Ben Fowkes, our Commercial Director, is currently meeting some of our customers and other movers and shakers across Australia and New Zealand. Among other things, he’s giving a series of talks on effective online involvement and consultation for government.
The first of these was last week, to around 100 delegates from various health bodies, looking at the idea of digital involvement in their field.
Very briefly, for those of us who couldn’t be there in person, here are some of the points he covered:
A bit of UK context
Local health is…complicated. CCGs, CSUs, lots of organisations merging or otherwise changing structure, frequent shifts in management, policy, priorities etc.
There are interesting initiatives like NHS Citizen and NHS Digital.
There are certainly steps towards increasing digital capacity/skills nationally but (as is almost always the case), culture change takes time.
It’s not always a straightforward environment in which to operate. And anything with a whiff of IT/software/infrastructure systems about it is seen as especially complicated.
Principle vs practice
And yet… Even amongst lots of complexity and caution, broadly, everybody ‘gets’ that public involvement is important; there is a desire to find ways for people to have their say in their healthcare.
The principle of public involvement is well-established (as are a decent number of standards, policies and processes as a result).
However, the ways in which that is undertaken – people’s practice in this area – continue to develop and change – especially as a result of digital tools.
That includes straightforward modernisations to existing mechanisms, such as traditional surveys being conducted online (e.g. https://nhs-digital.citizenspace.com/). But it’s also about the changes in culture/behaviour that follow with digital approaches.
Some notable developments we’re seeing
Online in general continues to become more the accepted norm – just look at the considerable growth in the number of consultations on Citizen Space (have a look at the Aggregator); we’ve also been seeing more desire for training in digital skills, including for engagement/patient involvement teams.
In particular, there’s an increasing recognition of the importance of responsive/mobile – have a look at any round-up of browser stats and you’ll see the same trend: tablets and mobiles have been quickly growing as the main way to access the internet. Health organisations are catching up to this reality and we’re seeing greater consideration for mobile users in their technology procurement and design processes.
One of the best parts of my role as an account manager is to get out of the office and spread the word about digital democracy. Last week, I was fortunate enough to return to my old stomping ground – Exeter University, in south west England – and give a talk to third year politics students. (The third year module on ‘civic engagement’ makes reference to online tools generally and Delib specifically.) It was a real delight to be there for the afternoon. I just wish the module had existed when I was at uni!
Whilst writing my presentation on ‘digital democracy in practice’, I was also able to reflect back on the changes in online consultation and digital in government from 2011 to now. I chose the end of 2010/start of 2011 as a starting point, as this is when Martha Lane Fox’s influential report on the revolution not evolution of directgov came out – a report which marked a bit of a sea change and the beginnings of gov.uk. This was also a useful reflection point for me as I started working at Delib a few months later!
One of the key changes I have seen since 2011 is a shift from one-off ‘singular (project-based) democracy’ which costs government thousands of pounds in websites/one-off builds towards more ‘continuous democracy’ in 2017. Government departments can now consult more regularly using low cost online tools. The result: more cost-effective solutions for citizens and improved transparency.
The second key shift I have witnessed is a more deep-rooted cultural change in working practices. Government departments are increasingly adopting more agile, lean and collaborative ways of working. Scenes that you see posted on gov.uk’s blog simply wouldn’t have existed in 2010.
During the session, we reviewed some of the key grounding principles, focusing on the Gunning and consultation principles before applying these to real customer examples and teasing out some of the key challenges government departments face. I then opened up the session to questions. Here’s a flavour of the topics which came up from the students and an idea of how I answered them:
+ How does digital democracy help open up the conversation beyond ‘the usual suspects?’
Digital democracy can help open up the conversation to a broader range of participants by providing a different medium through which to conduct those conversations. Customers have indicated that using digital tools has enabled them to reach a broader audience group, which is fantastic. That said, if you are consulting a niche group on a specific topic, you may find that some of the ‘usual suspects’ still turn up, but who’s to say that they will be the only ones there contributing to the discussion?
+ How can social media help these conversations and government departments in 2017?
Social media can both promote and dilute the conversation you are hoping to have in my experience. If you start a conversation on one social media platform or digital engagement tool and it spreads across other platforms, sometimes the conversation can become disparate. It may also become difficult to analyse if there is no obvious flow or output from the discussions taking place. When used well, however, social media can be a great opportunity to get into spaces where these conversations are already happening or to open up participation to individuals interested people/groups.
