Category Archives: From other people

Fresh stuff from other people about digital democracy.

How Forestry Commission is opening up Dialogue with stakeholders

Would you like to involve citizens and stakeholders in the early stages of your policy making? Have you ever found yourself ‘in the field’, wondering if there were a simpler way to generate and collate ideas?

If so, you’re not alone. We speak to lots of people in public sector organisations who find themselves in the same boat. Victoria Tustian from The Forestry Commission was one of them.

Victoria is the Thetford Recreation and Community Manager. Not so long ago, she was looking for a simple way to engage audiences at the initial stages of decision-making. She decided to try out Dialogue – a tool we designed to help people produce valuable and actionable ideas through structured online discussion.

Victoria has since used Dialogue for a variety of consultations, including one that involved local people in finding a way to sustain valued visitor facilities at Birchden Wood.

We recently caught up with her to hear about her experiences.

Q: Why is participation so important for you in the early stages of policy making?

A: For us, a big part of participation is about increasing transparency. And we find there are a heap of advantages to working more transparently.

When people submit their ideas and get involved, they tend to feel real ownership for the project and want to see it through. We also find that consulting early on and providing good information gives people a better understanding of the decisions and processes, which makes them more open-minded about our solutions.

Q: How do you run these early stage discussions?

A: We use a variety of on and offline methods, including Dialogue. Creating an online discussion is becoming more of a first choice for us. It enables people who are less able to get out, or those who are always on the go, to get involved at a time that suits them.

Q: What are the benefits of Dialogue?

A: There are several main benefits. We get a good variety of participants and because the process happens online, the discussions are completely open. They aren’t taken over by one person, or one group. Everyone gets to have their say.

Being online, you decide when to get involved. You can book in dedicated time for reviewing, take turns to moderate – and respond quickly to any issues. For example, if you realise people need a bit more information or support, you can add to the discussion and help resolve any issues. You can also feedback as the discussion unfolds, which contributors appreciate.

I really like the fact the discussion happens in one place. It’s much more convenient for participants, and it’s easier for administrators. We don’t have to try and catch every email that comes in and it helps everyone keep track of the conversation. If people are feeding back on all sorts of disparate channels, we can’t always respond in a timely manner.

Q: Do you use other methods for consultation?

A: We carry out stakeholder analysis and then work out the most appropriate means of engaging with them. We do use a range of offline methods, including ‘in the field’ surveys and drop-in sessions, but if we did this all the time, it could be exhausting, especially when resources are limited.

Q: How do you promote your discussions?

A: This is where the hard work lies. Without promotion there is limited participation and the discussions aren’t as productive as they could be. You also have to demonstrate hard work on the outreach front, and show that efforts were made to get people involved.

We identify our key stakeholders and then cascade information out. We use posters in the local area and send out emails directing people to Dialogue. For the right topics, we’ve found schools can be really helpful, as you can reach out to hundreds of people in one go. 

Working with partners and key stakeholders is also important as they can help cascade information through their own social media channels. Having all the consultation information in one place online is very important when using social media as it means other social media channels can link to it easily, but you still have control of the information to ensure it’s correct and up to date.

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It’s great to hear that Dialogue has made such a difference to Victoria and the Forestry Commission. We’re pleased to say that Dialogue has also helped over 60 other organisations, including the likes of the Scottish Government, HM Treasury and Bristol City Council.

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 Australia and New Zealand public sector jobs this December (2016)

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

Digital Marketing & Communications Officer
City of Ballarat
Closing date: 9 December 2016

Digital Engagement Officer
City of Busselton
Closing date: 9 December 2016

Communications Advisor
Department of Transport and Main Roads (QLD)
Closing date: 14 December 2016

Head of Communications & Government Relations
Sydney Water
Closing date: 16 December 2016

Engagement, Communication and Marketing
Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning (QLD)
Closing date: 16 December 2016

Senior Communications & Marketing Adviser – Students
Victoria University of Wellington
Closing date: 30 December 2016

Top UK #LocalGov jobs this December (2016)

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 December…

Service Design Analyst
London Borough of Waltham Forest
Closing date: 9 December 2016

