Category Archives: News & thinking

News and thinking about digital democracy

Budget Simulator – now officially in 3 distinct editions (perfect for any occasion)

Budget Simulator is used by all sorts of government organisations, all over the world, to get insight into people’s priorities when they’re facing difficult decisions. No two decisions are exactly alike: sometimes, it’s about setting a budget to hit a fixed savings target. Sometimes, it’s about seeing where people make the trade-offs between tax and service level. Sometimes, it’s about getting a broad sense of people’s preferences when any resource (time, effort etc) is contested.

A simulator is supposed to be just that – a simulation, an accurate representation of the decision under consideration. So, to better support the different kinds of decisions Budget Simulator can, well, simulate, we’ve just formalised 3 main editions of the tool. So now it’s even easier to choose the configuration that suits your situation.

The three editions are:

Total budget

Screenshot of total budget edition of Budget Simulator

Users are presented with your total budget; they adjust spending in key areas until they’re happy with the overall balance of allocations.

Great for visualising your organisation’s spending, showing the scale of a budget challenge and giving people ‘the big picture’.

Personal bill/rates

Screenshot of rates edition of Budget Simulator

Users are shown a budget expressed as a personalised bill or tax rate – tailored to their situation. They adjust spending and see how these changes will directly affect their payments.

Great for helping people to understand the effect of choices on their own pocket.

Points allocation

Screenshot of points edition of Budget Simulator

Perhaps you want to understand people’s priorities in a way that doesn’t directly correspond to a financial figure. In this version, users are given a number of abstract points, which they can assign to their preferred areas.

Great for exploring the trade-offs between any set of options – budgetary or otherwise.

You can see some examples of how people have used Budget Simulator in different ways in our collection of customer stories.

And if you’re interested in using Budget Simulator yourself, or just want to find out a bit more about it, you can always drop us a line.

Citizen Space release announcement v3.1.15

We’ve just released our latest Citizen Space update. As with most of these smaller milestones, this one focuses on incremental improvements to the platform – a handful of ways we’ve identified to make it faster and smoother to use. Specifically:

  • Big downloads: sometimes, you’ll want to download a set of responses that includes files uploaded by respondents. This can make for some pretty hefty zip files – but we’ve improved the way these large files are handled so these downloads should now run noticeably quicker.
  • Security update: we’ve added in new protections against Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) attacks.
  • Minor fixes: you can now reliably download response files even if a respondent uses a special character in the title (&, ! etc). And we ironed out a sporadic glitch in the ‘Skip to main content’ accessibility link (we found some odd edge cases where it would take you to a different page).

v3.1.15 rolls out today to all Citizen Space customers. If you have any questions about the new release, you can always get in touch.

Tips and advice

18 (!) lessons from our first two user groups of the year

In the past couple of months, we’ve had Citizen Space user groups in Edinburgh and Belfast. As always, we hear a heap of useful things from our customers sharing their experiences at these events. Check out our round-ups of the respective days:

A full meeting room at the Citizen Space user group in Belfast

Skip Logic: a quick start guide

Do you ever use skip logic in your surveys? It’s one of those things that can be daunting if you’re not familiar with it, but is incredibly useful once you are. If you’re not sure where to start, or want to help train up colleagues, our quick guide could be useful. There’s also a bunch of more detailed instructions for setting up skip logic surveys in Citizen Space on our knowledge base.

A little help?

We’re looking for outcomes…

We’re currently undertaking some research into consultation outcomes – how organisations track and report on their findings; what, if anything, happens differently as a result; how input shapes decisions, that kind of thing. So:

  • Do you have any success stories – a time when you felt a consultation went really well?
  • Do you have any examples of when consulting has driven positive change and/or delivered better services?

If you’ve got any stories along those lines that you’d be happy to share, please do get in touch with us. Thanks!

All aboard

Welcome to our new customers!

Our latest Citizen Space customers include Nottinghamshire County Council and Torfaen County Borough Council  – a warm welcome to them. And remember: you can search through all consultations running on Citizen Space via the Aggregator.

From Bristol #citizenspace to NYC #civictech, stopping at Nairobi #SiliconSavannah

Hello I’m Alex, or Pitkin, and I’m Delib’s latest travelling director (although more permanently than Chris :] ).  I’ve recently moved to the wonder that is New York City, and if anyone is interested in discussing any of the above hashtags, or digital democracy and digital dockets, and you’re in NYC we should do bagels and coffees!

