Last Wednesday was our latest UK Citizen Space and Dialogue user group, this time in an autumnally-sunny Leicester.

Leicester City Hall

User groups are a chance for our customers to get together, hear about how different organisations are using Delib tools and learn from one another’s experiences. They’re always a great opportunity for us to chat direct with our users and see what people have been up to, as well.

So, for the benefit of those who couldn’t be there in person, here’s a few takeaways from the day (PS: speaking of takeaways, we were immediately endeared to Leicester as a city by the absolutely spectacular curry served up to us on Tuesday night. Every meal should start with a gigantic chicken dosa).

1. Leicester City Mayor: adopting these digital tools ‘has engaged us much better with the community we’re elected to serve’.

This user group was kindly hosted by Leicester City Council – and City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby even joined us for the start of the day to welcome everyone:

He also made some really encouraging opening remarks – like this one:

That’s great to hear as it’s ultimately what we’re always striving for: making it easier for government organisations to connect with the public and easier for the public to participate, so that democratic engagement becomes a simple, expected, regular part of everyday life (not some kind of onerous, occasional chore).

2. Leicester City Council comms team: consultation feedback is vital, do the work to make it happen.

Paul Clark from Leicester’s communications and marketing team talked about the importance of closing the feedback loop when consulting, making sure that participants have the opportunity to hear what decisions were taken.

To this end, Leicester use an internal feedback tracker, assigning a lead officer to each consultation, keeping all the close dates on record and making sure everyone is encouraged to publish some kind of official feedback on their consultations.

Excerpt from Leicester CC presentation. It reads: 'Awaiting results – lead officers should send a post-consultation report to the communications and marketing team, providing an overview of responses and actions. This can be a basic summary or a full technical document (or both), depending on the complexity and potential impact of the consultation. Awaiting we asked – this is usually a three paragraph summary of what we asked, how people responded and subsequent council actions. Again, this can contain more detailed information, if appropriate. This should be sent to the communications and marketing team so it can be posted online within a reasonable period of time (dependent on factors such as complexity of consultation, analysis period, project board/executive sign-off, legal considerations etc)

3. Leicester City Council planning team: prioritise convenience for participants, not admins.

We heard from Leicester about consulting on their local plan online. This was a massive undertaking, with 216 questions in total! As Mudrika from the planning team explained, sometimes consultations are, like this one, unavoidably massive.

She talked about Leicester’s approach, taking the commendable stance that, in these instances, you should do whatever you can to make life as easy as possible for participants (rather than falling for the temptation of doing the quickest setup for yourself as an admin).

In this case, that meant using skip logic extensively to help people quickly get to the questions they wanted to answer – the team working on the consultation built 124 pages of questions to support all the different permutations, all to make it quicker and easier for participants to respond.

4. Norfolk County Council: how information is presented matters. Think about all the options available to you and strive to use the most appropriate for the situation.

The legendary (as in ‘famously great’, not ‘mythical’) Anne Tansley-Thomas from Norfolk County Council opened up a pleasingly honest (and impressively funny) discussion about how to manage the practicalities of making sure participants are informed. How much information, she asked, is too much and how much is not enough? What’s the best way to supply information to people without overloading them or deterring them from participating?

Working through a practical example from her own work, Anne emphasised the importance of considering all the options at your disposal and weighing up which will be the best-suited to the case at hand.

5. HMCTS: involve decision makers directly in the consultation process – it builds trust in the process and gets you internal buy-in.

Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) have been using Dialogue to run an internal idea-gathering scheme. It was a pretty big undertaking so we’ve done a more in-depth write-up of their experience if you want more background/details on the project. One standout detail from their user group presentation, though, was the use of internal sponsors for each Dialogue challenge.

By getting members of staff/management to put their names to the challenges, participants are given increased confidence that their ideas will actually be heard and potentially taken forward. And it increases the engagement of the sponsor as well: they’re incentivised to watch the conversation unfolding as it happens, rather than just read a summary report at the end. People are often pleasantly surprised by how interesting and constructive that process can be – so much so, that Dialogue (which started out as something of a tentative experiment) is now being considered for much wider adoption within the organisation.

6. Southwark Council: use data to improve process design.

Ambrose Omoma from Southwark Council gave us an insightful walkthrough of one specific consultation they’d recently conducted – a conversation with the 300+ faith groups in the area.

The community involvement team had studied previous exercises and monitored participation throughout the consultation process, using the findings to inform their survey design:

Bonus: Citizen Space is biiiiig, California is stupidly pretty

There were some presentations from Delib staff, too. For example, Natalie gave a current ‘state of the union’ on our three products, including the fact that Citizen Space has handled more than 3.3m responses (!) to date. Not too shabby.

Our newest account manager Chris introduced himself with a glut of envy-inducing photos from his native California. Hmmm.

California beach

In between the formal presentations from the front, we also had the chance to chat with all the attendees. As ever, these conversations demonstrate how valuable it is to get such a diverse mix of people and experiences in one room. There’s no substitute for hearing at-the-coalface accounts – plus it’s always refreshing to be reminded of the genuine desire amongst government staff to do a good job of engaging with citizens.

Our next user group is in Canberra, Australia, like, right now and the next UK one is pencilled in for London in January 2019. We’ve also got a Practical Democracy Project event in Dublin next Wednesday (24th October), which is another great opportunity to hear and learn from others. Drop us a line if you’d like to come along to any of these things!