Author: Ben Whitnall (Page 1 of 3)

Introducing our newest Consultant: Sabine Groven

Sabine standing by the sea

Whenever we make a new hire, we like to do a little introductory interview with them (we all had to do it so they have to, too, OK?!)

The latest addition to the Delib team is Sabine – here to help spread the word about digital democracy and, apparently, consume all the gluten-free biscuits…

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

My name is Sabine and I’m from Trondheim in Norway. I moved to the UK in 2014 to study in Falmouth, Cornwall. Here, I fell for both the country and a Brit called Sam. Upon graduating, Sam and I wanted to move somewhere similar to Falmouth in being vibrant, creative and lovely, just bigger, which is why we ended up in Bristol. I love the UK so much and especially the people, which is why I consider myself very lucky to live here. 

2. Favourite band and/or artist?

Blossoms! I went to see them at the O2 Academy in Bristol, and it was amazing. I find it very hard to get into bands or artists where I listen to all of their songs, so I am very happy to say I am a proper fan of Blossoms. I do tend to play the same song on repeat until I can’t stand it anymore, so my playlist completely depends on my mood and level of obsessiveness. I have just gone through a period of listening to the Rocketman soundtrack on repeat (Taron Egerton and children singing Elton John), which nearly cost me my relationship.  

3. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?

I’m a creature of habit and really enjoy having a routine. It just doesn’t feel like Friday if I’m not having Mexican food or Saturday if I’m not going for a long run by the river. I love planning and organising and have a Pinterest board for almost everything. Planning is half the fun and all that. 

4. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

I prefer biscuits crunchy and my tea/coffee without bits in it. I do, however, like having a hot drink and a biscuit side by side. I’m just not as civilised as most people and one biscuit will always turn into the entire pack. Luckily, I am gluten intolerant and the GF biscuits come in much smaller packs… 

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

I used to work for an events company doing global B2B events focused on Digital Transformation.

6. Why did you want to join Delib?

I wanted to join Delib because it seemed like a chance to develop the skills I already had, whilst learning a whole lot and doing work which was meaningful. I really wanted a job where I was able to feel like my job was fulfilling and enjoyable. It was truly refreshing meeting the team which consists of so many different personalities.  

8. Any shout outs, comments or other musings?

Absolutely. Huge thanks to Ben and Kim for spending hours with me making sure I have everything I need to get on with my job. Also, thank you, Joel and Meg for being so welcoming and helpful. And thank you to the whole wider team who are all very approachable and nice. I really look forward to getting to know everyone. 

Can people have constructive conversations online?

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

Boxers throwing punches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot of National Assembly for Wales Dialogue site

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘OK fine yes I liked the banner pic’


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

4 noteworthy consultations happening right now

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Birmingham City Council are consulting on electric vehicle charging 🚗⚡️

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

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

Trojan lance and charging cable

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

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

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

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


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

View from the Delib Bristol HQ

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Democracy doesn’t stop with voting

Here is the world’s shortest hot-take on yesterday’s big news: democracy is more than voting.

Shocked/amazed kid

Mind = blown

Read More

6 (and a bit) takeaways from our Leicester user group, October 2018

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

Leicester City Hall

Read More

Introducing our newest Account Manager: Jessie Ashmore

In the least humble-braggy way possible, we do just keep on collecting more customers – so we’re delighted to bring another Account Manager on board to help look after them all!  Our newest recruit is Jessie, joining the team in our HQ in Bristol, UK. We talked to her about democracy, dodgers, dogs – and a contentious use of McFlurries:

Read More

Shifting approaches to consultation at Reading Borough Council

We recently got to chat with Adam Bevington who heads up the web team at Reading Borough Council (UK). Since taking on the role, he’s overseen a dramatic shift in the team’s balance of skills, competencies and workload.

Gone is much of the old emphasis on purely technical/code/ICT work. Instead, Adam has focused on bringing in more and more content expertise: when recruiting for the web team, Reading have been hiring writers, communicators and people who can produce engaging and accessible material (which just so happens to be delivered digitally). 

As a result, the team is now (rightly, one might say) understood within the organisation as more of a communications function than an internal support/infrastructure one. These days, people are more likely to come and ask them for help with wording or tone than they are about a malfunctioning mouse or the intricacies of rebooting an iPad. 

Where has this approach come from?

