Author: BenF (Page 1 of 2)

Beware of the leopard

Our new wall decal

It’s not often that you spend money on something that you really, really don’t need, especially in Delib. Did we need to spend money on a custom wall decal? Absolutely not. Do I stand by the decision? Certainly. Especially since it ties in quite well with the accidental office theme of indoor jungle.

In normal circumstances, spending cash in a tech company on an indulgence is a sure sign that it’s just about to go the wall (pun intended), probably with someone else’s money, and certainly with a now deserted and utterly tragic ping pong table. I digress.

Rather than just being an impulse purchase because I thought it looked cool, ‘beware of the leopard’ does actually have some significance to Delib. For those of you who have seen/read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you may recognise the phrase. For those who haven’t or need reminding: Arthur Dent wakes up one morning to find a demolition crew outside his house, which is due to be flattened to make way for a bypass. He did not agree to his house being flattened for obvious reasons.

So ‘beware of the leopard’ does actually have a wider significance to Delib than just a cool pop culture reference. It’s a phrase and apocryphal tale that’s become synonymous with the work we do, and for very good reason, as it neatly summarises most of the basic problems we’re trying to solve.

We believe public access to democratic decision-making shouldn’t need to involve a climbing harness and head torch. You should be told you can share your views before the bulldozer turns up at your door.

Delib has been using technology for nearly 20 years to try and tackle some of the problems presented by ‘beware of the leopard’ – namely by helping to make consultations more timely, inclusive, and easier – which in turn ensures decisions are legitimate.

After Beware of the Leopard, generic stock wall art was my second choice.

So rather than a spurious waste of money, our painfully trendy wall decal is actually a statement of all the good we’re doing in the world. Fixing Democracy and that. I have, however, cancelled the order for a ping pong table. It’s never good to tempt fate.

View from the Delib Bristol HQ

We’re hiring – Lead Generator wanted

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We’re hiring- Charming People Required

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Digital Hero – Eachann Gillies

Hello again, gosh it’s been a while. For the latest instalment of Digital Heroes I have not one but two people which, to avoid confusion, have their very own posts. Both of them currently work for the Scottish Government Digital Engagement Team, helping to make all of their consultations digital (a huge task) and also trialling more progressive forms of involvement, crowdsourcing policy ideas on a wide range of subjects. We’ve worked with them for the last couple of years and it’s been awesome watching them undertake what is in effect an enormous change exercise. They’re both moving on to pastures new in the near future so if you need a horribly well qualified person to join your organisation, holler at them.

So, onwards to the thorny questions. This time we’re hearing from Eachann (Chris’ interview is linked at the bottom), the impossibly Scottish half of the team. Who is Eachann? What does he think about biscuits? Are we even sure he likes biscuits? Let’s find out.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?13147585_10153450560671143_890746488915378823_o
My name is Eachann Gillies, I hail from the west coast of Scotland. Currently residing in Glasgow.

2. What do you do for a living?
I do digital stuff. My proper title is ‘Digital Engagement Manager’, and my duties include managing Scottish Government consultations and running workshops to help colleagues engage digitally with their stakeholders and the wider public.

 3. Favourite band and / or artist?
This changes all the time but recently Kurt Vile’s ‘believe I’m goin’ down’  and ‘M83’s Saturdays=Youth’ have featured heavily.

4. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I’m going to cheat and say that these two aren’t mutually exclusive. You can exhibit maverick behaviour within the confines of your habits, after all. The reverse is also true!

 5. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
My first instinct is to say my partner but the question does stipulate ‘what’ rather than ‘who’ so I’d have to say my bike.

 6. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I can’t say I’m a huge biscuit sort of person, unfortunately. I think leave unsullied, though.

 7. Best gov site you’ve seen (other than and why?
I love the US Department of the Interior. Despite the bland name, their instagram feed is pretty great. They’re not doing anything particularly innovative but their content is spot on and has made me more determined than ever to visit the US. Runner up goes to @SWFifePolice and their #popupbob hashtag which makes me chortle every time I see it.

8. Best project you’ve worked on at SG and why?
This is still in its infancy, but I think our Digital Engagement workshops have huge potential.

 9.  Where do you hope gov will be in ten years in terms of digital democracy?
I hope that we’ll get better at understanding the importance of the communities, conversations and interactions that exist or occur online. People growing up today are at home in a digital environment and are developing relationships with the world in these kinds of contexts. If government isn’t there with them, inhabiting that space, that’s going to increase apathy and widen the gap between government and people.

 10. Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Ten years is a long time but…I’d like to continue helping government talk to/with people. It makes the most sense for this to happen digitally, so probably related to that. I find myself most happy when I’m working on something I believe in, so if not in government, then I’d like to be working towards improving conditions for cycling and active travel.

11. Any shout outs?
Shout out to Leah Lockhart for always working on something interesting, and to Mark Muir’s Digital Meetup group in Glasgow.

So there we have it, lots of insight, and an appalling revelation about biscuits. If you want to talk to Eachann about helping your organisation with a bit of digital engagement, Twitter is a thing you could use.

Until next time*

*Chris’s post is here.

Digital Hero – Chris Connolly

Hello again, gosh it’s been a while. For the latest instalment of Digital Heroes I have not one but two people which, to avoid confusion, have their very own posts. Both of them currently work for the Scottish Government Digital Engagement Team, helping to make all of their consultations digital (a huge task) and also trialling more progressive forms of involvement, crowdsourcing policy ideas on a wide range of subjects. We’ve worked with them for the last couple of years and it’s been awesome watching them undertake what is in effect an enormous change exercise. They’re both moving on to pastures new in the near future so if you need a horribly well qualified person to join your organisation, holler at them.

Onto the interview; first up we have Chris (link to Eachann’s post is at the bottom), an enthusiastic American who, for reasons unknown to me, has abandoned those shores in search of rain, gales and horizontal snow storms. Let’s jump right in.


