Dialogue – now with notifications!

You asked, Dialogue fans, and we have delivered. We are delighted to announce that email notifications are now here and ready to use in Dialogue.

Thanks to this update, users of Dialogue can get a daily notification delivered straight to their inbox if there has been any new activity on their ideas or comments. The optional notifications include links to any ideas they have submitted or commented on which have had comments added in the past 24 hours.

Screenshot of Dialogue notification email

We’re confident this new feature will further help to engage people and expand participation. The enhanced experience for users means ideas can be better developed and refined without people having to actively remember to check back on their contributions. In a fast-paced and busy world, even the most proactive people may not remember or have the time to keep checking in on their activity. These new ‘push’ notifications help to keep people involved in the conversation.

We thought carefully about the design of this feature and decided on deliberately ‘light-touch’ notifications. We’re only sending one email notification each day to make sure people don’t feel spammed, and also to ensure the thoughtful and productive nature of Dialogue remains intact. The lure of incessant, instant notifications can create an unhealthy dynamic and lead to less constructive exchanges. We have tried to strike the right balance here: keeping conversation flowing without it overflowing or descending into chaos.

Screenshot of Access and Participation Dialogue challenge ideas

We’re really proud of the important, intriguing, eye-opening conversations that public sector organisations have hosted on Dialogue. We hope that notifications will now make it even easier for people to get involved in decisions that affect them.

If you would like more information on Dialogue, or to have this feature enabled, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

Digital Tools for Neighbourhood Planning event

Last week I took an evening train to London, and learnt a little on ‘How Digital Tools can transform Neighbourhood Planning’ at the Urban Centre of Innovation. It was hosted and organised by Neighbourhood Planners.London and Local Trust. Neighbourhood Planners.London, are an organisation formed to support neighbourhood plans in the London area (believe it or not). They support community forums, and planning authorities from the point of starting out to referendum. They came together after noticing a demand from neighbourhood planners for somewhere to network and learn from each other. Anyone with an interest in neighbourhood planning in the capital should use their site for recourses, including a planning map, ‘useful things for getting started’ and successful plans for inspiration.

David King from Local Trust introduced the structure of the session, and led mini workshop groups, including the one I popped into first on community engagement. If you haven’t heard of Local Trust yet, check out how they empower communities; as an investment of the Big Lottery Fund, they support 150 places to make a difference on a local level. Again, their site is a wealth of recourses, as well as news and upcoming events to get involved with. Local Trust will support groups and individuals to develop skills and build on opportunities within communities.

Neighbourhood Planning (introduced by Tony Burton) is a way of giving communities direct power to develop their local visions. Clearly, they couldn’t build a ruddy great big theme park on greenbelt land, but it’s a chance for citizens to make realistic changes based on neighbourhood priorities. A community forum initially get together with an idea, ask the other citizens what they want in the area, and then develop those ideas with community engagement, building the evidence base, and putting the plan into consultation. Once much of the community have agreed, the neighbourhood plan gains the same legal status as a local plan, and can go forward to neighbourhood funding, post referendum.

I did a little introduction to how Delib’s Dialogue could be used successfully in a NP, from the very formative stage of collecting ideas from the community to allocating budget towards the end of the process, while building a conversation. A few other tools were pitched including Placecheck, a ‘way of finding out what a place and its people can tell us’ to be used at the earlier stages of neighbourhood planning, while assessing the area. Know Your Neighbourhood is another online tool to use in the earlier stages of planning, an ‘insight analyst, cartographer and statistician rolled in to one’. Local Trust and Neighbourhood Planners.London are great places to start if you’re keen on considering starting a NP forum in your area, also My Community is a great place to look for funding options, and how to get started!

Introducing our new Account Manager in Canberra: Mick Leahey

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

Mick Australia Delib PictureMy name is Mick Leahey and I currently live in Canberra. I was born in Sydney in Darlinghurst before my parents moved to Canberra where we lived in Tuggeranong when the suburb had only just settled.  I grew up in Canberra and went to school at St Edmunds College and I still live in Tuggeranong today with my gorgeous wife and my two sons Sean and Jacob.

2. Favourite band and/or artist?

I really like Justin Timberlake and my favourite band is U2: I’ve seen U2 three times and Timberlake just the once. My bucket list concert would be Justin Timberlake in Las Vegas.

3. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?

I would say I am probably a creature of habit; that might come with age I guess. But I have flashes of the maverick thinker in me – I like to call it ‘moments’.

4. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

What I find with dunking is you get caught short; I hate scotch fingers at the bottom of my tea and having to make a fresh cup. So definitely no dunking these days. However, I am totally unopposed to anyone else who wants to dunk unless they are making a mess, in which case I might frown. Slightly.

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

For the last eighteen years I have worked for local government in Canberra. And then for the last twelve months I have been doing some travelling and working on a number of shorter contracts with commonwealth departments. These included the ACCC and AHL.

