Tag Archives: dialogue app

10 things we wish you had been there to hear at our 2016 Scottish user group

We kicked off our 2016 user groups in fine style up in Edinburgh this week. This one was hosted in collaboration with the Scottish Government, and the day was particularly exciting as it included our very first Dialogue user group in the afternoon.  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.

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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. Timing is key

This is particularly pertinent as many of our UK customers are currently in purdah (pre-election period), so are not able to begin new consultations and would have needed to time their engagement activity carefully before this period began.

The key is ensuring consultation or challenge launch, promotion and feedback are timed correctly as this can impact on the success of the exercise. This might include timing promotion throughout the consultation period and not just at the start and end. Or when it comes to Dialogue, giving a challenge a specific window of time to run, as this can encourage participation:

“Dialogue has to be alive, the shorter a challenge is open the better”

Christine Connolly , Digital Engagement Manager, The Scottish Government

Our Dialogue Success Guide has a few tips on structuring when you run your challenges.

2. Using Dialogue for Participatory Budgeting (PB) can help generate ideas which may otherwise have not been heard

At the beginning of 2016, Glasgow City Council used their Dialogue instance  to consult on how they should save £130m in their budget consultation. In order to consult with as many stakeholders as possible, Glasgow ran their budget challenge at the same time as three associated events. What was immediately clear, was that the ideas generated at the events were different to those which had been received online. This helped ensure that views were heard from stakeholders who might not have otherwise provided their thoughts on the topic.

3. Processes are made for sharing

One of the most useful outputs of our user groups is hearing how our users create processes around their tools which can then be shared with other organisations. In our first UK user group in 2014, we heard how Leicester City Council had implemented a consultation tracker to manage their consultation activity – an idea for an effective process which came up again during our Scottish user group. If a consultation wasn’t listed on the tracker by a certain date it, then it wouldn’t be published on Citizen Space: this helped Leicester CC to ensure consistency in approach by giving them enough time to create quality consultations.

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Image source: Leicester City Council

4. Review and improve little and often

Both Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Government are not only reviewing their processes internally, but are also asking their respondents to feedback to them on how they have found the consultation. They do this by asking a standard question at the end of all surveys, meaning it’s possible for them to track satisfaction levels and to review their approach to online consultation.

5. Making the most of the Citizen Space support page can really help internal processes

One of our digital heroes, Emma McEwan presented how Edinburgh City Council have adopted their Citizen Space in the last couple of years. Following the launch of Citizen Space version 2 last year, Edinburgh were able to add in a support page to their instance detailing how to get support with online consultation from inside the council, and also sharing an issues log of what questions or queries had been raised and the associated answers.

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6. Make the most of the digital toolbox already availableScreen Shot 2016-04-28 at 10.31.29Making the most of existing digital tools can help compliment an engagement exercise. Glasgow City Council have one of the largest Twitter followings of any local authority in the UK. With this expertise, they decided to take a similar approach to running their budget challenge on Dialogue as they do on Twitter.

“We didn’t want to be too heavy-handed in our approach when it came to moderation. We really wanted to let the conversation flow as much as possible on Dialogue like we do on Twitter”

Gary Hurr, Strategic Web and Customer Care Manager, Glasgow City Council

In order to ensure that Glasgow City Council ran a well-promoted budgeting exercise, its chief executive hosted a Twitter Q&A and they published the outputs on their budget page. In order to feedback on the whole process, the council used Storify to display the Tweets received.

7. Don’t let anything slip through the net: supporting your users

Digital engagement includes a broad spectrum of responsibilities and knowledge learnt. Tools like Zendesk can help ensure this knowledge is recorded and shared in the right way and that your colleagues’ requests for your expert help don’t get lost in your overflowing inbox. At Delib, we use Zendesk to manage our online support and knowledge base of help articles. It’s a pretty big job to keep this updated, but an important one to support the thousands of people that use our software. The Government Digital Service (GDS, UK) has also been using Zendesk since 2012 and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS, UK) also uses Zendesk to manage its digital ticketing work flow.