1. What’s your name and where are you from?
Chris Connolly. Unless I’m in trouble, in which case it’s Christine. I’m originally from Chicago. I moved to Edinburgh three years ago to pursue a Master of Public Policy and ended up sticking around. Edinburgh is a pretty amazing place.

2. What do you do for a living?
I’m currently a Digital Engagement Manager at the Scottish Government. What does that mean, you ask? It means streamlining consultations by using Citizen Space and providing consultation best practice guidance and training. It also means supporting colleagues to better engage with citizens using digital tools and platforms. This can take the form of developing digital engagement strategies and upskilling colleagues.

3. Favourite band and / or artist?
Oh no! This question has always been impossible for me. I tend to rely on Spotify playlists to fulfill my music needs. Is that too much of a cop out? Currently, I’m enjoying the Summer Throwback playlist.

4. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I like my routines but change is always welcomed; too much routine is boring. I think that working in digital engagement requires being a bit of a maverick thinker. It’s a dynamic and relatively new area that we’re still trying to navigate.

5. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
The dog, Breck aka Dirt Paws. He might be a demanding stubborn old man but he has a lot of character and can be good company when he wants to be. He basically rules the house. Oh and my partner, definitely shouldn’t leave her behind.Breck_Dog

6. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
You can keep your biscuits. If we’re talking about chips (ahem, crisps) then dunk them in all of the dip!

7. Best gov site you’ve seen (other than and why?
One project that I’m really excited about is the work of digital communications colleagues on transforming the website. The beta version ( has recently been released and offers necessary upgrades including being mobile and tablet friendly. The website is being built with user experience at its core with content based on analytics. You can even submit feedback on the site as it develops. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this.

8. Best project you’ve worked on at SG and why?
Oh wow – I’m finding these questions to be getting more and more difficult. Can I tap out now?

I’ve worked on a number of great projects and have had the opportunity to learn about various policy areas ranging from salmon fishing to social security. However, I think the best project I’ve been involved in was rolling out Citizen Space across the Scottish Government for all consultations. This demonstrated a real commitment to improving consultation and opening up the policy making process beyond government. We’ve received great feedback on the ease of using the platform both for respondents and teams consulting.

9.  Where do you hope gov will be in ten years in terms of digital democracy?
I would like to see governments continue to embrace digital engagement and working out loud. I’d like to see more empowered citizens who are given opportunities to engage and shape policy. A stronger commitment to feeding back to citizens on how their engagement influenced policy is important.

10. You’re leaving SG soon, what’s next for you?
It’s sad to have to say goodbye to the Digital Engagement team. I’m proud of the work that we’ve accomplished over the couple of years since the team launched. I know that the team will continue to do great work.

What’s next for me? I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m keen to continue work around citizen engagement. The appetite to engage has been growing since the Scottish Independence Referendum and Brexit. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the democratic sector!

11. Any shout outs?
The Digital Engagement team and everyone who has supported us. A big shout out to Christian Storstein and Alaster Phillips who will continue to take the digital engagement work forward. Also, thank you to the wonderful Delib team who have patiently dealt with my constant pestering.

So there we have it, 11 questions exhaustively answered; much credit is due. If you want to talk to Chris about helping your organisation with a bit of digital engagement, Twitter is a thing you could use.

Until next time*

*Eachann’s post is here.

Democratic Hero – Emma McEwan


A couple of weeks ago we heard from David Porteous, one half of the City of Edinburgh’s Senior Business Intelligence team and now it’s time to meet the ying to his yang, Emma McEwan. True to form, Emma has many a sound opinion on the future of this digital democracy stuff and she’s also really rather amusing to boot (once you get past the excessive pet ownership).

Let’s jump right in.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Emma McEwan and I’m originally from Irvine, which is on the west coast of Scotland and home of the Magnum… not the fantastically moustachioed P.I., but the leisure centre. I now live in Edinburgh.

2. What do you do for a living?
I’m a Senior Business Intelligence Officer.  My mum thinks I’m like a spy or something but really I manage a number of research and consultation projects for the City of Edinburgh Council.

3. Favourite band / or artist?
Ooh, that’s hard… I can’t pick. Instead, I’ve put my music on shuffle and these artists/bands were the first five:

1. Bjork
2. John Travolta
3. Girls Aloud
4. Biffy Clyro
5. The Civil Wars

Wait, John Travolta has completely thrown me! I’ve done the next five just to see if that is any better:

1. Lamb
2. Kylie Minogue
3. Mogwai
4. LCD Soundsystem
5. Nine Inch Nails

What I’ve now realised is:
1. ‘Shuffle’ is rubbish and basically just breaks up my music into alphabetical chunks;
2. The next lot probably would have included Katy Perry and Taylor Swift; and
3. I haven’t listened to the Grease soundtrack in a while.

4. Android or iPhone?
Android – purely because that’s what I have just now. I don’t particularly care. I just know how to use my phone to make calls, text and stalk people on Facebook when I’ve had too much wine. It does the trick.

5. PC or Mac?
PC. Again, purely because that’s what I use at work and what my partner has in the house. If someone bought me a Mac I wouldn’t chuck it out…

6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
At work, our team do a lot of creative thinking so when I’m there I’d like to think I’m in the zone! When I get home it’s a different story though… I’m probably more a creature of habit there. I like routine, if you upset my routine it makes me grumpy. I’ll probably always have an android phone. I always do the housework on a Saturday morning. The cushions always need to sit a particular way on the sofa. I can tell if someone has touched my stuff.

7. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
My partner can find his own way out… I’d save the animals – Mabel the rabbit, Winifred the hamster and the degus, Munch & Tutuola! You might be wondering what a degu is. This is a degu. They are awesome.

