Author: ChrisQ (Page 1 of 14)

Democracy Mark-up Language (DML), the Semantic Web and machine-readable policy documents: Thought Paper

The semantic web is a term used to describe a web which is made up not just of data but of data with attributed ‘meaning’.  The result of contexualising data and meaning is ultimately ‘machine-readable meaning’ i.e. the ability for a computer to understand that the word ‘Acne’ that appears on a website doesn’t refer to a skin condition but rather a brand of jeans.

The term ‘semantic web’ was coined by Tim Berners Lee based on the following vision

I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A “Semantic Web”, which makes this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The “intelligent agents” people have touted for ages will finally materialize.

Semantic languages &

Since 2001 when Tim Berners Lee set-forth his vision, various semantic vocabularies have been developed to enable people to mark-up web pages to give them meaning.  One of the leading markup vocabularies is, created as a collaboration of leading search engine organisations including Google, Bing, Yandex and others. was created to create widespread usage of semantic markup, and is broad in its scope incorporating 500+ ‘types’ and 800+ ‘properties’ meaning that can be applied to pretty much anything to date.

An example of mark-up structure, with its ‘types’ and ‘properties’ is as follows – using the website information of my local pub ‘The Duke of Edinburgh’ as an example:

BarOrPub / FoodEstablishment
itemprop=“name” Duke of Edinburgh
itemprop=“address” 204 Ferndale Road, Brixton, London SW9 8AG
Opening hours
itemprop=”opening hours” 5pm – 11:30pm

By adding this semantic markup language to the pubs website information enables Google (or other search engines / service that relies on open web data) to more easily understand the meaning of the information provided.

For example, a very important thing that it does is help Google understand that this information is related to an organisation (pub) called the Duke of Edinburgh rather than a ‘person’ called the same thing.

The result when searched via Google is this, when searching for ‘pub near me’

. . . rather than coming back with this 😉 (photo courtesy of Aaron McCracken)

When looking at’s application, one important area missing to date is democracy & legislation.

DML (democracy mark-up language)

In the context of Delib’s work, the idea of applying the semantic web to democratic processes (like policy creation and legislation)  highlights a whole raft of exciting advantages to enrich democracy.  We might call this specific mark-up language “Democracy Mark-up Language (DML).

Government policy & legislative documents are famously wordy and inaccessible, but at the same time are generally well-structured and part of a wider well-structured government process.

The natural structured nature of policy / legislation means it has the potential to be made more accessible by technology; the starting point for making this government policy data more accessible is providing an easy way to mark it up and give ‘machine-readable meaning’ to policy documents.

What this might look like from a practical perspective using, is something like this (using this proposed policy from Dept of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as an example )

PolicyDocument / Government Work


itemprop=“name” Ban on electronic training collars for cats and dogs in England
itemprop=“description” We are seeking views on banning electronic training collars (e-collars). These corrective behaviour devices allow electronic or static pulses and other signals to be given to pets by their owners.
itemprop=“organisation Dept of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
itemprop=“audience type” Anyone
Start Date
itemprop=“startdate” 12/03/2018
End Date
itemprop=enddate” 27/04/2018
itemprop=“EligibleRegion” England
Contact Point / Email
Feedback Point

Benefits / practical uses of DML applied to policy & legislative documents

Having applied DML to a series of government policy documents would then, like the pub example, enable search engines to more easily surface policy documents relevant to individuals.  For example, instead of searching for ‘pubs near me’ a person might search for ‘What government policies affect my local area?’ and the results may look something like . . .

Or alternatively more specifically a person may search for ‘What’s the latest with the government’s HS2 policy’? And the latest policy document would appear, along with the ability for the citizen to feedback on it. + Citizen Space

The hugely exciting bit in all of these is that we’re 90%+ there in making DML a reality.  Breaking down what’s needed to make DML work in practice at scale there’s 2 key parts, reliant on and Citizen Space.