Digital Transformation Web Officer
London Borough of Lewisham
Closing date: 11 December 2016

Communication Officer – Regeneration
London Borough of Hackney
Closing date: 12 December 2016

Community Boost Officer
London Borough of Waltham Forest
Closing date: 12 December 2016

Apprentice – Community Engagement
Torbay Council
Closing date: 16 December 2016

Equality and Engagement Officer
East Sussex County Council
Closing date: 18 December 2016

Community Council Development Officer
Southwark Council
Closing date: 18 December 2016

Technology Consultant – Solution Architect
Thurrock Council
Closing date: 18 December 2016

Senior Public Affairs Officer
London Borough of Newham
Closing date: 21 December 2016

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

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

We asked Dick Vincent from the Trust a few questions:

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

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

Delib: Why did you start using Citizen Space?

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

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

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

Delib: Has the Delib team been helpful?

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

A great first consultation

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

1) Accessible language

Screenshot of an easy to read front page

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

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

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

2) Use of further info

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

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

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

Screenshot of an embedded pdf page in a further info section

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

3) Relevant sections

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

4) Events listings

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

Screenshot of events section in the footer

5) Including other opportunities to engage

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

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

Screenshot of get involved section

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

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

How to customise your Citizen Space support page, with some help from Edinburgh City Council

Lots of large organisations use Citizen Space to coordinate all the consultation activity across their many departments. That means there can be lots of users with varying levels of experience setting up consultations.

These guys often need a quick bit of help and guidance without having to call the person responsible for overseeing consultation activity every time they have a question. They’ll need guidance about internal protocols like consultation layouts and language use, as well as technical support.

Citizen Space includes a fully-editable support page in the back end for this purpose. We added this feature after requests from customers – and it’s a great idea. This is a page that a Citizen Space overseer can customise to provide help to the other admin users across their organisation. By default, it includes a link to our Citizen Space quick start guide and the Citizen Space knowledge base. But you can also add your own, organisation-specific help and guidance. That’s exactly what Edinburgh City Council have successfully done with their Citizen Space.

Since adopting Citizen Space in 2014, an increasing number of people and departments at City of Edinburgh Council use the platform. A team of four in the strategy and insight team oversees the use of Citizen Space, supporting nearly 50 users with a mixture of experience across different departments in the council.

Edinburgh have used their support page to clearly link through to their consultation framework and a list of service leads. Presenting this information at a point when users are starting to build consultations helps to make sure they understand the council’s consultation standards, and who to contact if they have any queries.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 16.15.52

Edinburgh City Council have also taken advantage of the Citizen Space .pdf embed feature by including a ‘lessons learned’ log. This log lists all the issues that people have already identified with online consultation, and any recommendations or follow-up needed. This helps to prevent users asking questions that are already being addressed or have already been answered, saving everybody time.

The Citizen Space support page can also be used to link through to further resources that admins could use to make their consultations more interesting and engaging. The support page could link through to a bank of stock banner images or free stock images, for instance. You could also use the page to communicate about training sessions and meetings.

Edinburgh also hold their own Citizen Space user group on a bi-annual basis which enables them to bring all of the council’s Citizen Space users together regularly. That’s a great way to make sure everyone across a large organisation is on the same page, share tips and best practice, and address any difficulties anybody is experiencing.

A big thanks to Edinburgh City Council for their fine example. If your organisation has found any other innovative uses for the Citizen Space support page, feel free to drop us a line!

Top Australia and New Zealand public sector jobs this November (2016)

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 November collection – if any of them take your fancy, click through to find out more…

Australia

Senior Advisor – Engagement and Education Strategy
Seqwater
Closing date: 4 November 2016

Team Leader – Partnerships and Community Engagement
Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (SA)
Closing date: 7 November 2016

Manager – Digital Solutions
Queensland Government Department of Main Roads
Closing date: 11 November 2016

Digital Experience Coordinator
Water Corporation
Closing date: 13 November 2016

Social Media Adviser
Austrade
Closing date: 13 November 2016

Environmental Planner
Toowoomba Regional Council
Closing date: 14 November 2016

Coordinator – Community Development
City of Greater Geraldton
Closing date: 18 November 2016