8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I don’t dunk biscuits. I don’t like the risk of little soggy biscuit bits at the bottom of my cup. I could forget I dunked my biscuit and then panic that I’ve just found a bug in the bottom of my cup. However, I do enjoy dunking a chocolate bar into tea.

9. Best project you’ve worked on and why?
A few years ago we consulted on the Leith Improvement Programme, where we were looking for input on how to deliver a range of environmental improvements to the area. We spoke to a range of key stakeholders for this – local residents, businesses, commuters (particularly cyclists) who all had different views on the issues we were exploring. We used a few engagement techniques to gather feedback – online surveys, focus groups and public events. It was a really interesting project as people were so passionate about improving the area. It was the first time I’d used images/maps etc., in an online survey to illustrate the proposals and ask people their views, so that was really interesting. And I really enjoyed working with the project team – you could tell they were really knowledgeable about the issues. The public events were great to see in action, as they gave people the opportunity to speak to officers, make suggestions and have a genuine discussion on the proposals and why certain ideas wouldn’t be feasible. The feedback gathered was invaluable for the development of the final plans for the programme, and we adopted a similar approach for the consultation work we did for Edinburgh’s city centre.

10. Where do hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of online consultation/ digital democracy?
I’m already pretty amazed at the potential that using things like Citizen Space, Dialogue etc., have for gathering views and ideas from people. When I look back on projects like the Leith Improvement Programme, I think things would have been so much easier using Citizen Space in terms of illustrating the proposals and gathering views! My hope is that in the future we are able to use more online tools like these to make it easier for anyone to have their say on the matters that they care about, no matter where they are or when it is. I think making it as simple as possible for people is so important. I also hope that we are more creative in the different ways we engage with people – sometimes we need to be braver about trying out new things and not just sticking to the old tried and tested methods. I think no matter what, there will still be the need for offline consultation methods but we need to realise how powerful digital methods are for connecting us with a whole range of stakeholders too!

 11. Any shout-outs?
I feel like I’m writing my Oscar acceptance speech…

I’d just like to thank the rest of the Business Intelligence team. I work with a bunch of amazing people – they’re really supportive, incredibly clever and brilliant to brainstorm with if you have a project that is a bit complicated. They make work fun and you can always be sure someone will be up for a pint at the end of the day. And to my partner, Candy – who hasn’t banned me from Pets at Home’s adoption corner just yet!


So there you have it, a small insight into the mind of Emma McEwan; we laughed, we cried, we learned about Degus. Just make sure you don’t touch her stuff. Ever.

Until next time.

Democratic Hero – David Porteous

DavidPB_WI’ve interviewed quite a few people for my ‘hero’ series over the years and whilst they’ve been variously informative, eye-opening and at times silly, I’m not sure any of them have been as downright funny as this one. So, “who are we going to hear from?” you might well ask… The man in question is David Porteous, Senior Business Intelligence Officer at the City of Edinburgh Council: writer, social researcher, grumpy human and erstwhile stand-up comic. He also supplied what can only be described as a portfolio of photos, so I’ve liberally embedded them throughout.

Put the kettle on.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
David F Porteous. (Close enough to) Edinburgh (as makes no difference).

2. What do you do for a living?
I’m currently a Senior Business Intelligence Officer working for the City of Edinburgh Council. I manage the largest face-to-face opinion survey conducted by any UK local authority and (on behalf of my employer) I hold the record for the UK’s best response to a budget consultation using I’m kind of a big deal.

3. Favourite band / or artist
I did not answer these questions in order and as a result when I come to this one it is with an enhanced understanding that I am a man out of time. To provide a robust answer to this question, I’ve used the metric “number of songs by that artist on my phone”. The clear winner was Various Artists with 320 tracks. Close runner-ups were McFly (including as McBusted) (58), Elton John (56), Bob Dylan (49), Bruce Springsteen (47) and Green Day (45). I have seen all of those artists in concert except for the Boss.

4. Android or iPhone
I don’t care so much about this issue. I just want a nice phone that allows me to access the thousands of pounds of ill-advised purchases I’ve made on iTunes over the last seven years. I liked clam shell phones. Do you remember clam shell phones? Clam shell phones made me feel like I was in Star Trek, and I genuinely thought we’d reached a technological end time from which there neither could nor should be further advancement. Phablets activate my gag reflex.

5. PC or Mac
I care so much about this issue. PC. Buying a Mac means favouring form over absolutely everything else. I’m not going to tell you that everyone who uses a Mac is evil, they’re not – but they are definitely stupid. Mac users are the Trump supporters of personal computing. Suck on that, Mac using scum! (I have an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard – that is NOT the same thing, c.f. previous iTunes reference).

6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I haven’t read all of these profiles, but do people admit to being a creature of habit? I would think even if that were objectively true you would take all reasonable steps to conceal this – even from yourself. And what about those people who are all “wooo, look at how unorthodox I am” – you wouldn’t hire those people for any job involving keys, passwords or scissors.

If you rebel against everything you’ll never get the people in Starbucks to serve you – because you won’t queue, and you keep trying to buy coffee using an impromptu barter system that places an unreasonably high value on pocket lint and beat poetry – then you get no damn coffee, you fall asleep by 11am, and the day belongs to the creatures of habit.

Walk a wandering path, not a middle road. Have I answered this question?

DavidP27. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
Nothing. Everything important is backed up to the cloud, including my insurance documents. You’re owned by what you think you own. A good fire would save me the bother of vacuuming in that awkward spot on the window side of my bedroom. It’s blocked by the bed. I have to move furniture. And unless you’re in my bed already you can’t even see it. That side of the room is a total non-issue. Though, to be scrupulously fair, I also haven’t vacuumed the visible, near-side in quite some time either. PS – for some reason I’m single. Is it the McFly songs? It is, isn’t it?

8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I’m just going to hit you with science here. Heat and moisture activate aroma, and smell is the most important component of taste – dunked biscuits just taste better. Vaccinate your kids, vote to stay in the EU, dunk your biscuits – everything else is crazy.

