape, with key themes emerging that we could explore in detail – we made some great mind maps from this.

We pride ourselves on treating each individual response fairly, giving each one equal value regardless of who it is from, or how detailed it is.  The work was to a challenging turn around time, and we managed to meet the deadline, getting excellent feedback from the Department.  The output of our work fed directly into policy changes, and it is always gratifying to see democracy in action, where people’s views directly shape a policy.

10. Where do you hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of online consultation/ digital democracy?
There are some very exciting innovations about with the use of apps and user-led pressure groups (such as 38 degrees) where you can see people power in action, causing politicians to reconsider and even getting big corporations to behave more responsibly. This kind of action that holds business and Government to account is a good thing for encouraging democratic engagement in a time when people are becoming disenfranchised with the mainstream political offer – reconnecting individuals with the issues that directly affect them and the planet.

We work a lot with organisations that use Citizen Space, and I particularly like how intuitive it is for us to use in analysis, being able to code qualitative data in real time and get accurate snapshots of current quant data.  From a user’s perspective, consultations on Citizen Space are always easy to access and respond to – not too pedantic or demanding to put people off or stop them engaging. We always see good completion rates when people use this platform – much better than with Survey Monkey!

I feel sure that as technology continues to develop, and everyone has improved access to it and the ability to use it effectively, that we will see greater democracy across the world.  People will begin to demand the right to be consulted on important decisions.

From a work perspective, we are developing some exciting new online ways for colleges and universities to engage their students in improving wellbeing. We are also trialing a digital democracy approach to engaging public service users in continuous evaluation and improvement of the services they receive, whilst rewarding them for their time and offering more chances to get involved in shaping and delivering new approaches.

11. Any shout-outs?
To my wife, Easterly. We started TONIC together and she always manages to look at our projects with a fresh set of eyes, providing much needed challenge to make sure we provide a high quality service every time and push ourselves to give our best. It wouldn’t be the same without her.

So there you have it, eleven questions both posed and answered. You can check out TONIC’S website here, should you be so inclined, or bother Matthew on Twitter over here.

Until next time.

City of Edinburgh Council run their first internal Citizen Space user group

Since launching their Citizen Space hub in September 2014, The City of Edinburgh Council in Scotland have published over 70 consultations on a wide range of different subjects. Topics consulted on (so far!) have ranged from the council’s budget for 2016-20 to 20mph speed limits for Edinburgh. In order to continue the successful roll out of Citizen Space across the organisation, the council took the initiative to organise their own internal user group.

I know that those of us who attended the Scottish Citizen Space User Group last year found it really useful – so I wanted to do something similar for the rest of our users who couldn’t make it along or are new to the hub
Emma McEwan: Senior Business Intelligence Officer

Edinburgh City Council hubRunning their first internal user group has enabled Edinburgh to reflect back on their Citizen Space adoption so far, and also to look ahead at how they continue to implement best practice consultation. Edinburgh were pleased with the attendance, comprising some who had never used Citizen Space before and wanted to, as well as others who had used the tool frequently and were able to share ideas and tips.

Prior to the user group, Citizen Space lead Emma McEwan took some time to assess how Edinburgh City Council have been using Citizen Space. This review enabled her to identify opportunities such as using Citizen Space’s non-linear surveys more often. By showing the group how this feature had been used in an interesting/engaging way by other organisations, Emma was able to open the eyes of the administrators to additional possibilities available to them.

 “I know the guys in Transport, Planning and Licensing all loved non-linear surveys as they tend to consult on really detailed topics like the ones shown… so it gave them plenty food for thought!”
Emma McEwan: Senior Business Intelligence Officer

In terms of format, the day was broken into small manageable chunks ranging from updates on new features added to Citizen Space, to specific case studies of use across Edinburgh City Council. The user group saw a number of informal presentations from colleagues in Health and Social Care, Planning & Building Standards, and Communities & Families. The presentations focused on what the different departments had recently consulted on, the challenges they faced and also what’s in the pipeline.

