Tag Archives: efficiency

How We Keep Warm: Information Radiation

It may be sunny in our Bristol office but like those at Government Digital Service (GDS), we’ve been radiating information on TVs around the office. Ambient information in the workplace helps keep everybody up to speed on what’s going on and what issues there are (if any).

Daily, weekly and yearly stats for the consultations we’re running (updated in real time)

Status of the tests of our applications that are currently in development (green = everything is working; red = something is broken)

Financial stuff that we cannot share on the blog 😉

We’ve already talked about how we visualise the workflow using post-its on a Kanban board but since Delib now has a new Australian office it make sense for some things to be shown digitally. We’re planning to make it possible for these screens to be available to those in Australia and those that work remotely, so watch this space…

Thames Tunnel videos syndicated from our site

As I touched upon in my previous launch post we made the decision to host all of Thames Tunnel’s consultation materials on resources that allowed users to easily share, embed and generally syndicate them. One of these systems is the well known (and pretty, popular alternative to YouTube) Vimeo.

Whilst navigating the popular Londonist site on a recent excursion to the city I was pleased to see that they had taken one of the excellent explanatory videos from the site and embedded it on the site. I think this is a really great example of how the consultation can be explained quickly in one article using resources that were easily accessible.

Well done Londonist, and well done Vimeo.

Using RDFa to create a Google Calendar

Part of what we like to do in Delib is demonstrate how easy it can be explore to Linked Data and get more engagement from a public consultation process.

I’ve just spent an hour or so playing around with the idea of using RDFa and the Citizen Space Aggregator demo to create calendars of consultations:


This calendar is embedded, not a screenshot – feel free to click around!

The calendar above is a Beta version of a feature that I would hope to one day add into core Citizen Space. What I’ve done is take the RDFa information that is stored by the Aggregator from Bristol’s Consultation Finder, and provide a URL that outputs an iCal formatted version of the consultations that are being run.

You can then use this URL to create calendars either in Google, as I have, or subscribe to it using any piece of software that understands the iCal format, for example Apple’s iCal, or even your iPhone!

For anyone interested in doing this, here is the URL: http://www.citizenspace.com/aggregator/calendar_beta?search_source=Bristol+City+Council&search_keywords=

As the astute reader may notice, this takes a search string. Any search that you can make on the Aggregator home page can be turned into an RSS Feed. The calendar works the same way… just swap ‘/rss’ for ‘/calendar_beta’ and you will get your iCal formatted URL containing ONLY the consultations you have searched for.

This is just the beginning… we’ll be making lots of use of Linked Data and RDF… soon!

Stakeholder database for a fiver: a step-by-step walkthrough

Earlier this month, Chris blogged about adding a Stakeholder Database to your consultation for $5, by making use of Campaign Monitor‘s opt-in email service.

I have to confess I was dubious. As a developer, my initial reaction to this kind of proposition is usually “it can’t possibly be as simple as you think it is”. So I tried it with one of our Citizen Space consultations, and it worked! Sorry for doubting you, Chris.

The whole thing took me about 45 minutes to set up and test, but that was only because I was taking screenshots at every step and making notes so I could document the process. You can probably do it in 15. So anyway, here’s the step-by-step guide:

I should note that the whole process of setting up the database and collecting stakeholder information is actually free. You only incur the $5 cost when you use Campaign Monitor to send an email to one of your mailing lists (totally worth it for the stats and reporting you get at the end). By the way, we’re not affiliated with Campaign Monitor, but we like them and use them to send our newsletters.

First do less…. #2 – carefully simplify procurement

‘Simplify procurement’ is easy to say and hard to do.

It wouldn’t take long to make a list of things wrong with procurement processes. If you work in the public sector you’ll run across these often, and they probably frustrate you as much as the next person. Procurement could perhaps be the definition of that cliche ‘hidebound bureaucracy’. But this post isn’t about griping or repeating tired cliches 🙂

Procurement and tendering processes seem to require a lot of work to be done – by staff, by suppliers, by legal teams. Lengthy processes to establish requirements, large tender documents to be written, returned, evaluated, and then when a decision is made, complex legal processes to finalise contracts.

So procurement looks like an obvious place to try and do more with less, by first doing less.