9. Best project you’ve worked on and why?
A few years ago Emma McEwan (subject of a future profile) and I worked on the consultation for Edinburgh city centre. We spoke to business leaders, activists, local residents – a real mix of people who had different understandings of the issues. While traffic routes, pedestrianisation, public spaces, desire lines, signage (and so on, and so on) don’t feel exciting, the changes that have been introduced subsequently have impacted (hopefully positively) on millions of visitors and residents. It’s the first and only research project I’ve ever done where I can walk on a pavement that exists, in some small part, because I recommended it. And it’s always great to work with Emma, who brings passion and intelligence to all her projects.

10. Where do you hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of online consultation/ digital democracy?
Creative problem solving – which is, in my view, a major reason to involve people in decision-making – should be fun. I hope we get more accustomed to using that specific word – fun. There are cases where that might not be appropriate, but those are the exception and not the norm. When we begin by saying that local democracy is a serious issue, we immediately lose young people and most working age adults – who have plenty of other serious issues to deal with.

Engagement cannot simply be about a positive outcome, it needs to be arrived at through a positive process. In practice what that means is we in the public sector spend time on the mechanisms, spend time on the marketing, and interact with people as people – without trying to speak with the voice of our organisation in an attempt to offend to smallest number of people.

I want Jane, 27, mother of one, to come home after work and spend ten minutes checking up on what the issues are in her local community using simple software. I want her to feel connected to real people she can also interact with offline. I want this to be as normal and uncomplicated as using Facebook.

We need to accept gradations of involvement as being valid, which means not leaving decisions with (what we in Scotland would call) “well-kent faces” just because they’re the only ones who will turn up to three hour long meetings every two months. Digital democracy has the potential to reach groups who are currently as excluded from local government decision making as any other, and there needs to be continuous push-back against the challenge to using online tools. Offline consultation excludes far more people.

(Concluding by saying that) there will always need to be a place for both online and offline consultation (is boring, but probably true).


11. Any shout-outs?
Firstly to me – I’m also a writer and my books Singular, Good Witch and The Death of Jack Nylund are available everywhere. The audio book for Singular, read by me, can almost certainly be downloaded on the same device you’re using to read this. My website is

Secondly also to me, but for a different reason – I’m one half of the Cheerful Despair podcast about nothing (NSFW-ish: PG-13, there are no boobs, but we do swear) which will be returning for a second season this year.


So, there you have it: a short insight into the rambling mind of David Porteous. We laughed, we didn’t cry and we probably didn’t learn anything either. Ordinarily, I’d point out how you can connect with David on Twitter but I think he’s amply covered ways and means to get in touch.

Until next time.

A Few Questions with Matthew Scott

Citizen Space is used to run an awful lot of consultations (as you may have noticed) and Matthew Scott 2occasionally our customers need to outsource their analysis and reporting, for one reason or another. One of the companies who provide such a service are TONIC, a research consultancy based in Kent, headed up by Matthew Scott. And, sure enough, he is the subject of this latest instalment of my fine interview series. Who is Matthew? What does he do for a living? More to the point, does he dunk his biscuits? Let’s find out…

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Matthew Scott and I live in Kent.

2. What do you do for a living?
I started TONIC 10 years ago because it was frustrating working as an employee in public sector bodies that struggled to be innovative and truly democratic. I wanted to improve the way public services were designed and run – generating insights from their customers and looking at service users as assets who can deliver services as well as use them.

TONIC has been great fun as we have had the chance to be involved in lots of exciting projects, making real change happen and ensuring that the public get their views heard and get to make a real difference.

We take an inclusive research and evidence-based approach to all our work, priding ourselves on our transparency and commitment to doing an excellent job every time.  All our team are experienced practitioners and commissioners as well as researchers, and really bring these qualities to their work. For our independent public consultation analysis, this means we can get to a deeper understanding of the responses and help organisations to interpret and implement what the public and stakeholders are asking for.

3. Favourite band/artist?
Difficult to answer this as I like many styles of music, but for band I would go for Led Zeppelin.

4. Android or iPhone?
iPhone – although I have a nagging doubt that it may not be any better than Android, just sleeker!

5. PC or Mac?
Definitely Mac – more intuitive, quicker for the jobs I need it to do and absolutely reliable when under pressure.

6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
A bit of both. For analysis work, it is good to habitually follow trusted processes which lead to reliable and robust findings. However, I also need to be flexible and creative when running co-design workshops with service users and providers, or running deliberative events to find out new things and help create original ideas. Albert Einstein said “imagination is more important than knowledge”, so I find it is best to try to forget what you know when working creatively and have an open mind to new ways of doing things.

7. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
My wife and 3 children.

8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
Unsullied, but then chased down with tea.

9. Best project you’ve worked on and why?
I really enjoy all our projects, but a series of independent public consultation analysis projects we have run for the Department of Health have been particularly memorable due to the large number of responses received – over 1 million in total!  I remember my surprise when I arrived at our offices one morning to find an entire room full from floor to ceiling with boxes of responses for us to analyse.  That image will stay with me for a long time. Once we had got to grips with all the data, it was gratifying to see our analysis take shape, with key themes emerging that we could explore in detail – we made some great mind maps from this.

We pride ourselves on treating each individual response fairly, giving each one equal value regardless of who it is from, or how detailed it is.  The work was to a challenging turn around time, and we managed to meet the deadline, getting excellent feedback from the Department.  The output of our work fed directly into policy changes, and it is always gratifying to see democracy in action, where people’s views directly shape a policy.

10. Where do you hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of online consultation/ digital democracy?
There are some very exciting innovations about with the use of apps and user-led pressure groups (such as 38 degrees) where you can see people power in action, causing politicians to reconsider and even getting big corporations to behave more responsibly. This kind of action that holds business and Government to account is a good thing for encouraging democratic engagement in a time when people are becoming disenfranchised with the mainstream political offer – reconnecting individuals with the issues that directly affect them and the planet.

