All posts by Ben Whitnall

Introducing our new communications person: Keri O’Donoghue

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

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

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

2. Favourite band and/or artist?

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

3. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?

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

4. You get mysteriously transported to a desert island, with only time to grab a couple of precious things to take with you. What makes the ‘keep’ list?

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

5. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

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

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

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

7. Why did you want to join Delib?

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

8. Any shout outs, comments or other musings?

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

‘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!

We’re hiring: outbound comms

We need some comms help. We’ve got a lot of things we want to say and a lot of people to whom we want to say them. There’s way more ‘saying interesting things to the right people’ to do than we can manage with our current capacity (we’re a small team, about 20 in total). So we’re looking for a full-time content writer/researcher/reporter to join us and do a whole bunch of high quality, proactive communicating.

This is first and foremost a new business/sales role. We’re expanding our efforts to grow our customer base and you’ll be working closely with our sales team. Your primary responsibility will be to increase the number of people interested in us and our products, and to increase the level of that interest.

About you

There are three key things we need from someone to excel at this role:
  • exceptional at being articulate. You need to turn thoughts, facts, opinions and information into engaging content – quickly, repeatedly, with a good understanding of your audience and subject matter, to a consistently high standard, without a load of prompting or hand-holding.We get that digital democracy is quite a specific niche; we don’t expect you to know it inside-out before you apply and we will bring you up to speed but some interest in politics, civic society, democratic participation etc – and, more importantly, a capacity to learn fast – is pretty key.The exact form of the content will be up to you: it might include images, graphics and video but it will always include words, so we’re looking for an excellent writer.
  • relentlessly ‘outward-focused‘. You must be keen to engage with the outside world, happy making noise in public, energised by looking for new people to talk to. This job isn’t about refining internal company strategy or quietly working through a backlog of essays that need writing. It’s all about getting to know people in our network and market, understanding what they’d enjoy hearing from us and taking the initiative to bring those two things together. You need to get a buzz from getting stuff out into the world, seeing people share it and talking about us more and more.
  • sufficiently organised and driven to actually make it happen. This job isn’t about writing a certain number of words or researching a certain market segment and then handing the result on to someone else to do something with. Lots of the initiative and responsibility will rest directly with you. You’ll be researching material, writing thoughtful stuff about it and disseminating it to interested people yourself. So you need to be good at things like scheduling and contact management as well as ideas and words.
Beyond that, there are many possible ‘nice to have’ qualities: team player, nifty with statistical analysis, GSOH, frequent cake-baker etc etc. But if you can do this job, you can figure out things about yourself that add value and sell them to us in your application.

About the job

This is essentially a content production and dissemination role. Your primary responsibility will be conceiving, making and sharing interesting material, to build our presence, profile and influence and, above all, to provide our audiences with good service – stuff that makes their lives easier, helps them do their jobs better and ultimately improves civic society.
Specifically, your regular work will include things like:
  • Content research, news monitoring, regularly reading relevant books/studies/articles etc
  • Identifying and participating in relevant events
  • Planning content and contact campaigns
  • Producing timely thought pieces
  • Arranging interviews/content contributions from relevant experts/leaders in our field
  • Writing customer stories/case studies of our work in action
  • Producing documents, landing pages and other supporting material for new business campaigns
  • Producing a regular newsletter and other recurring email activity
  • Reviewing effectiveness of content, monitoring analytics
Our office is a professional-yet-relaxed open plan environment. We’re a small, smart, hard-working team and you’ll be working closely with our senior sales consultant, our team of account and territory managers and our marketers.
Exact salary depends on experience but it’ll likely be somewhere in the region of £23k-£27k.
If this sounds good to you, please get in touch. Send us a cover letter (to Jayne@delib.net) and your CV. We’re more interested in covering letters than in CVs. If we like the look of yours, we’ll get you in for a standard hiring interview.
We follow the HMG Baseline Personnel Security Standard and you will therefore need to satisfy basic eligibility criteria/certain conditions of employment (e.g. nationality rules/right to work); and provide appropriate documentation to verify ID, nationality, employment and/or academic history, criminal record (unspent convictions only).

‘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.

Have a look at Temi’s slides

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)

Designing for participation: some reading ahead of our Practical Democracy Project event

In just a few weeks’ time, we’ll be running our Practical Democracy Project event. We’ll be at Newspeak House in London on 27th June looking at the part design can play in increasing public participation in democracy.

To help you get the most from the day, here’s a bit of a starter ‘reading list’ – featuring a random little selection of just a few of the books and articles that we’ve found helpful, or have stimulated and/or shaped our thinking over the years:

What would be on your list?

