Tag Archives: cost saving

How The Australian Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science used Citizen Space to consult on ways of working

The Australian Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science have been using their Citizen Space instance for the past two years to run a variety of external and internal consultations. Endorsed by their executive, the department’s use of the tool is only continuing to grow.

One consultation which particularly caught our eye, and which was presented by the consultation team during our ACT user group in Canberra, was their series of internal ‘ways of working’ surveys. The aim of these surveys is to determine how different members of staff like to work in order to inform how their new work space will look.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 12.27.33

In order to create the survey, the department enlisted an external company to create a series of images to depict the topics at hand. Spread across 10 key themes ranging from ‘chat’ through to ‘create’, the survey asks respondents to rate how important each of the different themes are to them.

“Using these kind of images are not so ‘government’ which I think helps” (Paulette Pope)

The consultation also helps to identify how different individuals like to work across different divisions and in different roles in the organisation. Using Citizen Space’s survey cloning feature, the department could create the survey and then clone it for each additional division. This helped ensure that the data was kept separate across the different divisions being consulted with. The data could also be broken down by staff role – meaning the department could look for similarities in how, say, project officers like to work.

The department was also able to take advantage of Citizen Space’s private consultation feature in order to run the consultations. An additional benefit of running these internal ‘ways of working’ surveys on the platform is that it has helped to promote the use of Citizen Space internally: the department saw a noticeable spike in the use of Citizen Space following the initial phase of the project. The message of ‘digital first’ is also being seen and reinforced by the whole department.

The consultation outcome has helped the team shape the way that their offices are fitted out. The project is able to move a whole floor or division out, consult and see what their preference is before taking into account the feedback and moving them back in. Depending on the staff preferences identified through the survey, each office will be fitted with different desks and layout.

“There has been a direct correlation between feedback from the survey and how the offices have been fitted out” (Glenn Cowling)

The program and changes which are happening here also help to improve the health of workers – to ensure they have sufficient breaks, the work setup they need and are supported in managing an appropriate work-life balance.

Thorough consultation informing substantive change, run via Citizen Space? That’s the kind of thing we’re always pleased to hear about.

Delib Product Development Process

Here at Delib we are pretty happy that our products help make it easier for government to engage with citizens in decision making. We work hard to make these apps as good as they can be. Every once in a while we get suggestions from our customers on how we can make things even better.

Do you actually do anything with these suggestions?

The resounding answer to this is yes! When your account manager thanks you for the feedback it’s not just lip service. Your suggestion is included in our product forum where the account managers, developers and MD discuss how we can improve our apps. Product features we can crack on with are then considered for inclusion in upcoming releases.

Why can’t you quickly make changes to the apps if it is obviously a good idea?

Making changes to the apps isn’t something we do on the fly as any change will affect all our users. We investigate, test and discuss suggestions to make sure that an idea which makes a lot of sense on the surface works well in practice. We also look at the change from a customer perspective to make sure it improves user experience.

How long do suggestions take to develop?

We have a nicely structured calendar of two and four week development cycles, plus a bunch of feature-focused product updates each year.

There is no golden rule on how long developments take as each one is different. Development timeframes are entirely dependent on what the change is and making sure that the change works as well as we need it to. The questions we ask ourselves are: Is this good enough? Will this make everyone happy? Is it clear how it works? If the answer to all of these is ‘yes’ then, provided all else is good, we will ship it out.

We work on all three of our applications, so development cycles are also shared between the products – we may be focusing on Citizen Space one month and Dialogue App or Budget Simulator the next.

How do you prioritise these improvements?

The first priority is fixing bugs.  No software is free of defects and we want to keep ours as healthy as possible.  The second one on the list is fixing issues that aren’t bugs but will improve usability for customers. This helps to minimise support requests and let you guys, our lovely customers, get on with using the apps!  The third priority is scheduled items that are customer co-funded. The final developments we look at are improvements we want to invest in to make the product better.

What we call ‘housekeeping’ or upgrading the internal aspects of the software is kept separate to developing new features.  The reason for this is the two are quite different beasts and need to be focused on independently.

What are some examples of developments?

Developments can include:

  • improving the technical architecture of the system (for example, to improve performance)
  • improving user experience / usability of existing features
  • making more of the application’s behaviour customisable by admin users
  • features which add new capabilities to Citizen Space

Sometimes we have to make changes to the underlying infrastructure around our apps and this kind of work also gets built into our development process – a recent example of this was moving Citizen Space sites to a new hosting environment.