We work a lot with organisations that use Citizen Space, and I particularly like how intuitive it is for us to use in analysis, being able to code qualitative data in real time and get accurate snapshots of current quant data.  From a user’s perspective, consultations on Citizen Space are always easy to access and respond to – not too pedantic or demanding to put people off or stop them engaging. We always see good completion rates when people use this platform – much better than with Survey Monkey!

I feel sure that as technology continues to develop, and everyone has improved access to it and the ability to use it effectively, that we will see greater democracy across the world.  People will begin to demand the right to be consulted on important decisions.

From a work perspective, we are developing some exciting new online ways for colleges and universities to engage their students in improving wellbeing. We are also trialing a digital democracy approach to engaging public service users in continuous evaluation and improvement of the services they receive, whilst rewarding them for their time and offering more chances to get involved in shaping and delivering new approaches.

11. Any shout-outs?
To my wife, Easterly. We started TONIC together and she always manages to look at our projects with a fresh set of eyes, providing much needed challenge to make sure we provide a high quality service every time and push ourselves to give our best. It wouldn’t be the same without her.

So there you have it, eleven questions both posed and answered. You can check out TONIC’S website here, should you be so inclined.

Until next time.

Sales Jobs That Don’t Suck

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Mevan Babakar – Democratic Hero

MevanA couple of weeks ago I went along to a Citizen’s Advice Bureau roundtable thing, to have a chat about a report they’ve just produced; ‘Going with the grain’, examining how our democracy can be made more fit for a digital age; essentially, it was very much my cup of tea. As is usual with this kind of event, I saw some old faces and also met some new ones, one of which being Mevan; fact checker, democracy exponent, good egg and now, most importantly, the latest member of the immortals; Democratic Hero. Mevan is one of the few people I know who has a cooler job than me and now – thanks to the wonder of words, the internet and my copy and pasting skills – she’s going to tell us all about it.

Let’s jump right in.

1.  What’s your name and where are you from?
Mevan, its a weird Kurdish name. It’s “me” and “van” stuck together. I was raised in London, but I was born in Baghdad. I consider myself British. It all gets so complex so fast.

2.  What do you do for a living?
I work at the UK’s leading factchecking charity: Full Fact.

3.  Favourite band and/ or artist?
Bjork, Grimes – slightly kooky incredibly talented women are my thing.

4.  Android or iPhone?

5.  PC or Mac?
I was pretty devoutly PC till I started to learn how to code, then I quickly realised the error of my ways.

6.  Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I think its always good to reimagine a system for the better if you can. Although its pretty cool when you fall into the safe comfort of a good one. So how about “Maverick thinker when I need to be”

7.  Your house is on fire, what do you save?
Assuming my family and friends are safe, I would probably not save anything. I’ve always been pretty into the idea of not owning anything. Although I wonder if that’s one of those things that you think in theory, but regret pretty soon after your house burns down.

8.  Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I like to smash them with my fists, turn them into a ball with the dampness of the tea, and then consume it as if it were a ferrero rocher.

9. Best project you’ve worked on at Full Fact?
We factchecked the 2015 election for 6 weeks straight. We were going from 6am to midnight every single day. Our tiny team was augmented with more staff and 40 volunteers a day. We saw more excitement about factchecking than ever before. We got corrections in every national paper, got Ed Miliband to change the way he spoke about Zero Hours Contracts, live factchecked every leaders debate, and were described as the “anti spin doctors”. To get it all off the ground I raised £33k in crowdfunding too. It was all pretty immense, and tonnes of fun.

10. Where do you hope the field of digital democracy will be in 10 years? Opportunities and pitfalls.
I just hope that we’ve sorted out the easy wins. Every interaction with government should mean that you’re registered to vote. Every election you should know who your candidates are and know where to vote – that shouldn’t be hidden away in a pdf somewhere, it should be a google now card that notifies you. I hope that if you wanted to find out if a claim that a politician or newspaper has made is true or not, you could. I want to equip people with the tools to make up their own minds. I hope that factchecking comes back into newsrooms, and becomes an important part of political debate. I hope that where tech can ensure that we keep services fair and efficient, we do. I worry that legislation isn’t keeping up with technology. I hope that in ten years time that gap is smaller.

11. Best Gov/ Civic site you’ve seen and why? – an easy win – executed beautifully by Democracy Club.

So there you have it, 11 questions answered by the now legendary Mevan Babakar. We laughed, we cried, we might even have learnt a few things. If you’d like to talk to Mevan online, she does Twitter here or for an offline high-five, you should totally go to one of her Citizen Beta meetups, (the last word in civic tech events).

Until next time.

Dave Mckenna – Democratic Hero

dave-mckennaAfter the unbridled success of ‘Digital Heroes’, I thought it was time to start afresh, change the format somewhat and investigate new ways of interviewing people.

Therefore, and with much ado, welcome to ‘Democratic Heroes’ an entirely new series, that bears no resemblance whatsoever to ‘Digital Heroes‘. To kick off, I thought you’d all be interested in meeting Dave Mckenna: Scrutiny Manager, PhD, inveterate blogger and #notwestminster dude. I’ve met Dave a couple of times but only recently had the chance to chat properly over a couple of beers. Turns out he’s quite the interesting chap.

Take it away, Dave.

1.  What’s your name and where are you from?
I’m Dave Mckenna.  Originally from North London, I’ve lived in Swansea for 30 years.  It’s tidy.

2.  What do you do for a living?
I’m the Scrutiny Manager for Swansea Council.  I also lead support for the Local Service Board and the Single Integrated Plan.  In short, I’m a scrutiny and policy person.  One of the best things about the job is being able to get involved in the work itself: at the moment I’m working on an inquiry by scrutiny councillors into how support for school governors can be improved.  I think there will be some really useful outcomes. 

