Author: Dani Topaz (Page 1 of 5)

Introducing our new Scotland account manager: Lauren LaRocca

The warmest of welcomes to our newest regional account manager, Lauren, who will be taking care of our growing pantheon of Scottish customers. Hooray! As is compulsory for all new starters, we asked her some Very Important Questions about biscuits and stuff.

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

Hi! I’m Lauren, originally from the mitten-shaped state (Michigan, USA), now living back in bonny Edinburgh, Scotland after several years residing on a beautiful, small rock in the Irish Sea — the Isle of Man.

2. Favourite band and/or artist?

Oh, this is a tough one as I have a very eclectic taste and it just depends on the day, my mood, what I’m doing. So, let’s just go with someone who has solid jams that are always good — Bruce Springsteen.

3. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?

A bit of both — I love being organised and making lists, but am equally comfortable ripping everything up and seeing what happens. 

4. You (and, for the sake of keeping it interesting, any spouses/partners/kids/significant others) 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?

Assuming I will have a solar panel to generate electricity (if not, then add that in too) my kindle, a kickass knife, knitting needles with a lifetime supply of yarn, and my notebook.

5. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

Mostly no dunking as I only drink herbal teas and don’t like biscuit crumbs in my tea. I like cookies (not biscuits) dunked in milk, not tea. And Oreos should only ever be eaten dunked in milk.

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

I’ve had a bit of a meandering career, beginning in the environment and sustainability education / community engagement non-profit world, shifting to IT and public services, winding back into the eco-world, to return to tech and citizen engagement. 

7. Why did you want to join Delib?

Lennon had it right with ‘Power to the people’ as public services are better when citizens have a voice in decision-making.
From the people to the products to the ethos – I truly believe, and have seen first-hand how Delib helps government and related organisations be better through effective citizen engagement and consultation, ultimately working towards a stronger, deliberative democracy – and I really wanted to be part of the movement.

8. Any shout outs, comments or other musings?

Shout out to the great folks at Delib who quickly added me into their fold and to my former team at GTS who supported (or more accurately lightheartedly ribbed) my deep admiration of consultations and Citizen Space.

Welcome aboard Lauren!

Citizen Space v5.6 will be rolled out this week

Usually we send release announcements out directly to customers and upload them to our Zendesk knowledge base, but we’re working hard behind the scenes to make our tools continually better and everyone should know about it. For validation reasons.

Several of the latest releases from our Kaizen (continuous improvement) milestone process have delivered longed-for improvements and even a couple of shiny new answer components, but that means we were about due for a more lowkey, humdrum, ironing-out-the-creases release and that’s what Citizen Space v5.6 is all about. This one is mostly behind-the-scenes tucks and tweaks, including fixes for bugs that customers hopefully haven’t encountered, with a modest sprinkling of visible changes which you can read more about below.

What’s new?

Manage Theme will now automatically resize images

Sometimes consultation owners accidentally upload a large banner image or logo to a consultation which results in a slow load time for the page (potentially eating up mobile users’ data) only for the browser to have to resize it anyway. In this release we’ve changed it so that all banner images and logos uploaded to Citizen Space via Manage Theme will now be resized to appropriate dimensions automatically, which should hopefully remove the headache for any users who are not so savvy when it comes to file sizes.

We uploaded the above banner image as an example. It was over 5MB and Citizen Space has automatically resized it. Photo credit to Balazs Busznyak via Unsplash.

“Add a response manually” view will list all errors at the top of the page

We’ve made another improvement to the “Add a response manually” view where site users can input offline responses. Previously, if you tried to add a response and missed any validation (such as a required question or not entering the correct content in a specific component) Citizen Space would alert you that there was at least one error but you had to scroll through the survey to spot the error text and fix the problem. We’ve hopefully made life a bit easier for users by changing it so that any missed validation will now be listed in error messages which stack up at the top of the page, including links allowing them to whizz directly to each component that needs looking at. Hurrah!

The file upload component debuts a new look for Autumn/Winter 2019

We’ve made some changes to the user experience of the public-facing file upload answer component. The button to choose a file is now bigger with a cleaner design and, once the respondent has selected a file, another button will now appear giving them the option to clear the file if they wish (previously, there was no way to remove a file once chosen).

There is also a new message which appears in light yellow, once a file has been selected, to let the respondent know that changes will only be saved once they continue to another page in the survey.

If a respondent returns to a page with a file upload component where they’ve already uploaded a file, they’ll see a message in light blue letting them know they can keep the existing file, remove it or replace it by uploading a different file if they choose.

And much more…

As mentioned above this release has also tidied up a whole bunch of little niggles including the usual bug fixes, behind-the-scenes security and performance improvements.