Perhaps this shift isn’t so surprising given that Adam’s own background is in marketing. But this wasn’t a move made out of personal preference – it’s a strategic decision, designed to reflect the essential integration of digital into everything the Council does. 

And it’s another indication of the continuing, encouraging trend towards what I guess you might call ‘digital by default’. Every week there’ll be another (un)conference extolling the need to realise the full/holistic potential of digital transformation: centred around people, not systems, emphasising ease of interaction over monolithic back-office infrastructure. And that’s good: these need to be such oft-repeated refrains that working this way just becomes business as usual.

What’s the upshot?

For Reading, the change has already made a big difference to the way the organisation works. A prime example is around consultation – a function that now primarily sits with the web team (not the comms team, as one might expect).

Reading use Citizen Space as their online consultation platform and Adam explained that, alongside bringing in more content expertise, adopting this tool has helped change the way they work. 

This is because Citizen Space is, by design, easy for anyone to use, with no specialist technical expertise required. One staff member at Reading now boasts of having the training down to a fine art and is disappointed in herself if she can’t teach someone everything they need to know in order to use the system within 19 minutes. 

This has created a different feel to consulting online. It’s not seen as a complicated thing that requires extensive technical setup. Rather, it’s an exercise in public engagement – one that staff from across the Council can initiate themselves. And when they go to the web team for help, it’s not because they need ‘someone who’s good with computers’ to do their job for them. Instead, people are asking about how best to present materials, how to maximise reach and how to engage participants as effectively as possible. Questions of good communication, not technological operation.

We’re big fans of Reading’s approach and, in our training, events and advice to customers, you’ll frequently hear us arguing for exactly this stance. It’s so easy to get distracted by the fact that ‘digital’ involves technology and mistakenly focus on the technical aspects themselves – as if just connecting up enough cables, screens and devices would, in and of itself, suddenly change the way people interact with government. 

Instead, as it has been for Reading, new technology should be a prompt and an opportunity to find new, better ways of working. That’s not just an optimistic platitude – we consistently find with Citizen Space customers, for example, that when they adopt the platform, it helps them bring in a new approach to consultation and public engagement, not just an increase in the efficiency of their old methods. 

If you’re interested in finding out more, get in touch to see Citizen Space in action.

Ration Club – Newspeak House, London, Wed 7 Feb

We’re excited to be returning to Newspeak House’s Ration Club to do a bit more hosting/chef-ing. This time, we’re there on Wed 7 Feb.

Delib founders Andy and Chris cook spaghetti bolognese at Ration Club

Andy and Chris – two of Delib’s founders – hard at work rustling up a spag bol

For those who have never been, Ration Club is a regular Wednesday night fixture at Newspeak House where people from the political/democracy and civic tech community get together to eat and share ideas.

The format is based around a communal supper, where a Newspeak House member cooks a giant spread, with donations encouraged from the attendees.

Oct 2017 Ration Club menu – spaghetti bolognese or spaghetti and aubergine

The mix of people and conversation is always varied – and the event’s open to all, so come along if you’re free! (If you do plan to turn up, please just drop us an email, if only so we can make sure we cook enough food!)

‘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!

Ration Club – Newspeak House, London, Wed Oct 11

Ration Book

Delib are excited to be hosting/chef-ing at Newspeak House’s Ration Club, on Wednesday 11th October evening.

For those who have never been, Ration Club is a regular Wednesday night fixture at Newspeak House where people from the political/democracy and civic tech community get together to eat and share ideas.

The format is based around a communal supper, where a Newspeak House member cooks a giant spread, with donations encouraged from the attendees.

The mix of people and conversation is always varied (the last time we attended, for example, we got to meet a French entrepreneur who was had a built an AI-powered ‘political robot’…)

The event’s open to all, so come along if you’re free (and drop us an email, just so we can make sure we cook enough spag bol 😉

Introducing our newest researcher: Megan Tonner

Delib keeps on growing – both in number of customers and number of staff. One of the several new-ish recruits is Megan, joining our UK office as a researcher. As is now standard procedure, she’s completed our comprehensive set of taxing questions about bands, bread and, of course, biscuits.

What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Megan Tonner. I was born in Banbury, North Oxfordshire, with Scottish heritage. Growing up there meant I was lucky to live in a beautiful, picturesque village called Bloxham, with fields directly following my back gate – meaning I could escape in the countryside for a run with my gorgeous Hungarian Vizsla, Ede. (Which, by the way, often began as a relaxing stroll, until he’d decide to do a full “Fenton” on me and chase every sheep or pheasant we passed.)

