Tag Archives: participation

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.

SGusergroup
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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 11.12.56
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

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.

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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.

5 things I learnt from AU/NZ about online consultation & digital services in government

Australia, New Zealand and the UK are often considered among the world leaders when it comes to digital government/online public involvement. Having recently returned from a secondment to Australia and New Zealand, I wanted to reflect back on what we in the UK can learn from these markets and our customers there.

To set the scene quickly: let’s remind ourselves how far digital in government has progressed in all three countries. With digital increasingly recognised as a ‘given’ (even declared a basic human right in a recent UN report), all three countries have been taking online developments seriously in government – perhaps especially over the past 5 or 6 years:

Each of these countries are striving to make rapid advances in online government in their own different contexts. So what can the UK/what did I learn from Australia and New Zealand about digital government and online consultation? Here are 5 things that stuck with me from my trip:

  1. Make consultations even more informative
    One thing that struck me, even during my first week in Australia, was how genuinely informative our customers there make some of their formal consultations. The WA Health cancer care consultation, for example, which was showcased during our first Australian user group in Perth, uses infographics and a user-friendly layout throughout the consultation – so taking part is a real opportunity for respondents to learn about the issues as well as to give their feedback.
  2. Become more familiar with APIs and what they can do
    Our New Zealand customers have been some of the first to embrace full use of our Citizen Space API: an incredibly useful and flexible tool but one that’s not always well-known or well-understood. However, I found it possible to walk into meetings in Australia and New Zealand and for there to be an assumed understanding about APIs and their potential – demonstrating a level of technical awareness that’s great to see.
  3. Develop more of a culture of ‘doing first’
    In New Zealand in particular, I was struck by government employees’ appetite to ‘get stuck in’ and make things happen. That’s not to say there was no planning or strategy, which obviously are hugely valuable too. But I think sometimes in the UK we can err on the side of cautious preparation a little too much, and could do with ‘just launching in’ sometimes. The civil servants I met in Wellington were also incredibly pragmatic in their approach, often working on an iterative basis: ‘doing’ first and then quickly working out how to make improvements.
  4. Keep taking privacy and data security seriously
    I found lots of organisations in Australia are pretty stringent on protocol – which certainly has its benefits when it comes to security. In my training sessions there, people were already very aware of things like good practice for strong passwords – and instinctively tended towards general ‘safety-first’ behaviour, even if it was less convenient or not strictly necessary. This is no bad thing.
  5. Sometimes, being a bit more direct is a good thing
    One of the things I noticed whilst walking around Wellington were posters focusing on the conversation about improving the New Zealand family violence law: a campaign closely linked to a consultation which was recently run on their Citizen Space instance. The Australian government also led the way with the implementation of plain tobacco packaging, again taking a very direct tone and outreach strategy on the issue. Whilst the UK tendency might be towards more circumspect communications (perhaps to avoid being accused of taking a particular position), I certainly think there are times when a pretty bold, direct approach is a helpful way to drive public participation.

One of the key benefits of working for an international company like Delib with offices and customers around the world is that we can each learn new techniques or insights into how different countries operate their online involvement work. Often, we’ll look at our Citizen Space aggregator and find that two departments on opposite sides of the worlds are consulting on a similar issue. Things like this can provide fantastic opportunities to link up and share best practice, ideas and lessons learnt. Hopefully, that will only accelerate improvements to online interactions between citizens and government right around the world.

We’ve some important work going on behind the scenes….

Over the past couple of months we’ve been focusing our development efforts on improving our hosting and associated product environment via an appropriately titled ‘production infrastructure sprint’.

Although this doesn’t sound as exciting as adding features to our products, it’s a vital part of Delib’s service to our customers, as it helps to ensure that we continue to meet our uptime and performance commitments.  Here’s a little overview of what we’ve been up to.