And, if this is your kind of thing, (free!) tickets are available now: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-practical-democracy-project-tickets-34110722088

Hope to see you in London on 27th June!

Budget Simulator – now officially in 3 distinct editions (perfect for any occasion)

Budget Simulator is used by all sorts of government organisations, all over the world, to get insight into people’s priorities when they’re facing difficult decisions. No two decisions are exactly alike: sometimes, it’s about setting a budget to hit a fixed savings target. Sometimes, it’s about seeing where people make the trade-offs between tax and service level. Sometimes, it’s about getting a broad sense of people’s preferences when any resource (time, effort etc) is contested.

A simulator is supposed to be just that – a simulation, an accurate representation of the decision under consideration. So, to better support the different kinds of decisions Budget Simulator can, well, simulate, we’ve just formalised 3 main editions of the tool. So now it’s even easier to choose the configuration that suits your situation.

The three editions are:

Total budget

Screenshot of total budget edition of Budget Simulator

Users are presented with your total budget; they adjust spending in key areas until they’re happy with the overall balance of allocations.

Great for visualising your organisation’s spending, showing the scale of a budget challenge and giving people ‘the big picture’.

Personal bill/rates

Screenshot of rates edition of Budget Simulator

Users are shown a budget expressed as a personalised bill or tax rate – tailored to their situation. They adjust spending and see how these changes will directly affect their payments.

Great for helping people to understand the effect of choices on their own pocket.

Points allocation

Screenshot of points edition of Budget Simulator

Perhaps you want to understand people’s priorities in a way that doesn’t directly correspond to a financial figure. In this version, users are given a number of abstract points, which they can assign to their preferred areas.

Great for exploring the trade-offs between any set of options – budgetary or otherwise.

You can see some examples of how people have used Budget Simulator in different ways in our collection of customer stories.

And if you’re interested in using Budget Simulator yourself, or just want to find out a bit more about it, you can always drop us a line.

Citizen Space release announcement v3.1.15

We’ve just released our latest Citizen Space update. As with most of these smaller milestones, this one focuses on incremental improvements to the platform – a handful of ways we’ve identified to make it faster and smoother to use. Specifically:

  • Big downloads: sometimes, you’ll want to download a set of responses that includes files uploaded by respondents. This can make for some pretty hefty zip files – but we’ve improved the way these large files are handled so these downloads should now run noticeably quicker.
  • Security update: we’ve added in new protections against Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) attacks.
  • Minor fixes: you can now reliably download response files even if a respondent uses a special character in the title (&, ! etc). And we ironed out a sporadic glitch in the ‘Skip to main content’ accessibility link (we found some odd edge cases where it would take you to a different page).

v3.1.15 rolls out today to all Citizen Space customers. If you have any questions about the new release, you can always get in touch.

Tips and advice

18 (!) lessons from our first two user groups of the year

In the past couple of months, we’ve had Citizen Space user groups in Edinburgh and Belfast. As always, we hear a heap of useful things from our customers sharing their experiences at these events. Check out our round-ups of the respective days:

A full meeting room at the Citizen Space user group in Belfast

Skip Logic: a quick start guide

Do you ever use skip logic in your surveys? It’s one of those things that can be daunting if you’re not familiar with it, but is incredibly useful once you are. If you’re not sure where to start, or want to help train up colleagues, our quick guide could be useful. There’s also a bunch of more detailed instructions for setting up skip logic surveys in Citizen Space on our knowledge base.

A little help?

We’re looking for outcomes…

We’re currently undertaking some research into consultation outcomes – how organisations track and report on their findings; what, if anything, happens differently as a result; how input shapes decisions, that kind of thing. So:

  • Do you have any success stories – a time when you felt a consultation went really well?
  • Do you have any examples of when consulting has driven positive change and/or delivered better services?

If you’ve got any stories along those lines that you’d be happy to share, please do get in touch with us. Thanks!

All aboard

Welcome to our new customers!

Our latest Citizen Space customers include Nottinghamshire County Council and Torfaen County Borough Council  – a warm welcome to them. And remember: you can search through all consultations running on Citizen Space via the Aggregator.

Democratic hero – Andrew Greenway

Welcome back to our Digital Heroes series – it’s been a while.

In the latest instalment, we hear from Andrew Greenway, a former civil servant turned independent consultant, who, in his own words does ‘a mixture of hacking bureaucracies and writing about them’.

Andrew has some fascinating insights on the future of digital democracy as well as some clear views on music tastes and biscuit dunking.