General Manager – Communities
McArthur, Queensland
Closing date: 21 November 2016

New Zealand

Senior Advisor, Contracting Services and Support, Community Investment – Wellington
Ministry of Social Development
Closing date: 10 November 2016

Senior Communications Advisor
New Zealand Defence Force
Closing date: 10 November 2016

Communications Manager
Victoria University of Wellington
Closing date: 11 November 2016

Asset Planner, Hamilton
Department of Conservation
Closing date: 14 November 2016

How to make online consultation better – a first look at GDS-commissioned research

Earlier this year, the good people at the Government Digital Service (GDS) commissioned a discovery report into online consultation – specifically, online consultation conducted by central government. This kind of direct user research is really valuable, so we’re delighted that GDS commissioned it and are making the findings freely available.

The report has recently been published, covering important questions like: how do government bodies currently consult online? What platforms are used? How can the methods and the setup on gov.uk be improved? What do the creators of consultations and the people who respond to them really need?

It makes interesting reading for anybody involved in the field of digital democracy and online public engagement. Here are a few things that drew the attention of our highlighter pen on a first read-through:

Helping the public understand the consultation process

The report suggests there’s more to do when it comes to explaining the consultation process to people who might want to respond. The researchers interviewed a lot of civil servants involved in running consultation, as well as participants and members of the public, and they heard comments like:

“we are not communicating the process – there is nothing in the Cabinet Office guidelines that says we have to do that” (page 42)

This obviously isn’t ideal – especially as understanding the terms of a consultation is identified as a clear user need for participants:

“As a respondent I need to know what is/isn’t on the table as part of this consultation so that I can add input that is valuable.” (page 46)

There often needs to be clearer communication with the public about what consultation is, how the process works, what difference people’s input can make and what the expected time frames are. Shared expectations are needed, the report says, to avoid ‘disenchantment on both sides.’

This was precisely one of the issues that Donna Weston from the Government of Western Australia’s Office of the Environmental Protection Authority (WA EPA) identified when we interviewed her last month.

WA EPA’s consultations now feature a simple diagram on the home page explaining where this consultation fits within the whole deliberation process, helping respondents to understand what difference their response will make at this stage and what to expect to happen next. They find this helps to manage expectations and get more relevant responses, e.g. submitted evidence rather than emotional responses at the evidence-gathering stage.

wa-epa-process-diagram

Going beyond question-and-answer surveys

The report questions why surveys are the overwhelmingly dominant way of doing online consultation. A question-and-answer format may largely be popular because it’s an effective way of quickly gathering opinion in a format that’s easy to analyse – particularly at scale. But there are a wide range of other formats and tools that could also be used – why aren’t they used more widely?

One of the reasons put forward in the report is that there’s ‘an ingrained cultural expectation of what ‘consultation’ entails’ within government – that is to say, sometimes people just automatically assume that consultation = survey/questionnaire.

The report suggests broadening the types of activities that go into the consultation mix, and highlights a few such potential approaches.

For example, there’s a focus on open ideas generation processes: ‘at an early stage of consultation, civil servants are often seeking suggestions or ideas, rather than detailed comments’ (page 74). In these stages of the consultative process, the report suggests, open idea generation could be a useful addition or complement to the traditional closed survey approach.

We have our own open discussion tool for exactly this kind of alternative approach: Dialogue. There are a host of Dialogues live at the moment – such as this one in Edinburgh (albeit that’s a local, rather than central, government example)The City of Edinburgh Council are using Dialogue to ask residents to share their ideas and vision for how the growing city should look by 2050 – mixing in a more open, discursive approach to their consultation approach, exactly as suggested by the report.

edinburgh 2050 dialogue

As we’ve written about before, there are lots of advantages to combining different, complementary consultation methods and tools like this. As the GDS report says, ‘mixed methods… will broaden the public views that are received, and increase the quality of evidence gathered.’

What does a consultation platform need?

It was encouraging to see a number of positive reports from users of Citizen Space (our online consultation platform) cropping up throughout the report.