But knowing something is wrong doesn’t give us the prescription for a fix.

Why procurement?
Procurement processes aren’t pointless, yet seem to cause a great deal of pointless work to be done. Procurement has real and serious purposes:
– offer a fair and transparent way to compare bids between suppliers
– prevent corruption of any kind
– ensure purchased goods and services are fit for purpose
– obtain best value for money
Of course, none of these are any less important when budgets are constrained.

What’s wrong with procurement?
Procurement should safeguard democracy and value for the public purse. I’ve worked with many different public sector procurement process (over the last ten years or so), and I’ve observed one key opportunity to do less.

Quite simply, I think the most complex and lengthy procurement processes typically offer bad value. They cost significantly more to operate for public sector organisations and increase costs for suppliers (inevitably passed on to customers). Meanwhile the final price or quality of the product or service is no cheaper or better than that which could have been had with a less costly procurement process. So the outcome is the same, but the effort to achieve it is wasteful. A perfect chance to do more with less by first doing less.

I’ll look at different aspects of this over several posts. Obviously Delib is a supplier of apps and services to public sector, so we’re not 100% objective in this, but I hope the ideas I’ll be sharing are useful inspiration for you when it comes to getting better value from the effort you put in.

This is #2 in a series of tips and ideas for doing more with less – not by working ever harder, but by first doing less and cutting out unnecessary work or cost that doesn’t add value. Read more about ‘first do less‘ here.

First do less…. #1 – relax corporate identity guidelines

Here’s a practical tip for cutting out unnecessary work: relax corporate identity guidelines, especially when applied to web software. Stop paying expensive fees for software to be customised to exactly match the rest of your website. It’s not necessary, and it’s expensive because it’s skilled work and has to comply with extensive code and accessibility standards.

I wrote some more advice on this here. Yes customise, but allow a little sway in the guidelines.

This is #1 in a series of tips and ideas for doing more with less – not by working ever harder, but by first doing less and cutting out unnecessary work or cost that doesn’t add value. Read more about ‘first do less‘ here.

Doing more with less? First do less….

We hear a lot about doing more with less. This is for people who know it’s not that simple but want to try anyway. I’m one of those people, I’ll be sharing a series of tips for simple things we could do. Come back often if that grabs you 🙂

“Doing more with less”. Sounds a bit headmaster-ish. Easy to hear it as “you people are lazy, work harder”. Probably doesn’t go down well with some of you. Others probably don’t believe it. Maybe some of you know it needs to be faced. Maybe the challenge of it excites some of you.

So can we do more with less?

Engineers do more with less.
I trained as an engineer (I also trained again in politics, philosophy and social policy).

Doing more with less is hugely important in engineering. Making things faster, better, cheaper, easier to use and more reliable is what a lot of engineering is about. Look no further than Apple for examples – the new Macbook Air is thinner, lighter, and performs better than the previous model – at the same price. Engineering in action.

Simple rules. Design out waste, design in results.

…but engineers don’t have magic. First they do less.
Engineers can’t make 2+2=5. Promise you, they teach us loads of maths about that kind of thing, and engineers don’t like being asked to try. They know it doesn’t work. Some of the rhetoric around spending goes a step further and seems to imply that 2+1=5. Still not going to work 🙂

So if the cost and the amount of work done by public sector has to be less, how can we get better results?

In engineering you do more with less like this:
– look at the system. Identify the goals of the system.
– look at the components in the system. Look at what each component is doing to support the goals.
– make it unnecessary for components to do work that isn’t supporting the goals
– make it easier for components to do work that is supporting the goals

This is basically ‘efficiency’. ‘Efficiency’ has the same image problem as ‘do more with less’ – sounds like management and leaders saying ‘work harder you lazy oiks’. But to engineers efficiency is exciting. No really. And companies like Apple are absolutely focussed on efficiency. That’s how they get 36 hours of battery life out of an iPod.

So we could take inspiration from the approaches used in engineering. But I’m guessing that right now, learning about lean production, operational research or the Demming approach to systems design isn’t top of your list (if it is, I’ve provided handy wikipedia links for you :)).