So, without further ado, let’s get on to the questions.

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

My name is Andrew Greenway, and I live in London. I grew up in Huntingdon, a town that I wrote the entry for in the book ‘Crap Towns 3’. It wasn’t all that bad.

2. What do you do for a living?

I’ve never been very good at answering this question.

I help governments and other big organisations run in ways that respond better to our rising expectations of what’s possible. Usually that involves some combination of freelance strategy, governance, capability building and design.

In practice, I do a mixture of hacking bureaucracies and writing about them. In the not too distant past I was a civil servant, and worked in quite a few bits of the UK government, including the Government Digital Service, Government Office for Science and three other departments.

These days I work with international governments and some UK organisations. I also write about Whitehall in various places, trying to play the role of critical friend.

3. Who is your favourite band or artist?

I have a soft spot for Radiohead, Pink Floyd and John Lee Hooker, which I recognise as the tastes of someone twice my age.

I basically struggle with any music made after about 2004. My memory of anything made after that point is retained solely for the purposes of future pub quiz questions.

4. Android or iPhone?

iPhone – I am a fully-paid up member of the Apple cult. 

5. PC or Mac?

See above…  


6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?

Context is all. I was told more than once by ex-colleagues: ‘you’re not a typical civil servant are you?’. The tragedy of it is that I probably am, but I was saved from going down the usual paths by good luck and working with a lot of brilliant people who showed me the value of openness, agility and actually getting stuff done.

I would say I’m a creature of habit, because it turns out that almost nothing that I’ve written about the reform of the civil service is radically different from what similarly-minded people have been saying for at least fifty years. It is quite deflating to think you’ve come up with something new, only to find someone like Peter Hennessy got there before I was born. He’s a Lord now, so there’s surely ermine in my future somewhere. 


7. Your house is on fire, what do you save?

Assuming my fiancee is already long out the building, I’d grab a box of sentimental old letters, a laptop, and my passport. You may as well go and travel after something like that. 


8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

Unsullied. Soggy biscuits? No.  


9. Best project you’ve worked on and why?

During my time in the Cabinet Office I was product manager for the UK’s digital service standard and design manual. The idea was to set the bar not only for what digital public services should look and feel like, but how they were built too – the shape of the team, the data they cared about, and so on. The second challenge was to help teams around government meet that standard. 

It was great fun for lots of reasons. Everyone on the team brought something different to the mix. We worked in the open, and iteratively – getting the chance to draw on expertise from hundreds of people within and outside government in a very short space of time. We knew our management and minister trusted us. That gave us the space to do the right thing, and politely ignore any unhelpful conventions.

The idea of government digital service standards and manuals have since been copied all over the place – Australia, the US and parts of Canada have something very similar, many others are dabbling with the idea. It directly helped make millions of online government experiences simpler and quicker for people. I’m proud of that.

10. Where do you hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of online consultation/ digital democracy?

The gap between those thinking deeply about how the Internet-era is changing the role of government versus mainstream democratic debate seems to be getting wider. That’s a great pity, I think, and I would like to see it narrow. 

A lot of political argument focuses on levers – spending more on x, y or z, regulating this or that, running public services via the state or private companies, leaving the EU – that actually have a debatable impact on the reality of our daily lives.

They all sound important, transformational. But I’m increasingly sceptical that turning the money taps left and right in our public services really makes an appreciable, long-term difference to outcomes. Ditto Brexit. The real structural challenges in democracies run much deeper, and the current level of public debate largely distracts from that. The civil service’s internal discussions are not that much better. 

Failing to confront this kind of big, knotty problem is arguably making conventional politics and democracy more fragile. People can say with some justification, ‘What’s the point of all this? We always end up in the same place’. That is a worrying place to be. 

Closing that gap will require a lot of things to happen. One is our political and official class becoming far more comfortable with technology and the digital age. Much of that world still thinks in paper, even when it operates through the web.

11. Any shout-outs? 

There are lots – really, LOTS – of interesting and inspirational thinkers about civic tech, design and the like to be found on Twitter. A very small selection of them: Richard Pope, Kate Tarling, Janet Hughes, Sarah Gold, Ben Holliday, Matt Edgar, Kit Collingwood, Dan Sheldon. There are many more.

You should obviously follow me as well, but I’m rubbish at Twitter. 

 

So, there you have it: a journey into the mind of Andrew Greenway. You can see more insights on his Twitter feed (he’s not rubbish). And if you do ever meet up over a cup of tea, just make sure your biscuits aren’t soggy.

Until next time…