After signing off on my last few blog posts back in 2012 I’ve been busy roaming the ‘Silicon Savannah’ that is Nairobi, the heart of East Africa’s tech and community engagement scene.

Back in 2012 I was focussing on some exciting projects like the famous DECC My2050 educational consultation game, and the huge Thames Tideway Tunnel consultation on site selection in London. While the tech and thinking has arguably moved on, interestingly both projects are still important today!

“Having your say” and “Exploring participatory branching logic”, safari style

My main focus in my time in Kenya was in continuing the great citizen engagement work that runs on the FrontlineSMS platform after working initially on Kenya’s Daily Nation election monitoring platform that provided real time election dashboards on the 2013 presidential election.  Lots of learning about how people and tech work together around the world to improve communication, democracy, health, sustainability, education and everything outside and in between…

Before my journey to Kenya and the US I was working amongst almost everything Delib since 2006, coordinating product development on all of 3 of our pioneering platforms for the UK government.  A few notable projects for the US government including the award-winning Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Dialogue in 2009/2010.  I’m keen to compare notes here in the US and share experiences on 2017’s big initiatives.

I now find myself living in Brooklyn, and working at the heart of #civictech in the Civic Hall NYC community.  Always trying to help to improve and learn how governments and organisations can improve how they engage and connect with their citizens and customers.

@pitkin
linkedin.com/alexpitkin

8 lessons from our first Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man Citizen Space user group

After kicking off our 2017 user groups in Scotland last month, next up was our first Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man Citizen Space user group. The event was kindly co-hosted with Belfast City Council, who, alongside the Government of Northern Ireland  presented their experiences of using Citizen Space on the day. The user groups are a regular opportunity for customers to catch up, see how others in similar roles are using their platforms to manage their online consultation and engagement activity, and hopefully pick up some interesting tips and insights.

So, for the benefit of those who weren’t at the event, we’ve a quick round-up of eight things we wish you could’ve been there to hear. Without further ado:

1. The need to consult online is stronger than ever

During the morning session, Patricia Flynn from Belfast City Council spoke about the journey which led them to adopt Citizen Space, as well as lessons learnt since adoption. One of the key messages which came up in both Patricia’s talk and throughout the day was the need to be ‘consistent and sophisticated in approach’ towards online consultation. Using Citizen Space has helped Belfast City Council to highlight the importance of keeping the public’s trust through running effective consultations for example. Emma Penney from Gov NI also echoed this in her afternoon talk:

““It feels like the public are expecting to be consulted more with the advent of social media etc”
Emma Penney, Digital Transformation Consultant, Department of Finance and Personnel, Government of Northern Ireland

2. Software is only part of the picture

Adopting Citizen Space often helps customers to evaluate their associated consultation processes. For some customers it provides an opportunity to start afresh, for others it’s a chance to build upon lessons learnt previously.

“At the end of the day the software is only part of the puzzle. We need to make sure managers understand that a consultation should meet certain standards”
Patricia Flynn, Strategic Planning & Policy Officer, Belfast City Council

3. Make time to close the feedback loop

A consistent theme and challenge throughout the day was the need to report back on both consultation results and the final outcomes (i.e what has actually changed as a result of the consultation). Emma Penney from Gov NI suggested that perhaps it’s useful to have a team or individual responsible for prompting reporting back. She’s found that this can help remind colleagues to report back who may have simply forgotten to add a report back onto Citizen Space, or ensure feedback is public for example.

4. Citizen Space can form a central piece of your consultation tool box

A question we often get asked is about supporting a variety of needs of different respondents. For example, if broadband is patchy in an area, or respondents would prefer to have a variety of response mechanisms, how can this be supported by Citizen Space? Luckily Citizen Space includes features like the ability to add offline responses, which means that any respondents who would prefer to complete a paper copy can still use this method but have their response centralised alongside online responses.

“Citizen Space is one tool but it helps you grip and hold everything that happened around that consultation in one place”
Patricia Flynn, Strategic Planning & Policy Officer, Belfast City Council

5. Consider the ‘total’ consultation cost

It can be useful to critically review how much a particular consultation or project has cost an organisation. Often it’s easy to quantify the cost of events or software, which might have fixed costs associated with them. However, it’s often difficult to accurately report on the number of officers involved in a consultation and how much of their time was dedicated to the project.