6. Why did you want to join Delib?

I was attracted to the customer service nature of this role. That’s what I really love doing. I was drawn to how interesting the role was and it’s a great opportunity to continue to drive great customer service in Australia. I am not a massive tech person, I’m a people person, and that’s what I hope to add to this role. I really love working with people and helping others to feel comfortable and confident.

 7. If you are not at the office where can we find you?

You will find me talking rugby league and any sport in general. In the middle of the Winter you will find me at my local training ground that we call the oval, coaching my junior teams in rugby league. Not everyone will make it to the NRL but it’s about developing those habits of hard work and working for all their team members. I really love seeing the kids putting in the hard work and getting the rewards. It’s not just about the sport, it’s about helping them to become better people. I try to make all the extended family feel a part of the team as well and that everybody counts. Our family home is a bit of a hub for a lot of the team. Everyone seems hungry just around dinner time and we quite often have a few extras- it’s a great conversation time. Coaching for me is not just about footy being the only thing- it’s about making sure life outside of footy is ‘gravy’ as well.

I played rugby league competitively until I lost my leg at the age of twelve, and dad was a massive fan and I guess I inherited that. After the loss of my leg I was determined to keep playing and had great cousins and friends that I caught up with.

During the time after my leg was amputated, Wayne Bennett was coaching the Raiders and I got to spend time with him and really talk. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I said I wanted to coach footy. Some other people had told me I would never be able to coach because I wouldn’t be able to play at that elite level.  He told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. He said that it wouldn’t matter that I wasn’t able to play at a high level- I could still be a great coach. From that conversation I became determined to be the best coach I could be. I studied a lot about coaching and how to get the best out of people.

I started training at the National Institute of Sport in 92 after a lot of encouragement from everyone around me. I have taken a lot from those coaches and the lessons they taught me during my time at the Amputee Nationals and the Paralympics.

Otherwise I am currently getting thoroughly schooled by my wife at table tennis!

8. Any shout outs, comments or other musings?

I am really looking forward to getting to know everyone better.

And talking sport. Lots of sport!

My first unconference – OneTeamGov Scotland

Three weeks into my new role at Delib I was lucky enough to be sent to the OneTeamGovScot event in Edinburgh with my colleague Megan, put on by the good folks at OneTeamGov. The event was a chance for policymakers, service designers, digital professionals and cross-sector experts to come together to discuss a range of subjects, from accountability, to citizen engagement, to artificial intelligence, and much more. It was my first unconference, which gave the attendees the chance to pitch their own session ideas and build the timetable for the day themselves. Having attended some big corporate conferences in the past, with quite rigid timetables, I really liked the idea of the audience being able to structure the day.

Linda Hunter provided fantastic illustrations throughout the day

Kicking off with some lightning talks were some of the volunteers from OneTeamGov, covering topics such as policy, service transformation through digital and using design to make the world work for us.  We then had a welcome from Sarah Davidson, Director General for the Scottish Government, who said to “put a bomb under your ambition”, a line which really resonated throughout the day, before it was time for some sessions.

Devolution of power and shared accountability – Manira Ahmad, NHS National Services Scotland

The first session we attended was held by Manira Ahmad, Head of Local Intelligence for NHS National Services Scotland. There was a lot of talk around data and accountability, as well as a heavy focus on power and ensuring everyone in society is empowered to engage with democracy, including those who are usually unrepresented and not proactively involved. People can have all the passion and will to participate but if they do not have the power, they will not be able to influence change. 

Scotland – great stories, how do we get action? – Richard Whatman, Consultant

Richard started out with a thought-provoking question: how do we actually get stuff done?! In large organisations it can often take a long process to make any small decision, and so we discussed how this could change; it was agreed that there needs to be a change in culture in these institutions to avoid the frustration of decisions taking longer than necessary to be made. We spoke about how shared experience can foster confidence that doing things differently can work and change can happen. There was also a lot of discussion around failure and how mistakes should be celebrated. Someone used the phrase “proceed until apprehended”, which was met with a nervous laugh from the room, but essentially meant that people should be able to take control of their work, and not seek permission and approval on every small thing they do. People were very keen on having safe (or dangerous, perhaps?!) places to discuss things that have gone wrong, learn from them and support one another.

Citizen engagement and consultation – Barbara Chalmers, Final Fling and Chris Connolly, Scottish Government

During this session we spoke a lot about engagement and empowerment of citizens. Everyone agreed that engagement should start long before consultation, so that views can feed into the whole cycle from an early stage. Keeping communication channels open could be a way of helping this, as well as managing expectations so that people understand that even if they do get involved, the outcome won’t always be what they wanted, but that it’s more likely to benefit them if they have their say. Someone mentioned that consultations are often centred around the banning of things but that we should encourage positive change and trust in governments, not only involving key stakeholders but a wider cross-section of society. Megan mentioned the Break the Silence campaign which the Ministry of Justice ran using Dialogue, where victims of male rape were able to anonymously suggest ways of helping people who have experienced abuse. This led to £1million being provided to specialist rape support organisations in England and Wales, to help victims through dedicated phone lines, support centres and an online community.