In order to use social media effectively, civil servants need to be equipped with the right community management skills. Luckily, there are an increasing number of short, free courses opening up such as this one from Future Learn on using data from social media platforms to understand public conversations. I’m hoping to check the course out to help with the guidance we give our customers.
+ Are these methods inclusive or do they often exclude certain generations?
This topic also came up at a conference I recently attended called NotWestminster as we were working with a case study which featured retired users. It was interesting how quickly some of the group jumped to assumptions. I wouldn’t say that digital democracy excludes certain generations and the idea that the older generation not necessarily having strong digital skills isn’t always true. Often the blocker is confidence in digital which isn’t necessarily age-based. Where there are gaps (sometimes referred to as ‘the digital divide’), the UK government often looks to address them – for example, via setting up departments within GDS, such as the assisted digital team.
+ Do you find that government departments look at the cost-benefit analysis of running online consultation?
Some government departments that we work with are starting to drill into more of the details and nuances in this area, which is great to see. For example, we heard from BEIS at our 2016 London user group about working with statistics and conversion rates from gov.uk (they got from a 3% conversion rate to an impressive 25% by studying what worked well). BEIS are really hot on their analytics at the moment and I’m excited to see what they are going to do next.
+ Do you have plans to expand outside of English speaking territories?
Our current goal is to continue our expansion within English speaking territories. But it would be great to work in more countries around the world one day! Our main blocker to this is being able to translate all 3 applications (though it is something we’re looking at). Government structures are fairly similar in the countries where we work at the moment, but expanding to new countries always means learning more about the particularities of their context.
+ Where’s next for deliberative discussion?
So what will the next 5+ years hold? Well, the biggest challenges I see are around standardisation and sharing of best practice. This is perhaps not new or unique to online consultation but does hold one of the biggest opportunities in my opinion. Jodie Lamb, a Communication and Stakeholder Engagement professional recently posted about what she had learnt whilst working in New Zealand. Sharing best practice or having ‘hands across the ocean’ is key. If something has already been trialled in the UK and failed, then let’s ensure that digital teams in Australia and NZ learn from this. There are also some really exciting projects and learning opportunities coming out from countries like Iceland, Brazil and Estonia. Sharing best practice is key.
The future of government and effective online consultation lies in the hands of the next generation of digital leaders. Learning that modules like this one on civic engagement exist is really exciting. I’m hoping that this talk will pave the way to other opportunities to talk to young digital leaders in the future.
This weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual Notwestminster 2017 event which was held in the town of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire in the UK. Notwestminster focuses on local democracy and attracts a broad range of attendees from across government, academia and those with a general interest in all things democracy. The event involves a great combination of workshops, lightning talks as well as plenty of time for thought-provoking chats in-between.
The day kicked off with a series of inspiring lightning talks (20 slides with 20 seconds per slide). Jacqui Gedman was first up, with her talk on ‘active citizens’. Jacqui advocated that government can get a much ‘better product’ by engaging with people locally on the ground. She also strongly believes that, often, it costs a lot less than councils think to engage locally and the results can bring much better outcome for citizens. Jacqui also advocated treating residents as citizens once again (as apposed to ‘customers’) – a theme which echoed throughout the morning workshop sessions.
“We need to consider residents as citizens again and not just as customers” (@GedmanJacqui)
Another stand-out lightning talk for me was Emily Warrillow’s moving account of how Jo Cox inspired her to get involved in youth politics. Emily recalled how Jo was not only an inspiration to her but also a good friend. Emily’s interest in local politics started when her mum encouraged her to attend a local planning meeting on how to use an abandoned building; an interest which developed into her becoming a youth Councillor and more recently being awarded the Diana award. Emily is a real inspiration for young leaders.
Next up were a series of workshops, which we could choose between depending on our interests. The first workshop I participated in was about argument mapping: a concept which focuses on mapping out discussions. This topic was of particular interest to me as I’m often encouraging or advocating the benefits of using our Dialogue tool to our customers. Argument maps help to display the flavour and essence of a debate and take aim to ‘de-personalise’ the argument. They have been traditionally used to map discussions in the houses of parliament, and we pondered over whether they could be used more readily in local government. Could argument maps be used to layout the decision making process for development control meetings for example?