6. Online tools like Citizen Space can help to reach a larger demographic

Using demographic information in consultations and surveys alongside data from services like Google Analytics can help to critically evaluate the ‘reach’ consultations are getting. A couple of the attendees remarked how they felt that using Citizen Space compared to previous methods had helped to improve the demographic spread of respondents.

“We’ve found that Citizen Space has helped to access a much bigger demographic than what we had seen before”
Patricia Flynn Strategic Planning & Policy Officer, Belfast City Council


7. It’s OK to switch back and forth between a centralised and de-centralised model of use for Citizen Space

We often talk to customers about the benefits of either a centralised or de-centralised approach to using Citizen Space. There often isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach and Emma Penney from Gov NI spoke about their experiences of first using a centralised then de-centralised approach, before choosing to re-centralise their departments and use of Citizen Space. Being flexible and agile in your approach and associated processes can help ensure that this is easy to do.

8. Consider the media that is most relevant to each type of respondent

Citizen Space includes the ability to use rich media such as images and videos in a flexible way. Sometimes consultation documents are written, copied and pasted into Citizen Space and published in haste as text. Gov NI are pushing the boundaries by getting colleagues to think about what media might be most useful for respondents – do they prefer visuals and videos over text for example? Emma Penney from Gov NI also spoke about her vision for a digital content creation team in the future which would help with using appropriate media for the audience and context. Such a team could be used to help support such exercises in the future.

As ever, big thanks to everyone who attended and for the customers who agreed to speak at the event. We hope you enjoyed the user group as much as we did – and if you didn’t have time to attend, don’t fret! We’ll be holding more user groups in 2017. (In 2016, we ran no fewer than five user groups around the world: kicking off in Scotland before heading to Australia and back to London.)

 

Top UK #localgov jobs – May 2017

It’s time for the monthly round-up of great digital, strategic and engagement jobs from the UK local government sector. Take a look at our picks for May.

Head of Technology Services
Horsham District Council
Closing date: 22/05/2017 12:00 PM

Transport Planning Officer
Brighton & Hove City Council
Closing date: 22/05/2017

Parks Community Engagement Officer
Enable Leisure & Culture
Closing date: 14/05/2017

Assistant Communications and Policy Officer
Oxford City Council
Closing date: 21/05/2017

Part Time Community Engagement Officer (24 hours per week)
Castle Point Borough Council
Closing date: 16/05/2017

Planning Officer
Milton Keynes Council
Closing date: 26/05/2017

Planning Officer
Waverley Borough Council
Closing date: 22/05/2017

Prevent Community Engagement Development Officer
Westminster City Council
Closing date: 18/05/2017

Communications co-ordinator
One-Eighty Children’s Charity
Closing date: 17/05/2017

 

 

Democratic hero – Andrew Greenway

Welcome back to our Digital Heroes series – it’s been a while.

In the latest instalment, we hear from Andrew Greenway, a former civil servant turned independent consultant, who, in his own words does ‘a mixture of hacking bureaucracies and writing about them’.

Andrew has some fascinating insights on the future of digital democracy as well as some clear views on music tastes and biscuit dunking.

So, without further ado, let’s get on to the questions.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?

My name is Andrew Greenway, and I live in London. I grew up in Huntingdon, a town that I wrote the entry for in the book ‘Crap Towns 3’. It wasn’t all that bad.

2. What do you do for a living?

I’ve never been very good at answering this question.

I help governments and other big organisations run in ways that respond better to our rising expectations of what’s possible. Usually that involves some combination of freelance strategy, governance, capability building and design.

In practice, I do a mixture of hacking bureaucracies and writing about them. In the not too distant past I was a civil servant, and worked in quite a few bits of the UK government, including the Government Digital Service, Government Office for Science and three other departments.

These days I work with international governments and some UK organisations. I also write about Whitehall in various places, trying to play the role of critical friend.

3. Who is your favourite band or artist?

I have a soft spot for Radiohead, Pink Floyd and John Lee Hooker, which I recognise as the tastes of someone twice my age.

I basically struggle with any music made after about 2004. My memory of anything made after that point is retained solely for the purposes of future pub quiz questions.

4. Android or iPhone?

iPhone – I am a fully-paid up member of the Apple cult. 