8. Make something you are proud to share and use plain English

This was a key message from most customers at the user group and one of Edinburgh City Council’s key learnings since adopting their Citizen Space instance in 2014. Making something you are proud to share goes hand in hand with giving yourself the time to pilot surveys. Often you will know when a big consultation is about to spring up, but the smaller ones can slip through the net without any quality assurance run against them to check whether they have been translated from policy speak to plain English.

9. Running internal meetings with colleagues can help share important messages about how you do online consultation

Another of the key questions which came out of the user group was around how to encourage different teams to begin doing online consultation (adopting a de-centralised approach) and to ensure the quality of consultations they are running is high. To help solve this, Edinburgh City Council run regular internal meetings with their Citizen Space ‘power users’ alongside their own internal user group twice a year to share information and best practice.

10. Decide early how you are going to analyse and feedback to respondents, but be open to adapting your planned approach

Before launching the budget challenge on their Dialogue instance, Edinburgh City Council decided that they would get back to the top five highest rated ideas as part of their feedback process. As it turned out, the top five which had the highest rated average vote didn’t fully capture other ideas which generated equally important discussions, so they responded to the top fifteen ideas: adapting their feedback criteria appropriately.

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 2016 with London up next. In 2015, we ran no fewer than 5 user groups around the world: kicking off in Scotland and finishing in Australia.  Here’s a summary of the other user groups we ran around the world last year:

London: October 2015
Perth (Western Australia): October 2015
Canberra (ACT, Australia): October 2015

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.

Three big challenges for Open Government

A couple of colleagues from Delib and I had the pleasure of attending a workshop this week run by the Open Government Partnership Civil Society Network in Bristol, led by Tim Hughes from Involve.

The workshop brought together a mix of people working in digital democracy in Bristol and the area with the goal of discussing what the OGP has achieved so far and what the priorities should be in the future – then working up some new ideas of our own for how to make the vision a reality.

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To give some background, the Open Government Partnership was launched in 2011, bringing together governments and civil society around the world to promote transparency, build civic participation and tackle corruption. Each country that signs up produces an action plan, which contains a series of commitments to opening up government. The UK is now on its second action plan – which includes commitments to make more data open data, to practise ‘open policy making’, and to increase transparency among government contracts, amongst others.

The OGP Civil Society Network plays the role of coordinating civil society input to what government is doing, ensuring that the process of opening government itself does not become a closed one! They are also collecting the public’s contributions to a crowdsourced Open Government Manifesto – using (what else) our very own Dialogue App.

With a desire to make sure they avoid being too London-centric, they are running a series of workshops around the country this spring to engage with local civil society – and it was the inaugural session that brought them to Bristol.

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Personally, I got a lot out of the workshop. In particular, listening to a group of people expressing their hopes and concerns for Open Government highlighted what for me are three of the biggest challenges in this area:

1. Turning transparency into participation

Working in government, the open government agenda tends to generally be very closely associated with open data and transparency. This is one of the areas where the UK has performed very strongly on a global scale – coming in at first place for 2014 in Open Knowledge’s Open Data Index. Sites like data.gov.uk are really impressive pieces of work, and the enterprising citizen now has an unprecedented range of government information available to them at the end of a google search.

However, I can’t help feeling that this strand of work only takes us so far. Whilst all of this data is useful, much of it is unintelligible to the ordinary citizen without being summarised or analysed by an expert. Such a focus on opening up datasets risks neglecting one of the other main strands of the OGP’s work – increasing participation. After all, what better incentive do citizens have to engage with the data that is available to them than if they are asked to make real decisions based on that data? There is also the concern that the section of the population that engages with open data tends to be predominantly well-educated, well-employed, and already in the orbit of government and policy.

Projects like the open policymaking pilots show a lot of promise – in the future I’d love to see government finding more ways to let citizens make, or at least contribute to, the decisions that the data can help inform.

2. Making the data useful to everyone

Following on from the point above, there are a lot of challenges relating how data is presented. We could perhaps imagine a matrix that plots clarity against obscurity on one axis, and useful accuracy against confusion/inaccuracy on the other. Typically, a lot of information released by government is either clear but confusing/inaccurate or accurate but obscure/unintelligible.

For the former I am thinking of press releases, ministerial speeches and infographics that use easy to understand language and visuals, but strip out the important detail to an extent that without context they are very little use in appraising the policy concerned.

