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

 

Three useful resources for creating successful consultations

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been digging around and updating some of our resources. We thought you might be interested in these three.

The Digital Consultation Playbook

What it’s all about: A booklet offering strategies, advice and principles for creating excellent online consultations – even if you’ve never done one before.

How it can help you: The playbook provides guidance on pinpointing a target audience, creating an engaging question, promoting consultations – and more.

Zendesk

What it’s all about: A comprehensive online knowledge base, crammed full of practical advice, support materials and FAQs.

How it can help you: Zen Desk addresses some of the most common questions our customers ask. These include: how do I set out a challenge? What’s the difference between a radio button and a check box? And how can I get consultation questions approved internally?

Customer stories

What they’re all about: Practical examples from other organisations who have run successful public consultation exercises.

How they can help you: Our case studies can offer useful insights and provide ideas for future consultations.

There are lots of customer stories online. The Scottish Government,  The City of Melbourne and Forestry Commission are just three of them.

 

We hope these tools and support materials are helpful. Should you ever find yourself stuck, or in need of some guidance on delivering a great consultation, do take a look. You can always get in touch with us for a chat too.

Introducing our first ever Ireland, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man Citizen Space user group

We are very happy to announce our first ever get-together for Citizen Space users in Northern Ireland, Ireland and the Isle of Man on Wednesday 10th May in Belfast. Customer user groups have been running since 2014, and are always a high point in the calendar for us. Annual meet ups have already been established in London, Scotland and Australia so we’re really excited to add another pin on the map!

What are the user groups about?

User groups bring together anyone who works in public/stakeholder consultation to share best practice and inspiration; they’re always a great opportunity to hear what others in your field are up to. (For example, check out some of our lessons learnt from the recent Scottish user group in Edinburgh.) User groups are also an opportunity to meet other users who might have a similar job role or challenge within their organisation.

What will the day involve?

The user groups focus on talks and conversations on all things digital engagement (as well as chats over a free lunch!), and tend to include the following:

  • Show-and-tell of recent or upcoming engagement exercises by current users. Review of the process and challenges of how you do consultation
  • Citizen Space roadmap – we’ll talk through our plans for development and get your input
  • An opportunity to meet other Citizen Space users from across local and central government
  • Digital surgery on any questions/topics requested

In previous years, we’ve had talks on topics like building a quality consultation process, how to structure analysis, digital transformation, managing promotion and how to create great consultation content; we’ve also had reports of good consultations (and bad ones) and what has been learnt from them, and much more besides.

We’ve already sent out invites to customers for the day and spaces are filling up fast. If you are interested in attending but haven’t received an invite please email louise@delib.net. Watch this space for lessons learnt from the session 🙂

Top Australia and New Zealand public sector jobs this April (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 April 2017 collection – if any of them look tempting, click through to find out more…

Community Participation Coordinator
Port Macquarie Hastings Council
Closing date: 23rd April 2017

Communications Officer
Closing date: 17th April 2017 

Public Contact Officer
Commonwealth Ombudsman
Closing date: 30th June 2017 

Senior Hearings Advisor
Auckland Council
Closing date: 23rd April 2017

Head of Public Engagement / Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki
Auckland Council
Closing date: 30th April 2017 

10 lessons learnt at our 2017 Scottish user group

We kicked off our 2017 user groups in a sunny and spring-like Edinburgh this week. Hosted in collaboration with the Scottish Government (special thanks to the Digital Engagement team!), the day involved a fantastic array of speakers and lots of discussion. The user groups are a regular opportunity for customers to catch up, to see how others in similar roles are using their platforms to manage their online consultation and engagement activity, and hopefully to 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 10 things we wish you could’ve been there to hear. Without further ado:

1. Make time to consider the ‘total value’ of a consultation activity

During the morning session, we discussed what success looks like for online consultation. One of the topics that came up was considering the ‘total value’ of consultation activity – i.e. looking beyond just the number of responses. They may be less easy to track and measure but factors like the amount of time a citizen – or the organisation, for that matter – spends on a consultation, or the cost of the issues at hand, can give a richer evaluation of an exercise.

“Do the individuals who have been consulted feel that they have been considered?”
Eachann Gillies, Digital Engagement Manager,  The Scottish Government

2. Citizen Space helps organisations run an end-to end process

Police Scotland gave a fantastic and candid presentation reflecting back on their first couple of months of using Citizen Space. Prior to using the tool, reporting and results from consultation exercises weren’t always well-integrated (for example, surveys and the feedback on those surveys would often be on entirely separate sites). Now, using Citizen Space, it’s possible for the organisation to create, analyse and report back on the consultation all in one place.