If you’d like to learn more about Citizen Space or our other continually improving democracy tools, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through them.

In-depth planning engagement with Citizen Space’s configurable hub

Planning and development is a complicated process. Growing populations need more infrastructure, but existing communities don’t want ugly high-rises on their doorsteps. It’s a difficult balance. In the UK, a study estimated that just 7% of the population trust their local authority to act with integrity in matters of planning.

When it comes to consulting the public on plans, a single public consultation is rarely sufficient. The people rightly expect to be consulted at the different stages in the process. Keeping an open discussion is an important element to creating places that are desirable for existing and future populations. 

Citizen Space now has a configurable hub, meaning that organisations can add featured consultations, additional subject headings, images and more to their consultation hub. It looks really nice, but it has some important practical implications beyond aesthetics.

It gives users the ability to categorise their consultation and engagement activity beyond just open and closed. This article focuses on two organisations who have used the configurable hub to host full-spectrum planning engagement exercises.

The Western Australia Department of Planning, Lands & Heritage (DPLH)

Screenshot of Western Australia Department of Planning, Lands & Heritage's planning engagement project, The Street Where You Live, on Citizen Space.
The Street Where You Live as seen on Citizen Space
Screenshot of Western Australia Department of Planning, Lands & Heritage's planning engagement project, The Street Where You Live, on Citizen Space.
Surveys, quick polls and FAQs

DPLH is running an expansive democratic exercise called ‘The Street Where You Live’, which asks residents what they think the future of planning and urban density in their area should look like. The project is hosted in the suburb of Carlisle. Carlisle is considered a representative community for the wider area of Perth and Peel, which is predicted to have a population surge in the coming years. Respondents from other areas can still take part. The data collected will essentially create a publicly deliberated model of the future, which planners will take into account when they consider how to support a growing population.

Why it’s good: Firstly, the project in itself is a really cool democratic exercise and demonstrates how important the public’s opinions are when it comes to preparing for the future. Secondly, the DPLH have used the configurable hub in a way that very clearly separates the different types of activities from each other and the project itself from the rest of their Citizen Space activity. They are, after all, a Planning, Lands and Heritage authority, so the separation is important to ensure that it doesn’t get confused with their other consultation activity. Respondents can visit the dedicated tab and access Quick Polls, surveys, FAQs and focus group registration, all from one page. The project’s central page means that respondents are able to follow the story of that particular engagement activity with ease.

Central Lancashire

Screenshot of Central Lancashire's Local Plan engagement site on Citizen Space
Screenshot of Central Lancashire's Local Plan engagement site on Citizen Space

Central Lancashire are using Citizen Space slightly differently, in that their whole site is dedicated to their Local Plan. It hosts two main surveys: Issues and Options for the draft Plan, and Phase 3 of a Call for Sites, which is an opportunity for residents and organisations to request certain developments. There’s also a separate Equalities Monitoring survey and a version of the Issues and Options consultation for young people. 

Why it’s good: It’s great to see a separate youth survey. It seems obvious given that young people will be living with planning decisions for longest, but we don’t often come across planning engagement that specifically seeks the views of young people on how their community should be shaped. The main Issues & Options consultation is packed with supporting information, a summary video and links to related events. The online consultation is being hosted in local libraries, so those without internet/computer access can still fill it online if they wish.

If you’d like to learn more about what Citizen Space can do for your organisation, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

Introducing our newest New Zealand account manager: Tim Roper

It’s tradition within Delib to publicly celebrate (read: embarrass) all new starters by splashing a big ol’ photo of them on the blog. We’re very happy to welcome Tim into the mix, who’s joined our New Zealand operation and will be taking care of our Kiwi customers. We asked him some of life’s most important questions.

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

My name is Tim and I’m originally from London. I moved to New Zealand at a young age and grew up in Christchurch. In 2015 I moved up to Wellington for work and have now settled on the Kāpiti coast, a beautiful part of the country that I feel lucky to call home.

2. Favourite band and/or artist?

Ah, the impossible question. I’m a fan of music played low and slow so Johnny Cash  and The National are two of my favourites. Equally, I’m a sucker for slightly offbeat vocalists, so really enjoy the likes of Florence and the Machine, Amy Winehouse and Lorde. Having said all that, if I had to listen to one artist for the rest of time, it’d be Elton John (this might be Rocketman soundtrack based recency bias, but I’m sticking to it).

3. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?

I wouldn’t claim enough inventiveness to call myself a maverick thinker but I really enjoy figuring out ways to make iterative improvements in my work and hobbies. I’m also in favour of creating routines and structures that give you enough room to think freely but keep pulling you along a productive path. Maybe that makes me a creature of habit open to maverick thinking? 