Key challenges raised during the user group included the following:

  • making sure the organisation has enough time to plan consultations effectively
  • highlighting the importance of piloting surveys,
  • focusing on how important it is to promote consultations effectively
  • making consultations as engaging as possible

A handy list of practical tips also started emerging from the session, like when to use checkboxes vs radio buttons and the importance of using plain English. Following in the footsteps of the Scottish Government, the idea of asking for feedback on the actual consultation process was also suggested.

Following the initial success of this session, Edinburgh are thinking of holding user groups every six months. They hope to continue to improve upon the sessions and format, and have identified that the user groups could be a great opportunity to bring in guest speakers. For example, a dedicated training session on data security or privacy could help with up-skilling the team.

We’ll be continuing to run our annual Citizen Space user groups both in the UK and Australia, but if you’re interested in following Edinburgh’s lead and arranging your own user group for your organisation then here are some top tips:

  • Manage the attendee list via handy free tools such as Eventbrite – helps steer clear of Excel lists!
  • Invite guest speakers from outside the organisation to present to your group
  • Ask us for examples of great consultations which you can show your attendees on the day. You could also check our aggregator for consultations being run by other orgs
  • Ensure the room is set up in a format which reflects how you want the session to run. If the session needs to be more discursive, a round table may be best
  • Ask users to talk about a particular consultation they’ve run and to give their honest insight about the process
  • Keep the session as informal as you can and, if possible, provide coffee/food/snacks
  • Collate product development feedback from the day and feed this back to your Delib account manager
  • Use the session as an opportunity to launch any new procedures, your own guidance on good consultation, and top tips/learnings
  • Feedback to attendees following the event
  • Encourage attendees to get to know one another and to carry on the conversation/collaboration after the event

Mevan Babakar – Democratic Hero

MevanA couple of weeks ago I went along to a Citizen’s Advice Bureau roundtable thing, to have a chat about a report they’ve just produced; ‘Going with the grain’, examining how our democracy can be made more fit for a digital age; essentially, it was very much my cup of tea. As is usual with this kind of event, I saw some old faces and also met some new ones, one of which being Mevan; fact checker, democracy exponent, good egg and now, most importantly, the latest member of the immortals; Democratic Hero. Mevan is one of the few people I know who has a cooler job than me and now – thanks to the wonder of words, the internet and my copy and pasting skills – she’s going to tell us all about it.

Let’s jump right in.

1.  What’s your name and where are you from?
Mevan, its a weird Kurdish name. It’s “me” and “van” stuck together. I was raised in London, but I was born in Baghdad. I consider myself British. It all gets so complex so fast.

2.  What do you do for a living?
I work at the UK’s leading factchecking charity: Full Fact.

3.  Favourite band and/ or artist?
Bjork, Grimes – slightly kooky incredibly talented women are my thing.

4.  Android or iPhone?

5.  PC or Mac?
I was pretty devoutly PC till I started to learn how to code, then I quickly realised the error of my ways.

6.  Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I think its always good to reimagine a system for the better if you can. Although its pretty cool when you fall into the safe comfort of a good one. So how about “Maverick thinker when I need to be”

7.  Your house is on fire, what do you save?
Assuming my family and friends are safe, I would probably not save anything. I’ve always been pretty into the idea of not owning anything. Although I wonder if that’s one of those things that you think in theory, but regret pretty soon after your house burns down.

8.  Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I like to smash them with my fists, turn them into a ball with the dampness of the tea, and then consume it as if it were a ferrero rocher.

9. Best project you’ve worked on at Full Fact?
We factchecked the 2015 election for 6 weeks straight. We were going from 6am to midnight every single day. Our tiny team was augmented with more staff and 40 volunteers a day. We saw more excitement about factchecking than ever before. We got corrections in every national paper, got Ed Miliband to change the way he spoke about Zero Hours Contracts, live factchecked every leaders debate, and were described as the “anti spin doctors”. To get it all off the ground I raised £33k in crowdfunding too. It was all pretty immense, and tonnes of fun.

