The Weekly Roundup (Easter Edition)

Happy long weekend everyone! And it looks like it’s going to be a sunny one, too. We’re not in tomorrow, so this week’s consultation roundup comes to you a day early. Read on to see what our clients have been up to lately.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority is consulting on a programme for change for its Fire and Rescue services

Greater Manchester is completely overhauling its Fire & Rescue services. Their current model is not sustainable, so they are looking for the public’s views on their proposals to modernise and streamline the services while also making efficiency savings of £12.8m. The consultation is clearly categorised into distinct chapters, with plenty of info and graphics embedded in fact banks.

Hackney Council is consulting on an upgrade to Fairchild’s Garden

The London Borough of Hackney has identified funding to transform Fairchild’s Garden, a green space in the heart of Hackney. The space is the final resting place of Thomas Fairchild, a notable local horticulturist. The overview page provides tons of information, including an embedded map, pictures of the plans and a great video explaining the proposed design and how it hopes to transform the garden into a welcoming green space for all.

Wandsworth Council is consulting on the restructure of its Autism Spectrum Disorder advisory services

This consultation comes following a previous one they ran last year on families’ experiences of the ASD assessment process. Using the feedback from the January consultation, they have drafted proposals on how best to meet the suggested changes. This time, they are seeking views from the public, stakeholders and medical professionals on the proposals. The consultation uses question routing, or skip logic, very effectively. It also uses fact banks to lay out the pros and cons of each proposal in handy tables.

HESA is consulting on the future of the services it provides

The Higher Education Statistics Agency is asking its stakeholders their opinions on the services it offers. The consultation is designed to share what the statutory elements of its service are with its subscribers, as well as how they can shape their services to best meet users’ needs moving forward. They use embedded PDFs nicely, as well as using a chapter survey for both information-only pages and survey questions. Labelled fact banks make it clear what information is required to answer each question, so they can expect high-quality, considered answers from their respondents.

And there you have it, folks. Have a lovely Easter, we’ll be back next week for more.

We’re Hiring! Commercial Consultant

We want to have our products used by every democratically accountable organisation in the world, transforming – in small but significant ways – the lives of hundreds of millions of citizens. That means we need to be talking to a lot of people who work in the public sector.

To help us with that, we’re looking to hire a Commercial Consultant.

Sales jobs that don’t suck
We operate a consultancy-focussed sales team that helps people to understand our software products and their potential applications. In the 10+ years we’ve been doing this, we’ve grown to be a well-established, well-liked supplier to government organisations around the world. We want to add to our sales team so that we can keep persuading more people that what we do is a good investment and A. Good. Thing.

Sales jobs can suck
We know that sales jobs often suck. Sales can and should be a force for good; a way for people to understand and buy something that they find useful, progressive and ultimately needed. Unfortunately, the way that sales teams are structured and managed often precludes this, with an attitude and an approach that ceased to be genuinely effective in about 2006. It might be pushy tactics; hounding a huge number of people for a small return; perhaps it’s the enforced speech and manner that’s expected of you; regardless, the common sales job can best be described as reward by brute force.

If you’d prefer a shot at selling something worthwhile, in a manner that doesn’t repulse you, all for the ultimate gain of society, do read on.

How it works here
Our market – public bodies – appreciate that we sell our products in an intelligent and helpful way, grounded in an understanding of their needs.

Sometimes the job involves people approaching us, sometimes we have to find them ourselves – but either way they can’t buy anything unless they understand how the products work. As such, a big part of what we do (and what I’d need from you) is to generate interest in having a demonstration of our platforms. Most of the time we do it remotely via screenshare; sometimes we do it in person.

In order to make those sales we do all the usual stuff: operate a CRM system, audit markets, look for emerging markets, plan sales-based marketing campaigns, obsess over individual and company pipelines, establish short, medium and long term sales targets and yes, we also have strict KPIs, which you’ll be expected to hit.

In time, the role will evolve as your knowledge increases, with the expectation that you will close your own sales.

Who are you?
I need an individual with something to prove, coupled with the mental acumen to learn comprehensive products and market knowledge.

That person should have solid grounding in a commercial role – it must be your last or current job. I appreciate that lots of roles include an element of selling, but if it doesn’t directly keep a roof over your head, don’t apply. I know it sounds a bit harsh, but I just want to save everyone’s time and focus on the people who can do it.