Next up was a workshop on ‘how can local government encourage people to engage’? run by The Democratic Society team. On my table, we were tasked with discussing the role and identity of local government. We began by identifying what local government means to us; given that local government has a duty to deliver over 700 services on average, how can we improve the perception of local government to citizens that it exists for more than just service delivery? Esko Reinikainen, co-founder of The Satori Lab, had an idea at the end of our round-table of creating an augmented reality map to help educate stakeholders on where and how money from local government is used and distributed.
The afternoon wrapped up with a final series of lightning talks, one last workshop and a ‘lessons learnt’ presentation back. So what were the main recurring themes for the day? Here’s a handful I picked up from attendees:
Vary and adapt chosen methods of engagement to suit the individuals being consulted with
Create open spaces for debate (not just ‘we’ve decided x, what do you think?’) and be clear on the next steps
The need to better understand how young people want to be engaged with – else there’s a growing risk of apathy towards politics
Engagement and research need to be more closely connected.
We need a much bigger effort to connect up innovators in local government (and avoid re-inventing the wheel).
Of course that’s not ‘it’ for Notwestinster 2017 – let’s keep these conversations flowing outside of these events (as we always advocate at the end of the day). Twitter’s normally pretty good for that…
And finally, special thanks to the Notwestminster organisers for bringing the event together and having us along. Roll on Notwestminster 2018!
This week sees a sudden spate of digital democracy-related events – and they’re even all free to attend… hurrah! Here’s a little round-up of where we’ll be and when, if you fancy attending or popping along to say ‘hi’….
At 4pm today a few of us will be heading over to ‘Public Service Camp’ (neatly abbreivated to ‘PubCamp’) in one of our favourite Bristol pubs, The Royal Naval Volunteer (this may or may not be because it’s directly opposite our Bristol office). PubCamp (organised by @jukesie) is a ‘minimal viable meet-up’ with no speakers, no formal introductions and no pressure. Just a bunch of people talking about the ‘internet of public service’ in a nice pub for a couple of hours. Come along and meet Louise, Natalie and Ben x2. Sadly, I’ll be in the office manning the fort!
On Thursday, Ben. F will be attending a workshop and meetup in London run by the Democratic Society. The workshops will focus on the topic of identifying which online tools/platforms could be most powerful for people to engage with politicians and will have a European focus. There’s still a handful of spaces available if you’re reading this and interested in attending.
We’re finishing off the week by attending NotWestminster in Huddersfield: an event we’re sponsoring again this year. Last year the lovely Alexis attended and this year I’ll be representing Delib. Check out Alexis’s blog from last year for a flavour of what NotWestminster is all about.
After kicking off 2017 with another highlight in the Delib event calendar in the form of GovCamp (which Ben. F and Louise attended), we’re excited to see what the rest of 2017 brings. We’re also in the process of getting dates in the diary for our 2017 user groups kicking off in Edinburgh. Here’s a flavour of what we covered in 2016. Watch this space for more info!
This year was the 10th anniversary of UK Govcamp, an unconference that we’ve been attending and sponsoring for a number of years. For me, it was the fourth year of spending a frosty Saturday in London with a group of people to talk about UK public sector, digital, and – more than anything else – making things better.
Govcamp typically has a mix of those working in digital in government (at all levels), those who have at some point worked in digital in gov/public sector, and those who work with the public sector doing digital things. We fall into the latter group, so I try to spend my time listening to what those in the know have to say and learning about the things being discussed. If I can chip into any session with valid experience or something that may be helpful to people in the room then I will, but largely I like to listen to the fast-thinking from others.
Let me tell you, if you need heartening evidence of how many progressive and intelligent people there are in and around public service, you should get a ticket to GovCamp.
On that note, last year I attended Janet Hughes’s excellent discussion on being bold and what boldness means. I have thought about that 45 minutes a lot since then as, ironically, I felt too shy during it to give my input. I made a resolution to break out of my comfort zone this time around and pitch a session.
Behold the advent of Bookcamp.
Bookcamp, why and what
I like to read, and a few weeks ago through the noise of Twitter I noticed a lovely-looking book pile posted by Kit Collingwood. Kit had in her photo ‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes, which I’d just finished. We hadn’t actually spoken before, but we do follow one another and from this photo I guessed we shared similar book taste.
I chose boldness and offered (somewhat out of the blue, I’m sure!) to lend Kit a great book called ‘A Whole Life’. This started a conversation in which we decided to exchange a couple of books with one another in real life, and ultimately led to us meeting in person a couple of weeks later at UK Govcamp. It was a refreshing and lovely way to make a new friend, plus I now have two excellent books to read.