3. Effective promotion is key

Police Scotland also talked about effective promotion. In order to ensure their consultation was a success, they drew up a timetable of thematic weeks of engagement which helped with their overall vision of getting to much-talked-about but hard-to-reach communities. During the process, they even used the admin side of Citizen Space to report back internally on the effectiveness of their outreach activity. (It’s always great to hear about people finding new and creative ways to use our platforms!)

4. Make reporting meaningful

There was general recognition that, sometimes, what is useful and meaningful to a chief exec might not be what citizens are looking for when it comes to reporting. We also talked about how the success of a consultation is not necessarily about big numbers (especially not if they become ‘vanity metrics’) – it should be about the substantive changes under consideration and their implementation. Reporting needs to be tailored to its intended audience, but should always focus on meaningful findings and actions (not telling people what you think they want to hear).

5. Trust your community managers and enable them to make decisions ‘on the fly’

If a community manager needs to go away and check that a post is OK before approving it, it can kill the flow of the conversation. Ensuring that they are well equipped and trusted in their role is key. If there is more than one person moderating ensuring they are in agreement on what can and can’t be moderated out is of paramount importance for quality control.

“What a beautiful thing to have these conversations in the open”

(Leah Lockhart, DemSoc)

6. Create welcoming online spaces

Online conversations are happening right now; government departments can choose to listen and be involved in them – which means offering a welcoming space. There was unanimous agreement that if you don’t give people the space to have their say, they’ll end up expressing their views somewhere else anyway. The conversation is going to be happening whether you as an organisation are listening or not – so better to be actively engaging!

7. Think carefully about scale

Sometimes going online and asking ‘huge’ questions about a topic isn’t as useful as taking ‘bite-sized’ chunks and breaking them down into digestible consultations or chapters. Something smaller and interactive might be more useful in the long run than asking broad questions.

8. We’re seeing a move towards ‘continuous democracy’

Whilst discussing trends in digital democracy in Scotland, Ali from The Democratic Society noted how we’ve started to see a move away from one-off engagement initiatives towards more ‘continuous democracy’. That is to say, involving citizens and stakeholders in decisions is increasingly part of business as usual – a default expectation of democratic organisations.

As a result, it has become more important to establish and refine the processes by which this continuous democracy operates. Rather than reinventing the wheel in a haphazard series of ‘one-hit wonder’ projects, consistency is key: repeatability, standardisation etc all make it easier to effectively involve people on a daily basis.

9. Analysis needs planning

Getting the right results for analysis stems from asking the right questions. For colleagues in policy teams, how can we make sure effective analysis is borne in mind – especially at the early/planning stages of a new policy or decision?

““Running a consultation and not thinking about analysis before you start is like getting in a car without knowing where you’re going””
Eachann Gillies, Digital Engagement Manager, The Scottish Government

10. Context is king

It needs to be easy for respondents to participate (people’s time is precious, after all). Small details to reduce the ‘friction’ of consultative processes can make a big difference. For example, The Scottish Government have had some really positive feedback from respondents on their practice of using carefully-placed ‘fact banks’ in their surveys – giving contextual detail/background information immediately alongside each question. This helps people give informed responses, which in turn hopefully leads to better decisions in policy-making.

 

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 most certainly be holding more user groups in 2017 (In 2016, we ran no fewer than 5 user groups around the world: kicking off in Scotland before heading to Australia and back to London.) Up next this year is our first user group in Belfast – on May 10th.

Until next time, Edinburgh 😉

 

 

 

Top UK #localgov jobs – April 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 April.

Consultant
NPC London
Closing date: 25 April 2017

Communications Manager
KANTAR London
Closing date: 15 April 2017

Senior Officer
Cotswold district council
Closing date: 27 April 2017

Leisure and Community Officer
Fareham Borough Council
Closing date: 7 April 2017

Stakeholder Engagement Specialist
Black & Veatch
Closing date:  N/A

Kent Planning Officer
Natural England
Closing date: 14 April 2017

User Researcher (Government Department)
City of London
Closing date: 30 April 2017

 

Hiring: Developer

Hello, we’re looking for an experienced Python developer to join us in Bristol, UK. We’re a small company but we build software that makes a difference worldwide. Delib’s products are used to connect citizens with government; our flagship product, Citizen Space, is used by over 80 government organisations around the world. Have a look at our Citizen Space Aggregator to see thousands of issues on which our customers are currently consulting the public.

