As part of my Oct-Dec 2015 trip to Australia and New Zealand, we’re running a series of Citizen Space user groups. These are day-long sessions to hear from, learn from and share information with the people who use the system day-in, day-out. They’re always a great opportunity to pick up new insights, and it’s fantastic to see the different ways in which people are running excellent, important consultations using our software.
Our first Australian Capital Territory (ACT) user group was held in the Bunker Theatre at the Department of Environment in Canberra. (That’s the room’s actual name – it used to be an ASIO facility and this part of the building was once ‘top secret clearance’ only. I felt there was something quite apt about the space having been opened up into a lecture hall, and now serving as the venue for a conversation about increasing public participation in government!)
These were some of my key ‘take-home’ pointers from the day…
1. There is a ‘tipping point’ when organisations can benefit from taking stock of their online consultation process in practice
Both the Federal Departments of Health and of the Environment in Australia have been using Citizen Space for approximately two years. Following their initial adoption, their use of the platform is now starting to mature. In that time, both departments have also seen a large amount of personnel and departmental change, and they’re now looking to review their policies and processes around Citizen Space to make sure they’re appropriate for the current organisational context (rather than still reflecting an ‘early adoption’ situation of a couple of years ago).
2. ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a great way to get organisational buy-in
One of the best ways to promote Citizen Space internally is to showcase or case study an example of a consultation – either a standard example which users can relate to, or possibly one that is a little further ahead in thinking to how the department has consulted previously.
One example of this was cited by the ACCC who are consulting on their Hearing Aid Survey. The approach taken here was new for the Department as it saw them proactively go out to consult following a suggestion from an information centre.
The Department of Environment are also considering using Citizen Space to collect testimonials from colleagues who have used it in order to promote the internal ‘sell’ of the system.
“I go to a lot of meetings where someone hasn’t thought about a solution to a problem, and I’m finding that more often than not the solution would be Citizen Space”
Liz, Department of Environment
3. Promote ‘success milestones’
The Department of Environment had their Secretary send a congratulatory message across the Department upon hitting certain key milestones – for example, when the Department received their first 1,000 responses to consultations.
4. Aim to get your users ‘self-serving’ with Citizen Space
The Department of the Environment have done lots of work getting their users to ‘self-serve’ (that is, to use Citizen Space without needing central support – it’s not that they’ve taught them to be selfish!)
For this to work smoothly, it’s also important to ensure that any internal information and advocacy of the platform is up to date (we heard, for example, how Liz from the Department of the Environment looks after regularly updating the Department’s internal content). This is especially important given that Citizen Space is a continually evolving and developing product. The ACCC tend to give new users a link to the Citizen Space knowledge base and then offer to be available by phone to answer additional questions.
5. Appointing and then working with Citizen Space champions, or ‘power users’, can be key for the tool’s organisation-wide adoption
The Federal Departments of both Health and the Environment have adopted a de-centralised approach to rolling out their Citizen Space instances. This includes having ‘power users’ – experts in using Citizen Space – around the organisation. The Department of Environment also offer policy officers quick one-on-one training sessions when they are about to run a consultation, with the aim of ensuring the training is timely and appropriate to the individual who needs it.
6. Having a final eye on sign-off can help improve the quality and consistency of consultations
The Department of Industry are about to move from a centralised to a de-centralised approach to managing their Citizen Space instance. They are however, going to keep publishing rights locked down to Site Administrators only so that trusted individuals can give consultations a final ‘once-over’ before they go live.
“Often, policy officers who are building an online consultation are just too close to the content at hand – which is when mistakes happen”
Lettie, Department of Industry
7. Keep a list of risks about previous processes up your sleeve in case there is resistance to new ways of working
The Department of Environment keep a few examples of previous consultations run on previous systems to help advocate the importance of adopting an online tool and process like Citizen Space. One person gave a specific ‘bad old days’ example of having to manually make lists of keywords, add them to a consultation and then manually collate consultation responses and data.
8. Citizen Space is versatile
One of the themes from our London user group was learning just how versatile Citizen Space was in terms of being used beyond a traditional consultation tool. We heard the same in ACT – for instance, ACCC have used Citizen Space for event registration (rather like NHS England).
This was the second of our user groups in Australia, following hot on the heels of our Western Australia user group day. We look forward to many more!