How we release new features

To release a new feature we run a formal QA process internally which tests for things like data integrity, cross-browser compatibility and accessibility. We test improvements and new features with our account managers and other staff to make sure we are considering the change from a customer perspective.

While this means that the total time to get features into the hands of customers can occasionally be quite long, it ensures that the quality is high, and we don’t drop nasty surprises on our users.

Who are these people that are beavering away behind the scenes?

We have a team of four developers – Alan, Richard, Tom and Jess (who is currently on maternity leave). They built our applications from scratch and if you ever want to be surprised about how much one person can know, come to our offices and chat to our devs.

We have two QA specialists – Hamish and Stan, who thoroughly check every angle of the development work being done, notice and care about the small things and keep us on the straight and narrow.

Our developer and QA teams also work on the other necessary technical aspects of our business, such as responding to some of the trickier support queries, doing day to day work for customers and all of the system administration and security work that comes as part and parcel of being a software company.

We hope that explains how we do things here and why, and if you’ve ever any questions you can find us on support@delib.net or by going straight to your account manager.

Engaging with the budget cuts….

Back in November, nearly 8,000 people tried out Liverpool’s budget simulation exercise. We worked with Mayor Joe Anderson and Liverpool City Council; a city facing a £45 million savings target this year, with further cuts to come. It was Mayor Joe’s idea to run a mobile budget consultation, to not only gather valuable feedback from Liverpool’s residents, but also to communicate, and help create some understanding of the challenges they were facing:

Twitter: liverpoolcc.budgetsimulator.com/

Twitter: liverpoolcc.budgetsimulator.com/

‘This budget tool simulates the difficult decisions that councillors will have to make…/…There is no option other than to deal with the situation head on and make the decisions in the fairest way possible…/…their (residents’) comments give us valuable feedback on what people see as the priorities for spending over the next year.’

Mayor Joe Anderson, Liverpool Express

The Budget Simulator uses a combination of consequences and service descriptions; by presenting background information the tool enables participants to make informed spending allocations, whilst gaining a real insight into the reality of the task:

consequnces

The understanding gained through the project is a two way street of course; the meaningful, insightful responses collected from Budget Simulator ensure decisions can be made to better reflect the priorities of those they affect.

‘It’s not a formal consultation, and it’s not legally binding. But it is a hugely important part of finding out what the public wants regarding how the city copes with cuts. It builds solidarity with the public, because everyone can see just how difficult it will be to balance the books.’

Cllr. Patrick Hurley

There are many reasons why Liverpool’s Budget Simulator was such a successful project, not least the tool’s ability to work on mobile devices, which helped to garner more ‘armchair involvement’.  Liverpool’s active approach to promotion and transparency, coupled with their clear commitment to ensure that the insight gained from the exercise informed the outcome, has helped to better prepare their residents for the tough options that lie ahead.

To find out how Budget Simulator could help your organisation meet its challenges, please request a consultation.

 

 

Defra showcase Citizen Space and Dialogue App as part of better regulation event

This week we attended the “Defra better for business” event at the House of Commons, showcasing some of the initiatives being adopted to help business. The event was an opportunity to explore some of the tools, programs and plans Defra is using to help businesses concentrate on growth and innovation via effective and efficient regulation. With 13 stands providing an overview of some of the tools and initiatives being adopted, the event was both interactive and informative.

Defra consultations

In order to improve the quality and consistency of consultations conducted by Defra and its agencies, online consultations are now run using either their Citizen Space or Dialogue App before being published on the consultations area of .gov.uk. Defra’s very helpful Consultation Coordinator was also on hand to run through a demonstration of some of the consultations which have already been run.

Defra Consultation team
Defra’s Consultation Coordinator showcases Citizen Space and Dialogue App

Defralex and Dialogue App

The event included a section for speeches from Defra stakeholders, as well as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Owen Paterson MP. He took the opportunity to mention the launch of Defralex, a new database which allows users to search an index of Defra’s legislation that is currently in force. Defra’s Dialogue App also launched this week, providing a discussion space for Defralex users to feedback on the initiative and submit ideas on how it could evolve.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 15.35.21
DefraLex Dialogue App discussion

Defra regulators consult better

One stand which was of particular interest was the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), who were showcasing their model for educating stakeholders on the challenges of managing and regulating the marine environment via a 3d model of the seabed.