5. PC or Mac?

See above…  


6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?

Context is all. I was told more than once by ex-colleagues: ‘you’re not a typical civil servant are you?’. The tragedy of it is that I probably am, but I was saved from going down the usual paths by good luck and working with a lot of brilliant people who showed me the value of openness, agility and actually getting stuff done.

I would say I’m a creature of habit, because it turns out that almost nothing that I’ve written about the reform of the civil service is radically different from what similarly-minded people have been saying for at least fifty years. It is quite deflating to think you’ve come up with something new, only to find someone like Peter Hennessy got there before I was born. He’s a Lord now, so there’s surely ermine in my future somewhere. 


7. Your house is on fire, what do you save?

Assuming my fiancee is already long out the building, I’d grab a box of sentimental old letters, a laptop, and my passport. You may as well go and travel after something like that. 


8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

Unsullied. Soggy biscuits? No.  


9. Best project you’ve worked on and why?

During my time in the Cabinet Office I was product manager for the UK’s digital service standard and design manual. The idea was to set the bar not only for what digital public services should look and feel like, but how they were built too – the shape of the team, the data they cared about, and so on. The second challenge was to help teams around government meet that standard. 

It was great fun for lots of reasons. Everyone on the team brought something different to the mix. We worked in the open, and iteratively – getting the chance to draw on expertise from hundreds of people within and outside government in a very short space of time. We knew our management and minister trusted us. That gave us the space to do the right thing, and politely ignore any unhelpful conventions.

The idea of government digital service standards and manuals have since been copied all over the place – Australia, the US and parts of Canada have something very similar, many others are dabbling with the idea. It directly helped make millions of online government experiences simpler and quicker for people. I’m proud of that.

10. Where do you hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of online consultation/ digital democracy?

The gap between those thinking deeply about how the Internet-era is changing the role of government versus mainstream democratic debate seems to be getting wider. That’s a great pity, I think, and I would like to see it narrow. 

A lot of political argument focuses on levers – spending more on x, y or z, regulating this or that, running public services via the state or private companies, leaving the EU – that actually have a debatable impact on the reality of our daily lives.

They all sound important, transformational. But I’m increasingly sceptical that turning the money taps left and right in our public services really makes an appreciable, long-term difference to outcomes. Ditto Brexit. The real structural challenges in democracies run much deeper, and the current level of public debate largely distracts from that. The civil service’s internal discussions are not that much better. 

Failing to confront this kind of big, knotty problem is arguably making conventional politics and democracy more fragile. People can say with some justification, ‘What’s the point of all this? We always end up in the same place’. That is a worrying place to be. 

Closing that gap will require a lot of things to happen. One is our political and official class becoming far more comfortable with technology and the digital age. Much of that world still thinks in paper, even when it operates through the web.

11. Any shout-outs? 

There are lots – really, LOTS – of interesting and inspirational thinkers about civic tech, design and the like to be found on Twitter. A very small selection of them: Richard Pope, Kate Tarling, Janet Hughes, Sarah Gold, Ben Holliday, Matt Edgar, Kit Collingwood, Dan Sheldon. There are many more.

You should obviously follow me as well, but I’m rubbish at Twitter. 

 

So, there you have it: a journey into the mind of Andrew Greenway. You can see more insights on his Twitter feed (he’s not rubbish). And if you do ever meet up over a cup of tea, just make sure your biscuits aren’t soggy.

Until next time…

Practical Democracy Project

Practical Democracy Project: designing the ultimate democracy user-journey

The Practical Democracy Project is a series of events dedicated to looking at how technology can best be used to make every-day improvements to the democratic process – with a particular focus on policy-making at local and central government levels.

The overall aim of the Practical Democracy Project is to design the ‘ultimate democracy user-journey’.  On one side, we’ll be mapping out in practical terms how to create the best democratic user-journey for citizens, using technologies that dominate people’s everyday lives; on the other side, we’ll be mapping out the optimal user-journey for government officials/policy makers/elected officials.  The key point being that democratic processes are a two-sided affair, which need to be optimised for both citizens and government if they’re to work.

We’ll be running the Practical Democracy Project as an ongoing series of events held around the UK – with off-shoots (hopefully, if anyone’s interested!) in the US, Australia and New Zealand too.