I went to school in Bloxham, and even got to do a GCSE in Environmental and Land-Based Science – in other words, ‘Farming’ – where I literally had to sing to cows (email me for cattle-related tips). I moved to Bristol four years ago to study Graphic Design at UWE and fell in love with the city. Never had I lived in such a liberal place and I’m very excited about my future here.

Favourite band and/or artist?
I’m finding this extremely hard to answer – I’m rather peculiar when it comes to my taste in music! My favourite genre is Math rock (I know, it’s a bit niche and sounds like I’m trying to be hip.) It’s a genre that was influenced by post-hardcore and progressive rock bands. Try out Chiyoda Ku, a band from Bristol that I discovered on a trip to The Stag and Hounds. Or, if you’re super keen, come along to ArcTangent festival just outside of Bristol.

Moving on from that my taste ranges from anything like old school R&B to minimal techno and 140 Dubstep. Hit me up for a playlist. But if I were only allowed to listen to one band for the rest of my life, I guess it would be The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I really wish I were a creature of habit; I try, I make lists sometimes and then throw them away when I find them lost in my laundry basket a week later. I speak my mind, often a little too quickly but I do have to have some sort of routine to my life, that’s why I love working. Especially now I’ve found something I’m passionate about.

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?
If time allowed, a painting of my interpretation of a Chinese New Year that I did with my father when I was 14. It’s still one of my favourite pieces of art work I’ve done to this day, and it’s priceless, as painting with my dad is one of my most sentimental memories of my childhood. I’d also grab my electric guitar, that we built together too. Finally, my collection of Harry Potter replica wands, because they’re obviously the coolest things I own.

Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I don’t have a sweet tooth really, let alone a soggy sweet tooth… Throw me a bag of salt and vinegar Kettle Chips over a biscuit any day.

Before joining Delib, how did you put bread on the table?
When I applied for this position, I was working in PieMinister, which I know sounds like the dream. I served pies, I made pies, I spoke all things pie. I loved the part of hospitality in which you were meeting hundreds of new people a week – but the job wasn’t too exhilarating, or pushing, and after a short while there’s only a certain amount of pie one girl can eat. I was also a games journalist, and just before that worked for Samsung, training staff in different stores on their new tablet releases. But I was a student, so until now I didn’t have the time to find something that tingled my taste buds and motivated me as much as Delib has. I’m a tech-head at heart, and it’s amazing to be back in that industry.

Why did you want to join Delib?
Delib is a company that’s truly doing something I believe in, something innovating, and something anyone would be lucky to be involved in. After a few interviews, and meeting the fabulous staff here, I realised it was somewhere I’d be comfortable being myself, excited about my day, and more importantly enthusiastic about the subjects we work in. As well as constantly learning and developing through the process of being here.

Any shout outs, comments or other musings?
Thank you Delib, and everyone within the company, that have kept me smiling since I started my position in January. What a load of beauties!

‘Well-designed democracy’ – event round-up

Last Tuesday morning (June 27th) marked the first in our series of Practical Democracy Project events – kicking off with a focus on ‘well-designed democracy’.

If you couldn’t make it along on the day, this right here is a quick round-up, including links to all the slides/talks from our speakers. 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.

Well-designed democracy event at Newspeak House

These events are designed to get people talking about the interaction between technology and government, with a particular emphasis on the stuff that actually makes a difference to effective public participation in decision-making.

This one was at Newspeak House in Bethnal Green (a fascinating thing in itself – it’s a dedicated ‘community space for political technologists’). And it was a great crowd that turned up: a really interesting mix of civil servants, service designers, techy start-up types, local gov staff – all sorts.

After a slightly mad dash to grab the promised breakfast and some excellently buzzy conversations over coffee and croissants, the talks got underway.


First up was Temi Ogunye from Citizens Advice.

Temi was presenting findings from a piece of Citizens Advice research called ‘Going with the grain: why democracy needs to fit with modern life’. It was grounded in concern for the practical, everyday things that can make it harder for people to get involved in politics – often disproportionately across different groups.

I was delighted – but not surprised – to hear that one of the main findings was that in the UK, in general, people want to take part – but there are a load of barriers that prevent them participating as much as they would like to.

It’s one of the core tenets of Delib, one of the main reasons we exist: that if you make it easier for people to get involved in the decisions that affect them, they will take up the opportunity – and that makes those decisions, and democracy, better.