Why do you need a website? – a collection of disgruntled people

This session was an interesting one to attend from a small company’s point of view because it was mostly attended by people working in government or other large institutions who were frustrated with the technology they have to contend with in order to do their jobs. People thought that it would be more beneficial to collaborate with people who have already created useful technology, rather than compete with them and add another website to the internet where it may not be needed. It was clear that people wanted to see an improvement in digital experience in the public sector, with better IT systems and support and without bad tech getting in the way of people performing their jobs well.

Artificial intelligence – Michael McTernan, Bemo Ltd

We started this session by giving our names, why we were at the session and one word to describe how we feel about AI. There was an interesting spread of words, starting with some students from Glasgow School of Art saying things like “opportunity”, “smart” and “great” and then moving around the group to some of us saying “daunting” and “scary”. This exercise demonstrated well that AI is increasingly becoming more of a reality, that we all interact with it all the time, but that we have varying levels of knowledge of it. We discussed how the use of AI can make us more capable and can assist greatly with the analysis of data, but that it must be controlled well, and ultimately requires a human element for that. A lot of people seem quite wary of AI and the question of whether we can trust it was raised: Megan told us about an example of a US military drone mistaking a wedding party for a gang and shooting at people. Whilst this is a slightly dark example, it goes some way to justifying why people are slightly scared of the prospect of moving even further towards AI. There is also the issue of it putting people out of jobs by automating processes, which was an understandable concern. We all seemed to agree that we should use AI for things it’s good at such as data analysis, but keep a firm human hold on it.

The day came to a close with Ken Thomson, Director General at the Scottish Government, telling us all to “keep calm and start a revolution”. We had to write down what we had learnt from the day, and what we would do tomorrow as a result. We then screwed up the pieces of paper, threw them up and around the room and had to catch someone else’s, sharing our thoughts and actions with fellow attendees (thanks to Dougie Shirlaw for the video). It was quite a moment and such a brilliant way of concluding the day (before heading to the pub!). Of all of the conferences I’ve been to throughout my career, the OneTeamGov Scotland event was probably the most engaging and the most involved I have ever felt at one. It was a great open forum where nothing anyone said was wrong or judged and you could talk freely about some really interesting subjects. Instead of one or two people stood on a stage talking at an audience, it was group discussions that were inclusive of everyone and motivating. I met a lot of new people, ate a LOT of cake and came away from the day feeling positive. Massive thanks to all of the volunteers for having us and we’ll be sure to attend again! If you’d like to catch up on the event or have any questions, feel free to find me on Twitter: @Keri_OD.

 

8 lessons learnt from the ‘design as a democratic force’ event in Canberra

I’m currently on secondment to the Australian arm of Delib for a couple of months to help train our new Account Manager Mick. I normally work as an Account Manager in our Bristol office, so it’s great to be part of the Australian team for a short while! To round up my first week in Canberra, I spent Friday morning listening to four brilliant speakers as part of the Design Canberra festival session discussing the idea of ‘Design as a democratic force’. The session focused on two key themes: addressing the decline of trust in Australia’s democratic institutions and how user-centered design can help rebuild this trust. Here are my key take homes from the event:

1) Trust in government and democratic decisions in Australia is at its lowest level since 1996

Mark Evans from the University of Canberra presented findings from a survey that he’s been involved in about public trust in government and democratic decisions. Despite 25 years of economic growth in Australia, the survey found that trust is actually at its lowest levels since the early 1990s. Mark’s team conducted both a survey and 14 focus groups to help explore this topic which included examining how Australians imagine their democracy and what they want from politicians. They found that Australians wanted politicians to keep their promises and be honest and empathetic.

2) Let’s not forget Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when it comes to democratic decisions

Damien from the Department of Human Services Design Hub spoke about the experiences of the Department of Human Services when it comes to political decisions. He advocated exploring what citizens are ‘aspiring towards’ rather than asking them what they ‘want’ right now. If citizens don’t have their basic needs met, then they don’t have the head space to start thinking about the next level up in terms of political participation and decisions.

3) Young Australians are participating in politics more than ever before

Mark Evan’s research also found that the ‘baby boomers’ generation are the most disillusioned about politics; but there is a strong interest and knowledge in politics amongst young Australians. Although this participation isn’t always traceable by ‘traditional’ means, it’s definitely prevalent.

4) The future is in efficient citizen-centric digital services

During the event breakout sessions, Australian civil servants described how their roles have been traditionally blocked or hampered by the need to move off ‘X old system’ or towards purchasing ‘Y tool’ which will help speed up service delivery. Meanwhile citizens are already moving full steam ahead and using digital services natively. Citizen expectation is growing when it comes to digital tools and services.