Event topic ideas

  • Well-designed democracy: UX design in policy-making
  • Scale or no scale: how to scale public participation using technology
  • Security and identity in democratic processes: when to care the user isn’t really a dog
  • Process management: tips on running a rock solid policy consultation management process and how to avoid judicial review
  • Designing the ultimate democracy user-journey
  • Others??? (suggestions welcome!)

Event schedule

The first of the events in the series will take place on the morning of Tuesday 27th June (2017) at Newspeak House (London) – from 8.30am to 10.30am.

More event dates to come.

How to get involved

The Practical Democracy Project is very much a civic tech community project, and we’re looking for others to get involved.

Ways you can participate include:
  • Suggesting topics to run events around
  • Suggesting speakers
  • Participating in the events yourself

For more info or to kick in ideas, drop us a line on Twitter @delibthinks.
You can sign up and join us via Eventbrite

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.

——————————————————————————————————————–

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.

Climbing Arnstein’s ladder?

If you work in consultation, engagement or public involvement, you’re probably aware of Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation.

It’s a bit of social research theory from the 60s, most famously summarised in this little diagram – a perennial favourite of any kind of white paper or documentation about citizen participation, and still seen on presentation slides all over the place today.

You can also spot echoes of the Ladder in things like IAP2’s spectrum of participation.

In lots of ways, that’s laudable. We’re all for applying rigour and research-based thinking to the work of involving people in decision-making. It’s important stuff, after all. And building on work that’s gone before, or developing theories for effective engagement – that’s all good.

BUT (you knew that was coming, right?)…

There can be an issue with Arnstein’s Ladder. We’ve seen it a few times, where it actually causes more problems than it solves, or sets people on the wrong track. And it can be especially dangerous when it’s seen as the definitive guide for public engagement. Here’s why:

The thing with Arnstein’s Ladder is that it has a value judgement built into it. Things at the bottom of the ladder are ‘bad’. Things at the top are ‘good’. (Just look at the words used in the lower sections: ‘manipulation’, ’non participation’, ‘tokenism’. They’re deliberately pejorative).

Thus, the goal for ‘good’ public involvement work must be to get to the top of the Ladder ASAP. If you rigidly stick to the Ladder, logically, you can end up thinking things like: ‘I shouldn’t spend time on informing or consulting – they’re low-down and BAD. I need to find a way to get this decision directly into CITIZEN CONTROL, because that (the theory tells me) is the pinnacle.’

And this is where it gets people into trouble. Because Arnstein’s Ladder was developed in response to a specific social situation and issue, in a particular time and place.

It was developed in a time of systemic unfairness and exclusivity towards black communities of urban planning processes in cities in 1960s USA. It’s an attempt to identify what might be done to rectify this issue, so we get things like direct citizen control put forward as a defence against corruption or malicious political intent.

But that is also exactly why Arnstein’s Ladder shouldn’t be extrapolated into some kind of universal model for public involvement. Because good involvement is about what’s appropriate to the decision at hand. And that needs a careful evaluation of each decision on its own merits. You can’t outsource that thinking to a single diagram.

There are loads of times and decisions where informing people is an absolutely essential part of effective participation – it’s not tokenism at all, or somehow a ‘lesser’ rung on the Ladder. Ditto consultation.

There are so many decisions where consultation is a formal, powerful, even legally recognised process for citizens to hold governments to account (Rhion Jones has some good chat on this, too). And, while there are plenty of times where direct citizen control can be an amazing, appropriate and effective way to operate a decision-making process (things like thoughtfully-implemented participatory budgeting schemes, for example), there will equally be many times where actually it’s entirely the wrong way to involve people in the process.

And that’s the risk. A glance at the Ladder would make you think that ‘consultation’ is always lesser, or that ‘informing’ is just a rung on the way up to something more valuable. There’s a danger that the Ladder makes some activities appear inherently better or worse than others. This can get in the way of carefully planning the most appropriate forms of participation for each individual exercise.

It doesn’t always happen that way, and there’s a lot to be said for Arnstein’s theory. It’s just important to understand it for what it is, and not to see it as a universal panacea on the issue of ‘how do I best involve people in this decision?’

Lots has been written about this, so if you’re interested in getting more in-depth information, you could start with ‘Dare we jump off Arnstein’s ladder?’: http://oro.open.ac.uk/8589/1/Path_paper_Collins_Ison.pdf