Temi gave a host of great examples/findings. I was particularly struck by his observation about financial security as one such barrier to participation. He talked about how it is often harder for less affluent people to get involved in government decisions – even though they may often be those most drastically affected by policy changes. He hypothesised that this might be a simple issue of ‘headspace’: if you’re worried about making ends meet, it’s tough to find the time for what feels like the ‘luxury’ of political engagement.

Or check out the full ‘Going with the grain’ report


Then we heard from Involve’s Sarah Allan.

Sarah made a fantastically clear and compelling case for the benefits of involving people in decision-making (perhaps not surprising given that she’s the Engagement Lead for an organisation literally called Involve).

She then shared a bunch of great practical/at-the-coalface stories from her work with Involve (my half-remembering of the details won’t do them justice – check out the full deck instead).

I particularly enjoyed her report of the ‘IWOOT’ phenomenon – where someone will ring up from an organisation wanting to do some public engagement and say ‘we saw this fantastic exercise from so-and-so. We want to do one of those, too!’. As Sarah explained, whilst the enthusiasm is laudable, that’s not really the best way to settle on a participatory process.

Instead, she argued for approaching involvement as a design challenge. This is something we’re forever banging on about: good engagement is about finding what’s appropriate to the decision/situation and effective for the people who need to be involved – and what works for one situation often won’t be the right fit for another.

Download Sarah’s slides (PDF)


Next up was Dr Michael Hallsworth from the Behavioural Insights Team.

He rapidly shared an amazing wealth of stats, stories and insights – all around a common theme of how ‘small things can make a big impact’. Again, these were fantastically detailed and thoroughly-researched case studies: the Behavioural Insights Team run lots of real-world control tests to get measurable evidence on changes that make a difference to people’s actions. Have a look at the detail for yourself in Michael’s slides.

And it’s a point that definitely bears repeating: small things that remove ‘friction’ from the process of participating can end up making a massive difference to people’s involvement. (It also reminded me of some of the stats we heard from BEIS at one of our Citizen Space user groups – about going from a 7% to a 25% completion rate on online consultations). The more people come to appreciate and get accustomed to this design-led approach to policy and participation (design in its truest sense – not just ‘making things pretty’ but elegantly crafted and perfectly suited to their purpose), the better.

Download Michael’s slides (PDF)


And wrapping up the morning was Glyn Britton of ad agency KBS Albion.

Glyn gave a really eye-opening account of the creation of GiffGaff – ‘the UK’s first democratic brand’ (in that user participation was central to its business model and how decisions were made).

The whole story was packed with great examples of learning the value of testing and iteration, user feedback, community interaction and designing decisions around the people they affect – as Glyn put it, ‘in the wild’. (For example, the fact that they extensively tested incentives for people getting their friends to switch to GiffGaff: apparently, straight-up cash was by far the most effective [no great surprises there, perhaps] – but there was no major difference in the amount of cash offered. £5, £10, £20: the response rate was the same. So it seemed to be more about the sense of fairness/getting something back/not being exploited, rather than just a money grab.)

Whilst there are obviously differences between the world of government and private business, especially when it comes to ‘rewards’ for participation, I think there’s a lot of overlap in the process of learning to function in a more emergent, iterative, responsive way – especially online. It was great to hear some of those parallel challenges and opportunities from a fresh perspective.

Read the transcript of Glyn’s talk


There was one other thing that Glyn said that stuck with me, just near the end of his talk (and he was the last to speak, remember). Namely, that he felt ‘a bit of a fraud’ and ‘inexpert’, giving thoughts on designing democracy in a room full of people who are specialists in exactly that. While I think that’s far too modest of him, he was right to remark on the room. Here was a whole group of people who are passionate and knowledgeable about how to make it easier for government and citizens to connect with each other online. In fact, a good number of them work in government and are paid to think about this stuff as their actual job. That certainly has not always been the case and it’s surely something to celebrate.

As Tom Steinberg argued recently, this stuff – this user-led, design-based approach to public involvement – is (finally, thankfully) becoming established, mainstream, the norm. It’s an idea that can’t be put back in the bottle. And that is excellent news: the more it becomes embedded, the more it will genuinely improve democratic involvement. And we hope we can continue to grow the conversation, refine the practice and keep making public participation better and better.

Well-designed democracy sign (in the rain)

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