4. You (and, for the sake of keeping it interesting, any spouses/partners/kids/significant others) 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?

We have a chest full of items with special significance for our family, so I’d grab that. Might be cheating as it’s full of precious things but you have to admit a chest full of treasures on a desert island just feels right.

5. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

Dunk gingernuts, leave all others unsullied. Only the humble gingernut can handle a vigorous dunking and still come out with a semblance of structural integrity. Soggy biscuits are the snack equivalent of mushy peas – entirely unnecessary.

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

I come from a hospitality background, working for one of New Zealand’s largest breweries in a variety of roles during university and into adult life.  This was following in a fine family tradition, as I spent my first ten years of life living in a flat above a North London pub my parents looked after.

7. Why did you want to join Delib?

I think Delib is doing something important and innovative, which was immediately appealing to me. The approach Delib takes in trying to improve the democratic process is one I can believe in and gives me the chance to do fulfilling and impactful work. Plus, Delib seems to be full of truly excellent people trying to do good work, which is something I want to be involved in.

8. Any shout outs, comments or other musings?A big shout out to the whole team for being so welcoming and helpful. Special thanks to Katharine, Louise, Natalie and Hamish for their help in getting me up to speed. 

Thanks Tim! We’re happy to have you on board 🥳

Follow Tim on Twitter.

We’re hiring! Commercial Consultant, Bristol

I need to hire someone to help improve democracy, which, as you may have noticed, isn’t functioning terribly well right now. Democracy is multi-faceted and by extension multi-broken but that doesn’t mean that hope is lost or that people aren’t trying to change things. Delib is part of that change and we want to continue to scale our work and its impact. To do that I need to hire a Commercial Consultant.

Delib is a digital democracy company that makes online software platforms and products which are in use by 160+ governments bodies around the world, mostly in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, with the latter managed from Bristol, England’s greatest city. 

Our technology helps involve the public in the ongoing decision making of governments, decisions which directly affect the lives of all of us. Everything from planning for the impacts of climate change, to setting policing priorities, to historic constitutional issues. That’s mostly done by a process called consultation, a key part of every policy, regularly and service change, which had become somewhat staid and certainly not as democratic as it was originally intended to be. The internet has helped to reverse that and increasingly our technology is used to run more effective, more inclusive and more open democratic processes, in ways that weren’t possible 20 years ago. 

We also recognise that lasting change can’t be achieved without educating and informing public officials and people hoping to progress into public service. As such, Delib hosts the Practical Democracy Project event series, the Practical Democracy Podcast and a publishing operation, all of which spread professional knowledge and practice. 

The difficulty with Delib’s work, and indeed our mission more broadly, is that it’s not always easy to persuade public bodies to procure our technology, for any number of reasons: pressure on budgets, a top-down approach to decision making, a change in political leadership, a comms team who’ve seen snake oil for sale, etc, etc, etc. Consequently, Delib has developed a solid commercial arm which already includes consultants, content writers and communication roles.

How it works
Potential customers appreciate that we sell our products in an intelligent and helpful way, grounded in an understanding of their needs.

Sometimes the job involves people approaching us, sometimes we have to find them ourselves – but either way they can’t buy anything unless they understand how the products work. As such, a big part of what we do (and what I’d need from you) is to generate interest in having a demonstration of our platforms. Most of the time we do it remotely via screenshare; sometimes we do it in person.

In order to manage our commercial goals we do all the usual things: operate a CRM system, audit markets, look for emerging markets, plan sales-based marketing campaigns, obsess over individual and company pipelines, establish short, medium and long term sales targets and yes, we also have strict KPIs, which you’ll be expected to hit.

In time, the role will evolve as your knowledge increases, with the expectation that you will demonstrate Delib’s technology and close your own sales.

We have the flattest management structure possible, with this role reporting to me directly (joy) and ultimately Andy, the MD, without any of the usual layers of corporate nonsense, processes or language. 

Who should apply?
I need someone first and foremost with a work ethic, a brain and quite possibly a point to prove. Our work is difficult, knowledge based and long-term, and the win condition of selling anything can be months aways. As such, the virtue of patience is key with a real emphasis on building genuine relationships with public officials who you could still be working with in ten years time, assuming the sale doth made. 

In an ideal world you’ll also have:

  • a few years in a consultative commercial role under your belt, preferably in a B2B environment
  • an appreciation for autonomous working
  • an appetite to learn really rather a lot about democracy
  • flexibility to work with potential customers in Australia, New Zealand and other territories, which can involve early starts or evening calls
  • the ability to explain complex ideas, simply
  • a pedantic respect for grammar, punctuation and proof reading
  • an utter disrespect for business speak (we don’t touch base, even moving forwards)

What’s in it for you?
If your primary motivation is cash we’re probably not the company for you.
We reward people with: excellent working conditions; autonomy; office chairs that cost more than your first car, free food (and 73 types of arguably pointless tea); company holidays; your own Mac; a single line dress code – wear clothes; and the chance for your work to directly improve democracy. Salaries are based on capability and rise in comfortable chunks as your knowledge and ability to create sales is proven.  Sorry, no Mondeo.