What are you doing now? I’m not entirely sure – maybe you worked in a corporate environment for a couple of years and learned the basics the hard way; maybe you sold people TVs; you might have a background in digital or media sales; frankly, I don’t care. What does matter to me is finding an individual with the work ethic, brains, and hunger to grow into this role over time.

What’s in it for you?
If you want a career based on accelerating job titles, ‘managing a team’ or a personal worth based on the grade of your company car, we’re not for you. Delib operates a relatively flat management structure, that rewards performance with opportunities, salary increases and comfy chairs.

We’re offering £25k-£30k for the role, depending on experience. The fringe benefits are in line with the usual tech company stuff: Macs, second screens, trips to the pub if you like that kind of thing, 25 types of (arguably pointless) tea… We also share an office in central Bristol with our sister company, Cannes award-winning viral film company and all-round good time, Rubber Republic.

The job is based in central Bristol. Don’t live here already? Move.

Ben F, Commercial Director

Also, you need to know that we follow the HMG Baseline Personnel Security Standard and you will therefore need to satisfy basic eligibility criteria/certain conditions of employment (e.g. nationality rules/right to work) and provide appropriate documentation to verify ID, nationality, employment and/or academic history, criminal record (unspent convictions only).

Kim is handling cover letters and CVs, the former being most important. Please send yours to Closing date Friday 10th May.


Friday Consultation Roundup

It’s Friday! Which means it’s time for a weekly roundup of some of the interesting consultations that are on the Citizen Space Aggregator at the moment. Read on to see what our customers have been up to.

The New Zealand Health and Disability System Review is consulting on ways it can improve access to health and disability services

They are particularly looking to improve services for Maori, Pacific peoples, and those on low incomes, who are less likely to use health services before they become really unwell (1).  The consultation is super accessible: it’s offered in Te Reo as well as three different English language formats, including one with helpful videos of each question being asked in New Zealand sign language.

Australia’s Department of Industry, Innovation and Science is consulting on measurement laws

Australia’s Department of Industry, Innovation and Science is seeking citizen’s views on laws around measurement (literally – units like centimeters and kilograms and how they’re used) in everyday life. It makes good use of skip logic later in the survey, asking if participants would like to provide thoughts on each of three discussion papers and routing them through to the relevant comment area.  The questions are clear and understandable for a topic that could very quickly become very murky and technical!

The Ministry of Justice in the UK is consulting on proposed sentencing guidelines for offenders with mental health conditions

The guidelines will be given to UK courts and will help them to pass fair and appropriate sentences to anyone with a mental health condition, neurological impairment, or developmental disorder.

Bristol Uni is consulting on its development plans in the Temple Quarter

Back in Delib’s hometown, the University of Bristol has just opened a consultation on proposals for student accommodation on Temple Island, as part of its wider plans to create a campus in the Temple Quarter. For the locals among you, Temple Island is next door to where the abandoned old Royal Mail sorting offices were up until a few weeks ago. It’s a great, informative consultation with plenty of clear visuals embedded into fact banks.

That’s it for now! We’ll be back next week with more.

We’re hiring! Developer

Hello, we’re looking for an experienced web developer to join us in Bristol, UK.

Read More

Introducing our new Content Editor: Dani Topaz

As Delib continues to grow, we are delighted to welcome new staff into the fold. We caught up with our newest recruit and talked about some of the most important issues of the digital age – i.e. biscuits.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?

Hello! My name is Dani. I was born in Kent but was lucky enough to live on the West coast (aka the Best Coast) of Canada for nearly 10 years before moving back to the UK to come to uni here. I lived in Canterbury and Southampton before settling in Bristol.

2. Favourite band and/or artist?

Honestly, it depends on the day. Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks and Pink Floyd are enduring favourites. Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu and Lianne La Havas have been on heavy rotation this month, and Yes Sir Boss are one of my favourite Bristol bands.

3. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?

Definitely a maverick thinker; my brain is usually whizzing in a thousand directions at once! I find it quite hard to naturally get into habits, so it’s a conscious decision most of the time. Left to my own devices I think I’d probably end up a weird nocturnal creature with no discernible routine. However, much as I like the idea of it, I find it really hard to be spontaneous – I need to have at least a bit of a plan or I’ll panic.

4. You (and, for the sake of keeping it interesting, any spouses/partners/kids/significant others) get mysteriously transported to a desert island, with only time to grab a couple of precious things to take with you. What makes the ‘keep’ list?

Probably a lifetime’s supply of toffee popcorn, my sketchbook, and my bed. I will be comfortable on my desert island, thank you.

5. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

Dunk – but only in tea, and only for a second. There’s nothing worse than your biscuit breaking and falling in your tea. Do you carry on drinking it, knowing that at any moment you might get a mouthful of grainy mush? Or do you admit defeat and pour your cuppa down the sink? Either option is a terrible time.

6. Before joining Delib, how did you put bread on the table?

I’ve done loads of wildly different jobs – probably most notable are my time at Bristol City Council and working in the film & TV industry.

7. Why did you want to join Delib?

For quite some time, and up until very recently, I had been pushing in a totally different direction career-wise. I had convinced myself that it was my only option, but in doing so lost sight of what actually made me feel happy and fulfilled. I finally made the decision to change tracks last summer (which was terrifying, because I didn’t have much of a plan and, as mentioned above, that is not a situation I enjoy) and made sure I was strict with myself about the kind of work I put myself forward for: I wanted to be part of a company that did work I was passionate about and that would allow me to use my skills creatively. Delib absolutely ticks both of those boxes; I completely believe in what the company sets out to achieve and I’m excited to have found a role in which I can write for a living. It took a few months of temp jobs and existential panic, but here I am. Also, there’s good coffee, which is a huge bonus.

8. Any shout outs, comments or other musings?

Shout out to all the Delib staff who have been super lovely and welcoming in my first week. Also – shout out to my boyfriend who has had to console me through a lot of CV-related tantrums in the last few months. He is very patient.

The Practical Democracy Project: Leeds, 7th March 2019

Our latest instalment of the Practical Democracy Project took place on 7 March in the vibrant city of Leeds. It may have been our rainiest host city so far (compared with previous events we’ve held around the UK, in Dublin & in Hamilton, New Zealand) but thankfully the weather didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of our speakers & attendees. It helped that the venue, kindly provided by the good folk of ODI Leeds, was a bright, open space with sunny yellow daffodils on each table and plenty of tea & coffee to boost energy levels.

Photo of venue with people sat chatting ahead of event starting
Yay daffodils!

The event took place over a weekday lunchtime in the hopes of tempting busy public sector folks away from their desks for a quick injection of inspiring discussion & chat around the theme of involving citizens in decision-making, and you bet we threw in a free lunch to sweeten the deal. We were pleased to be joined by attendees from a range of public sector organisations including DWP, MoJ, NHS Digital, NHS England, Derby City Council and Leeds City Council, as well as some other smaller organisations.

Professor Cristina Leston-Bandeira, University of Leeds

Ben Fowkes from Delib kicked off the event and introduced our first speaker, Professor Cristina Leston-Bandeira from the University of Leeds’ School of Politics and International Studies. Cristina has studied parliaments for over 20 years, with a particular focus on the relationship between institution and citizens. She told us that parliaments around the world are working hard to engage citizens (see the 2004 report Connecting Parliament with the Public produced by the House of Commons). However trust in parliaments remains low – notably in the UK since the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal – and the situation isn’t helped by the word “Parliament” often being used as a catch-all term for politics or government. As a result the important role of scrutiny that these institutions provide is often overlooked.

She presented some recent examples of good and not-so-good engagement activity by UK Parliament, including a Select Committee Inquiry into Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) assessments in late 2017, which she described as a successful experiment in reaching out to the public & asking them to share their stories. Over 3000 submissions to the inquiry were received via a web forum, providing a variety of evidence & personal stories. From this information two reports were produced & published in early 2018, one of them focusing on all the stories sourced from the public engagement activity and integrating that information into ordinary parliamentary business.

She also shared the example of television personality Katie Price giving evidence about her son Harvey at a Petitions Committee inquiry into online abuse and the experience of disabled people in summer 2018, after a petition started by Katie achieved more than 220,000 signatures. This was a valuable opportunity for Parliament to gain awareness with a wider audience, especially as Katie talked about the inquiry on daytime television and even explained the difference between parliament and government; “a small thing but a powerful form of communication”.

At the less successful end of the scale Cristina talked about the risks of Parliament inviting input from the public when a decision has already been made & there is no real opportunity to influence a bill. She described an instance when the engagement process was not integrated but happened in parallel with the standard parliamentary process, and people weren’t told about the outcome (one of Delib’s own consultation bugbears!) She summed up her talk by concluding that parliamentary engagement needs to focus on being more issues-led than process-led, and that the key is for parliaments to be in broadcast mode less & a deliberative, listening mode more.