Photo of our sprint calendar

What we’ve been doing

Up until recently we hosted all our customer instances on large multi-tenancy servers. ‘Multi-tenancy’ means that several Delib customer sites run side-by-side on the same machines, although all their data is stored in separate databases.  These servers live in secure data centres, physically located in the same territory as the customers they serve.  The data centres are responsible for providing Internet connectivity for the production servers.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been moving customers slowly and carefully in batches from our current hosting providers to new providers who can better meet our service and uptime requirements.

Why we’re changing our hosting infrastructure

The reasons for migrating to new hosting providers are threefold:

1. Improvements in availability

In the UK, we are moving all our hosting to Rackspace, the market leader in cloud hosting, which offers a 100% uptime guarantee.  Since our uptime is necessarily bounded by that of our upstream providers, it’s important to use the best that we can get.  We are researching the best providers in other territories, to ensure that we continue to meet and exceed our commitments for all our customers.

We use a server monitoring service that notifies our account managers and developers by text message whenever a customer’s instance is unavailable for any reason (even if it’s in the middle of the night) so we’re all keen to ensure that these improvements pay off as soon as possible!

2. More hosting options for customers

After migration, every Citizen Space and Budget Simulator instance will live on its own virtual machine.  This allows us to offer different hosting packages for different usage patterns: we can now tailor the system specification (RAM, disk space, number of processors) to the requirements of the customer.  Furthermore, large spikes in one customer’s traffic can no longer adversely affect the response times of other customers’ sites.

Dialogue App instances will continue to run on a multi-tenancy setup by default.  However, customers with heavy usage requirements (eg large, heavily-publicised national dialogues), will have the option to host their Dialogue App instance on its own machine.

3. Consistent configurations and automation

As our number of customers grows, our developers have been spending more and more time engaged in administrative tasks such as rolling out new instances and upgrading existing customers.  While this is vital to the business and to our customers, developers would much prefer to spend their time developing new features and fixing bugs in the products.

At the same time as moving customers to the new hosting infrastructure, we’ve been improving our suite of developer tools so that more of the day-to-day tasks can be done without developer intervention.

For our customers, this means that planned maintenance should soon be able to take place, as far as possible, outside working hours.  It also means that developers will have more time to spend on improving our products, resulting in a better user experience for our customers and end users.

Find out more

If you are interested in finding out more about the improvements we are making please feel free to get in touch with either Louise or Rowena.

10 key learnings from our first local government Citizen Space user group

Our fledgling Citizen Space user groups have offered an opportunity for some of our customers to get together and learn what each other have been up to, how different organisations use the software, as well as being able to discover and discuss our future plans for Citizen Space.

Citizen Space user group

Following the success of our first ever central government meet-up, hosted by the Department of Health back in the summer, we were excited to take the opportunity to chat to more of our customer base from all over the country at our first local government group, kindly hosted by Birmingham City Council. If you missed the sessions this time we thought we’d put some of the main nuggets of consultation gold in a lovely blog, and here they are:

1) Aim to promote Citizen Space effectively internally

“As Birmingham is such a large council, it is great to be able to link everything up via Citizen Space”

Steve Rose – Head of Strategic Research

Citizen Space is essentially unlimited. This means that as many users, departments and consultations as an organisation requires can be created – but to get the most out of this the tool is promoted internally. Both Birmingham City Council and Staffordshire County Council discussed the benefits of their approaches to promoting Citizen Space internally.

Kristian Walker from Staffordshire often takes the time to pop round and talk to colleagues about Citizen Space when they are about to use the tool, which has been a proven approach used in other government departments in the past. With effective internal communications, and a network of Citizen Space champions, Birmingham City Council have been able to successfully roll Citizen Space out across their organisation and reinforce their standardised approach via a councillor mandate.

2) Decide on an adoption approach that suits your organisation

Most Citizen Space customers choose to adopt either a de-centralised or centralised model of working when it comes to using the tool. Which model to choose often depends on an organisation’s set-up or team structure. The user group presented an opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of both approaches, with some councils such as Bristol City Council choosing to switch between the two modes over the past few years, adapting to the needs of staff availability and the council’s structure.