We’re offering 25-30K as a starting salary based on experience and the job is based in Bristol. Don’t live here already? Move, it’s rad. 

Cheers! Ben F.

The closing date is December 20th for this post and applications can be sent to

You also need to know that 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).

Please no recruitment companies, it’s not our thing.

Privacy Notice for UK & EU Job Applicants

Public participation and the policy cycle: lessons from the City of Edinburgh

David Porteous, Strategy and Insight Manager at the City of Edinburgh Council, doesn’t speak in sentences. He speaks in measured, fully-formed paragraphs, and has a lot to say. This piece is taken from a conversation I had with him in August, where we spoke for an hour and a half and covered so much ground that I’m breaking it up into three different articles. It would seem a disservice to try and whittle it down into just one.

He’s been a public servant to the City of Edinburgh for 15 years, so he knows a thing or two about the inner workings of a local authority. Some background: City of Edinburgh have been Delib customers since 2014. Since then, they’ve used all three of our tools, and their Citizen Space subscription has remained constant throughout.

One thing that was really interesting to hear him talk about was the specific ways in which consultation ties into policy-making at City of Edinburgh Council. There are myriad different ways to consult the public, and we see most of them used on Citizen Space, Delib’s flagship digital consultation tool, at some point or other.

Consultation as research

What struck me about hearing David talk about how Edinburgh do it is that there’s so much more to consultation than just getting some comments on a policy draft. When done effectively, it functions as continuous, ongoing research. Consultation can be to the public sector what market research is to the private sector: getting feedback on existing systems/policies, gauging public interest in introducing schemes, and getting an idea of what the public want for the future. The way Edinburgh consult integrates with all stages of their policy cycle: formulation, design, implementation and evaluation.

Practically, this means consulting in multiple stages, which they do frequently, particularly on higher-profile consultations. Edinburgh’s Draft Tourism Strategy 2030 – Phase 3 is open on their site at time of writing.

Screenshot of Edinburgh's Tourism Strategy consultation, which will be incorporated in the policy cycle
Edinburgh’s Tourism Strategy consultation, which will be incorporated into the policy cycle

“We use consultation for multiple purposes. Sometimes it is statutory – government has told us that we have to do this and therefore we will do it as well as we can. And sometimes what we’re thinking about is how we push a particular agenda around something. That could be us building genuine public support for it; that could be about us gauging existing public support; and that can be about us creating mandates for change.

“Our approach has been to go as far as we can with each stage, to understand what the support is for our thinking at that stage, and then to see if we can go further with it. If we were to look at something like the city centre transformation, we had a large engagement activity that took place last year where we were testing attitudes to a lot of different policy areas. What will fall out of that, what already has in some cases, is more detailed consultation activity this year. A low emissions zone for the city was something that was floated for the first time last year, and this year we consulted on the specifics of introducing it, which was very well supported both times. With the introduction of a ‘tourist tax’, we had the same thing: a testing of public attitudes in a ‘general sense’ consultation, and then we’ll follow up with the specifics of introducing a policy as and when it becomes legal for us to do it.”

Citizen Space allows people to go back and follow that thread of engagement activity; people can go back and see…the consultation that happened [and] the response to it, and then follow that through to the next phase.

It means that they’re consulting more often, but Citizen Space’s centralised platform means it’s easy for citizens to keep track of the updates. Consultations can link back to previous iterations, link to or embed feedback reports, and summaries of consultation results and subsequent actions can be seen under the ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ tab on an organisation’s consultation hub.

“Citizen Space allows people to go back and follow that thread of engagement activity; people can go back and see, that was the consultation that happened on whether or not there should be a Low Emissions Zone in Edinburgh; that was the response to it; and then follow that through to the next phase where we consult on the specifics of introducing it.”

Testing the water

Using the multi-stage consultation process does involve more work and planning, rather than the typical approach of developing policy and keeping consultation fairly separate from the process until the later stages. However, for Edinburgh, it’s actually created efficiencies in that they’re not creating policies that wind up being vehemently opposed by the public after the work’s already been put in developing them.

