Author: ChrisQ

Podcast: a history of Delib – satire, games & digital democracy

On a Friday March afternoon in Bristol (UK), Delib founders Chris Quigley and Andy Parkhouse sat down with Delib director Ben Fowkes to lift the lid on the history of Delib as part of Delib’s new podcast series.

Founded 18 years ago, back in 2001, Delib has tracked – and arguably been a driving force behind – the positive influence of the internet on democracy, going against the grain of perceived wisdom that the internet is helping destroy democracy (for example, Facebook and the spread of fake news).

Delib’s unusual background in political satire, along with our involvement in some of the landmark moments in digital democracy history, including e-voting in 2002/3 and Barack Obama’s crowd-sourcing in 2008, provide some interesting context to how Delib evolved into the company it is now. Listen to the podcast at the bottom of this post, or for those who don’t have headphones to hand, here’s a quick summary of Delib’s history . . .

2001: Chris, Matt and Andy (Delib co-founders) set up a satirical website called Spinon.co.uk, aimed at making fun of politicians during the 2001 general election – all out of our student house at Bristol University.  Games like ‘Get to the Right of Jack Straw’, ‘Robin Cook’s Ethical Foreign Policy Simulator’ and ‘MP in a Blender’ make Spinon go viral and we have our 15 minutes of fame, whilst experiencing first-hand the internet’s potential effect on democracy.

‘Slap a Member’: one of Spinon’s games

2002-2003:we team up with BT and Accenture to help run the UK’s first e-voting pilots, where voters could vote in local elections using the internet, mobile phones and public internet kiosks. 

2004-2008: Delib is formally set up as a company, and gets involved in the National e-Democracy Project, funded by John Prescott’s Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, testing the use of online games in democracy. During this time, Delib also develops and tests over 15 new digital democracy products including:   

  • aMap: an ‘argument visualisation’ product (online and offline) designed to help people engage in complex issues through structuring and visualising arguments around a three-tier ‘informal logic’ structure.    
  • Picture Poll: a survey tool that visualises the response to questions, allowing you to see how your position compares to other participants (via a two-axis grid matrix)    
  • Budget Simulator: a simulator-based consultation tool where the citizen has to allocate their Council budget based on their personal priorities.  Variations include a cost-savings version, where the citizen has to try to make savings according to a set target.     
  • Election Alarm Clock: an SMS and email reminder service to help citizens never forget their local election date ever again!    
  • Dialogue App: a crowd-sourcing app designed for crowd-sourcing government policy.  Famously used by the Obama administration.    
  • Ideas Tree: more idea crowd-sourcing, but this time with ideas visualised as a tree!    
  • PimpMyParty: a game-based one-off consultation for David Cameron’s Conservative Party which ended up with 10,000’s responses, and nearly getting us sued by Viacom (for Pimp My Ride brand infringement).    –
  •  Citizen Space: Delib’s flagship policy consultation platform now used by 120+ government organisations around the world.
Ideas Tree
An early version of Citizen Space

2008: Delib collaborates with NAPA in Washington DC to run President Obama’s first crowd-sourcing processes, marking the start of the US Government’s OpenGov era.

2010: Delib works with the UK’s coalition government on their mass-scale crowd-sourcing processes ‘Your Freedom’ and ‘the Spending Challenge’, involving tens of thousands of ideas.

2012: Delib sets up Delib Australia / New Zealand and quickly acquires both Federal and State government customers.

2012-present: Delib doubles down on 3 core products – Citizen Space, Simulator and Dialogue – with a focus on building digital democracy infrastructure to improve and change how day-to-day democracy is run.

Listen to the full podcast chat between Ben, Andy and Chris below . . .

Aerial view of Hamilton, New Zealand

Podcast: how tech is speeding up democratic decision-making in NZ

You can listen to the podcast at the bottom of this post, or read on for a summary of the key points.

On a cold rainy winter night in Bristol, UK, and a sunny warm morning in Hamilton, New Zealand, Delib Director Ben Fowkes had a conversation with Julie Clausen from Hamilton City Council about how they’ve been using Delib’s Citizen Space tool to run various elements of their democratic process.

Given the current media noise around the negative impact of digital technologies on democracy – primarily Facebook’s influence on recent global elections – it was refreshing to get a view from inside government on the positive effects of technology on democracy.

So compelling was the conversation with Julie, we decided to turn the conversation into our first Delib podcast – which you can listen to at the bottom of this post. Key take-aways from the conversation largely focus on specific uses of the Citizen Space platform having significant impact on various parts of Hamilton’s democratic process, which I’ll summarise here.

Julie and her team ran a consultation on Citizen Space for Hamilton’s 10 Year Plan. They were expecting high levels of participation, and they set two key objectives:
1) Getting elected members to feed back quickly; and
2) Handling a large number of responses.
Citizen Space helped them achieve these objectives in a number of specific ways.