Practical wins
I think we’re looking for practical ways to cut out unnecessary work, unnecessary cost as soon as possible. Some of these will be easy, others will mean challenging assumptions and habits ingrained in public sector practices – challenging those depends on the brave amongst you. We know you’re out there 😀

So – inspired by engineering – and starting today, I’m going to be releasing practical tips every few days on this blog…until I run out of ideas 🙂

— First do less – practical tips —
#1 – relax corporate identity guidelines

Making effective democracy apps: the goal vs the play

Of course, there had to be a football-themed blog post today; you have now, so to speak, hit that post.

We’re determined to improve democracy and governance by making it really simple for public sector bodies to run more effective consultation, engagement and participation processes online. A big part of that is our selection of apps.

One of the interesting things about an apps-based model is that you’re building one tool to work for lots of organisations in lots of situations. We’ve found that this invariably gives rise to an interesting tension between the goal (achieving the key, pretty simple outcome) and the play (doing all the little bits of work as you’ve been told to – ‘right’).

When we’re keenly aware of the nuances of our own particular work situation, and very familiar with the processes/duties/tasks of doing work, we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture. This is often necessary; it’s very hard to, for example, drive the length of the UK by just looking at a world map; giving a bunch of people a ball and telling them to ‘go and score a goal’ is not a useful team talk – gazing only at the bigger picture can stop us from taking action.

The problem is that we then get into the habit of focusing solely on the play – the component parts that somebody once worked out were good practices in scoring a goal and not letting one in (or, in our field, consulting the public without making a faux pas). We learn how to pass, to tackle, to juggle, to head, to call for the ball, to retain possession, to keep a tight line etc – or to file, to enter data, to write reports, to type, to call people, to organise meetings, to not send anything out without quadruple-checking it etc. These are all helpful tools and it’s great to build up skills in the work of governance… but not if we forget the goal.

There are two main ways this problem manifests itself: the first I’m calling the Arsenal temptation. This is where you become so obsessed with doing all the component parts right, being thorough and even beautiful in your efficiency at the play that you try and ‘walk the ball in’ and take your eye off the goal. This is epitomised, hilariously, by the clip below. Outside of the football metaphor, this is where we get people asking if we can make our app do 101 nice-to-have things, things that would help them do their specific job, things that would better match their branding for this campaign or that project, interesting extra ways to slice the data etc etc. In the end, there’s so much focus on all the possibilities of the stuff to do along the way that you’d lose the app’s original ability to achieve a simple goal effectively.

The second I’m calling the Liverpool (or perhaps more accurately the ‘Benitez’) anxiety. This is where you become so obsessed with not losing, not conceding, with being in control that you orient your whole play around not conceding a goal and barely even think about how you’re going to score one. This is epitomised by, well, by picking Lucas and Mascherano in the same team, frankly. In the world of democracy apps, this translates as clients wanting to use an app but then modify almost everything about it to mitigate anything perceived as risk. This risk-averse, cautious approach, e.g. locking out everyone but named users or choosing not to participate themselves or preferring disclaimers and caveats to dialogue and conversation, invariably nullifies the potential of the app to achieve its initial goal.

With our apps, and indeed all our work, we want to make sure it’s always about the goal first and foremost – about accomplishing the goal as simply and effectively as possible, seeing the opportunities to rapidly and rewardingly realise the purpose of the work. To my mind, this is exemplified by the clip below:

Of course, it’s great if you can have both, if you can make sure the work is thorough and safe and elegant and the goal is reached effectively, a bit like this:

But it’s always, always about the goal first and foremost. Budget Simulator, for example: the goal is to make budget consultation more simple, engaging and widely available online. We will improve the play where it helps accomplish that goal more consistently, effectively, reliably or easily – so we’ll provide an introductory page where you can, briefly, explain the purpose and value of the consultation exercise because it helps make sense of the process and increases participation. Will we, though, give you a 60 page content-managed ‘microsite’ surrounding the central tool where you can tell the entire back-story of this year’s budget in minute detail? Almost certainly not, however thorough that play may seem, unless you can make a compelling case as to how it helps us put the proverbial ball in the net.

As I say, a simple principle but one all-too-easily, or too-often, forgotten. It’s always about the goooooooooal!

In a similar vein, check out this lovely ‘user-centred design’ infographic from our friend @jazzpazz: http://www.paznow.com/ucd/