“For any area of policy development, our concerns are…” He laughs. “It sounds ridiculous, but ‘what do the public think about this?’ And it’s not even necessarily about whether they’d support this measure or oppose it. It’s literally that we often don’t know if something is in public consciousness at all when we start talking about it. Local authorities are very goldfish-bowl areas and it’s difficult to be able to tell if an issue is something ever discussed outside of council offices. Even something serious like children’s social work, like as not, if there was a major issue the average person in the street would know nothing about it, so it’s useful being able to test that public awareness initially. Then it would be about making sure that we can have a conversation which is informing and rational. What we’re often concerned about, and I’m sure this is the case for any organisation with a political focus, is that we don’t want to have an incredibly difficult conversation which throws up only opposition to every suggestion or idea, or creates turbulence,  disruption and difficulty for all of our elected members, and doesn’t actually result in any change. Sometimes what we’re doing is, in a sense, dipping our toe in the water rather than jumping in.”

“In terms of what Citizen Space is good at doing, it’s about us being able to present ideas in a safe way to people … Not creating political difficulties by having too broad a discussion, or a discussion that was too much on one specific problematic area. It’s about getting real, meaningful agreement to something. If you’re dealing with a community of interest you may find that if you start saying ‘we want to implement Policy X, that is the one we want to go for’. If 30% of your audience are still of a view that we shouldn’t implement any policy at all in that area, that’s disruptive for having a meaningful conversation about the nature of any policy should be. Splitting those two things apart, saying ‘there’s one discussion which is about whether or not we should do something, and then there’s a later discussion about the specifics of what that should be.’ So we don’t have that second set of discussions muddied by people who are trying to wreck the process. And if we’re honest that is not an uncommon thing.”

Part of the policy-making cycle

A good example of how consultation is incorporated into all stages of the policy cycle is the issue of a ‘tourist tax’. The issue became part of the policy agenda after a significant number of people spontaneously suggested it should be introduced in a consultation. Policy formulation was supported with a ‘testing-the-water’ consultation last year. That consultation – and the support from residents and tourists that it demonstrated – helped convince the Scottish Government to grant Edinburgh powers to implement a tax. Currently, the Council are working on the specifics of implementation, which will go out to consultation again later this year.

“We detected, over time, an increase in the number of people who felt that Edinburgh Festivals make Edinburgh a worse place to live. Now, that started off about 6-7 years ago when less than .5% of all residents felt that. In the most recent survey, which was Autumn 2018, it was up to 7%. Very small numbers – let’s not kid ourselves – but a growing percentage of people, and a lot of that concentrated around the areas where tourism has the biggest impact.

“Then  three years ago we had the budget engagement activity where we asked for suggestions and more than 100 people spontaneously came to us and said ‘you should introduce a tourist tax in Edinburgh’. We’d never had anything close to that before, for any issue. So we looked into it, and we found that the impact of the tourism, particularly in terms of short-term holiday lets, whilst relatively small across the whole city, was huge in some areas. You could go to a particular post code and you could find 25% of all the properties in that postcode being used for short-term lets. This is still a completely unregulated market in Scotland. The expectation of rental return for a two-bed property in the city centre could be four times higher with short-term lets than with sitting tenants, so there’s a clear financial incentive for people who are intending to use properties for short-term lets to bid more in the Scottish sale system… so all of that is our context.

“When we’d had discussions with the Scottish government previously about introducing a tourist tax, their position was very firmly no. And Edinburgh was the only local authority where tourism was any sort of bother at all. Everybody else is like, please send us your tourists! Also, Edinburgh is a lynchpin for how people travel in Scotland; almost everyone who’s visiting internationally begins and/or ends their visit to Scotland in Edinburgh. Putting people off coming to Edinburgh or making that more expensive could potentially have some big knock-on effects, so it’s not like Scottish government didn’t have a reasonable position. However, eventually we got enough support to do some specific, tailored research.

It was about us recognising that there is a problem, and then…a certain amount of political leadership; doing the initial gathering of information, and then we get to a point where we can begin to test this very controversial issue publicly.

“We found out that actually, there was support from tourists and residents for the introduction of modest charges. We consulted people about a level of charge. That was enough for us to build momentum and for Scot Gov to finally give consent for these powers to be developed, and hopefully that will happen reasonably soon. Following on from that there’ll be a second stage of consultation which will be the specific issues of how this is done. It was about us recognising that there is a problem, and then…a certain amount of political leadership; doing the initial gathering of information, and then we get to a point where we can begin to test this very controversial issue publicly. And in the case of the tourist tax what we found was that public attitude actually overtook our own.”

Using consultation in the way that they do requires striking up a delicate balance, both with external organisations like the Scottish Government, and with internal council staff. In practical terms, this means releasing consultations at the right point in the policy-making cycle.

I think there’s a perspective that local government comes to consultation with decisions already made. We open our doors to the public and inside is the finished thing and we want a big green tick. And that is generally not the case.