  • Agreeing the DML language (via policy documents are very similar to other standard documents that are covered by’s type ‘CreativeWork’ so we’re 99% there with the language (types and properties).  I think there does need to be a sub-type of ‘CreativeWork’ which is ‘GovernmentWork’, which includes additional properties specific to policy and legislative documents like ‘feedback’ (relating to the ability for citizens to feedback / input into policy).
  • Easy application of DML to policy documents: sure, all of this DML idea sounds interesting in theory, but given that the practical application would involve civil servants needing to specifically add code to online documents to mark them up with DML, the idea would die very quickly – as no civil servant would have the time (or realistically the technical expertise) to add DML to their policies.

That’s luckily where Citizen Space comes in, as Citizen Space is already used by a high percentage of government departments (UK and Australia) to publish policy documents through.  To make DML a reality, Delib would need to map language (i.e. DML) to the existing structured data that Citizen Space is structured around.  N.B. to get a sense of how policies in Citizen Space are structured, check out the Citizen Space Aggregator.

This essentially would mean business as usual for the government departments who publish their policies via Citizen Space, but a huge potential step change in the value that government and citizens get out of the publishing of policies.

Appendix 1: Mapping to Citizen Space structured data

The following is a breakdown of existing language applied to policy documents listed in Citizen Space (according to the policy information structuring allowed for in Citizen Space).  I’ve added some additional notes and questionned some

Citizen Space policy document data ‘type’ or ‘property’ Notes (thoughts on appropriateness)
Document type GovernmentWork [type] NEW This doesn’t exist at present.  Only ‘CreativeWork’ exists as a ‘type’
Name Name
Overview description
Area  EligibleRegion
Audience audiencetype
Interest (interest category area) category
Organisation organisation
Department (of organisation) department
Consultation start date startDate
Consultation end date endDate
Contact Contactpoint (?) Or should this be ‘accountable person’ – refers to ‘legal owner’
Contact information (of owner) Telephonenumber, email
Feedback format (online survey, .pdf, email, event) FeedbackPoint [NEW]  This is a new property and does not exist at present
Related documents Citation (?) May not work, may need other option.
Language availablelanguage
Published response comment

Next steps?

DML is very much in concept phase at the moment, and this thought paper is a first articulation of what DML could be and the benefits.  If you’re interested in discussing the concept further, and are interested in applying it (especially if you work in government policy), drop us a note:

Delib + Ration Club Currystravaganza

Ever keen to meet new people and make more friends in the civic tech space, Delib were the guest hosts at Newspeak House’s weekly Ration Club supper club again last night – cooking up a curry-based storm for a group of 20+ civic tech folk. 

If you’ve never heard of Newspeak House before, it’s a member’s club/space focused on building a community around the civic tech space, and runs a regular communal dinner on Wednesday evening called Ration Club. 

Chris Q and Nate hosted the evening, cooking up two different curries – a tomatoey chicken curry with a kick, and a vegetable dahl. Yum! By all accounts the curry went down a storm, testament to the two giant curry vats being decimated by the end of the evening.  

Beyond the curry, a lot of good conversations were had & new friends made. Roll on the next Ration Club!

Practical Democracy Project

Practical Democracy Project: designing the ultimate democracy user-journey

The Practical Democracy Project is a series of events dedicated to looking at how technology can best be used to make every-day improvements to the democratic process – with a particular focus on policy-making at local and central government levels.

The overall aim of the Practical Democracy Project is to design the ‘ultimate democracy user-journey’.  On one side, we’ll be mapping out in practical terms how to create the best democratic user-journey for citizens, using technologies that dominate people’s everyday lives; on the other side, we’ll be mapping out the optimal user-journey for government officials/policy makers/elected officials.  The key point being that democratic processes are a two-sided affair, which need to be optimised for both citizens and government if they’re to work.

We’ll be running the Practical Democracy Project as an ongoing series of events held around the UK – with off-shoots (hopefully, if anyone’s interested!) in the US, Australia and New Zealand too.

Event topic ideas

  • Well-designed democracy: UX design in policy-making
  • Scale or no scale: how to scale public participation using technology
  • Security and identity in democratic processes: when to care the user isn’t really a dog
  • Process management: tips on running a rock solid policy consultation management process and how to avoid judicial review
  • Designing the ultimate democracy user-journey
  • Others??? (suggestions welcome!)