3.  Favourite band and/ or artist?
Depends what CD is currently in my car.  This month, it’s the Flying Burrito Brothers. 

4.  Android or iPhone?
Android phone and iPad.  A sort of digital chips and rice.  Half and half.

5.  PC or Mac?
PC at work.  PC at home until it breaks then who knows…  

6.  Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
Yes, both.  I like to build maverick thinking into my routine.  I get grouchy if I don’t think at least one maverick thought before teatime.

7.  Your house is on fire, what do you save?
Assuming the family is safely tucking into a three course dinner at the Premier Inn, it would be the letter from Arsene Wenger we got for our wedding and the luminous 12″ of Neon Lights by Kraftwerk.  Collectors’ item, that is.

8.  Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
Unsullied. More on account of the tea than the biscuits: who wants bits of digestive silting up the bottom of the mug? Tea is very important.  After all, there is no team without tea.  I like GLAM biscuits best (Got Left After Meeting).  We have a special tin for those in the office. 

9.  Best project you’ve worked on and why?
The best piece of work I have been involved in was scrutiny of child and family services that was undertaken by councillors in Swansea.  The service was in special measures but, in part due to the work of scrutiny, things were turned around and a new way doing scrutiny was also born.  That was five years ago but we still do things pretty much the same way.

As officers, we didn’t have to do much more than follow the councillors but I’m still proud to have been involved in such an important and influential price of work  Oh, and did I mention they won an award?  Bit embarrassing really.  We don’t like to talk about it.

10.  A year in, what’s this local democracy thing done and how have you been involved?
The highlight of the year from a local democracy bytes point of view has to be the Notwestminster event.  An absolutely fantastic conference organised by an amazing group of people up in Huddersfield.  Carl Whistlecraft and Diane Sims definitely deserve a special mention for the work they did to make it happen.  Oh, and they are doing it again next February – join in!

I should say I didn’t really do much towards that project either (is there a pattern emerging here?) apart from join in once all the hard work had been done.  Still, I did contribute to the pre-conference pecha kucha and that has to count for something, yes?

I was a bit more involved when I chaired a panel we held at the Political Studies Association conference last March.  The theme was local digital democracy and I think we were pretty much the first to live tweet and webcast (thanks, John Popham!) from what is a fairly traditional academic event.

We have also been going to various events like localgovcamp and govcampcymru to kick off democracy conversations whenever we can.  We had a Makers Day with Phil Rumens and his crowd as a localgovcamp fringe event. 

We also still keep in with the localgovdigital crowd.  When I say keep in I mean we constantly bother them by repeating ‘what about democracy?’, ‘what about democracy?’, ‘what about democracy?’ until they give in (sorry, Carl, Sarah and co).

Overall, I think we’ve done our bit to keep the profile of local democracy nice and high in the local government digital world.

11.  Where do you hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of public consultation/ digital democracy/ open governance?
I hope local democracy will be like rock and roll.  If not quite that then I hope we will still have local councils that are small enough for people to be able to identify with (if not smaller). 

I also have a thing about having a formal split between the cabinet and scrutiny in local government – but I’d understand if you didn’t want me to go off on one about that right now…

In Wales we now have the Well-being of Future Generations Act which really pushes the idea of public involvement. Every local council area will have to produce a Well-being Plan and we’ve been talking about how we can use this as an opportunity to do something really amazing.  I like the idea of getting ideas from the public to producing the plan ‘bottom up’ – a bit like they’ve done in Reykjavik.  So yes, in 10 years’ time, I hope we are just like Iceland. 

12.  Best gov site you’ve seen and why? Other than GOV.UK
The Swansea Scrutiny Publications Page. Ahem.  But seriously we worked hard on that.  We did user stories and everything.  Agendas, reports and letters all in one easy to filter stream.  With short summaries.  What’s not to like?

13.  Best 18th Century Philosopher?
Well that’s an easy one. It has to be Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Yes, as a person he was far from perfect but you can’t argue that The Social Contract is the greatest piece of political philosophy ever produced. Can you?

So there you have it, 13 questions both posed and answered. At times it was tense, but ultimately I think it was all worth it. If you want to carry on the conversation, give Dave a follow here.

Until next time, Hero fans.

Digital Heroes – Kevin Davies & Helia Phoenix

A couple of months ago I jumped on the train to Cardiff to meet the National Assembly for Wales Digital Engagement team, as is my want to do. It struck me that, despite working with organisations all over the world, I had little to no idea what the Welsh were up to, and after accepting that this glaring anomaly needed rectifying, I had a good old chat with Helia and Kevin.  It turns out they’ve been quietly doing all manner of interesting citizen involvement work, which I thought the rest of you might want to know about. Without further preamble then, let’s jump right in to another fascinating interview filled with the big questions, (Biscuit dunking and so on).

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
KD: Kevin Davies originally from Carmarthen, living in Cardiff.
HP: I’m Helia Phoenix, born in Cardiff, lived in loads of other places (London, Exeter, Southampton, Sheffield, Bristol, Berkeley out in California!), now living back in Cardiff again.


Helia Phoenix

2. What do you do for a living?
KD: I work for the National Assembly for Wales (not the Welsh Government!). The Assembly scrutinises the decisions made, the money spent and laws proposed by the Welsh Government, and my job is to get more and different voices to help the Assembly scrutinise the Welsh Government, particularly for committee scrutiny. I arrange consultation engagement activity like events, focus groups, surveys, web-chats, video interviews, online discussions and so on to facilitate a service user/citizen voice in the process.
HP: I’m a digital media specialist working for the National Assembly. It does everything that Kev says! I head up all things that relate to web content, which covers a vast range of things like digital accessibility, trying to improve our online content as best we can, and working on new innovations for how we communicate with people online. In my spare time, I run a (hyper)local blog about Cardiff, called ‘We Are Cardiff’. It’s been going for six years and is mostly based around pen portraits of people who live in the city, alongside information about alternative culture and events. It’s won Blog of the Year at the Welsh Blog Awards, and been named as one of the world’s best city blogs by the Guardian.