MMO display
MMO display model

MMO are also one of the organisations who are now running consultations through Defras’ online applications.

We’d like to extend our thanks to the Better Regulation team and organisers for such an informative overview and insight into the initiatives that Defra have and will continue to be working on.

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council choose Citizen Space!

To add to the success of Citizen Space, a new member of our family is Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council going live with their consultation hub on 25th January 2012.

They have decided to use Citizen Space to aid their consultation process. You can view their Citizen Space now to see all of their consultations online.

Stroud District Council use Citizen Space for Online Consultations

Stroud District Council have joined the Citizen Space family, a very big welcome to them! Their system went live on the 13th January 2012 and they are already running an interesting online survey to gain input for their future planning strategy.

To see their current online engagement, you can go to Stroud District Consultation Hub now or see their consultations as part of our Citizen Space aggregator.

G-Cloud take home thoughts from the second Tea Camp

This weekend will see the announcement of the names of more than 300 suppliers who have been successfully added to the G-Cloud Framework. In light of this exciting news, the second Tea Camp held yesterday at the National Audit Office focused on progress within the framework, next steps and challenges.

“There is nothing more constant than change”

How will G-Cloud be different from previous ICT overhauls? The answer is, the whole G-Cloud Framework process will be iterative. Instead of procuring something and then closing the heavy procurement doors, the process is looking to be more open to change.

Flexible maybe but alongside the excitement there will also be challenges and benefits:

3 things that excite us about G-Cloud:

1) G-Cloud themselves are enthused. It really feels like the team involved have a genuine interest in the range of services which are being offered as part of the Cloud.

2) Buyers are going to have a choice. Local service providers can hopefully move away from the idea and culture which has developed around it actually costing more to stop using a service than to carry on using a service which is inefficient.

3) The assurance process will hopefully be made more simpler. Accreditation will take into account the need for Pan-Government Accreditation. There is a real drive to accredit once and accredit well.

Challenges presented by the Cloud and the G-Cloud framework:

One of the most interesting affects of the G-Cloud will be whether or not the culture change which is clearly happening within central government filters down and through to local government. One of the speakers at Tea Camp yesterday was a G-Cloud foundation partner from Warwickshire County Council who discussed some interesting challenges they have encountered :

1) Service mapping and forward planning. Some Authorities are looking ahead at costs for 2-3 years and then making a conscious decision based on a range of factors including cost.

2) How to integrate new and existing systems. Challenges presented here include data migration and centralisation.

3) Co-existence and running multiple systems at once within this transition phase. Running calenders at the same time for example, often presents a particular challenge.

3 benefits of G-Cloud and adopting Cloud based services for the buyers:

1) People adapt to the interface very quickly which reduces the overhead and training on support. For those who don’t adapt so seamlessly, identifying skills gaps can help to ease this. Identifying change advocates who can push this forward is also key.

2) Cloud based working also introduces more flexible methods of working. Corporate mail can be increasingly sent from tablets and smart phones for example. A recent report found that Public sector departments are increasingly happy for their employees to access their work emails from their own devices.

3) There is a real potential for a business shift and velocity change within departments. The role of ICT teams will still be valid but their influence and direction will need to change.

G-Cloud is truly exciting and although some challenges will clearly be presented, the potential benefits and change which will hopefully come with a culture change away from complicated and costly ICT systems is something which is long overdue.

5 ways to do better software demos

Software demos are often too long and they shouldn’t be. This great post from We Love Local Government hit a nerve. The post inspired us to set out some principles for how we demo.

Our goal is simply to make it easy for organisations to use the internet to connect people with decision making. We do this by providing awesome cost effective and easy to use apps.

When we demo our apps we want to reflect our principles: humanise stuff, be straightforward and make things easier to understand, be lean and efficient; always be helpful.