Huw Spencer, Northern Policy Forum

The next speaker on the agenda was Huw Spencer, a local government official by trade as well as co-founder of the Northern Policy Forum (NPF), a network for young people across the north interested in discussing key policy issues that shapes the places they live. Huw recommended three guiding principles for the art of public engagement: “make it relevant”, “make it accessible”, and “make it yourselves”.

To illustrate his point around making things relevant, he mentioned a recent NPF event where an NHS worker talked about her work to make policies around accessing services in the north-west of England more inclusive towards women of colour, and how she’d used her own experience to help improve policy. Huw described this as a really concrete example of how you can draw on your own experiences but also your own listening capabilities in order to understand policy issues, & told us how a young maths teacher who was just starting out in her career and had never thought about policy before had said she was fired up by listening to the speakers at the event and now wanted to go out and campaign to improve education policy across the north.

Huw talked about the importance of making spaces as inclusive as possible and considering factors such as accessibility for people with physical disabilities, choosing venues that are appropriate for people from different religious backgrounds (e.g. perhaps not meeting in a pub), and trying to keep events free to cater towards a millennial generation with less disposable income. He commented that there have been several northern policy or “Northern Powerhouse” themed conferences advertised lately with tickets upwards of £250 to attend, which sends a message to young people that this event is not for them.

He also emphasised that to engage more young people, you need to hire young people. There aren’t many opportunities for young people to speak, but the only way to get better at public speaking is to do it, so NPF is trying to provide that platform for younger folks to gain experience & connect with one another. The Forum is still early on in its journey and Huw anticipates more hurdles ahead, but said that their ambitions include reaching out beyond university towns and into communities that are more excluded from traditional political discourse.

Photo of Huw Spencer speaking
Huw Spencer, Northern Policy Forum

Emily Redmond, Good Things Foundation

Last but by no means least we heard from Emily Redmond, a Service Designer with the Good Things Foundation (GTF) which works to engage people who feel excluded from the digital world. She set the context of the Foundation’s work by sharing the damning statistic that only 26% of people in the UK feel they’re able to influence decisions in their local area. Thanks to the Women’s Vote Centenary Grant Scheme, provided by the Government Equalities Office, the GTF was awarded funding to distribute to its online centres network in order to “educate, participate & celebrate” – the primary objectives of the scheme were to educate people about democracy, increase participation, and celebrate the centenary which many people were unaware of or its significance.

The GTF invested the grant in its #VoiceboxCafes project, which involved 34 online centres supporting 1,283 people to educate them & try to increase their democratic participation through a combination of digital & in-person learning. They tried to bust myths around voting and explain the difference between national and local politics, between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and showed people how to carry out their own research online. What went down particularly well, she said, was showing people how to look up their local MP or councillor online and find out what decisions they had made in the past.

"Feeling far from Westminster, it can sometimes be difficult for people to see and understand how to make a difference in their own communities... there's still lots to do to encourage better balance in civic participation and democratic representation both locally and nationally." Nat Thorpe, Project Manager for Voicebox Cafes

Emily also reported back on some research she conducted among the learners to try to better understand what the main barriers were that had prevented them from participating in the past. The common themes that emerged included feeling excluded by jargon they didn’t understand; a lack of confidence & experience to talk openly about how they feel; not knowing how they could have a say beyond voting; not being interested, or seeing how it was relevant to their lives; having a negative experience of democracy in another country (e.g. witnessing corruption) which had led to a lack of trust in democratic systems; and believing their voice didn’t matter or that no-one was interested in what they had to say. Emily found the #VoiceboxCafes project had been vitally important in showing how things have changed for women in the UK over the last 100 years, which gave people in attendance hope for the future and inspired them to have their say.

After the project the GTF found there was a 65% increase in the number of learners who said they feel like they understand democratic processes in the UK. Emily highlighted that 70% of the people supported through the project were from BAME communities, which the GTF is particularly proud of. She rounded up by sharing some key learnings from their work, which included simplifying the language we use (“Digital democracy sounds good but people don’t know what it means”) and echoed some of Huw’s advice about carefully selecting venues – she recommended social, informal environments where people go anyway (such as a church hall). She finished by showing a video giving a taste of one of the #VoiceboxCafes sessions, showing women having fun naming their own political parties & reading their manifestos to one another.

Photo of Emily speaking
Emily Redmond, Good Things Foundation

Ben Fowkes, Delib

After a short break to refill our mugs, Ben was back at the lectern to give a potted history of Delib. He talked about the political games we designed in our early years, and how we evolved into a provider of digital tools that make it easier to involve citizens in decision making. He also explained where we picked up our unofficial motto, “Beware of the leopard”, and how it applies to our work (in case you didn’t recognise it, it’s a Douglas Adams reference).