10. Where do you hope the field of digital democracy will be in 10 years? Opportunities and pitfalls.
I just hope that we’ve sorted out the easy wins. Every interaction with government should mean that you’re registered to vote. Every election you should know who your candidates are and know where to vote – that shouldn’t be hidden away in a pdf somewhere, it should be a google now card that notifies you. I hope that if you wanted to find out if a claim that a politician or newspaper has made is true or not, you could. I want to equip people with the tools to make up their own minds. I hope that factchecking comes back into newsrooms, and becomes an important part of political debate. I hope that where tech can ensure that we keep services fair and efficient, we do. I worry that legislation isn’t keeping up with technology. I hope that in ten years time that gap is smaller.

11. Best Gov/ Civic site you’ve seen and why? – an easy win – executed beautifully by Democracy Club.

So there you have it, 11 questions answered by the now legendary Mevan Babakar. We laughed, we cried, we might even have learnt a few things. If you’d like to talk to Mevan online, she does Twitter here or for an offline high-five, you should totally go to one of her Citizen Beta meetups, (the last word in civic tech events).

Until next time.

The digital divide

Written by Eric Lui – secondee from the Civil Service Fast Stream

a picture of 'mind the gap' on a tube platform

My colleague Row recently wrote about the digital skills gap in government. She pointed to the good work organisations such as GDS were doing but also the progress that still needs to be made. She ended with a thought provoking statement:

“…by improving the digital skills across its own workforce, could government then begin to lead in advancing the digital skills of its citizens?”

This made me wonder. Looking beyond government, how ‘digital’ is the UK? So I went ahead and did some digging, the stats below are enlightening:

Currently 1 in 5, or 10.5 million people lack the basic digital skills and capabilities required to realise the benefits of the internet.

43% of the individuals that lack these basic digital skills are of working age.

Around a third of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) don’t have a website. This rises to over 50% if you include voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSEs).

Being a ‘millennial’, I can put my hand up and say I’ve been guilty of taking digital literacy for granted. Doing a stint at a large technology company with a fruit for a name exposed me to some pretty head-in-hands episodes; a wide-eyed lady once walked in with her unplugged modem asking us to ‘fix the internet’.

However, the stats are no laughing matter. Independent research by management consultancy firm Booz & Co. estimate that full digital take up could add £63 billion value to the UK economy. Parliament also recognise the gravity of the issue, a recent report by the Select Committee on Digital Skills concluded:

“ Digital skills (the skills needed to interact with digital technologies) are now necessary life skills. Individuals and businesses alike will need skills to protect themselves online. It is not acceptable for any group to be excluded from access to digital technologies. We must aspire for the vast majority of the population to achieve the level of digital literacy needed to fully participate in society.”

Clearly the problem is challenging but the rewards are great.

The same report puts up a number of recommendations for government. In particular an emphasis to address the deficit in provision for digital education at all levels. Government has provided an initial response to the report, though according to the Chair of the Select Committee, Baroness Morgan, it was a bit disappointing. It’s definitely a ‘watch this space’ worth monitoring. Technology is been moving at lightning pace. The government has a real task on its hands to ensure that the UK is not left behind in the emerging digital era.

But enough about politics. The ‘digital challenge’ should be bipartisan and embraced by all. We need it to be. I’ve set out what the challenge is so far and it would be mean to leave you with no light at the end of the tunnel. Unsurprisingly Martha Lane Fox’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.

One of those is Go ON, a digital skills charity dedicated to helping everyone have the basic digital skills they need. You’re asking, what are these basic digital skills, well they’ve created a handy framework to explain. In the spirit of public participation they have even set up a Digital Skills Charter to inspire people and organisations to commit to helping others to gain those skills alongside a web tool to help.

The one I’m more interested in is her recent initiative to set up Dot Everyone with it’s broad sweeping purpose to “to transform understanding and use of the internet in every aspect of UK life”. It will aim to lead the charge and thrust Britain as a leader in the digital world prioritising opportunities in education, women and ethics. It definitely doesn’t lack ambition and considering the statistics above, if successful, the implications could be tremendous. With 10,000 signatures clocked on the petition on it has certainly has some momentum.

Technology is just one component of digital democracy. Delib strives to build tools which improve the interaction between government and citizens, continually improving them to be more responsive and better for everyone. However, clearly there are still barriers to some groups of users getting online and taking advantage of these tools to make their voice heard. The digital divide is real and present but it is heartening to see efforts being made to close it.