Speeding up the feedback loop with Response Publishing

Core to Hamilton City’s management of their 10 Year Plan consultation was the use of Citizen Space platform – specifically, its Response Publishing functionality – to enable elected members to quickly read citizen’s submissions and then rapidly feed back and publicly publish responses. The result was to turn what had previously been a sluggish, two-month-long process into a four-week process. This is despite the fact that they saw a tenfold increase in responses: whereas previously they could expect 300 responses, their 10 Year Plan consultation received about 3000. By using Citizen Space they were able to radically speed up and scale up their democratic process.

Informing / engaging elected members using filters & tagging

Elected members took to using Citizen Space really well for two main reasons:
1) using the keyword search functionality enabled them to quickly find the specific submissions that were relevant to their local area; and
2) by using filters, they could identify hot topics (topics with the most comments) and dig further into those.

Using real-world digital technologies (via iPads) to engage community groups & older demographics

The Hamilton team used Citizen Space’s ‘kiosk’ mode to consult face-to-face using iPads, talking to people out and about, in playgrounds/parks, as well as targeting older people by visiting retirement villages.

Creating more efficient ‘Public Hearing’ processes via central data aggregation (both offline and online)

Historically, the public hearing process would take around 2 months to complete – including collation / publishing – meaning that most people who’d participated initially would have lost interest.  Comparatively, using Citizen Space, verbal hearings started happening within two weeks, with decision-making happening another two weeks later. By compacting the process down into four weeks, they created a much better and more engaged democratic process.  As Julie says in the podcast: ‘From a democracy perspective people not only could see the process moving along, but that people also felt that Council was taking their feedback seriously and having a real effect on decision-making.’

From a democracy perspective, people not only could see the process moving along, but that people also felt that the Council was taking their feedback seriously and having a real effect on decision-making.’

Scaling up participation

The benefits of scaling participation on such a significant level meant that there was a greater representation of the community.  A big part of the strength of Citizen Space was having no barrier to take part immediately – providing greater ease and access.  Julie succinctly summarises the benefits of using technology: ‘online increases access and getting a response rather than getting a reaction.’ This is a result that is at the core of Delib’s DNA, as a company wanting to promote more deliberative constructive democratic processes.

The podcast interview with Julie is truly fascinating to listen to if you’re interested in what happens behind the scenes of Council democracy, so give it a listen.

Finally, if you’re in New Zealand you can talk to Hamish – Delib’s NZ consultant based out of Christchurch – about everything Response Publishing and Citizen Space related.  Email: hamish@delib.net

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 & Schema.org

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 Schema.org, created as a collaboration of leading search engine organisations including Google, Bing, Yandex and others.

Schema.org was created to create widespread usage of semantic markup, and is broad in its scope incorporating 500+ ‘types’ and 800+ ‘properties’ meaning that Schema.org can be applied to pretty much anything to date.

An example of Schema.org 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:

Type:
BarOrPub / FoodEstablishment
itemtype=“http://schema.org/BarOrPub”
Properties:
Name
itemprop=“name” Duke of Edinburgh
Address
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’

When looking at Schema.org’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 Schema.org, is something like this (using this proposed policy from Dept of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as an example https://consult.defra.gov.uk/animal-health-and-welfare/ban-on-electronic-training-collars-cats-and-dogs/consult_view/ )

Type:
PolicyDocument / Government Work

itemtype=“http://schema.org/GovernmentWork”

Properties:
Name
itemprop=“name” Ban on electronic training collars for cats and dogs in England
Description
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.
Organisation
itemprop=“organisation Dept of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Audience
itemprop=“audience type” Anyone
Start Date
itemprop=“startdate” 12/03/2018
End Date
itemprop=enddate” 27/04/2018
Geography
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.

Schema.org + 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 Schema.org and Citizen Space.

  • Agreeing the DML language (via Schema.org): policy documents are very similar to other standard documents that are covered by Schema.org’s type ‘CreativeWork’ http://schema.org/CreativeWork so we’re 99% there with the Schema.org 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 Schema.org 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 Schema.org to Citizen Space structured data

The following is a breakdown of existing Schema.org 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 Schema.org ‘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: chrisq@delib.net

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

Government as a platform (infographic)

I first came across the idea of “government as a platform” when I was interviewing Tim O’Reilly last year year. Tim’s quickest way of explaining “gov as a platform” was using the iPhone as an analogy: i.e. just as the iPhone’s value has been optimised by opening up the iPhone platform to a legion apps (provided by 3rd parties), so government should do the same to optimise its value.

What *government as a platform* might look like in practice therefore, is a government opening itself up (from a data, policy and function perspective) and letting (social) entrepreneurs build apps (real or virtual) to help facilitate the various functions of government in a more effective / efficient way.

As a way of explaining this, we’ve developed up an infographic to show how *government as a platform* could work [see below] from an open policy-making perspective – as this is our specific area of interest.

Possibly the two most interesting *layers* in this model to consider are the *app* and *delivery* layers, as each of these are arguably best produced by 3rd parties – social entrepreneurs or the 3rd Sector.

This is model is increasingly being adopted by the UK government (with its Big Society initiative) and from my travels is something that’s also emerging in Australia too.

Excitingly for us, we see ourselves fitting into the *app layer* with our plethora of digital democracy apps and also from an overall *platform perspective* with our Citizen Space platform, which can be used to manage the whole process from an engagement perspective.

@DelibThinks