For the latter, I mean the very lengthy delivery plans, parliamentary bills, and spreadsheets of data that are all publicly available, and comprehensive in their detail, but whose size and complexity mean that they are only really of use to the few people with the time and inclination to read them.

It would be great to see more data that is both clear and comprehensive, giving the facts in a nuanced way that is also easy to understand. There already some organisations that do good work producing this kind of information – fullfact.org is a favourite of mine, and the BBC and Guardian Data Blog do a good job too.

In the future, I think it’s important for government to be filling this space more – working hard to make sure that everything published presents all the facts, rather than the ministerial office’s ‘lines’, and seeks always to inform, rather than to hide or deflect.

3. Turning Open Government into something big

One of the real difficulties when discussing Open Government is balancing expectations against reality in terms of the scale of what can be achieved. The concept promises a lot,  especially in the current era, with its distrust of politicians and parties. There’s also the sense that new technology should have the potential to redesign the way we participate in public life in the same way it has completely changed how we shop and socialise.

In this context, some of the projects that are being carried out – many of which are quite specific and policy-wonkish – might appear to be failing to address the issues at the required scale. What the government has done to improve transparency in aid spending, or what we do at Delib to help councils consult on budgets, is (we believe) good and important work, but it all often falls beneath the public radar despite our best efforts. At the workshop, there was also a sense that even for those us working in the sector, the goals and actions of the UK’s Open Government programme hadn’t been high-profile enough.

For open government to really capture the imagination of the wider public, we need to embrace big ideas, and these ideas need representation at the top of our political system. The OGP has called on political parties to commit to open government going into the general election – let’s hope they do!


Thanks again to Tim and Jo (with support from Development Initiatives and VOSCUR) for facilitating a fun and thought-provoking session – see you again soon!

Matthew 

BBC3 consultation

The future of the BBC is in your hands!

If you’re reading this, congratulations for surviving the twin perils of Friday 13th and Valentine’s Day (although there’s bad news for the susperstitious amongst you – this year the 13th of March will again fall on the dreaded day).

In the Delib office, the broaching of V-Day at our weekly catch-up meeting elicited a collective moan of despair – but hopefully there are some more committed romantics among our much-beloved users and partners.

Today, we thought we’d bring you some recent excitement from the online consultation world. The BBC Trust’s consultation on the future of BBC 3 closes today; and the IWA are crowdsourcing a new constitutional convention for Wales.

Last chance to have your say on the future of BBC3

In a consultation that closes today, the BBC trust are asking the public’s opinion on the future of many of the BBC’s TV services. Most notably, they are proposing to remove BBC Three from the television airwaves and make it a purely digital channel, available from the BBC iPlayer website. This goes together with a proposal, in line with current TV viewing trends, to create more ‘web-only’ content, that will be premiered online rather than on a broadcast schedule as it traditionally would have been. Fear not for your water-cooler conversation topics, though:

“Programmes that contain spoilers, or ones that have a sense of shared viewing experience such as The Apprentice or The Voice...are unlikely to or would never premiere online.”

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The removal of BBC 3 from broadcast hasn’t been without controversy – there has been a prominent petition gathering campaign, savebbc3, arguing that the channel should be kept in its current form (there’s even a rally taking place today in London).

There are plenty of arguments for and against the closure. From the BBC’s perspective, it’s a way of making £50m of annual cost savings in a focused way, allowing it to invest more in or protect its other services, rather than having to keep cutting spending across the board. For opponents of the move, it will get rid of a channel that has helped a lot of innovative and diverse content, artists and actors get exposure to a big audience.

So, if you feel strongly about when or where the public will be able to tune in to Russell Howard’s Good News or Snog, Marry, Avoid?, get yourself over to the BBC Trust’s Citizen Space and let them know your views – the consultation closes at midnight today!

IWA convention

The public debate about the future of the UK’s constituent nations that was inspired by last year’s independence referendum in Scotland has been taken up in Wales by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. The prospect of further powers being devolved to the Scottish government from Westminster has raised the question of what a new arrangement with Wales might look like, but the IWA are trying to take that further for a discussion on Wales’ future.