We think we have a decent 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.  Of course 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 backend development we work with Python frameworks including Pyramid, Zope and Plone. You don’t need to have used these, but you must have substantial industry experience in Python development, and have worked with web frameworks in the past.
  • 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 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). You’ll get a decent Macbook Pro, or an equivalent Linux laptop if you prefer.

Hours and Salary

Could be a full-time, part-time or freelance scenario (we’re a bit tight about freelance rates though eh?). 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 us a covering letter and your CV to lorna@teamrubber.com.

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)

Delib office, King Street, Bristol

 

Health, involvement and digital: a UK perspective

Ben Fowkes, our Commercial Director, is currently meeting some of our customers and other movers and shakers across Australia and New Zealand. Among other things, he’s giving a series of talks on effective online involvement and consultation for government.

The first of these was last week, to around 100 delegates from various health bodies, looking at the idea of digital involvement in their field.

Very briefly, for those of us who couldn’t be there in person, here are some of the points he covered:

A bit of UK context

  • Local health is…complicated. CCGs, CSUs, lots of organisations merging or otherwise changing structure, frequent shifts in management, policy, priorities etc.
  • There are interesting initiatives like NHS Citizen and NHS Digital.
  • There are certainly steps towards increasing digital capacity/skills nationally but (as is almost always the case), culture change takes time.
  • It’s not always a straightforward environment in which to operate. And anything with a whiff of IT/software/infrastructure systems about it is seen as especially complicated.

Principle vs practice

  • And yet… Even amongst lots of complexity and caution, broadly, everybody ‘gets’ that public involvement is important; there is a desire to find ways for people to have their say in their healthcare.
  • The principle of public involvement is well-established (as are a decent number of standards, policies and processes as a result).
  • However, the ways in which that is undertaken – people’s practice in this area – continue to develop and change – especially as a result of digital tools.
  • That includes straightforward modernisations to existing mechanisms, such as traditional surveys being conducted online (e.g. https://nhs-digital.citizenspace.com/). But it’s also about the changes in culture/behaviour that follow with digital approaches.

Some notable developments we’re seeing

  • Online in general continues to become more the accepted norm – just look at the considerable growth in the number of consultations on Citizen Space (have a look at the Aggregator); we’ve also been seeing more desire for training in digital skills, including for engagement/patient involvement teams.
  • In particular, there’s an increasing recognition of the importance of responsive/mobile – have a look at any round-up of browser stats and you’ll see the same trend: tablets and mobiles have been quickly growing as the main way to access the internet. Health organisations are catching up to this reality and we’re seeing greater consideration for mobile users in their technology procurement and design processes.
  • As with government in general, GDS etc, there’s a definite rise in ‘design thinking’, and the importance of good quality, well-crafted content (see, for example, some of the lessons that the Department of Health shared at one of our previous user group sessions.)

If you work in public health and are interested to find out more, have a look at how health bodies, including Stockport CCG and NHS England, are already using our tools to improve their public consultation activity online – or drop us a line.

Top UK #localgov jobs – March 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 March…

District Councils’ Network Policy & Research Officer
Tandridge District Council on behalf of the District Councils’ Network
Closing date: 9 March 2017

Consultation and Engagement Officer
Dorset Councils Partnership
Closing date: 12 March 2017

Digital Media Officer
Erewash Borough Council
Closing date: 12 March 2017

Senior Consultation Officer
London Borough of Hackney
Closing date: 15 March 2017

Consultation & Communications Manager
London Borough of Hackney
Closing date: 15 March 2017

Communications Officer
Derby City Council
Closing date: 19 March 2017

Head of Councillor Support and Democratic Process
Cornwall Council
Closing date: 22 March 2017

Local Plan Manager
London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Closing date: 27 March 2017

Strategic Policy Leader (Corporate Policy & Community Planning Partnership)
Aberdeenshire Council
Closing date: 27 March 2017

Senior Planning Officer (Policy)
Epping Forest District Council
Closing date: 9 June 2017

‘Digital democracy in practice’ – seminar/Q&A with Exeter University students

One of the best parts of my role as an account manager is to get out of the office and spread the word about digital democracy. Last week, I was fortunate enough to return to my old stomping ground – Exeter University, in south west England – and give a talk to third year politics students. (The third year module on ‘civic engagement’ makes reference to online tools generally and Delib specifically.)  It was a real delight to be there for the afternoon. I just wish the module had existed when I was at uni!