3) Using other digital tools alongside Citizen Space can help with process

Citizen Space plays nicely with other digital tools. This means that rather than using Citizen Space as a hub in isolation, it is possible to combine it with a variety of applications. In order to help ensure that consultation owners and the team are aware of consultations going live, Bristol City Council have created email reminder notifications using an Excel document. With lots of organisations slowly moving towards using Gmail, Google Docs is also an option available to many more organisations for creating custom work-flow processes. Both tools can be used in order to set-up reminder emails, supplementing the email notifications already available in Citizen Space.

Leicester City Council also use an email-based reminder system, referring to this as a  ‘consultation tracker’, which is sent out to all service leads on a regular basis. Jay Hardman from Leicester City Council explained to the group how their Citizen Space and work-flow processes combined had worked to ensure the organisation was consulting effectively. The tracker lists a ‘forthcoming’, ‘done’ and ‘close-down’ section which, if not completed within 12 weeks, will flag the consultation owner’s name. This helps encourage consultation owners to complete their full consultation cycle, providing a better result for respondents.

4) Create Citizen Space champions to lead the policy area 

In a de-centralised approach, some customers choose to assign Citizen Space or consultation champions within each team. This helps ensure that there is always someone knowledgeable on-hand to help out, who also has an in-depth knowledge of the area of policy being consulted on. Birmingham City Council have chosen to adopt this approach with a further consultation lead as the main point of contact for all of the department champions.

5) Provide users with any additional guidance they may need, at a point when they need it

In order to ensure colleagues have all of the information in one place at the time when they will be running a consultation, consultation leads will sometimes choose to link to guidance from their intranet pages.  Jay Hardman from Leicester cited two key documents/principles which he normally links users to for an overview of online consultation:

Cabinet Office guidelines
– The Gunning Principles (the idea that a consultation must take place at a formative stage with sufficient reasons to allow for a considered response. Adequate time must also be given to respond and the feedback should be conscientiously be taken into account)

We at Delib also run an online knowledge base and an active blog, both with useful information for a variety of user levels.

6) Create a culture of continuous improvement and learn from past consultations

Leicester City Council have recognised that each consultation can present different challenges and outcomes, and as a result are learning how to operate a culture of continuous improvement. If a consultation doesn’t go exactly as planned, and especially if there are follow-up consultations, it is useful to ensure that challenges and learnings are acknowledged before running the next engagement exercise.

7) Help build users’ general digital skills via Citizen Space

Creating consultations in Citizen Space can help improve upon general digital skills. Being able to successfully set-up and then digitally promote a consultation encompasses many skills – from copy-writing through to general online dexterity, such as being able to upload images. Having trained a variety of organisations on using Citizen Space and running online consultations, we’re learning that becoming confident with using Citizen Space is linked to confidence in web-skills generally.

8) Encourage colleagues to plan consultations in advance 

Leicester City Council have created what they call a ‘public consultation tracker’ – if colleagues fill if in the key information about the consultation well in advance (12 weeks beforehand) then the consultation team will help out. This helps ensure that support is at-hand, but only if teams are organised enough to call in assistance early on in the process. The completion of an ‘intention to consult’ form means that the consultation team can advise early-on in the process.

9) Use Citizen Space to monitor performance 

Citizen Space is often used by a number of departments across an organisation, so some customers choose to provide their research team with access to key statistics in Citizen Space, as this can help with performance monitoring. Taking forward best practice from these investigations and making sure all departments reach the same level of consultation expertise can only be good for respondents across the board.

“Citizen Space helps monitor best practice so that we can help maintain the council’s reputation”

Kristian Walker, Staffordshire County Council

10) Create your own expert panel of consultation advisers

Online consultation requires a variety of skills ,which one individual alone may not be expert in. One way of ensuring that all the skills are in one place is to create a consultation panel/steering board, who may be able to provide oversight of all consultation happening within an organisation. This might not necessarily be solely a consultation team – it may also include a member of the web or communications team.

We’re hoping to continue running two user-groups a year in collaboration with customers. Watch this space for the next event!