Importantly, this little book swap got me thinking about the power of books, sharing (properly sharing) and kindness, and how inspirational reading long-form ideas can be. We wrote a blog before Christmas with a Delib recommended reading list, so I wanted to expand that idea to get recommended reading from a few people at UK GovCamp.
The idea was pretty simple:
Come along to the session, share what your favourite book is and why
Share one other thing you would recommend everyone to read if you could
Hopefully come away with some mind-expanding reading opportunities
NB: For those with a Kindle, South is free to download and is one of the best books I have read about leadership and bravery. It also feels strangely relevant for the turbulent times we’re living in.
I wanted to extend my thanks to those who came along to the session and contributed to this excellent list. Also a special thanks to Paul Brannigan who came along and gave me a copy of his own book, The Spiral Mindmap, which was an unexpected and lovely thing to do.
I wanted to round this post off with a little snippet of info from the first session I went to about gender balance in tech. I’m sure others have written more eloquently about this particular subject in the past so I won’t try and tackle it in depth here. However, to carry on with the book theme: Jess Figueras mentioned that there are very few female characters in children’s books aside from your standard princess. Almost all animals in children’s books are male and most characters that get up to anything vaguely progressive or interesting are male, too. Not only that, but children’s books which are culturally diverse or contain LGBTQ characters are even rarer.
Each month, we round up some great digital, strategic and engagement/communications jobs going in the Australian and New Zealand public sectors. Here’s our February 2017 collection – if any of them look tempting, click through to find out more…
Hello, we’re looking for a Developer to join Delib HQ in Bristol. We think we have a pretty good environment in which to write software. We have a big airy studio in a listed building in the city centre, and we’re a small enough company that everyone knows everyone else. It’s not perfect; there are never enough hours in the day, but we care, we say thanks, and we go out for lunches and drink together after work and I reckon that counts for a lot.
Typically we work well with people who’ve got a Computer Science degree and have been coding since at least their early teens. YMMV. We prefer people who can communicate with humans as well as computers.
We need to get some web app, support and operations stuff done. All developers do a bit of everything:
We generally use Python for backend development. Generally Python doesn’t suck. We work with python frameworks including Pyramid, Zope and Plone. You don’t need to have used these – or even have used Python – but experience with a web framework would be good.
Most of our app data is stored in object databases (ZODB) but from time to time we also use various flavours of SQL.
We have lots of devops things to do, including deployment automation for servers around the world. We use Ansible for this, along with a bunch of our own scripts. Again, you don’t need to have used Ansible, but it would be best if you’re not (too) scared of SSHing into linux servers, grepping logs and tweaking apache configs.
All our application code, automation scripts and configuration are version controlled using git, as is most of our test data. We all need to be able to modify, build and run each other’s code, so these days we’re pretty hot on documenting things too.
All developers take rotating fortnightly shifts as Developer on Support, which means we help our customers and account managers with technical issues via our online ticketing system, help sales people with quoting and tendering, and are generally available to answer questions without being excessively grumpy. This is actually really important – it means that developers get to see how the stuff we’ve built really affects our customers’ lives, and customers love getting a reply directly from the person who can fix their problem.
Unfortunately being on Support does also mean being on call. But calls/texts outside office hours are infrequent and if you do get called you get paid for it. Oh and don’t panic – you don’t get calls directly from customers.
These days we’re pretty good at using agile development processes like Scrum and Kanban. We also have grown-up things like continuous integration and Aeron chairs (or sofas to work on if that’s more your style). Bring your own laptop or we can supply one – you’ll get a decent quality Macbook Pro.
Hours and Salary
Could be a full-time, part-time or freelance scenario (but we’re not up for paying extortionate day rates to freelancers I’m afraid). Currently all Delib’s developers are part-time, with the option for scale-up days each month. We find that this arrangement suits our work/life/childcare/hangover requirements perfectly.
We’re offering £30-40k pro-rata depending on experience.
Sound interesting? Send a cover letter and your CV to Jayne@delib.net. We don’t place too much faith in CVs, the covering letter is really what we look at. If we like the look of yours we’ll get you in for a standard hiring interview.
We follow the HMG Baseline Personnel Security Standard and you will therefore need to satisfy basic eligibility criteria/certain conditions of employment (e.g. nationality rules/right to work); and provide appropriate documentation to verify ID, nationality, employment and/or academic history, criminal record (unspent convictions only).
No applications will be accepted via recruitment companies.