Event schedule

The first of the events in the series will take place on the morning of Tuesday 27th June (2017) at Newspeak House (London) – from 8.30am to 10.30am.

More event dates to come.

How to get involved

The Practical Democracy Project is very much a civic tech community project, and we’re looking for others to get involved.

Ways you can participate include:
  • Suggesting topics to run events around
  • Suggesting speakers
  • Participating in the events yourself

For more info or to kick in ideas, drop us a line on Twitter @delibthinks.
You can sign up and join us via Eventbrite

Adventures in Victoria – Mornington Peninsula

When I’m travelling around the world on one of our Delib Tours I’m like a dog, obediently following the directions of my colleagues and going wherever I’m told.

What this means is that I normally don’t know where I’m going, and certainly never know what to expect when I get there. The surprises normally come in the form of travel (e.g. finding out that the only way to get somewhere is by boat-plane), in the form of location (e.g. discovering the place has an amazing beach metres from the meeting location) or in the form of weather (e.g. discovering it’s so cold you can skate to your meeting!).

Today’s excitement has involved mostly the middle of those 3 surprises – i.e. discovering an amazing meeting location. In this case the amazing location was *Mornington Peninsula*, an amazingly beautiful Coastal Shire about 45kms North East of Melbourne.


Mornington’s very much a bit of a *not so well kept secret* of a place, where (apparently) wealthy Melbourne-ites decamp at weekends for sea-related activities (surfing or sailing) – and has similarities to parts of Cornwall in the UK, with its natural coastal beauty.


Beyond Mornington being a super beautiful place, it also has a pretty progressive Council who are interested in how the internet and wider Gov20 technologies can be used to better engage their widely dispersed and (partly) transient population.

Very kindly Jenni and the comms team had organised a big group of Council staff to come and listen to me talk about our varied work in the *digital democracy space*. Possibly the most interest aspect of the talk (for me at least) was the audience, who consisted of a wide range of people involved in the Council – from the Mayor, the CEO, Councillors and a wide breadth of Council staff – all of whom seemed interested in ways to help improve their engagement processes online.

Anyway, huge thanks to Jenni and her Mornington colleagues for organising the meeting, and I look forward to visiting the Peninsula in the near future! (Hope you enjoy the photos – if you look closely at the photo below you’ll see the skyline of Melbourne in the distance, 40kms away!)



Testing Delib’s new Perth office(s)

Technically Delib Australia’s head office is in Canberra – as this is where Craig, our new Delib Australia MD is based. However, as a software company with clients across the country our *HQ* is pretty much wherever does a great coffee and has good internet access.

Here’s a selection of potential new office locations we trialled whilst meeting lots of great government people across Perth and WA . . .

Burford Lunch Bar. Strengths: great sausage sandwich. Weaknesses: poor internet.

VANS cafe, Cottesloe. Strengths: great coffee. Weaknesses: (too) good chocolate brownies.

St Georges Terrace (the street). Strengths: mobility. Weaknesses: high chance of collision.

Beach front at Cottesloe. Strengths: great view. Weaknesses: no coffee.

Beach on Rottness Island. Strengths: sun. Weaknesses: none.

We’re still deciding which one we prefer best – though I know which I’ll be voting for . . .

An interview with Craig Thomler – new Delib Australia MD

Being a super social company we’re always keen to be as open as possible, and share as much information about us as a company, us as individuals and all the great stuff we do. So we thought the best way to start introducing Craig Thomler – our new Australia MD – to the world was via a quick interview. We did a couple a few months ago with Alison and Verne in Australia, so thought we’d use the same format (and questions).

So, here you go – first question . . .

When did you first use the internet, and what did you use it for?

I was using bulletin boards back in the 1980s before there was a publicly available internet in Australia, using a 900 baud modem, using it for games and chatting.

In 1995 I could see the potential of the internet – even though there were only a few thousand Australian users and I went to work at one of the first five commercial ISPs, running their customer service section for a few months before a group of us took off to found Australia’s first web content development and community management company.

What’s the most awesome online engagement project you’ve worked on?