During the event Mark Evans from Canberra University said “Our research shows that Australians are enamoured with digital services: especially those which have been co-designed”

5) Social sciences are increasing in importance and helping to drive human-focused services forward

There is a resurgence in the importance of social sciences in political decision making. No longer are decisions made simply by economists or based on numbers. Instead, social sciences and human-centred research methods such as working directly with and observing citizens in situ are becoming increasingly important.

6) Co-design is a powerful strategy in helping leaders to get ‘ahead of the curve’

Over the past decade, governments around Australia have become increasingly open to experimentation, and have matured their design capability. Co-design helps solve problems beyond the realm of politicians. However, we need to be mindful not to almost become too user-centric in this approach and leave out the political leaders who have the power to push these changes forward. We should never underestimate the importance of strong leadership in government.

“It’s great to have co-design. But sometimes the overall decisions need to be made by a really strong leader,” stated Nina Terry, Think Place Global.

7) Ideas need to originate from Citizens

The Department of Human Services talked about how an idea is sometimes ‘handed down’ rather than suggested from the ‘bottom up’ by citizens. This can mean that instead of working with a problem which has been organically suggested, you end up building on an existing idea which can increase the chances of the idea going wrong further down the line.

“The challenge we’re having at the Department of Human Services is that we’re working with ideas that have already been suggested and handed down to be worked through. We need to step back and gather ideas from citizens first” Damien Tobin, The Department of Human Services.

8) Government needs to become an enabler rather than a ‘top down’ force

One of the themes discussed towards the end of the session was about whether the type of democracy as we know it today is still valid for Australia in the 21st century. Related to this, is the question of re-positioning government to work more directly for its citizens.

Despite the disillusioned sentiments towards politics, it’s clear that with the right leadership and tools there is an opportunity to effectively connect citizens with decision making on a level which works for both government departments and citizens. As one of the participants in my break-out session pointed out: “Maybe we don’t want everyone to trust government and we do want to keep some tension in that space”.

Massive thanks to the Design Canberra Festival, Think Place and the Department of Human Services Design Hub for hosting such a thought-provoking session.

Introducing our new communications person: Keri O’Donoghue

Delib keeps on growing – both in number of customers and number of staff. The newest member of the team is Keri, joining our UK office in a communications role. As is now standard procedure, she’s completed our comprehensive set of taxing questions about bands, bread and, of course, biscuits.

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

My name is Keri O’Donoghue and I have the dubious pleasure of being from Swindon (yes, the location of Wernham Hogg’s second office). I lived in Brighton for uni before moving to Bristol about three years ago and have loved it here ever since!

2. Favourite band and/or artist?

Always a tricky question – at the moment I’m really enjoying Jessie Ware and have tickets to see her in Bristol next March! I also absolutely love Bon Iver and would like it if Justin Vernon could sing me to sleep every night. Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams is one of my favourite albums. As for the classics, my dad has instilled a great love for The Jam in me and we went to see Paul Weller together a few years ago; Down in the Tube Station at Midnight is one of my all time favourite songs. My mum, on a slightly different note, has given me a deep appreciation for Whitney Houston; I cried the day she died and many-a-night at my parents’ house ends with my mum, my sister and I belting out Saving All My Love in the kitchen with utensils for microphones (and wine).

3. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?

In my working life I’m definitely a creature of habit; I love a list, I love routine and I love to be organised (and to organise others). In my personal life I’d say I’m a bit more of a maverick thinker; I like to be spontaneous and hate to commit to anything too far in advance.

4. You 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?

My dad is a brilliant combination of Bruce Willis in Die Hard and Liam Neeson in Taken, with a bit of Ray Mears thrown in, so if people are allowed on the keep list, then him. If not, then definitely some way of playing music, because I’m rarely not listening to anything. Also, my trademark favourite red lipstick, because if I’m going to be starting a new life on this desert island, I might as well look good while I’m at it.

5. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

Dunk! Or, if we’re talking about my favourite biscuit, a caramel waffle, then put on top of the coffee cup so the heat melts the caramel a bit and makes it all lovely and soft!

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

I used to work for an academic publisher in the sales and marketing team, where I sometimes got to travel to the US and Europe for various events and conferences. My most recent role was at a not for profit which helps the UK education sector gain access to innovative technologies to help with research and teaching. When I was a student I worked at Starbucks, where I developed my love of caramel waffles.

7. Why did you want to join Delib?

I studied International Development at uni, and when met with blank faces on telling people that, always described it as a mixture of Politics and Geography, so have always had a keen interest in politics and the wider world. To work for a company that aligns well with that and is doing such positive stuff for democracy is a really exciting opportunity for me. Starting in a new role, I have a lot to learn and take on and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it!