3. Favourite band and / or artist?
KD: LCD Soundsystem
HP: ARGH that’s too hard, I have too many! Queens of the Stone Age, Jon Hopkins, Leftfield, Four Tet. I also really loved the most recent Belle and Sebastian album but was never a fan of theirs before. Sub Focus. Fleetwood Mac. Pinch. Everything!

4. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
KD: Creature of habit
HP: Maverick …

5. You house is on fire, what do you save?
KD: My housemates?
HP: I put the fire out and save everything!

6. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
KD: Dunk. Everytime.
HP: Dunk!

7. What does digital democracy mean to you (or maybe, what should digital democracy mean)?
KD: Digital democracy to me means breaking down walls and accessibility, it’s about us talking to people in the way and in the places they want to, it’s about recognising that different people consume information and have their say in different ways in different places and we need to embrace that. It isn’t the way that everyone wants to engage so it’s horses for courses and from my experience almost always needs to be combined with offline promotion/face to face interaction. It’s a way for people to help us figure out if the Welsh Government is doing a good job, and helps us make recommendations to the Welsh Government on what actions  they should take to make Wales a better place to live and work. It should be a way for the public to shape political debate.

HP: Digital democracy to me means showing people how ‘government’ is relevant to them, in places that they’re already using to carry out communications – online, email, social media sites, and so on.

I use the word ‘government’ really to talk about any kind of state apparatus that organises or affects the lives of the people. Particularly in Wales, devolution has been such a complicated process – the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government started off being one organisation, then they split, then full powers have been devolved, and then the Wales Bill will see even more powers devolved. UK Parliament has been basically the same for hundreds of years, while we’ve got all these changes, which makes it so hard to educate people.

Also people have a negative perception of politics and politicians … it’s about making it relevant to them. Do you care about hospital provision in your area? Do you care about your local schools? About the park on your street? Politics is all of that. If you don’t participate, you have no right to complain. It’s making people understand and think about those links, and then make it as easy as possible for them to get involved when they are moved to do so. It’s about everything as simple as answering every tweet or Facebook comment we get (the sensible ones, that is!).


Kevin Davies

8. Where do you see the field of digital democracy/ digital engagement in ten years? Opportunities and pitfalls?
KD: Smarter and more effective ways of getting information out to citizens. better transparency. Better informed electorate.  Direct democracy – people raising issues with politicians, political establishments quickly and easily. Electronic voting. Possible pitfalls: online security, information overload, internet access, older population, managing people’s expectations – public conditioned to expect instant results from their interaction (twitter/xfactor etc).

HP: I can’t even imagine where we’ll be in ten years time. Electronic voting, definitely. Possibly direct input into legislation via online means? Or voting directly on budget allocation? Hopefully there will be ways that people can get more directly involved in the democratic process.

9. Best project you’ve worked on at the Welsh Assembly and why?
KD: One of the Assembly’s committees was looking at STEM (science, technology, engineering & maths) Skills, and they wanted to speak with young people to find out what inspired them to choose their course, how easy/difficult it was to find an apprenticeship in their field, and the main obstacles that they faced in pursuing their interest in the subject. It’s important that the Assembly seeks the views of people from all parts of Wales, so we ran a web-chat using Google Hangouts where Assembly Members gathered in a room to have an online conversation with students. When it came to the end of the project, the Committee wrote a report to the Welsh Government, which included 14 recommendations.

What I liked about this was seeing how rewarding students found the experience, and how much the Assembly Members enjoyed themselves too. Here is a blog one of the students wrote after taking part, and here’s a video of Rhun ap Iorwerth AM and Julie James AM talking about taking part in their first web-chat:

What I loved about this project was how much impact it had on the report. Web-chat participants were quoted or referenced 17 times throughout the report, which demonstrates how much effect their contribution had on the project and on the suggestions we made to the Welsh Government. For me that’s what it’s ultimately all about, I think we can get lost in doing things for the sake of it, particularly when it comes to digital, the real success comes when you apply new techniques and technologies to the objectives of your project as we did here.

HP: One of my favourite projects was a week we spent in Wrexham earlier this year, where we worked with the local authority to train staff about what the Assembly does, had events at local schools and colleges, had our outreach bus in the centre of town, and also had a session with hyperlocal journalists. I worked on two events there. One was a ‘digital takeover’ of our youth engagement channels by students from Coleg Cambria, where media students set up a camera and filmed other students talking about lowering the voting age, and about other political issues in general. We let the students take photos and create content throughout the day, which we put out over our Your Assembly channel. A couple of the students went off and wrote blog posts for us – they were such high quality, I was so impressed. Who says the youth aren’t engaged and don’t care? This is student Ieuan Walker’s blog post from that day and this is another student, Callum Murray. The day after, I took part in a little interactive training workshop session with some hyperlocal blogs from Wrexham, like, and some university students from Glyndwr University. It was a brilliant couple of days – exhausting, but really rewarding.

10. Any shout-outs?
KD: Dyfrig Williams and Ena Lloyd at the Good Practice Exchange, Will Barker – digital man @1000LivesPlus in NHS Wales, Dave McKenna – Local government scrutiny and policy person at Swansea Council

HP: Jo and Esko at The Satori Lab, who are putting on GovCampCymru in one of the Assembly’s building in September this year. Gareth Morlais who is an endlessly valuable resource on Welsh language in technology. Carl and Tom at Native HQ, who’ve been amazing advising us and are working endlessly on exciting projects!

Thanks to Kevin and Helia for taking the time to share their work. If you’d like to carry on the conversation, Helia does Twitter here and Kevin does it over here.

Until next time.