“I think there’s a perspective that local government comes to consultation with decisions already made. We open our doors to the public and inside is the finished thing and we want a big green tick. And that is generally not the case. But anything the public see will be the work of multiple people, multiple teams, usually months but sometimes years in planning. It is always possible to influence the outcome of a consultation, but it can be hard for officers to keep their enthusiasm for a delivering the changes,” David says, and laughs. “Everybody encounters exhaustion, and if the particular policy area is something that has been worked on in private for two years before it sees the light of day through an engagement activity, you can bet money that the officers who have had to push it that far would strongly prefer not to make any more changes to it. Timing when consultation happens is about getting something out in an unfinished-enough state that we are comfortable with people seeing it, but at the same time it’s not too worked on that people become deeply invested in it.”

Closing the feedback loop

It’s clear that citizen feedback from consultations very much informs the direction of policy-making at Edinburgh in many cases. So what’s their process of giving feedback to citizens and, to use a favourite Delib phrase, closing the loop?

“I have never encountered a point where a senior manager of the organisation has not been interested in what the public have to say about something and that’s the same for elected members. We really don’t have those entrenched positions around things people sometimes assume. Oftentimes, you will find that we will receive public feedback and even if the public feedback is ‘that seems fine’ we will look for opportunities to make changes in order to demonstrate that we have listened to people. So sometimes we go further than we need to, in order to demonstrate that we really are listening.”

“Now what we reflect back to the public, I think we could be much better on. Where we fall down almost all the time is on saying why we didn’t do things and that’s equally important. Where we’re saying ‘no’ to something, we need to say why we’re saying no to it. There are good examples of where we’ve done that, but generally speaking we don’t do enough and I don’t see that from other organisations either. I think it’s very easy, to go, ‘you said this, and aren’t we nice, we did this’. It’s tough to go back to people who have invested their time giving you a response and to say no to them specifically. There’s always the instinct to put a spin around it, and I think we need to be better at resisting that because we have a more adult conversation if sometimes we can be comfortable with the answer being no, as long as we’re able to evidence why that answer is no, rather than trying to gaslight everybody into thinking that we’ve said yes to everything.

“In the short term it doesn’t do us any good to have those difficult conversations and therefore people want to avoid having them at all. That creates pressure for us just to sell the positives of what we’ve done, but the positive is not the whole truth around it, and arguably in the long term that does undermine trust in the process.”

Consultation and policy-making are not always so closely intertwined, but local authorities are made to serve the public at the end of the day, and citizens’ views should be at the heart of every decision. It was promising to hear from a local authority that works in this way.

Keep an eye out for the third and final part of my conversation with David in the coming weeks.

If you’d like to learn more about what Citizen Space can do for your organisation, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

Read part one: Education, empathy, Edinburgh: fostering understanding with Simulator

Introducing the Practical Democracy Podcast

What is participatory budgeting, and what does it have to do with a small Brazilian community 30 years ago?
Have citizens’ assemblies gone from being democratic unicorns to an invasive species?
Is digital democracy the new infrastructure?

Welcome to the first episode of the Practical Democracy Podcast. We’re going out into the world to talk to some interesting people about practical ways in which we can improve democracy, today.

This time, Delib director Ben Fowkes sits down with Dr Rebecca Rumbul, head of research at civic tech charity mySociety, for a frank conversation on the state of democracy in the UK. The full episode is just under an hour long, so if you can’t listen all in one go, here are the topic headings:

0.00 Rebecca explains her role in mySociety and the wider work of the charity

12.48 On participatory budgeting: how it came about and the challenges it faces today

27:27 On citizens’ assemblies: is their rise in popularity good or bad? And what’s involved in actually running one?

36:08 Funding: mySociety is a charity, and their flagship website TheyWorkForYou is used both within government and by the public at large – but it doesn’t get funded at all. Rebecca makes a case for recognition from central government that “digital democracy is the new infrastructure”.

Grab a coffee, pop some headphones on and give it a listen below – I promise it’s worth your while.

Follow Rebecca on Twitter; if you’d like to find out more about Delib’s products, do get in touch.

Engaging with sports fans

Our customers use Citizen Space to engage on an enormous range of topics, from things you might expect – like council budgets and planning permissions – to engaging with fans of sport. Who said consultation had to be dry? Here are two organisations who’ve run sports-related engagement on Citizen Space.

Police Scotland

In an incident in 2018, five people were injured after a bottleneck in Celtic Park, Scotland, led to fans getting crushed in a two-way crowd. As a result, Police Scotland commissioned an independent review into policing at Scottish football events. The findings stated that there was a ‘significant safety risk’ at football stadiums.