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The IWA’s idea is inspired by the movement in Iceland to crowdsource a new constitution in the wake of financial crisis and political upheavals. They are running the exercise in phases, with a new topic for discussion every one or two weeks. These range from the economy and Europe to the big question about Welsh nationhood – ‘What is Wales for?’ – and are generating all kinds of fascinating ideas and discussion.

We’re really excited by what the IWA are doing – channeling some of the excitement about democracy that the Scottish referendum injected back into some sectors of the UK’s public life. This week’s new topic is the welfare state in Wales, and you can get involved in the debate online here.


 

Both of these exercises are all great examples of public bodies trying to open up the debate about issues that previously might have been decided by a small group without members of the public ever having the chance to make their views heard – and digital tools are an important part of making this happen.

Here’s hoping this is a trend we’ll see more and more of 2015!

Sitting in on Defra consultation training – part one: 5 things I learnt about consultation

Working with Defra for the past 18 months, I was pleased to be invited to one of their department training sessions on running effective consultations (including using Citizen Space). Here are some tips I picked up:

Defra online consultation event

1) Don’t ignore your users; bring someone in to represent them

Consultation should be considered from a user’s point of view – which sounds obvious right? But this is all too often forgotten amidst the document creation, planning and bureaucracy. To help solve this, Defra invited Ruth Chambers, Vice Chair of Defra’s civil society advisory board, along to the consultation session. Ruth highlighted the importance of setting out expectations early on and sustaining engagement. She also advised that departments should be honest with stakeholders about changes or challenges to help ensure they are engaged in both the topic at hand and the process.

2) Don’t get stuck in a silo, bring in skills from across the organisation

Defra are fortunate enough to have a dedicated consultation co-ordinator and better regulation unit. However, there are many other skills within the organisation which can be drawn upon to aid with the challenges of effective consultation. During the session, one of the policy officers on my table cited an example of a consultation which was run using solely paper-based methods with no forethought to analysis. The consultation attracted a large number of responses, which they are now struggling to collate and analyse. Sound familiar? It often is in many departments – but how many times can such mistakes be made, and could more case studies of how not to run consultations help with this?

3) Don’t get too comfortable, bring in a ‘devil’s advocate’ to keep you on your toes

Consultation has the potential to be a lengthy and involved process, and it’s easy to get bogged down in the nuts and bolts of it. During the session I sat with two policy offers – one of whom had been working on a consultation document for over a year. Bringing the document to such a session meant the attendees could offer some fresh-eyes on how to progress, especially when it came to the actual consultation questions. When asked for my advice about document creation with the view of consulting online, I recommended that the document structure could be clearly presented in chapters – a framework which can be easily mirrored in an online survey. In terms of setting the right questions, piloting with colleagues and any relevant stakeholder groups can help on this (see points one and two!).

4) Do run training sessions, but don’t stop there

Workshops or formal training sessions are just one part of the picture. BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) for example, run weekly digital surgeries where a member of their digital team will sit and allow colleagues to drop-in on sessions. BIS are also running their digital fortnight in October – a great opportunity to weave in online consultation. Related to this, one of the policy officers attending the session also suggested the idea of having consultation leads (or champions) within each team, so that consultation is managed and the issues being consulted on are kept at the policy level.

5) Don’t make it impossibly broad – be clear about the purpose of the consultation before you start

Where possible, thinking about the output early on and planning ahead for the different eventualities will ensure a smooth consultation analysis and reporting period. Summarising the outcomes of something which doesn’t quite fit into your original research question will prove much more challenging and could potentially invalidate your outcomes.

If you are reading this from a central government department, feel free to get in touch and share your experiences of similar challenges or your organisation’s approach to consultation.