Hard to pick one, but my heart always goes back to the work I did helping Telstra manage online engagement for the Wireplay gaming service in the mid-90s.

When it launched the service struggled technically to achieve smooth gameplay and there was an extremely vocal bunch of gamers criticising both it and Telstra. Though continuous community engagement and demonstrating how the community was being listened to, via online forums, we managed to turn views around. Some of their biggest critics even ended up working for Telstra!

What’s your top community engagement tip?

Listen to the community with an open heart and mind. Your community will almost always see things differently to you, have different concerns, wishes, perceptions and fears. Unless you listen actively you will never hear the true issues and will spend your time addressing symptoms – a more time-consuming, inefficient process that doesn’t deliver long-term outcomes.

Who’s your hero [and why]?

I prefer ‘small heroes’ to large heroes – there’s no-one I really look to as a perfect rolemodel, but there are tens of people who have one to two characteristics or skills I’d like to have. So here’s a list of a few people who have been heroes to me in various ways:

My wife Madeleine Clifford, who is one of the deepest thinkers and most effective strategists I know, who understands intuitively how to engage stakeholders, win and maintain their trust and deliver win-win outcomes

Pia Waugh, whose energy, enthusiasm and ability to build community and support is legendary

Rose Holley, whose vision for digitalising newspapers through crowdsourcing at the National Library is one of the most enduring and successful open government initiatives in Australia

Bernard De Broglio, who has almost single-handedly put Mosman Council on the global map as a Gov 2.0 leader

James Kliemt and Kim Charlton from Queensland Police, who have changed the game for emergency public engagement in Australia through the QPS Facebook and Twitter pages.

So there you go. I hope you now feel you know Craig a little better. If you want to get to know him even more, then follow him on Twitter @CraigThomler or drop him a mail

Chris and Craig’s April Australia adventure – dates

We’re big fans of alliteration at Delib. We’re also big fans of Australia. So, to celebrate the *official launch of Delib Australia* and the appointment of our new Australian MD Craig Thomler, we’re pleased to announce the dates for *Chris and Craig’s April Australia Adventure* – a tour of Australia by Chris and Craig in April.

[Australia image – thanks to]

The idea behind the tour is for us to do some *showing and telling* of the new look Delib Australia headed up by Craig, and give insights into our visions of citizen engagement 2.0 from an Australian and Global perspective; having worked doing Gov2.0 stuff for Australian Federal Government for the last 5 years, Craig’s got some great insights to share from an Australian perspective, and I (Chris) have a whole bunch of interesting global insights from my travels around the world.

If you’re interested in us dropping by to say hi + doing a *show and tell session* we’d be happy to – just drop Craig a note – Craig AT Here are the rough dates we’ll be visiting the different Australian States:

  • Perth / WA – Wednesday 11th to Friday 13th
  • Sydney / NSW – Monday 16th to Wednesday 18th
  • Brisbane / QLD – Thursday 19th to Friday 20th
  • Canberra / ACT – Monday 23rd
  • Adelaide / SA – Tuesday 24th
  • Melbourne / Victoria – Wednesday 25th to Friday 27th

The Psychology of web design – tips for app UX design from SXSW

We’re dedicated to constantly developing and improving our web apps, so they provide the best experience for citizens and provide the most friction free interaction with government as possible.

One of the key aspects of creating a friction free citizen experience is UX design – making the way users interact as easy and engaging as possible.

So it was great to get to listen to Jason Hreha, co-founder of West Coast Behaviour design company Dopamine, who’s a real UX fiend. Here’s what I learnt – which I’m hoping we can embrace more to improve our apps (even more).

The key thing Jason discussed was the *Fogg Behaviour Model* which states that 3 things need to coincide for behaviour to change:

  1. Ability: what can someone do on a website
  2. Motivation: how you can drive people to do the things you want them to
  3. Trigger: when do you get them to do whatever you want them to do


When looking at the *ability factors*, the key question is: *are we asking too much?*:

  • Time e.g. proxy for how hard / streamlined the expected experience is.
  • Money e.g. payment plans (freemium)
  • Physical effort e.g. text. Is there too much copy? Twitter is a great example – by limiting copy.
  • Mental effort e.g. are we asking for too much information? Is it difficult to understand?