Police Scotland launched a public consultation on the back of this, asking fans for their views on football policing and the impact that football has had on communities, stakeholders and individuals.

Why it’s good: It’s a great example of using consultation reactively, i.e., in response to a specific problem that’s arisen. The consultation itself is also very good: it uses routing very effectively, leading respondents to relevant questions based on their personal experiences with policing and football.

Most organisations who consult have a statutory duty to do so, and sometimes that’s all that’s required. In this case, however, Police Scotland have recognised an issue that needs attention and, rather than just dealing with it all behind closed doors to avoid publicity, they’ve openly acknowledged it and asked the public for comment. I’m no football fan, but if I were, I’d be reassured that the police were taking the issue seriously.

Hammersmith & Fulham

The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (LBHF) is home to the Linford Christie Memorial Stadium, built in the late 60s. LBHF acknowledges that the stadium is badly in need of repair, and this summer launched a consultation on three options for its future: do nothing, which would see the council continue to operate it at a loss; upgrade the existing facilities; or completely redevelop the site.

The Queen’s Park Rangers (QPR) were heavily involved in the conversation around the stadium’s future, as they see it as the only way the club could stay in W12. Initially the Council dismissed QPR’s suggestions of redevelopment, but later changed tack and opened up the debate to the public.

Why it’s good: The consultation got over 8000 responses, which is enormous, and approximately 80% of them were in favour of option 3, the total redevelopment. The high response rate is very likely due in part to QPR’s promotion of the consultation. LBHF haven’t made their decision yet, but QPR were pleased with the results. It’s a good example of how consultation can be used effectively to gauge public support of potentially contentious issues (in this case because of the cost of the redevelopment.)

If you’d like to learn more about what Citizen Space can do for your organisation, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

Citizen-led decision making: Police Service of Northern Ireland

The landscape of crime and policing in Northern Ireland has changed radically over the last 20 years. Over the last decade of austerity in the UK, they saw their budget reduced by 25%, resulting in 17% fewer officers. Despite these huge cuts, crime rates actually dropped by 33% over the same period.

The end of the Troubles left the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with a unique challenge: now that they no longer had to allocate such significant resources to tacking violent crime and terrorism, what should they focus on? Criminal damage and theft had decreased; however, police now needed to deal with complex crimes like sexual exploitation and cyber harassment.

What was needed was a significant shift in resource allocation and police priorities, which they put to the public in a huge engagement exercise called the Local Policing Review 2018. For the online engagement activity, they chose to use Simulator.

 Respondents were allocated 100 points to ‘spend’ on the areas of policing that mattered to them the most, such as community policing, criminal justice investigations and emergency response. Each decision they made was accompanied by informative impact statements, detailing what real-world implications their choices would have were the PSNI to adopt them.

They had a huge response, with 4328 people responding to the Simulator and over 3000 people attending consultation events. Now, the PSNI is implementing changes based on the feedback they received and the priorities identified. The public’s input will ensure that policing is more effective and in tune with community needs moving forward.

One of the things they’re testing is single-officer patrols. Traditionally, police have always patrolled in pairs, and historically this would have been inconceivable in terms of officer safety. However, the trial reflects the change across the country and the safer Northern Irish environment. Chief Constable Simon Byrne said that the trials will be assessed to see if officers are confident patrolling on their own and if the public support the action.

Policing Board chair Professor Anne Connolly said: “We were hugely encouraged by the willingness of people and organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors to engage with us during the consultation and the feedback received reinforced for us the importance of policing in our community.

“The findings of the consultation will now inform the Northern Ireland Policing Plan and Local Policing Plans moving forward.”

Want to find out more about what Simulator can do for your organisation? Book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

Taking a service design approach to policy-making

a picture of a straight road, which is a tenuous metaphor for a simple user journey
It’s a metaphor for an easy user journey. Also, it looks nice. Let me have this one.

‘Digital transformation’ is everyone’s favourite buzz phrase at the moment, with more and more public bodies jumping on that particular bandwagon.

It’s more than just moving an analogue paper-based process on to a computer, though. Good digital change involves intelligent service design; that is, designing a process with the user in mind. A great example of this is applying for a passport via GOV.UK: it’s beautifully simple and takes just a few minutes. The Government Digital Service (GDS) incorporated good service design principles across the whole of GOV.UK: consistent branding, simple language, linear and uncomplicated user journeys and accessibility principles as standard. It’s proof that digital government processes can remove unnecessary bureaucracy while still being effective.

Which is why it’s frustrating to see organisations – including several central UK government departments! –  making a lot of noise about the importance of digital yet who still consult on important policies by uploading a PDF to a remote corner of their website and asking for responses via email. The wonderful thing about the internet is that it can move us away from time-intensive, inaccessible analogue processes. There’s no need for people to spend hours reading a dry document! There is a better way!