8. Any shout outs, comments or other musings?

It’s only been a couple of weeks but I’m already really happy at Delib, so a big shout out to all of the team for making me feel so welcome!

Institutionalising Participatory and Deliberative Democracy event

Last weekend I took a trip to London to attend ‘Institutionalising Participatory and Deliberative Democracy’. The event was held by the Westminster Centre for the Study of Democracy, at the University of Westminster for academics, experts and the curious alike. It was a workshop-style event, with four key speakers and an opportunity for the audience to ask questions.

The session itself was exploring world-wide increased experimentation of new forms of public engagement that are participatory and/or deliberative in character. We looked at examples of participatory budgeting in Scotland and Latin America, Citizens’ Assemblies in Ireland and deliberative mini-publics across the globe. The range of speakers was brilliant:  we started the session off with Graham Smith (Professor of Politics and Director of the Centre of the Study of Democracy) defining and introducing us to key topics of the afternoon. Looking specifically into Citizens’ Assemblies in Ireland was Clodagh Harris (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Government, Uni of Cork) followed by insight into Scotland’s participatory budgeting story with Oliver Escobar (Lecturer in Public Policy, Uni of Edinburgh).

We were initially introduced to the deliberative democratic form of mini-publics by Graham Smith. Mini-publics in represented democracy are groups of randomly selected citizens that are assumed to help define reasonable solutions to complex and diverse issues; this should discern a more reflective public opinion. An example would be The Citizen’s Initiative Review Commission, which was established by the Oregon Legislature in 2011. Randomly selected demographically-balanced voters were brought together from across the state to fairly evaluate ballot measures.

This led on to Clodagh Harris educating us on the trials and successes of Citizens’ Assemblies in Ireland. The pilot Irish Assembly, established in 2011, gave citizens a direct and formal role on matters of constitutional reform. As well as 33 politicians, this group included 66 randomly selected citizens. The inclusion of political representatives added to the process’ legitimacy, and meant for more parliamentary responsiveness. That political influence (from both houses of the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly) was no doubt helpful towards the Government accepting recommendations for Constitutional Change; Harris focused on marriage equality, reducing the voting age and reducing the age you can become President.

Clodagh Harris from Irish Citizens’ Assembly

The above led to two referendums in May 2015. The Presidential age referendum focused on lowering the age you can become president from 35 to 21; unsurprisingly, people felt that 21 was too young, with 73% of people voting that way. The Republic of Ireland is a primarily Christian country, with the largest church being Roman Catholic, meaning the referendum on marriage equality was monumental for the country. On the 22nd of May, the proposal resulted in nearly 2 million votes, with 62% of people voting ‘yes’ to marriage equality. This was a massive breakthrough for Ireland, and therefore a prime example of historical outcomes of Citizens’ Assemblies, and was the first time referendums passed successfully with mini-public.  Evidently the pilot Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland went well, with the body still working today. Since October 2016, in the wave of the second generation, the Assembly have met regularly to deliberate outlined topics. The Assembly complete their work within a year and are currently considering how Ireland can tackle climate change, as well as the immense issue of abortion rights in Ireland. As it stands, abortion is illegal in Ireland, and therefore leads to hundreds of women travelling to England to carry out the procedure. The Citizens’ Assembly are trying to replace the current law, with a provision that makes termination of pregnancy up to the mother, not parliament.

Escobar’s talk explored participatory budgeting (PB), focussing on how Scotland have committed to making it normal practice in local and central government after COSLA and the Scottish Government made a landmark agreement to mainstream PB. Scotland is now famous for their extensive participatory budgeting after the Scottish Government first launched their Community Choices Fund in 2016. The fund supports PB in Scotland, by allocating a certain amount of the government budget to citizens. Escobar believes consultation should be done sparingly with a higher quality approach, focusing primarily on the bigger issues. Many local authorities in Scotland are using or have used Delib’s Dialogue tool, for the formative stages of their participatory budgeting challenges. The Scottish Government commissioned the Democratic Society to do a research project into participatory budgeting tools that are available that you can read here.

Currently the Citizens’ Assembly England have a live project ‘Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit’, details of which can be found through their site. The amazing work of Citizens’ assemblies in Ireland and Participatory Budgeting in Scotland is an inspiration of what can be achieved by collective voices, as powers are being shifted away from Westminster towards devolved bodies and representatives at a local level.

‘Better decisions together?’ – event round-up

A few weeks back, (October 27th) we held the second in our series of Practical Democracy Project events – this time, with a focus on the possible risks, benefits and methods of involving people in decision-making.

For those who couldn’t make it along on the day, here’s a quick round-up. And we’re planning more events in the series so there’ll doubtless be other opportunities to talk digital democracy with roomfuls of interesting people.

People chat in the break at our Edinburgh Practical Democracy Project event

These events are designed to keep building the conversation around the interaction between technology and government, with a focus on the stuff that actually makes a difference to effective public participation in decision-making.