Photo showing Ben from Delib in front of a slide that says "beware of the leopard"
beware of the leopard

We finished up the session with a panel discussion giving one last opportunity for us to pick our speakers’ brains. One member of the audience observed that the noticeable thread running through all three talks was about the need to make information accessible & relevant to a diverse audience, and Cristina commented that she found it optimistic how most of the discussion had focused on working with & involving people in existing structures rather than trying to break everything up & start again.

Thanks again to ODI Leeds for hosting us, to our expert speakers for sharing insights their important work, and to everyone else who made time in their day to come along. We always enjoy making new friends (including the chappie in the bandana below, who we met in the foyer at ODI Leeds!) and we hope to see you again at a future event – keep an eye on our Twitter feed for news of where we’ll be heading next.

Photo of Ben from Delib stroking a small dog wearing a bandana
Practical Democracy Pooch

Can people have constructive conversations online?

Or will digital discussions always inevitably descend into a punch-up?

Boxers throwing punches

We’re all familiar with the dilemma: the internet potentially opens up a huge audience for public participation, making it easy for anyone to have their say. But too often it also seems to bring with it a polarising, tribal toxicity, with comment threads reduced to thoughtless shouting matches. Is that just an unavoidable downside of digital interaction – or is there another way?

The National Assembly for Wales have been using Dialogue to open up public discussions online – on everything from the future of agriculture to Welsh Baccalaureate Qualifications. Some of the topics (such as giving prisoners the vote) have been pretty contentious but that hasn’t deterred the Assembly from running the Dialogues. In fact, they’ve found the process to be consistently constructive, with participants giving considered and relevant feedback.

We recently spoke to one of the Assembly’s Senior Researchers, Hannah Johnson, to hear more about how they’d done it. She told us the format and process of Dialogue itself played a big part:

“I found Dialogue to be an essential tool in the debate. It helped to focus discussion around self-selecting themes in one inquiry, and opened out the debate beyond the two main arguments in another, helping the committee to understand the entire spectrum of debate.

The platform encourages thoughtful, considered debate – more than a standard online survey or poll – and I have found it to also elicit respectful discussions, even when opinions are in conflict.

Dialogue is also incredibly easy to understand (for users) and to extract and summarise the contributions (for officials).

I love it, and can’t wait to use it in future inquiries!”

This is consistent with our experience: a well-designed exercise (from the framing of the question to the structure of the response process) makes a huge difference to whether you get productive discussion or overrun with trolls. But, in short, YES it is absolutely possible to have constructive conversations online.

Screenshot of National Assembly for Wales Dialogue site

Twice as fast: Citizen Space Version 4

This is a long post! Coming up:

tl:dr Citizen Space is now twice as fast and can cope with double the amount of things at once.


Lots of democratic decision-making bodies around the world use Citizen Space to connect with citizens, most often in the form of consultations (but not just those). They also use it to improve the quality of work around consultation and engagement inside their organisation. This means it handles a lot of information:

In the past year, approximately 1,080,000 responses were submitted to exercises run via Citizen Space, and currently around 15,000 people working in public service around the world are registered as administrators on Citizen Space sites across 124 different organisations.

It’s our main job to make sure that:

  • The information stored within customer sites is kept safe
  • Respondents are not prevented from submitting their views
  • The work of all those public servants is made easier rather than harder

Performance underpins all of this and has been the focus of the last few months.

How we do development

Our product development regularly focuses on incremental improvements multiple times a year, mostly through visible product features and updates which are largely suggested by our users.

There’s a lot of other stuff which competes for our time and it’s a balancing act of keeping the products moving forward while meeting regularly-changing security obligations, complying with (and proving compliance with) changes to data protection and other global legislation, answering support questions from users, internal governance and so on and so on. There are only about twenty of us across the UK, Australia and New Zealand, so we have to very carefully prioritise our work to keep on top of these competing demands.

A little on performance

Consistent performance is hard. Our customers are in control of how much content goes into their platform and we don’t apply artificial limits to number of consultations, users, responses or documents customers add to their sites, this results in varying requirements on our production infrastructure [1].

Administrative tasks in particular often consume a disproportionate amount of capacity as they can involve searching, annotating and exporting thousands of consultation responses and their supporting documents. If you have lots of people doing those things at once — and it’s the nature of this kind of tool that you do — that’s a big load for a server. Combining that with multiple active consultations and a constant stream of people visiting and submitting their views – a moving target which can peak at hundreds, and occasionally thousands, of requests a second – results in a constantly shifting workload where even small performance gains can have a big effect on overall throughput and time spent waiting.