Whilst writing my presentation on ‘digital democracy in practice’, I was also able to reflect back on the changes in online consultation and digital in government from 2011 to now. I chose the end of 2010/start of 2011 as a starting point, as this is when Martha Lane Fox’s influential report on the revolution not evolution of directgov came out – a report which marked a bit of a sea change and the beginnings of gov.uk. This was also a useful reflection point for me as I started working at Delib a few months later!

One of the key changes I have seen since 2011 is a shift from one-off ‘singular (project-based) democracy’ which costs government thousands of pounds in websites/one-off builds towards more ‘continuous democracy’ in 2017.  Government departments can now consult more regularly using low cost online tools. The result: more cost-effective solutions for citizens and improved transparency.

The second key shift I have witnessed is a more deep-rooted cultural change in working practices. Government departments are increasingly adopting more agile, lean and collaborative ways of working. Scenes that you see posted on gov.uk’s blog simply wouldn’t have existed in 2010.

Source: gds.blog.gov.uk

During the session, we reviewed some of the key grounding principles, focusing on the Gunning and consultation principles before applying these to real customer examples and teasing out some of the key challenges government departments face. I then opened up the session to questions. Here’s a flavour of the topics which came up from the students and an idea of how I answered them:

+ How does digital democracy help open up the conversation beyond ‘the usual suspects?’

Digital democracy can help open up the conversation to a broader range of participants by providing a different medium through which to conduct those conversations. Customers have indicated that using digital tools has enabled them to reach a broader audience group, which is fantastic. That said, if you are consulting a niche group on a specific topic, you may find that some of the ‘usual suspects’ still turn up, but who’s to say that they will be the only ones there contributing to the discussion?

+ How can social media help these conversations and government departments in 2017?

Social media can both promote and dilute the conversation you are hoping to have in my experience. If you start a conversation on one social media platform or digital engagement tool and it spreads across other platforms, sometimes the conversation can become disparate. It may also become difficult to analyse if there is no obvious flow or output from the discussions taking place.  When used well, however, social media can be a great opportunity to get into spaces where these conversations are already happening or to open up participation to individuals interested people/groups.

In order to use social media effectively, civil servants need to be equipped with the right community management skills. Luckily, there are an increasing number of short, free courses opening up such as this one from Future Learn on using data from social media platforms to understand public conversations. I’m hoping to check the course out to help with the guidance we give our customers.

+ Are these methods inclusive or do they often exclude certain generations?

This topic also came up at a conference I recently attended called NotWestminster as we were working with a case study which featured retired users. It was interesting how quickly some of the group jumped to assumptions. I wouldn’t say that digital democracy excludes certain generations and the idea that the older generation not necessarily having strong digital skills isn’t always true. Often the blocker is confidence in digital which isn’t necessarily age-based. Where there are gaps (sometimes referred to as ‘the digital divide’), the UK government often looks to address them – for example, via setting up departments within GDS, such as the assisted digital team.

+ Do you find that government departments look at the cost-benefit analysis of running online consultation?

Some government departments that we work with are starting to drill into more of the details and nuances in this area, which is great to see. For example, we heard from BEIS at our 2016 London user group about working with statistics and conversion rates from gov.uk (they got from a 3% conversion rate to an impressive 25% by studying what worked well). BEIS are really hot on their analytics at the moment and I’m excited to see what they are going to do next.

+ Do you have plans to expand outside of English speaking territories?

Our current goal is to continue our expansion within English speaking territories. But it would be great to work in more countries around the world one day! Our main blocker to this is being able to translate all 3 applications (though it is something we’re looking at). Government structures are fairly similar in the countries where we work at the moment, but expanding to new countries always means learning more about the particularities of their context.

+ Where’s next for deliberative discussion?

So what will the next 5+ years hold? Well, the biggest challenges I see are around standardisation and sharing of best practice. This is perhaps not new or unique to online consultation but does hold one of the biggest opportunities in my opinion. Jodie Lamb, a Communication and Stakeholder Engagement professional recently posted about what she had learnt whilst working in New Zealand. Sharing best practice or having ‘hands across the ocean’ is key. If something has already been trialled in the UK and failed, then let’s ensure that digital teams in Australia and NZ learn from this. There are also some really exciting projects and learning opportunities coming out from countries like Iceland, Brazil and Estonia. Sharing best practice is key.

The future of government and effective online consultation lies in the hands of the next generation of digital leaders. Learning that modules like this one on civic engagement exist is really exciting. I’m hoping that this talk will pave the way to other opportunities to talk to young digital leaders in the future.