Category Archives: News & thinking

News and thinking about digital democracy

Notwestminster 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Some digital democracy events we’ll be attending this week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 11th February – NotWestminster – Huddersfield

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

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

 

Govcamp 2017: Bookcamp and the joy of sharing

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.

Book swap. From Kit: Someone Like You by Roald Dahl; On the Other Side by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg. From me: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
Book swap. From Kit: Someone Like You by Roald Dahl; On the Other Side by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg. From me: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

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

Below is the list of recommended reading from our session. You can support your local library and take most of these books out from there (this link takes you to gov.uk to search for your local libraries):

Favourite books from the room: (links lead to Goodreads or the author’s own website)
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
The Magus – John Fowles
Hiroshima – John Hersey
The Bees – Laline Paull
A Fraction of the Whole – Steve Toltz
The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Good Omens – Neil Gaiman / Terry Pratchett
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Before I go to Sleep – S. J. Watson
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Quiet – Susan Cain
Wanderlust – Rebecca Solnit
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
Sharpe (and all the Bernard Cornwell collection)
Days Without End – Sebastian Barry
and fresh from a suggestion on Twitter: Independent People by Halldór Laxness

Bookcamp must-read choices for work/leadership/growth:
Transform, A rebel’s guide to digital transformation – Gerry McGovern
The E Myth – Michael Gerber
The Art of the State – Christopher Hood
7 habits of highly effective people – Stephen R Covey
Organising & Disorganising – Michael Thompson
From Arrogance to Intimacy – Andy Williamson and Martin Sande
The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
The Toyota Way – Jeffrey K Liker
South. The story of Shackleton’s last expedition 1914 – 1917 – Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton

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.

Books can shape how children begin to see the world and, the more the characters reflect them, the more they can picture themselves doing those things and being part of their own story. There are some great children’s books out there which allow girls to be astronauts and scientists and which reflect people of varied ethnicities and sexualities, but they’re not that easy to find. Here are a few you might like:
Blast Off – Linda C Cain and Susan Rosenbaum
The Mr Gum books – Andy Stanton
The boy in the dress – David Walliams
The BFG and Matilda – Roald Dahl
Zog – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Max and the tag-along moon – Floyd Cooper

and a few catch-all lists:

Happy reading 🙂

Top Australia and New Zealand public sector jobs this February (2017)

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…

Digital Communications Officer
National Library of Australia
Closing date: 5 Feb 2017

Digital Communications Officer
Baw Baw Shire Council
Closing date: 5 Feb 2017

Manager Digital Transformation
Adelaide City Council
Closing date: 8 Feb 2017

Democracy and Governance Manager
Southland District Council
Closing date: 8 Feb 2017

Communications Officer (Digital)
TasWater
Closing date: 10 Feb 2017

Audience Research Manager
National Museum of Australia
Closing date: 12 Feb 2017

User Experience Designer
Department of Internal Affairs (NZ)
Closing date: 15 Feb 2017

Top UK #localgov jobs this February (2017)

As we do every month, we’ve rounded up some great digital, strategic and engagement/communications jobs from the UK local government sector. Here are some that may take your fancy this February…

Community Development Officer
Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council
Closing date: 3 Feb 2017

Policy Officer
Westminster City Council
Closing date: 6 Feb 2017

Communications and Engagement Officer
Plymouth City Council
Closing date: 6 Feb 2017

Communications and Engagement Officer
Plymouth City Council
Closing date: 6 Feb 2017

Insight and Consultation Manager
London Borough of Waltham Forest
Closing date: 12 Feb 2017

Digital Communications Manager
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
Closing date: 12 Feb 2017

Website and Digital Media Officer
Waverley Borough Council
Closing date: 13 Feb 2017

Head of ICT
London Borough of Hillingdon
Closing date: 20 Feb 2017

Planning Policy Officer
Harrow Council
Closing date: not specified

Head of Digital
Buckinghamshire County Council
Closing date: not specified

 

We’re hiring! Developer role in Bristol, UK

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:

  • For frontend development we generally use XHTML, Less/CSS and JQuery/Javascript. We have to support a wide range of browsers including mobiles and tablets.
  • 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.

Contact details

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.

Cheers,

Andy (Director) and Jess (Developer)

Top Australia and New Zealand public sector jobs this January (2017)

New year, new job?