What did we want for version 4?

Our aim was to improve on performance for Citizen Space so that it increased its capacity to perform well both for day-to-day needs and at peak times. We wanted to:

  1. Increase the number of people being able to do things at once: Concurrency = more citizens able to have their say on decisions which affect them + more admins across an organisation able to work simultaneously to get their jobs done
  2. To decrease the time it takes anyone to do something on Citizen Space: Speed = faster loading times, giving more time to spend on other things, saving time for the public purse, freeing up administrators, saving time for citizens who want to get on with making dinner/having a bath/going out/living life
  3. Improve sites’ ability to perform even under unprecedented heavy load: Availability = high-profile (often contentious) consultations do not suffer the double whammy of lots of people passionately keen to give their views and then struggling to do so on a site flapping under the pressure of sustained load

Version 4 delivery

Alongside our standard ongoing development work [2], we’d been working on preparing a large infrastructure update to Citizen Space for most of 2018 and this formed the backbone of the performance updates. Toward the end of 2018 we turned our technical attention to take a specific run at performance in our regular milestones, too, with the particular focus on delivering those concurrency, speed and availability improvements.

The updates were delivered over a series of smaller milestones released with no downtime for sites, plus one large overnight update in January 2019 with a few minutes of downtime, which comprised the main infrastructure release.

How do we know what difference these updates made?

We looked at request[3] data on all Citizen Space sites across 2018 to tell us how many times each request was made and the length of time it took for those requests to be delivered. We broke this data down by:

  • Public side and admin side
  • Type of request
  • Total number of requests (of each type)
  • Time taken to serve requests
  • We also split it down by the type of demand a site is set up to cope with: small-medium, medium-high, high-very high demand

We did the same with the number of requests and time it’s taken to deliver them since we ran the upgrades, and we’ve forecast this out using the 2018 request numbers to find expected time savings for 2019 [4]. In order to make comparisons: for both 2018 and 2019 we calculated the mean time to serve each request. [5]

The results for the public side of sites are similar across all of them, so there is only one chart for those. This is because, in order to prevent those chunkier admin requests from impacting on people responding, Citizen Space is technically structured so that it broadly separates out the public from the admin side.

It’s worth stating that some admin-side requests we would expect to take a number of seconds to serve because they require large multi-megabyte files to be exported, but for public side transactions we’re ultimately aiming for under two seconds on all types of request, which would make Citizen Space faster than about 70% of the world wide web. Either way, we still want both the chunky requests and the already-pretty-fast ones to improve and continue improving.

The results

Citizen Space is now twice as fast

What does this mean?

1. Citizen Space can cope with at least twice as many requests at the same time (concurrency)

2. Compared with 2018, it now takes about half (and often less than half) of the time to deliver on most requests (speed)

In short: it can do more at once, and it can do it quicker.

The following charts show the average time in seconds each request took to deliver, so the shorter the bar, the less time it has taken. If you hover over the bars it’ll tell you the mean response time for each type of request in 2018 (blue – first bar) and 2019 (orange – second bar). Sadly – as these are charts – they’re not great if you’re reading this on a smartphone, but I’ve put the links below each one to view them individually, or you can view the whole set together on Tableau Public (link opens in new tab).

Public side of Citizen Space

Citizen Space can now serve over twice as many requests per second i.e. it can deliver pages to double the number of respondents clicking on things at once.

See the chart on Tableau Public (link opens in new tab)

Admin side (across all sites)

See the chart in Tableau Public (link opens in new tab)

If we use the total number of requests made over the course of 2018 across all sites (approximately 2 million requests) and forecast out how long those same requests would now take in 2019 after the most recent upgrades, it’s a saving of approximately 420 hours (or approximately 56 full working days) in total across all organisations using Citizen Space, and that’s a lot of time which can be spent elsewhere.

Broken down by demand

Small to medium demand sites:

See the chart in Tableau Public (link opens in new tab)

This group comprises the largest number of our customers. If we use the total number of requests made over the course of 2018 for this group (over 870,000 requests) and forecast out how long those same number of requests would now take in 2019 after the most recent upgrades, it’s a saving of almost 123 hours (or over 15 full working days).