 

How to run an effective Dialogue App with some help from the Forestry Commission

Forestry Commission England has successfully used its Dialogue App to consult with stakeholders on a diverse range of topics. Here we look at the discussion held about Friston Forest to gather ideas and comments about the way bike trails are accommodated within the forest. Here are some top tips from the Friston team’s experience;

Keep the information online and in one place

Before using Dialogue App, Forestry Commission England would promote consultations via a poster and email address, with drop-in sessions being held for any significant consultations. Being able to move this process online has enabled Forestry Commission England to create a single information source which can be boxed off and heralded as a primarily web-based activity. Furthermore, the discussion – including most importantly the key outcomes- can be accessed and referenced by any stakeholder, as and when needed.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 15.45.33Establish a process and promote it

In terms of promotion, stakeholders were directed to a single overview page on Forestry Commission England’s main site, with all key content for the discussion and the consultation process held on this page; http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fristonforest. Additional promotional materials, including posters and press service, were provided for key stakeholders to review prior to being published, ensuring they were consulted on the key text before going to print. Once up and running, the Friston Forest discussion team continually reviewed how the Dialogue App was being promoted, often considering what more they could be doing to further involvement.

To ensure the full consultation process was clear from the outset for key internal staff, the project team created a timeline for the discussions in the form of a Gantt chart. By running a discussion for a set 5 week period, key promotional activity and staff involvement could be planned for in advance.

Take moderation seriously

Moderation is a key part of any successful Dialogue App discussion. With clear content and expectations given to users from the beginning, the Friston Forest team only needed to act 3-4 times on inappropriate comments. In total, 43 ideas and 213 comments were contributed from 71 individual user accounts. In order to anticipate a higher volume of ideas flowing through, 5 of the team took it in turns to be the key moderator on the Dialogue App for a week each – all moderating under a consistent name on behalf of Forestry Commission England. Update meetings on a weekly basis gave moderators the chance to hand over to each other, ensuring they were moderating consistently.

Think about your outcomes and then shout about what you’ve achieved

As an organisation responsible for multiple sites and infrastructure across the country, Forestry Commission England are hoping to continue using their Dialogue App as a key consultation tool to help decide how to sustainably manage other sites. Key outcomes from these discussions can then be added to the discussion overview page to ensure stakeholders have a hub for discussion outcomes and feedback.

Share what you’ve learnt with colleagues running the next discussion

One of the key project managers involved in the Friston Forest discussion also took an advisory role for another successful discussion, which sourced ideas on how dogs could be better managed in Jeskyns Community Woodland to ensure everyone can continue to enjoy the space.

Working across two discussions enabled this lead to share key learnings for both teams. Both discussions had, for example, two key milestones – one in the middle and one at the end, with natural highs and lows in activity. Another key learning was to involve the policy officer (who would be in charge of implementing the decision) in the community moderation; this gives them the chance to comment and feed back directly on users’ ideas and comments in a manner which acknowledges them, and also identifies how they will be acted upon.

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.

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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.

George’s Ideas Lab – A Retrospective of Sorts

It’s been a few months now since we launched ‘George’s Ideas Lab’, a place making initiative with the mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, and as such I thought it was time for a quick mid project review. The Lab is still going strong and we’re now waiting for George to sort through the highest rated ideas before implementing some of them, but I suspect you’re itching for the latest news, and here it is.

So, for any of you who aren’t familiar with it – what is George’s Ideas Lab?

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Bristol’s first Directly Elected Mayor, George Ferguson, wants Bristol to “become a testbed for new ideas” and has consequently launched a number of initiatives including ‘Make Sundays Special’, Residents Parking Schemes and a promise to deliver an arena of national standing. To coincide with his first year in office he also launched George’s Ideas Lab, using our online crowdsourcing platform Dialogue App. This allows residents and people who work in the city to share, discuss and rate ideas that make Bristol a better place. Ideas were welcomed that fell into the following categories:

  • Focused on making Bristol a better place to live, work or play

  • Something new, not something the city is already committed to e.g. an arena

  • The idea could be big or small – something citywide, or focused on improving a particular neighbourhood – “Sometimes a small, novel idea can make a big difference.”

  • Help the council to save money or do things differently

  • Realistic about how it could be funded – particularly, in the current climate where the council needs to save a further £90 million over the next three years

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As the Lab uses Dialogue App we could guarantee quick deployment, proven response interactions and a robust support environment; alongside consultancy to help with question framing, site design, communications approach and a framework for taking ideas forward.

I often get asked how much the marketing budget was for the project and, interestingly, it had none whatsoever. Instead the good people of Bristol City Council pulled in every last favour they could, to work with partners in the city whose mailing list, social media presence and events could be leveraged.  The Lab was also launched as part of George’s ‘State of the City Address’ and continuously promoted using his active, personal, Twitter account.