There’s a lot of overlap between the report’s recommendations and features which exist in Citizen Space – which is mostly just reassuring about the conversations we have with our government customers! (We take a lot of feedback on board from our users, and we’re glad to see similar input reflected in the report’s findings.) Just as a couple of examples:

“I need the ability to link to outside sources so that I can build context. I need the ability to embed visual content so that I can make my consultation more engaging and accessible.” (page 42)

“I need the ability to see support info and questions at the same time so that I can read while I respond.” (page 46)

Lots of the guidance marries up with the advice we give to our customers – like embedding an appropriate amount of information into the consultation, immediately alongside the questions it relates to (rather than expecting respondents to read through several large PDF documents before even starting the survey).

It was great to see some of our customers come in for praise for their consultation work. For example, Transport for London – whose Citizen Space site ‘is considered by many to be one of the best uses of the current survey-style platforms for consultation.’ 

Also, the Department of Health, who are very diligent about making their consultations as accessible as possible. The report points out that, along with each online survey they put on Citizen Space, ‘an offline toolkit is provided, encouraging local groups to run a discussion about this topic and submit a response… This helps reach individuals and groups who are not currently involved in responding to consultations, do not have a high degree of digital literacy, or do not have access to the internet at home.’

Final first thoughts

We were glad to see this discovery phase commissioned, and glad to see a report with so many solid, pragmatic recommendations for running effective consultations. It’s great when other people share our desire to make consultation as good as it can be, and the emphasis on user needs/user-centric design is always encouraging. In some ways, the report is a round-up and affirmation of existing knowledge, rather than totally new information, but it’s helpful to have these things all in one place – and hopefully that helps more people adopt better consultation practices.

It’s great to know that gov.uk and GDS want to keep making it easier for citizens and stakeholders to participate in consultations; we look forward to seeing that work take shape. And we’ll try to keep up our side of things as well, by making sure tools like Citizen Space are as easy to use as possible.

Top Australia and New Zealand public sector jobs this October (2016)

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 October collection – if any of them take your fancy, click through to find out more…

Australia

Social & Community Planner
Baw Baw Shire Council
Closing date: 9 October 2016

Community Engagement Officer
Department of Police and Emergency Management (TAS)
Closing date: 9 October 2016

Community Liaison Officer
Shire of Merredin
Closing date: 10 October 2016

Communications and Community Engagement Officer
Sunshine Coast Council
Closing date: 10 October 2016

Digital Communications Coordinator
Department of Fire & Emergency Services (WA)
Closing date: 10 October 2016

Director, Communications & Corporate Affairs
Australian Aged Care Quality Agency
Closing date: 12 October 2016

ICT Operations Officers
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
Closing date: 18 October 2016

New Zealand

Senior Communications Advisor Web & Channel Management
NZ WorkSafe
Closing date: 9 October 2016

Senior Engagement and Communications Advisor
Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment
Closing date: 13 October 2016

Workforce Lead
Ministry of Social Development
Closing date: 16 October 2016

Manager, Corporate Communications
NZ WorkSafe
Closing date: 16 October 2016

Top UK #localgov jobs this October (2016)

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

Head of Parks and Green Spaces
Bristol City Council
Closing date: 7 October 2016

Outreach and Engagement Coordinator
Exmoor National Park Authority
Closing date: 7 October 2016

Digital Project Manager
Watford Borough Council
Closing date: 9 October 2016

Technology Consultant – Project Manager
Thurrock Council
Closing date: 9 October 2016

Service Improvement Officer
Reading Borough Council
Closing date: 11 October 2016

Democratic Services Officer
London Borough of Hillingdon
Closing date: 16 October 2016

Community Neighbourhoods Development Officer
London Borough of Newham
Closing date: 16 October 2016

Communications and Web Officer
Runnymede Borough Council
Closing date: 16 October 2016

Digital Communications Officer
NHS Improvement
Closing date: 17 October 2016

Community Engagement Apprentice
Torbay Council
Closing date: 21 October 2016

Communications Officers x 3
Central Bedfordshire Council
Closing date: 27 October 2016

Media and Campaigns Officer
London Borough of Hillingdon
Closing date: 30 October 2016