Our 5 point demo charter

  1. We establish what people need first. Sounds basic but this is easy to forget when we have a suite of shiny apps and we want to show off all of the features.
  2. Keep to an appropriate time. Our experience shows that an hour is right for most demos. Less than half an hour is not worthwhile and ‘too long’ is too long. However, if the client needs more then we are happy to give it.
  3. We want people to be able to summarize our apps to others. Those involved in the demo need to leave feeling confident in the product and have a clear idea of how it will work for them, not just for our current clients.
  4. We don’t want to show off all of the features at once. Although it may be interesting for the GIS expert in your team to learn that you can embed street view into a consultation record, if you’re talking solely to a procurement specialist this may not be so relevant. It’s another feature to use at a later date but not during the demo.
  5. Listen actively. A demo is a conversation, and a way of helping clients shape their requirements. Would an alternative app or bespoke project meet their needs more effectively?

“Just because we could, doesn’t mean we should”. We want to be the antidote to complicated ICT procurement and software demos are a big part of that.

For more info on our apps or to book a demo get in touch with Ben or Rowena on 0845 680 0575.

“Welcome to our demo”
Our demo team

Using remote working in the public sector to save costs

Considering new ways of working? It’s not news that the UK public sector is under pressure to cut costs, and where possible to find ways to cut costs without cutting jobs, and without reducing quality of service.

Many people I’ve spoken to in the public sector recently (especially local authorities) tell me they’re looking at flexible working.

Flexible working can include reduced hours, job sharing, sharing desks and working from home. Benefits can include:

  • Preserving knowledge and skills but also reducing costs by retaining people on reduced hours.
  • Reducing office and support costs, including mundane but practical things like heating and lighting, as well as the need for travel and parking (which has an environmental benefit).
  • Remote working and flexible working can also be a great way to fit job and life together better, making it easier for those who have families and other commitments.

This seems sensible in principle but what about the practicalities of it?

From speaking to people it’s become clear that there’s a frequent limitation on working at home: not being able to get work done due to software packages having to be installed on certain computers that are tied to an office network.

Web based software like Citizen Space can be accessed from any computer without the need to install anything. As there are no limitations to the number of users or departments, this also means colleagues across the council and partnering organisations also get to experience the benefits too. This way the important work of community engagement is not hindered in any way.

This is just one of the many benefits to Citizen Space, so for more information on how it can help improve engagement for you and your colleagues, please get in touch to arrange a free online demo: rebecca@delib.co.uk | 0845 638 1848

Footnote – some useful links on remote working
Remote working has many benefits, but needs to be well managed and supported. Here are three useful links about remote working

Equality in teams who work remotely: http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2360-equality-and-remote-teams

Blog from Marieke who works remotely as part of a community outreach team: http://remoteworker.wordpress.com/

Nice tips for working from home http://www.susiebmag.com/archives/1248

In-house project to develop a consultation system? Could that be bad maths? (And sorry if I’m ranting).

Apologies: this is a rant. Ranting is rarely useful or interesting, and we mostly avoid it on this blog. But this one seemed justified. I wrote it in 2010, but didn’t publish it. I’ve spent some time cutting out a lot of stuff, but I hope what’s left is still interesting. So if you’re with me, here we go….

Summary
– Blind insistence on building all ‘IT stuff’ in-house is a shocking waste of money.
– I’m not just a supplier moaning about unfairness. This is significant waste that should stop.

Backstory
Late 2010, discussions with multiple organisations about how our Citizen Space consultation system could integrate with their other web assets (corporate sites, other consultation and engagement tools, Twitter feeds etc). Result: “yes there are multiple standards-based ways to play nicely with others“. Length of conversation, usually about 5 mins.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
Also in 2010, we lost a run of Citizen Space tenders for public sector organisations who ‘chose to go with an in-house solution’. So we win some, we lose some. But this was losing for the wrong reasons. Hence: rant. So to business…

The protoganists
On the one hand, we have Citizen Space, or – to avoid the impression I’m just pushing Delib software here – similar productised systems for consultation and engagement, from other suppliers, large and small.
On the other hand we have in-house solutions for consultation and engagement, usually a custom extension of the existing website system.

Can we do some maths?
Citizen Space has had over 1,200 days of design, development and testing.

It has has been co-designed over three years with people from multiple local authorities, government departments and public bodies. We built it using knowledge gained from our previous consultation system which was created in 2003 and developed for around five years.

Citizen Space is productised, tested, and widely used. It’s built using proven open-source software, with no vendor-lockin. It has been audited for accessibility by the Shaw Trust and security tested by Surecloud. We usually host it and there’s no hassle deploying it. There’s a client feedback process and a commitment to ongoing development and upgrades. Citizen Space even comes with a comprehensive user manual.