Delib’s Tour of the USA

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to spend five weeks touring Australia and New Zealand to support our Delib Australia team as they were getting setup. I shook a lot of hands and talked in front of many, many rooms of people and all in all it was quite an eye opener. Meeting large swathes of local, central and state government was a great way to understand the differences (and indeed, the similarities) between the work we do in the UK; helping organisations to utilise progressive forms of online participation, and the methods employed down-under.

In April, I’ll be heading over to the US to undertake a similar trip, although this one will be firmly grounded in research as I attempt to understand how citizens are included in decision making stateside and perhaps, even, learn what ‘civic tech’ really means. I’ll be focusing my efforts on the North East, North West and D.C. and I’ve so far arranged: meetings, open coffee mornings, brown bag lunches, tech meet-ups and a few speeches here and there.

I’d like to fill every last minute of the trip, meeting interesting people and sharing Delib’s particular brand of digital democracy, (or should I say civic tech?), so if you’d like to meet or you know someone who might, please do get in touch. The dates and location of the trip are below:

  • New York: Monday 6th to Friday 10th April
  • Boston, MA: Monday 13th to Wednesday 15th April
  • Portland, Oregon: Thursday 16th to Friday 17th April
  • Seattle, WA: Monday 20th to Tuesday 21st April
  • Washington, D.C.: Wednesday 22nd to Friday 24th April

I’m also, somehow, shoe-horning in brief trips to Salem OR, Olympia, WA and Buffalo & Albany, NY.

I’ve got plenty to share about our work with: online budgeting, community dialogues, policy consultations, the Open Policy Making agenda, the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy and the wider field of change makers, culture hackers and tech pioneers.

If you’d like to meetup you can get hold of me on Twitter or good old fashioned electronic mail –


Accessible Ideas from Anne Collis of Barod CIC

Anne_CollisHere at Delib we take accessibility seriously, ensuring all of our apps work with assistive technologies so that anyone, irrespective of their abilities, can take part in democratic processes. A while back we heard about a Welsh community interest company who’d been founded with just such a purpose and, after meeting Anne Collis at Gov Camp Cymru (#gccy14), I thought she was probably well placed to expand on the subject.

Let’s jump right in.

1. What’s you name and where are you from?
Anne Collis, from Bangor North Wales

2. What do you do for a living?
I’m one of the worker-directors of Barod Community Interest Company. Barod is Welsh for “ready”. We chose it because we are a mix of people with and without learning difficulties who got fed up being sent on “work readiness” courses when we were already ready to work.

3. Favourite band and / or artist?
I do like a bit of Pink Floyd, but Eminem is great when I’m getting in the zone for Crossfit.

4. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
Definitely maverick. Barod’s strapline is “spreading ideas, changing attitudes”. We need a bit of maverick to make that happen.

5. You house is on fire, what do you save?
Me! Anything material can be replaced or you can learn to do without it.

6. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
Shock horror, I don’t eat biscuits since I started Crossfit. But Barod’s biscuit of choice is jaffa cakes, so if I had to eat one it would be gently nibbled in an unsullied state.

7. What does accessibility mean to you (or maybe, what should accessibility mean)?
It means being able to do what I want, how I want and when I want, without having to overcome barriers that only affect some people. Barriers could be things like money, where I live, the way things are done, or people’s bad attitudes and assumptions. I get frustrated when people use “accessibility” to mean “let’s change a few things for you personally because you don’t fit into the way we do things round here”. That’s my politely frustrated way of saying that I don’t like “reasonable adjustments” because that assumes it’s OK to carry on excluding people by how we do things as long as we are willing to sigh and do something different for individuals who we’ve excluded – if they have the confidence to insist we make things accessible to them.

8. What guidance exists to ensure things are accessible online and is it sufficient/ understood?
Funny you should ask that, as I was at a meeting with some lovely folks from Southampton University yesterday. The bottom line is that there are international evidence-based guides and standards for online accessibility but they focus on making sure the web is accessible to people with physical and sensory impairments. It’s really hard to find any research about making the web more accessible to more people with learning difficulties. And that’s an issue, because the project we are working on with Southampton University will probably need academics and people with learning difficulties to access a website on an equal footing.

9. Where do you see the field of online accessibility in ten years? Opportunities and pitfalls?
I have no idea about the techie stuff! Barod has started following some people on Twitter who could probably answer that one, like Alistair Somerville of Acuity Design. What I do know is that if the content is rubbish, the site will remain inaccessible even if the techie stuff is amazing.

10. Best project you’ve worked on at Barod and why?
Hard to pick a favourite. I think the most fulfilling thing we did was setting up Barod as a workers cooperative. We started with a bunch of ideas and visions, and slowly worked out the best way to turn them into reality. Our greatest moment had to be when clients stopped acting like the people without a learning disability were either the bosses or the support workers to the people with a learning disability and started to treat us as equals. The most fun came from a project that involved being paid to eat cake and drink coffee (those were the days before Crossfit when I still ate cake!) and chat to fascinating people. The aim was to find out what was going on in people’s heads rather than what they would say if they came to a consultation event. We call the method ‘coffee shop conversations’, and I’m currently seconded to Bangor University to develop a theoretical framework for the method. Watch this space…

11. Any shout-outs?
Got to do a shout-out to fellow directors, Alan Armstrong who I rely on to stop me from getting lost and to keep my feet on the ground, and Mal Cansdale who does an amazing job of oiling the wheels of Barod and who taught me to tweet. And a completely off-topic shout out to The Crossfit Place on Anglesey who in the last 9 months have got me physically and mentally fitter than I’ve ever been in my life.

So there we have it, 11 questions answered by the queen of accessibility (new job title?). Aside from some great pointers, I really like Barod’s wider obsession with Jaffa Cakes; something I both support and encourage…

If you’d like to talk to Anne, contact details can be found here and a Twitter follow is just a click away.

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