Medium to high demand sites:

See the chart in Tableau Public (link opens in new tab)

We have just under fifty organisations in this group. If we use the total number of requests made over the course of 2018 for this group (over 709,000 requests) and forecast out how long those same number of requests would now take in 2019 after the most recent upgrades, it’s a saving of almost 150 hours (or just under 19 full working days) for these organisations collectively.

High to very high demand sites:

See the chart in Tableau Public (link opens in new tab)

This is the smallest group of organisations (currently ten), but they are highly active. If we use the total number of requests made over the course of 2018 for this group (just under 470,000 requests) and forecast out how long those same number of requests would now take in 2019 after the most recent upgrades, it’s a saving of almost 150 hours (or just under 19 full working days) for these organisations collectively.

I’ve included more explanation of the time to deliver some requests in the footnotes below. [6]

In terms of the Availability goal, with Citizen Space able to do more and quicker, we expect to see fewer instances of sites struggling under very heavy load. Luckily, this isn’t a very regular occurrence, though we do track this via our site monitoring and tagged support tickets, so we’ll be looking at that data in the next few months to see if this too has seen an improvement.

What next?

We have a further release going out this week which will deliver improvements to the export of all consultations, so we should see the request times for that go down, too. This release includes other changes which we hope will add to the performance of Citizen Space, so we’ll take another look at these stats in a few months to see how we’re getting on.

As mentioned earlier, availability is a harder one to measure as it requires sites to have alerted our monitoring that there have been errors or issues, so we need more data to see what difference has been made as – thankfully – we don’t have regular instances of this. We have taken a look at the small amount of monitoring data since the upgrades and the indication is that this too has seen an improvement, but the numbers are so small that we’d rather have fuller information over a number of months to compare with 2018 to be sure.

Coming up, we’re working on meeting the new WCAG 2.1 standards. Citizen Space is currently designed to meet W3C WAI WCAG 1.0 & 2.0 Level AA.

There is much to do, let’s crack on shall we?

[1] We run a subscription model matching type of organisation and expected capacity requirements with computing provision, so that customers can have unlimited use up to the capacity of their machine.

As an example, local regional councils with lower staff numbers and a smaller likely audience for their consultations do not require the same capacity as, say, a central government department, which runs national consultations and needs more administrators across a much larger organisation. We believe this approach saves organisations from needing to limit their ability to consult, or to take a risk with sharing log-ins as might happen with a model which charges per exercise or per user. We don’t want to restrict organisations from seeking the views of citizens, nor to encourage practices which might lower security. We prefer joined-up, improved processes across an organisation where people can work together effectively. The ‘limited only by hardware’ model helps to deliver that, as the organisation is free to structure their work as they need without being concerned about an increased cost for doing so. Most organisations never need to increase the capacity they need (and therefore subscription level), if they do then we’ll purchase and provide more capacity, or they can choose to manage their content accordingly. A bit like when you run out of space on your smartphone and you can either increase your memory size or, if you don’t want to do that, then you delete some photos.

As taxpayers and citizens, we care about the public sector being ripped off by suppliers, so we work in as lean a way as we possibly can and charge just enough for each subscription band to: be able to reinvest in continually updating the software, to meet any statutory and market obligations, to pay our taxes and fair wages for hard-working people, and to keep the lights on in our offices.

[2] In 2018 our other commitments as a company tended to relate to updates and additional measures around information security, and GDPR.

[3] A request means a request to the server, such as selecting to continue on a page, clicking a button, loading a page, requesting an export — things like that.

[4] We have more people using Citizen Space now, so the number of times these pages will be requested in 2019 is likely to be higher than 2018, and therefore the speed improvements will likely be cumulatively even more significant.

[5] There was a lot of data so it’s worth noting that when calculating the mean there were some outliers: sites with large databases which took longer to serve certain requests (like the export of all consultations), and newer customers with very small databases which were quicker. To account for that, in the charts in ‘The Results’ section, we’ve included both the mean across all customers, but also set out charts for the average response times of the three groups of different site demands, from smaller organisations on sites set up for small-medium sized demand, to the largest with sites set up to cope with high-very high demand.

[6] For the handful of the very largest customers, the data shows what we’d expect, which is that requests – especially delivering exports – take quite a bit longer as this reflects the huge amount of data on their platform. These customers typically: get tens of thousands of responses to consultations, run hundreds of exercises a year, have huge peaks in traffic, and hundreds of administrators (devolved governments, very large national bodies, certain central/federal government departments). By contrast, those who are small to medium sized organisations and therefore smaller demand sites, which is the majority of our customer-base, have quicker times for those exports as the data being served is smaller. These customers tend to have regional or interest-based audience groups (the customers may be local councils, specialist regulatory bodies, etc.) lower staff numbers, and are less likely to run consultations of national interest. In the middle, we have around fifty medium to large organisations who tend to be other central/federal government departments, large local government entities, larger regulatory / health / infrastructure bodies, again with quite a bit of data to manage with most requests.