And we’re not the only ones; there are at least five competing systems for consultation and engagement. We aim to be the best, but we’re certainly not the only ones who’ve got years of experience developing these systems.

But enough about suppliers. What about the in-house project?
Staff time isn’t free. A 30k salary seems a reasonable benchmark for public sector IT and comms staffers. Some will be more, some will be less. But it seems fair. Employing that person should cost about £200 per day in real money (including tax, office costs, training, pension etc).

So for the typical price of a ready-to-go, fully-project-managed deployment of Citizen Space, an organisation could invest perhaps 40 days of staff time in creating their own solution. Which initially seems quite a lot. That’s 40 days to create the entire system. Luxury. It’ll be done by Friday.

That’s 40 days to schedule, project manage, develop, and deploy the system into successful use. Should be fine.

That’s 40 days to allocate staff, organise meetings, capture requirements, get requirements signed off, do initial design documents, get design documents reviewed and signed off, create a technical spec, review the technical spec, develop the database schema and backend code, prototype the GUI, test the GUI, refine the GUI, create cross-browser standards-compliant CSS, review and implement accessibility, implement multi-user and multi-role permissions and security, overcome technical issues and items in the design that were missed, changed or failed test, load-test and performance-test the system, penetration test the software and the development environment, deploy the software for real users, provide instructions and support in using it, deal with teething troubles, and workflow or usability problems that only arise from the system being actively used, and meanwhile maintain the project in a risk managed environment with a clear audit trail on spending and costs, whilst also fully complying with information security and data protection issues. And it will be done by Friday, right?

Do I protest too much?
Perhaps. It’s quite possible that an organisation simply can’t find the budget for Citizen Space – or for any of our competitors, including those who will offer a far-less-complete, but cheaper, (and possibly sufficient) systems for consultation and engagement. In which case, with less budget, it might be fair to spend, say 20 days of internal time developing an in-house solution.

But with 20 days, an in-house project will achieve 1/60th of the features, quality, security and reliability of Citizen Space, or a similar system. And 20 days probably isn’t enough.

And this assumes that cost is the main-driving factor in these decisions. But often it’s not. The outcome often seems to be driven by the not-invented-here fallacy, where organisations spend more to achieve less value because of an unwillingness to accept cheaper, better value external solutions (reasons might be internal politics, wooly thinking, or simply lack of knowledge).

But you’re a supplier Andy. You protest too much.
Well maybe, but I’m passionate about value for money for our clients, and for taxpayers. I’m an engineer at heart, and it makes me sad when I see the wheel being pointlessly reinvented; it’s a waste, and the results are bad. It’s junk engineering, and junk procurement. It often happens for indefensible reasons. And when it happens, taxes are being wasted. Can’t we stop it?

—-

Caveats + ‘for the avoidance of doubt’
1. I’m not blindly against developing in-house projects. Where no standard apps or software exists for a problem, in-house development makes sense.

2. The most common justification for in-house projects is “corporate policy is to use [insert name of CMS vendor or platform here], so we have to use that”. If that’s policy, it would be handy to avoid issuing tenders and RFPs for things that the organisation is not allowed to procure. It’s kind of a waste of resources for UK SMEs. I know sometimes it’s an internal battle, and tenders are part of that battle. But it’s not really cricket; a tender can cost hundreds of pounds in real money to complete (some of the more stupid, lengthier tenders cost thousands). Where multiple suppliers are asked to tender, it’s a fair amount of waste. I’m not sure that private sector businesses should be bearing the cost of politics inside a public organisation so directly. We would like to help though – by sharing better ways to do things – and helping support business cases for using more efficient, proven, off-the-shelf tools from us and other people.

3. I’ve instigated plenty of in-house software builds. Some I was right about, others I was quite wrong. As web software has matured, we’ve switched to off-the-shelf systems. We binned our mass-mailer and use Campaign Monitor. We binned our in-house CRM system and use Zoho. We binned our ticketing system and use Trac. Sometimes we saved money by doing this, and sometimes we spent a little more, but got a much better system, so we could get on with our jobs and stop wasting time trying to invent and fix our own systems.

4. I’ve assumed that organisations measure the cost of internal time and use that in business cases. Am I being really quite naive about that?

5. I tried to cut out most of the really the ranty bits. How did I do?