Author: Ben Whitnall (Page 1 of 9)

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.

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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

The latest, greatest digital democracy and involvement jobs (UK, March 2018)

Looking for a good, interesting, chance-to-make-a-difference job? The world of digital government keeps on providing great opportunities. Check out this latest bunch, for instance:

Digital Design Team
Hackney Council
‘The new Digital Design team will provide the key skills and expertise required to deliver agile, user centred change across the whole range of the Council’s services.

We are looking for people with a clear vision for delivering excellent digital services, have experience of delivering transformational results and excellent user experiences as part of effective multidisciplinary teams and with the ability to inspire and influence colleagues across services to make effective use of data and service design.’
Closing date: 14 March

Digital Communications Manager
National Audit Office
‘With an ever-changing digital landscape, and an ambitious communications strategy, the NAO is looking for someone to help us modernise our external digital communications approach and activity, increasing our influence with key stakeholders.’
Closing date: 14 March

Director of Technology, Product and Delivery
Government Digital Service
‘The Director of Technology, Product and Delivery will run the Government Digital Service Delivery and Support Group. They will ensure the successful running of its ambitious programme of work with an annual budget of £85 million. Reporting to the Director General, they will have line management responsibility for 4 Deputy Directors and an overall indirect report of 550 staff.’
Closing date: 18 March

Product Lead
House of Commons
‘At the Parliamentary Digital Service, we’re transforming the way Parliament does digital. We’re responsible for the digital output of all parliamentary services. We think it’s important that everyone can access and understand what’s going on in Parliament. Our goal is to bring together the public, Parliament Members, and Parliamentary staff to inform, engage, support, and communicate through one, unified digital core – PDS.’
Closing date: 18 March

Content Designer
House of Commons
‘…focus on the development and production of engaging digital content aimed at increasing learning, awareness and understanding of the work and role of Parliament.’
Closing date: 18 March

Social Media Officer
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
‘…you will also advise on the social media strategy and work with Ministers, staff and stakeholders around the world to ensure they are using social media effectively. As real time editorial leadership becomes increasingly important in creating breaking news, views and information, your work will have high visibility and real impact.’
Closing date: 19 March

Consultation & Engagement Manager
Cornwall Council
‘Looking for a significant opportunity to shape and influence outcomes for the people of Cornwall? We can offer the opportunity to work on high profile strategic initiatives such as the Devolution Deal, the Strategy for Cornwall, the promotion of Cornish as a recognised National Minority Group and the Council’s leadership approach across key policy areas as we commence the process of leaving the European Union.’
Closing date: 19 March

Customer Engagement Officer
West Lancashire Borough Council
‘As a Customer Engagement Officer, you will support the Customer Engagement team to develop, promote and manage the Council’s customer experience process, to ensure the views of our tenants and customers are instrumental in the delivery and improvement of services. You will be the lead officer for the Tenant Scrutiny Group and will also help to deliver a Council wide digital inclusion programme.’
Closing date: 21 March

Head of Digital Services
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
‘Leading a range of specialist professionals, you’ll develop a customer-focused service, which is responsive, flexible to customer needs and delivered to high standards. You will help us drive a digital first approach, internally and externally. So you’ll need to have experience of leading a major IT or Digital Service successfully.’
Closing date: 22 March

Senior Engagement Officer
Greater London Authority
‘OPDC is a Mayoral Development Corporation…Working in the CEO Office within the Communications and Engagement team, you will:
– Deliver an engagement programme and activities to support the statutory public consultation of the OPDC Local Plan.
– Help OPDC understand and engage all audiences in the area including hard-to-reach groups…’
Closing date: 28 March

 

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.

More digital democracy and involvement jobs (UK, Feb 2018)

The cool jobs and exciting opportunities in the world of digital government keep coming thick and fast. Check out this veritable smorgasbord of roles being advertised at the moment, where you can get stuck into improving the connection between decision-makers and citizens:

Engagement, Consultation and Communication Officer
City of London Corporation
‘Hampstead Heath is a premier open space in North London; it receives more than seven million visitors a year and is nationally and internationally renowned.

The City of London Corporation Open Spaces Department seeks to recruit an enthusiastic and innovative Engagement, Consultation and Communication Officer who will develop and support a range of activities to ensure effective gathering and sharing of information takes place.’
Closing date: 23 Feb

External Relations Manager
Economic and Social Research Council
‘Our External Relations function engages parliamentarians, policymakers and other stakeholders to enable them to join and inform debates about current issues, raising awareness of ESRC and its research and providing evidence to inform decision-making.’
Closing date: 25 Feb

Head of Policy & Public Affairs
Basildon Council
‘By consulting with residents, Members and partners, you’ll set direction and develop strategies that will deliver our Corporate Plan. With the chance to influence resident satisfaction, as well as decision makers, you’ll be instrumental in achieving the future we want.’
Closing date: 25 Feb

Programme Consultation Manager
London Borough of Hillingdon
‘The Capital Programme and Planned Works Team lead​s​ ​on ​and manages all new build construction projects and refurbishment projects undertaken by the Council. This includes school expansions; new build supported living and general needs social housing;​ construction works on corporate building (libraries, sport and leisure centres, children centres etc). The Programme Consultation Officer will be responsible for working with colleagues to agree and implement consultation plans for individual projects.’
Closing date: 25 Feb

Delivery Manager
Legal Aid Agency
‘Are you passionate about high quality delivery aligned to users’ needs? Do you want to work at the forefront of digital transformation in government?

We are looking for experienced delivery managers based at our London HQ to lead the agile delivery of new and improved digital services right across the MoJ, our agencies and public bodies.’
Closing date: 26 Feb

Content Editor/Content Designer
Department for Education
‘Ideally you will have experience in writing content online (including in HTML), an understanding of meeting user needs, and experience of gathering and interpreting data and evidence to help make informed decisions.’
Closing date: 26 Feb

Senior Content Editor/Content Designer
Department for Education
‘In the DfE digital communications team we aim to make all of this work simpler, clearer and easier to find online, by managing and creating engaging written web content on GOV.UK and integrating this with wider digital communications…Alongside content experience, you will be able to understand and identify the needs of users, as well as map their journeys through content.’
Closing date: 26 Feb

Head of Data
Care Quality Commission
‘The Head of Data is a newly created and exciting role, forming part of our Digital transformation programme…Working in partnership with others you will define a strategy for the art of the possible, exploring best practice methods, tools and processes that will enable CQC to deliver its intelligence-driven ambitions, and drive this through to delivery.’
Closing date: 28 Feb

Head of Stakeholder Engagement and Research
Disclosure & Barring Service
‘…design and implement a best in class Stakeholder Engagement and Research function that informs DBS strategy and policy; enhances understanding of DBS function among stakeholders and informs the practice and guidance of partner organisations.’
Closing date: 4 March

Digital & Data Officer
Southwark Council
‘Southwark is committed to conducting and planning effective and efficient elections whilst improving service and quality standards and value for money.

An exciting opportunity has arisen in the Electoral Services Division to join a team currently working on the 2018 Borough council elections and planning for the annual canvass later this year.’
Closing date: 4 March

Director of Digital Services
Companies House
‘The Director of Digital Services will deliver the next generation of high performing digital services for our customers and staff, working with GDS, BEIS and wider government…Be customer focused to ensure that the Register unlocks the opportunities that digital data brings.’
Closing date: 16 March

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