This particular gathering was in collaboration with The Democratic Society and New Media Scotland, and took place at the City Art Centre’s Alt-w LAB in Edinburgh (an amazing venue with all the coolness and great aesthetics you’d expect of a gallery, and some spectacular views to boot). As with the first event in London, there was a great mix of people present: academics, members of the pubic, civil servants, researchers, service designers – all sorts.

I was slightly thrown when the room was plunged into darkness just as we were due to start – though it turned out to simply be a deliberate, and rather snazzy, spotlight setup. Fortunately, I soon got to pass the literal limelight to our lineup of invited speakers, all of whom had excellent chat…


First up was Anna Grant from Carnegie UK Trust

Anna was sharing some insights informed by a recently-published report she’d been working on called ‘A Digital World for All?’.

Anna was keen to dispel some of the myths and assumptions that people can slip into when thinking about online engagement and inclusion – especially regarding young people. She repeatedly stressed that encouraging participation was not as simple as merely opening a feedback channel and then just waiting for people to magically turn up.

The report also made clear that it should not be taken for granted that all young people are automatically ‘digital natives’, completely comfortable and able to take part in any- and every-thing online. As more and more services move online, there remains a responsibility to equip everyone with the digital skills to ensure equal access. And when it comes to participation, it’s also important to give people sufficient motivation/reason to get involved.

Check out the full ‘Digital World for All?’ report


Then we heard from Wittin’s Dr Matthew Davis.

Wittin is a very new, and therefore still tiny, startup – formed specifically in response to a ‘CivTech’ challenge run by the Scottish Government. The founder, Dr Matthew Davis, told us about how he came up with a proposal to Stirling Council around opening up their data for citizens to analyse and interact with directly.

It was fascinating to hear about how the Council and Wittin are working to develop this scheme, and all the considerations that come into play when trying to get such a bold new idea off the ground: the work of getting buy-in; the need to balance anonymity, privacy, availability and insight; possible strategies for recruiting ‘early adopter’ citizens to see how people might start using Council data when given access to it…

Alongside that, it was great to hear about the appetite among public sector organisations for new and additional ways of hearing from their citizens and getting insight to help them provide better services. It’s a recurring theme in our experience: people in government aren’t averse to hearing from the public – quite the opposite, in fact. There’s no lack of willing: the main barriers are purely practical – so the more we can do to provide civil servants with affordable, viable, user-friendly ways of opening up engagement, the better.


Next up was Dr Ella Taylor-Smith from Edinburgh Napier University.

Ella has been involved in the digital democracy scene from arguably its earliest days, and is hugely well-versed in online participation/engagement. On this occasion, she shared some findings from an intriguing piece of research she’s recently been working on – about ‘knit-bombing’. Yes, you read that right: the central focus of this research was impromptu knitting.

Dr Taylor-Smith had studied the phenomenon of crocheted protest signs around Edinburgh, which had caught people’s attention both ‘IRL’ and on social media. Interested by questions of where such ‘ground-up’ movements come from, what causes them to catch on, what ‘counts’ as a participatory intervention and if/when they can be considered ‘successful’, Ella had interviewed a host of people involved in the production of these protest signs – generating a wealth of interesting findings.

Among these, I was particularly struck by her honesty about the sheer effort that democratic involvement can entail. As she observed, ‘participating in democracy is time consuming & emotionally draining – but community is a motivating value’


And wrapping up the morning was Tim Brazier from Good Things Foundation.

Tim is a senior Service Designer at Good Things Foundation, a charity committed to ‘building a digitally included society and supporting people to grow their essential skills’. Looking at the question of how to practically go about effectively involving people in decision-making, he made a fantastic case for the importance of the quality of interactions, and the ‘human’ side of conversations with citizens/service users.

He regaled us with several stories of projects where Good Things Foundation had conducted up-close-and-personal field research, striving to meet people ‘on their own terms’ (rather than in the potentially ‘artificial’ environment of a focus group session or similar).

And he also advocated strongly for the importance of listening well – not simply going in with a set of leading questions and set answers, but allowing space for suggestions or questions or ideas to arise naturally in the process of engaging with someone, to be able to respond to these emergent topics and themes that you as an organisation might never have predicted.


Tim also made some notes from the day. As you’d expect from someone with such a keen eye for design, they’re rather lovely – worth a look if only for that enviable penmanship:

We’re looking forward to hosting more Practical Democracy Project events in the new year – watch this space for one near you!

8 lessons learnt from Web Summit 2017

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend Web Summit (one of the largest tech conferences in the world with 60,000 attendees) held in Portugal’s lovely capital Lisbon for the second year running. I was able to attend thanks to purchasing one of the heavily subsidised ‘women in tech’ ticket a few months back: which makes it much more affordable for women to get involved.