3 Australian government consultations opening on Citizen Space today (1st March 2019)

Yep, there’s a bunch of noteworthy consultations/surveys from some of our Australian customers all launching today. Perhaps not that surprising when there’s 17,000+ consultations currently on Citizen Space, but still – enough for a theme to hang a headline on… 😛

The Government of Western Australia Department of Health are conducting a Mental Health Clinical Governance Review 🔍

The Government of Western Australia Department of Health's Mental Health Clinical Governance Review
The Government of Western Australia Department of Health’s Mental Health Clinical Governance Review

This is a major survey, both in the importance of its subject matter and the heft of its questions (45 mins is a pretty significant undertaking!)

Nice use of routing/skip logic helps smooth the path through the questions, though, and the introduction does a good job of showing participants that their contribution is both valuable and valued.

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science are requesting input on a National Hydrogen Strategy ⚛︎

National Hydrogen Strategy – request for input
National Hydrogen Strategy – request for input

3 things this survey does that you invariably want to see in a government consultation:

  1. It’s asking for public input to a major strategy early in its development
  2. It provides loads of supporting information/docs
  3. It’s very open about privacy, collection and how your data will be used

The Department of the Environment and Energy are running a Baseline Survey as part of a Performance Measurement and Reporting (PMR) Project 📈

Performance Measurement and Reporting Project - EPG Pilot - Baseline Survey
Performance Measurement and Reporting Project – EPG Pilot – Baseline Survey

‘You just wanted an excuse to post a screenshot of that sweet banner pic, didn’t you?’

‘No! There’s a nicely laid-out matrix question in there, plus people might be interested to see an internal/staff surv…’

‘Yeah but come on: the diver? In that brilliant blue sea, with the murky, mysterious smudge of rock lurking behind them? All contrast-y with the foreground full of multicoloured coral?’

‘OK fine yes I liked the banner pic’

As ever, that’s barely a drop in the ocean of the thousands of live examples you can check out on the Aggregator. And if you’d like to chat through some forthcoming online consultations of your own, you can always drop us a line.

4 noteworthy consultations happening right now

With almost 17,000 digital consultations on Citizen Space at present, there’s no shortage of stuff worth looking at at any one time. Here’s four public sector consultations that are currently open – all covering important topics, and all making for potentially useful examples to emulate if you’ve got surveys of your own coming up.

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) are consulting on packaging waste 🚮

Defra packaging waste consultation on phone and laptop
Defra packaging waste consultation on phone and laptop

One of several consultations on environmental issues at the moment, it even got shared by No. 10 directly:

The Isle of Man Government’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is consulting on the prescribing of medicinal cannabis 🌿

The Isle of Man's consultation on medicinal cannabis
The Isle of Man’s consultation on medicinal cannabis

This survey makes good use of Fact Banks – adding expandable dropdowns under certain questions so that the top-line question itself can remain simple and easy-to-read but making it easy for people to get loads more background info should they want it without even having to leave the page.

Birmingham City Council are consulting on electric vehicle charging 🚗⚡️

Birmingham online survey about electric vehicle charging
Birmingham online survey about electric vehicle charging

The survey walks participants through tons of info about the options under consideration, including via a neatly-embedded video, a surprising frequency of the word ‘lance’ and our favourite explanatory diagram of the week:

Trojan lance and charging cable

Hackney Council are consulting on how to make their services and the community friendly to autistic residents 🗺🏙

Hackney's consultation on making the area autism-friendly
Hackney’s consultation on making the area autism-friendly

The questions here are framed in such a way that a potentially matter-of-fact survey manages to feel genuinely considerate and interested. Really good mix of multiple-option questions (‘what prevents you from accessing support or services?’) and open-ended free-text ones (‘what is working well in terms of the support and services you receive as an autistic person?’)

(If you haven’t seen it already, there’s a great, in-depth, recent interview with Hackney’s Consultation Manager on the council’s work to bring digital transformation to their consultation activity that’s well worth checking out.)

As we said, that’s just a tiny sample of the thousands of live examples on the Aggregator. And if you’d like to chat through some forthcoming online consultations of your own, you can always drop us a line.

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