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 January 2017 collection – if any of them look tempting, click through to find out more…

Australia

Senior Communications and Engagement Officer
Department of Justice (Victoria)
Closing date: 6 January 2017

Director, Community Engagement
Department of Premier & Cabinet (Victoria)
Closing date: 6 January 2017

Communications and Project Support Officer
Department of Premier and Cabinet (Tasmania)
Closing date: 9 January 2017

Stakeholder Engagement Officer
Department of Natural Resources and Mines (Queensland)
Closing date: 17 January 2017

New Zealand

Senior Engagement & Communications Adviser
Ministry of Transport
Closing date: 12 January 2017

Senior Communications & Marketing Adviser – Students
Victoria University of Wellington
Closing date: 16 January 2017

Agile Project Managers
Te Papa
Closing date: 23 January 2017

Communications Advisor
The Treasury
Closing date: 25 January 2017

Top UK #LocalGov jobs this January (2017)

The New Year inspires many people to look for a change of scene, so, as we do every month, we’ve rounded up some great digital, strategic and engagement/communications jobs from the UK local government sector. Here are some that may take your fancy this January…

Customer Insight and Data Officer
Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council
Closing date: 6 January 2017

Communications Assistant
Christchurch and East Dorset Councils
Closing date: 6 January 2017

Specialist Communications Officer 
East Sussex County Council
Closing date: 8 January 2017

Senior Data and Spatial Analyst
Chelmsford City Council
Closing date: 8 January 2017

Community Engagement Assistant
London Borough of Sutton
Closing date: 9 January 2017

Senior Sitecore Developer
Islington Council
Closing date: 16 January 2017

Communications and Campaigns Advisor
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
Closing date: 23 January 2017

Assistant Director – ICT and Digital Services
Birmingham City Council
Closing date: 24 January 2017

Highland Council launch first challenges using Dialogue

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

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

Highland Council Dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016: our year in review

Tonight’s the night of the Delib Christmas party, which means only one thing: the hotly-anticipated Secret Santa gift exchange! (I’m hoping for some kind of novelty mug.)

Oh, OK, it means two things: it’s also time for our annual look back at how the past year has gone.

So: 2016, eh? Let’s leave world events to one side for a moment – there’s been no shortage of those this year (both the events and the leaving of them to one side to focus on oneself, you might say) – but that’s for other people to cover. Here’s a few snippets of what 2016 has looked like for us:

Some numbers

We’ve hit some pleasing milestone figures – including:

For us, these are encouraging signs that – even in the midst of incredibly stretched budgets and unpredictable political climates – public bodies remain committed to involving people in the decisions that affect them. And that ‘digital’ continues to become more ingrained as just an obvious and important channel for public involvement (you might be surprised how much this is not to be taken for granted!)

Some consultations

We love seeing the huge range of topics that are consulted on using our tools. From headline-grabbing national issues to hyperlocal pilot schemes; entire city spending priorities to early experiments in participatory budgeting – whenever there’s a decision that matters to people, we’re proud to see it opened up on one of our platforms.

Here’s a smattering of examples from this year:

Austin Texas Budget Simulator
The City of Austin, Texas asked for public input on spending priorities using Budget Simulator

 

DoH consulted on how to improve support for carers
The UK Department of Health used Citizen Space for their consultation on improving support for carers

 

 

The Environment Agency's consultation on a new nuclear power station design
The Environment Agency used Citizen Space for their (bilingual) consultation on a new nuclear power station

 

TfL consults on individual bus routes
Transport for London make extensive use of Citizen Space – including for consultations on a host of proposed local route changes

 

'Shall we put a new ramp here?', asks the Canal and River Trust
The Canal and River Trust started using Citizen Space in 2016, with an excellent consultation on Better Towpaths for Everyone

 

Motorcycle security trial in Southwark
Southwark Council (UK) use Citizen Space for a host of consultations, including this one on a trial scheme about motorbike anchors

Some development

As every year, we’ve continued to work on improving our products. The biggest development for us in 2016 was probably the release of Citizen Space v3. A huge amount of work went into this major overhaul, which makes it more responsive, more customisable, easier to use and just straight-up prettier. The vast majority of our 100+ Citizen Space customers are now using the new and improved v3, and it feels good to see their sites looking great and being well-used. Celebratory tapas were had.

Some events

We had our first Dialogue user group in April, up in Scotland. We also had a whole round of user groups for our Citizen Space customers in Australia and New Zealand.

We got to go to some excellent events and meetups – including, but not limited to, Demfest, GovCamp Cymru and the DigitalNI consultation event.

And, of course, that whole Boaty McBoatface thing happened – without dampening our enthusiasm for public participation. 

We also picked the hottest few days of the year to have our annual team holiday in Dorset (who said 2016 was short on reasons to be cheerful?!)

Some thanks

Lastly, a quick thank you to our customers. There’s been plenty of despair and vexation washing around about politics, government, democracy and so on – perhaps more so this year than usual. Be that as it may, we do lots of work with public bodies and government organisations and the vast majority of our experience – with civil servants, local government officers etc etc – is of people who are deeply dedicated to their work, to serving the public and the common good and who work hard to improve government and civic life generally. So thanks especially to them, for keeping our chins and general levels of optimism up 🙂

Here’s to 2017…