Web Summit is by far the largest and most international conference I’ve ever been to. To be honest, the first day was actually a little overwhelming, as there are four large arenas of stands and talks; but I soon got into it. As with most conferences, despite the long list of amazing talks I was fortunate enough to attend, it’s often the conversations with fellow peers and new acquaintances over lunch, or after the conference, which leave you feeling most inspired. We had a buzzword bingo board running for the event, and the term ‘disrupt’ was well and truly awarded the most overused word during the summit!

Standout talks for me were from representatives of Lego, Reddit and Stack Overflow. Key themes of the conference included consumers taking back control over their privacy, the opportunities presented by AI and new technologies such as Blockchain and the importance of digital literacy and de-mystifying the world of tech. The conference left me feeling inspired and excited to be working as a ‘woman in tech’.  Here’s a few of my take home points from the talks I chose to attend:

1) We need to be mindful of ‘echo chambers’

Steve Huffman (CEO of Reddit) talked about the importance of being mindful of ’echo chambers’ (a metaphorical description of when beliefs are ‘amplified’ by communication inside a defined system such as Reddit and social media). Social media is increasingly fuelling such echo chambers, and is causing users to reinforce their own political opinion. Companies like Reddit are however, working hard to make users more self-aware of this.

“Variety is the spice of life, we want our users to see other peoples’ opinions” Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit

This talk got me thinking about the importance of ‘neutrality’ and starting with a ‘level playing field’ when using digital tools in government. By using tool such as Dialogue to host a conversation, users are hopefully able to break away from such echo chambers.

2) The future of work is changing but we’re yet to fully embrace it

Upwork presented some really interesting findings following a recent survey they conducted with freelancers within the ‘freelance economy’. Both North America and Europe have seen a huge growth in the number of freelancers over the past five years: enabling more people to adapt work around their lives rather than life around their work. Finding number one, was to move away from calling it the ‘gig economy’ which has negative connotations and instead call it ‘the freelance economy’.

Upwork also noted how we’re living in an age of paradox when it comes to where we work: we choose to live our lives in expensive cities even though we no longer have to due to technological advances in communication, for example. With the advent of the internet, we are also living in an era of lifelong learning. Employees and freelancers are choosing to build their own individual ‘skills banks’ rather than honing in on a singular skill set and career.

3) Platforms don’t always need a ‘full overhaul’

Steve Huffman and Mark Mayo (SVP of Firefox) were both humble and honest about the fact that their products haven’t been the ‘top of their game’ over the past couple of years. Both were open about the time taken, challenges and plans to make them better. Central to this was the importance of placing their users at the heart of the re-design process. Reddit for example, have chosen to keep some of the same look and feel that users love, and Firefox are designing their new browser experience for a 300 USD Acer computer because that’s what the majority of its users have.

4) We need to maintain active and effective channels of communication 

Stuart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack, gave a fantastic talk on the importance of continually innovating and re-inventing ‘channel use’. Slack itself has thousands of channels which they actively use internally: including handy ‘triage’ channels which help direct queries and unblock communication between teams. Tools such as Slack are helping to re-invent the way people work: and this isn’t just down to the features included in the product, it’s down to the way that their users are adapting processes around the tool.

5) We need to re-build consumer trust

There were lots of talks and comments during discussions at Web Summit about ‘taking back’ and re-gaining consumer rights over privacy. However this message of distrust is also having a negative effect on the demand for new features and innovation. Joel Spolsky (Co-Founder and CEO of Stack Overflow) noted how consumer curiosity drives the demand for innovation, but if users increasingly want their information to be out of view (Stack Overflow are in the process of building an internal view for example) technological advances will suffer as a result.

6) Women need to ask for promotions more

During a talk on diversity in tech, Blake Irving (CEO, GoDaddy) spoke about how women are far less likely to actively push for a promotion. Blake talked about the importance of peer reviews and effective channels of communication to help enable this. This was also a theme I overheard three different groups of people talking about during the conference. Women in tech: let’s encourage each others to push for promotions!

7) We need to ‘de-mystify’ technology


Rebecca Parsons (CTO, Thoughtworks) gave a fantastic closing speech titled ‘everybody code now’ where she advocated for the importance of ’empowering more people to understand exactly what it is that we’re doing when it comes to tech’. She noted how we’ve lost touch with how computers work and have been built: citing how the inventor of the Raspberry Pi wanted to create something that his students could use to grasp how computers work.

“If we can think of technology as something that we play with then you can empower people.” (Rebecca Parsons, CTO, Thoughtworks)

Not everyone needs to learn to code, they need to learn to ‘appreciate code’: if you can understand what it does, then that gives you the power over it, rather than the other way around.

8) We need a diverse workforce 

Lars Silberbauer (Global Director of Social Media, Lego) talked about the fantastic diversity used in their approach to marketing in his talk titled ‘levering the creative power of communities’. By using real life metrics and a diverse work force, Lego are able to use different channels and tools to help drive their global brand experience. Rebecca Parsons also echoed the importance of having a diverse workforce, noting that “real problems will be solved by a diverse group of people coming together and using technology as a tool.”