Lots of organisations launch similar projects to the Lab, which often publicly, and somewhat embarrassingly, fail due to actions that in my opinion are predictably wrong. For the Lab we instead used a proven and, dare I say it, prescribed approach gained from our experience of running many, many similar projects.  As such, the ‘challenge’ to be consulted upon was narrow and inviting, (‘Wanted! Innovative ideas to improve Bristol’) participants were informed of how the chosen ideas were to be taken forward, a succinct YouTube introduction video with George was created and embedded within the site, and the project was split into phases.

The phased approach was designed to ensure maximum rating and commenting (idea refinement), and was achieved by removing the idea submission option after the first phase ended at Christmas.  In doing so, participants recognised the Ideas Lab was essentially a competition, further aiding engagement, as there was a way to ‘win’.  Interestingly the social media debate, and in particular the one that took place on Twitter, acted as a secondary level of engagement that neatly sat above, and dovetailed with, the Lab itself.

As I stated in the preface to this somewhat wordy post, the Lab is still very much alive and we’re now waiting for George to announce the winners; at which point the pilot phase will be complete. Without wishing to overstate the case, I think the Ideas Lab has been one of the most useful, genuine, multi-phased crowdsourcing projects of recent years, especially within local government. The response it has received is testament not only to the project’s design and George’s reach, but also the citizens of Bristol who truly took it to their hearts. It also proves that if a city is prepared to take a chance and invoke the wisdom of its citizens, they will respond and will attempt to improve the place they live, providing insight from without the usual channels and suspects.

Friday Consultation Round-Up

Another week and another host of interesting consultations being run by our awesome customers. Here are 5 nice examples and this week Liverpool and Bristol have been showcasing the capabilities of Budget Simulator and Dialogue App:

1) Liverpool City Council’s mobile Budget Simulator breaks response rate records!

Liverpool City Council have pioneered Delib’s brand new Budget Simulator this month, and the response has been record breaking. The tool is now accessible on mobile devices and has undergone a full face lift. Liverpool have done a great job at populating it with well written consequences and extending their effort through to effective PR. The Simulator has received over 1000 responses, a UK record for Budget Simulator, and the comments are still rolling in. Have a read of our blog to find out more about how Liverpool did it.

2) East Sussex County Council’s use of consultation cloning for ‘Safer School’s consultations.’

East Sussex are running a consultation to gather opinions and experiences of bullying behavior in schools and communities. They have made the most of the cloning feature to publish 23 identical consultations which allow residents of specific areas to submit responses directly relevant to their local school or community. One school in particular caught my eye, Priory in Lewes, the secondary school which I actually attended in my (much) younger days.

3) ‘George’s Ideas Lab,’ uses embedded video & the lab theme for a bit of fun.

Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson has launched a Dialogue app called Georges Ideas Lab, inviting the residents of Bristol to submit ideas for improving Bristol as a place to live and save the city money. Ahead of 2015 which will see Bristol awarded European Green Capital by the European Commission, the mayor and his team are looking in particular for green ideas to consider implementing. The site has been customised with lots of science-y, lab type images and an embedded video from the mayor himself making for a very entertaining welcome to the consultation.

4) ‘We are Camden’ uses RSS to integrate Citizen Space with their website.

Generating engagement with online consultations often starts before a participant even lands on the consultation overview. London Borough of Camden Council illustrates this really well by utilising RSS feeds to effectively integrate their Citizen Space instance with their website. Using RSS feeds, consultations from Citizen Space can be presented on your website which automatically updates as new consultations are added. The use of a custom RSS feed also adds further filtering power ensuring that consultations of interest are displayed.

5) Norfolk County Council tell us What happens Next with their ‘Putting People First Consultation.’

Norfolk have just closed their Putting People First budget consultation, and have really utilised the What Happens Next? feature to ensure their respondents are kept in the loop. This is a really important aspect of consultation, to ensure participants feel their contribution will make a difference and is appreciated. Norfolk have included dates and links to where results will be published and suggested alternative ways to get in touch with them now that the consultation is closed.