Rowena

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.

 

 

Introducing our first Citizen Space user group meetings hosted by the Department of Health and Birmingham City Council

After a few months in the making, we finally have two user group meetings planned this year – let’s all meet up and get to know one another!

BIS Digtial Engagement
Image courtesy of @bisgovuk Department of Business Innovation and Skills

Who are the user groups for?

Digital leads, analysts, policy leads, communication managers – anyone using Citizen Space or interested in digital engagement. We’re hoping the groups will be a mix of people with different skills.

What should I expect?

Sessions on all things digital engagement. Including the following:

  • Show and tell of recent or upcoming engagement exercise. Review of the process and challenges of how you do consultation
  • Example from an analysis team and/or input from Delib on tools for analysis in Citizen Space
  • Citizen Space roadmap – we’ll talk through our plans for development of Citizen Space and garner your input
  • Top tips and best practice examples

Tell me when it is and I’m there with bells on!

The first is a central government user group meeting on the afternoon of Friday 29th August, hosted by Department of Health in Whitehall. Focusing on specific examples from central government.

The next is a full-day user group meeting hosted by Birmingham City Council in late September/October. This will include some useful workshops as well as discussions around benchmarking and collaborative working, amongst many other things.

Interested in attending? Contact one of our Account Managers – Louise (louise@delib.net) or Rowena (rowena@delib.net) or give us a call on 0845 638 1848.

Sitting in on Defra consultation training – part two: things I learnt about running a training session

Policy officers are regularly on the move in central government. This presents a challenge for effective consultation, as their knowledge and skills travel with them. In order to begin sharing the skills for great consultations, Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) piloted their first workshop on ‘consultation procedures and principles’ with colleagues.  What can other central government departments learn from running a session like this?

Defra consultation event pic

1) Establish your processes before the session and stick to them

Often, consultation processes can be improved ‘on the fly’, which is great for group input, but it can be confusing to have frameworks and guidelines ‘designed by committee’. A good idea is to have the current procedures used by your department fully documented and readily available. It’s useful to have a consultation lead, who can advise on queries and help clarify any uncertainties. As an example, during the Defra session, the current processes were included as handouts.

2) Don’t be afraid to use examples

Looking back at examples of what has gone well and badly can help colleagues learn how to consult effectively. During the session, one attendee cited an example of running a consultation for four weeks over the summer period – this was pulled before the House of Lords as it was felt four weeks wasn’t a long enough consultation period for the particular issue. Sharing this kind of information about potential hurdles could save colleagues from spending time and effort repeating mistakes.

3) Lay all of your tools on the table

Many departments have lots of ‘tools in their toolbox’, ranging from software applications to the personal skills of the team. Look at what you have at your disposal and combine these to produce the most effective consultation. A mixture of both on and offline tools can help you to reach a wider audience. During the session, it was decided that events such as ministerial road shows are part of your consultation toolkit and with the right planning can lead to great results.

4) Get a facilitator to help run the workshop and continually improve it

When you are close to an issue, it can sometimes be hard to run the session from an objective point of view. Getting an external company in can help you to present the bigger picture. Having run a variety of consultation training sessions, one of the most useful things is getting objective feedback and coming back with ideas for additions or tweaks to improve the day.

5) Ensure the next steps are clear

Once the session has finished, it’s important to ensure colleagues know where they can access help from then on. Get all your guidance, tips and tricks in one place – your organisation’s intranet is a good one. Then you need to let everyone know where it is and how to use it.

As policies increasingly span multiple departments, it would be great to see an increased sharing of best practice and acknowledgement of learnings and failures in consultation across government. In an ideal world, amassing a small army of consultation champions (perhaps as one part of a related role – social researcher, analyst, policy or digital lead?) who represent the key teams in their department and could then be linked up pan-governmentally to share ideas and best practice would be fantastic.

With that in mind, we’re putting together Citizen Space user group meetings so that our users can share best practice and stories amongst one another – if you’d like to know more about any coming up, please ask your friendly Delib account manager!

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.