The best thing about Web Summit for me? Having 170+ nationalities all in one conference centre and genuinely feeling part of a global tech community. Massive thanks to WebSummit for offering the women in tech tickets for a second year in a row and to Delib for letting me take time out to experience such an amazing conference.

Digital hero: Carol Hayward

Across the globe, community engagement practitioner Carol Hayward is renowned for her ability to connect with communities and build relationships of trust.

Earlier this year, Carol was asked to join the working group for the Birkenhead Residents Association (BRA), and here at Delib we were delighted to provide Dialogue for their use in a planned consultation. While the consultation with Birkenhead residents is continuing, Carol has generously given her time to talk about the project and its continuing legacy.

Carol, what has been your role with the Birkenhead Residents Association?

I was asked to join the working group about a year ago because of my past links with the council and my community engagement experience.

Do you live in the community?

Yes – we have lived here for 8 years and the area is where my partner grew up. It’s a fabulous community to live in – close to the city centre, surrounded by bush and with a vibrant village feel.

How did you get involved with the association?

The Secretary of the Birkenhead Residents Association asked me if I would be interested in helping out and I thought it sounded really interesting. I think the main reason he invited me to get involved was through my past role at Auckland Council when I engaged with him and other village planning groups as part of a strategic planning process and then ongoing engagement to try to improve the democratic process. I’ve also been involved over the last few years within the local bush reserve on pest management and it was good to be able to bring my experience and connections to help with this work.

Why is there an engagement program happening at this time and what are you hoping to achieve?

The BRA had been thinking of developing this plan for a while but I guess there were a couple of key drivers for it to be progressed now. The first was that the mall owners have been talking about redevelopment. They are in the middle of redeveloping one of the other malls they own in another established community location and had some significant disagreements with the local community. The BRA were keen to pre-empt any discussion about the mall development and come up with a community-led plan first. The second driver is that Auckland is struggling with significant amounts of growth and the plan is a way of trying to ensure that any intensification that happens in the area happens sympathetically where possible.

Highbury Mall concept picture
Highbury Mall concept picture

 

Are you using a blend of online and more traditional engagement methods? Why? How have your stakeholders been responding to the engagement tools you have selected?

We launched the consultation with a community forum back in March. We then used that early feedback to inform the second phase of engagement which was a combination of online, face to face, door knocking etc. Dialogue was a great way of sharing ideas and getting people to have a conversation about them. In the online space, people tend to be more honest – when you’re in a face to face situation and there is someone with really strong views, it can be difficult to feel confident challenging them. Online it’s different. Dialogue is great as it allows people to come up with their own user name (so they can be easily identifiable or not) and then participate without fear that their neighbour is going to get upset with a comment they’ve made. I liked that I was able to share ideas from Dialogue on social media so I used that to promote the Dialogue and to get further feedback on comments. When we talked to people face to face, we also tried to add in their comments to the Dialogue – it’s good to have everything in one place that everyone can see.

How are you communicating with your stakeholders in terms of promoting project involvement and project findings/results? And how will you “close the loop” with them at the end of the project?

From the community ideas and discussions, a draft plan was developed. We were really lucky to have two local architects volunteer to be part of the working group and they turned the ideas into an amazing vision with concepts of how those ideas could be turned into actions. We then shared the draft plan with the community through a drop-in at the local primary school and online through our mailing list and social media. We have also started to get some wider publicity out through one of the local community magazines and are planning more over the next few months. We have been engaging with key stakeholders such as the local board and council staff, the town centre association and the mall owners on a regular basis throughout the project to keep them informed and involved. We have a few ideas about how we promote the final plan but it’s still a work in progress – however, I imagine we will use a mixture of direct email, physical promotion eg within the library, traditional and digital media.

Stakeholder viewing material birkenhead planning
Stakeholder viewing material on the future of Birkenhead

What do you think the legacy of this project will be?

We want the community vision to be relevant for the next 30 years (with regular reviews and adaptations as required). We want it to guide and provide inspiration for property developers, the council, business owners and local residents for us all to work together to enhance the great things about Birkenhead while supporting the inevitable growth that enable us to live, work and play in the area.

You can view the community-led working document here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9PxGqfAffnrUzFtNEhwdkcxWTA/view

Carol is the Community Engagement Manager at Waitemata District Health board in Auckland, involved as a volunteer within her local community and is also studying for a Master of Business Administration.

Prior to moving into the health sector 3 years ago, Carol worked in community engagement roles within local government for around 10 years in both Auckland and at Bristol City Council in the UK.

Carol also has experience in governance positions with strengths in leadership and coaching, and is a strategic thinker who has led the development of key strategies and policies. She is a relationship builder and networker who has a collaborative leadership style, providing mentoring and support to implement innovation and change.