And following this, the core question is *what is absolutely necessary*, and the key response is to get rid of everything else. The Power of Simplification rules.


When it comes motivation there’s two areas to consider 1) motivation driven by the product, and 2) motivation driven in screen.

  • Product motivation comes down to the basic questions *does the product provide users with value?* and *Does the product solve a pain point?* If you’re not solving a true problem, then app may be treated like a game and once the user’s finished playing there’s no driver to return. Jason pointed out that in his mind has this characteristic.
  • In-screen motivation comes down to providing constant positive feedback to users, so that they’re constantly rewarded for their behaviour encouraging further interaction and engagement. A simple example of this kind of positive feedback are progress charts in surveys (like in Quick Consult).


The basic reality is that people are probably going to forget your product / app, so you need to provide triggers to remind them to interact with it. A basic example of this is sending emails. Jason pointed out that there are 2 main triggers, onsite triggers and offsite triggers.

  • Onsite triggers are mainly based around calls to action (CTA). Calls to actions may have varied levels of ability thresholds – an example of a high threshold trigger is asking people to *make a post*; an example of a low threshold trigger is asking someone to heart / like something.
  • Offsite triggers are mainly based around *push messaging* like emails and text messages. So for example, you may provide users with the ability to sign up for weekly email alerts. Jason pointed out that ensuring you provide ways to opt out and control this messaging, then you won’t disengage a user.

So there you go. Some simple tips on how to improve UX design for your app courtesy of the nice people at SXSW.


Can laughter change the world? (notes from SXSW)

Baratunde Thurston is a very funny black man, and the online editor of the Onion. I point out the colour thing as it’s something that he indulges and has written hilariously about in his new book titled How to be Black (with the subtitle *if you don’t buy this book you’re a racist*)!

Anyway, the most interesting thing about Baratunda isn’t the fact he’s black, or the fact that he’s funny (and a very good speaker), but the fact that he believes comedy, and in particular satire, is a force for good and can help change the world.

In Baratunda’s SXSW keynote speech today in Austin, he interestingly talked through how satire sites (similar to the Onion) around the world have been keeping governments in check with a little wit and cheek. My favourites from his talk included:

The Ministry – from Afghanistan

Billed as the Afghan answer to The Office, The Ministry is a satire on the bribe-ridden and sexist world of Afghan government:

Praazit – Iran

Parazit (translated from Iranian as TV static) satirises the tight state media control in Iran, highlighting in particular the state government’s practice of blocking the TV signal and military crack down on home satellite dishes):

Laughter against the machine – US

Laughter against the machine are a US comedy group who are particularly active in the political satire space doing both stand-up tours and also online videos:

The whole role of satire is something that’s always been very close to us at Delib, as the first thing we (the Delib founders) ever did was run a political satire website called Spinon, during the 2001 General election in the UK. Now, comedy isn’t really part of the Delib mix, however the fundamentals of *trying to engage people as effectively as possible* is, and the rules of comedy can be usefully applied in the citizen engagement space.

The most epic commute in the world: Vancouver to Victoria

Back in December I wrote about the most awesome commute in the world (in Sydney). I’m pleased to say I’ve just gone one better – with a commute from Vancouver to Victoria by sea-plane.

So, flying to work is fairly epic in itself, but mix that with the fact that the runway is the sea, I got to ride alongside the pilot in the cockpit (every boy’s dream!) and the pilot’s playing jazz to keep himself (and me) chilled whilst flying through some epicly sea-soupy weather at 300 feet (which is frisking low BTW) – then all this tots up to be off-the-scale-awesome 😉

Here’s some snippets of my sea-plane adventures from earlier today . . .

We board the plane at the end of a pier (obviously)


I get to ride up front with the pilot (whoop!)


The pilot turns on the jazz, and we reduce our height from 1500 feet to 300 feet to keep below the cloud


We approach a murky and rainy Vancouver


After we land, the pilot proudly shows me his calming jazz CD that got us safely home


Parked up, we all head home to a wet downtown Vancouver


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