Consulting on policy needs a service design approach, too. That means engaging in a way that’s mindful of audience and has a ‘path of least resistance’ principle behind it. No burying consultations in a website whose search function doesn’t work; no promoting a consultation by sticking a laminated piece of A4 to a singular lamp post. By making the user journey as painless as possible, you:

  • increase response rate
  • raise the likelihood of responses being well-informed, and therefore more valuable, and
  • don’t leave respondents feeling such depths of despair and frustration that they may never respond to a consultation ever again.

If it isn’t obvious by now, Delib is Very Serious about service design. We’ve built such principles into all our tools.

With all that in mind, here are some organisations who’ve incorporated these principles really well into their consultation activity on Citizen Space.

The Scottish Government is consulting on proposed Circular Economy legislation

Why it’s good: Firstly, it’s chapter-based, which means respondents can see up front the different types of topics covered, and get an idea of how long it is. The information presented in the body of the consultation is plentiful but it’s written in plain English and equips the respondent with enough knowledge to answer questions on the topic. There are links to external information sources, but the key here is that they’re optional further reading rather than essential to responding.

The Isle of Man Government is consulting on a Bank Recovery and Resolution Bill

This is directed towards stakeholders as well as members of the public, so it gets a little more into the nitty-gritty of ensuring the IOM don’t have a repeat of the Global Financial Crisis wherein public tax money was used to bail out failing banks. Why it’s good: this is an intricate issue so reference to policy papers is required. However, the relevant sections of policy are embedded for each question, so the user never has to leave the consultation and doesn’t have to go hunting through the policy document for the relevant section each time they answer a new question.

The Northern Ireland Government is consulting on a Troubles incident victim compensation scheme

This is a hugely emotive and impactful consultation so service design is essential here. It affects a huge number of people so accessibility and reach is key. Why it’s good: it very clearly sets out background information, what format the consultation takes, and what’s needed from the respondent, all in plain succinct language.

If you’d like to learn more about what Citizen Space can do for your organisation, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

If you liked this post, check out an interview we did with Andrew Greenway, previously of GDS and who now works at digital transformation consultancy Public Digital.

Getting the public on side with Simulator

image of simulator, a tool used for budget consultation and engagement
Delib’s prioritisation tool Simulator

“Using Simulator…we opened the biggest budget conversation the city has seen.”

– Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council

It may officially be Christmas Season now that Halloween is over, but that doesn’t mean that the arguably much more fun Local Authority Budget Season is done just yet. 

Councils across the UK are running budget engagement activities and seeking public input on their financials for the year ahead, and members of the public are undoubtedly thrilled at the prospect of another Council Tax hike as cash-strapped local authorities work to balance the books for another year.

It’s not a fun position for either party. But what if there was a way to robustly illustrate the complexities of budget decisions without asking citizens to read a 60-page PDF report?

It’s why we made Simulator: a digital prioritisation tool that demonstrates the trade-offs involved in complex decision-making in a way that’s easy to understand. Here are three organisations who used it to transform their budget engagement:

  • Powys County Council have had their central funding slashed by 20%, which has put a strain on social services, particularly as they have a high percentage of rural residents. They’ve used Simulator three times, and most recently it was fully translated into both English and Cymraeg. Read their story or view their latest Simulator.
  • Liverpool City Council had to make a whopping £90 million worth of savings over three years. They used Simulator to reach citizens on mobile as well as desktop. Cllr Patrick Hurley said of the exercise: ‘It builds solidarity with the public, because everyone can see just how difficult it will be to balance the books.’ Read about their experience.
  • Edinburgh City Council found that there was confusion in the public’s understanding of how a local authority spent money. So they needed a tool that educated as well as engaged. Read an interview with Strategy Manager David Porteous about Edinburgh’s experience with Simulator.

Check out the links above to read more about each council’s use of the tool. Or if you’re interested more in-depth info on Simulator, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

More like this? A spotlight on Simulator; How South East Water used Simulator to understand consumer priorities

A Halloween roundup

OK, so I know it was yesterday, but given that fancy dress parties will be raging until at least the end of the weekend I think I’m in the clear.

Some pretty hefty consultations opened recently on Citizen Space, our flagship engagement platform. It can be used for anything from feedback surveys to calls for evidence, as well as statutory consultation, and lately there have been quite a few high-profile ones released. Here’s a selection.

The Australian Department of Industry, Innovation and Science is consulting on Measurement Assurance

This is the third in a series of consultations the DIIS has run regarding a change in Australia’s measurement laws. For this one, they’re seeking stakeholder views on matters of third party arrangements and compliance matters. There’s the option on the bottom of each page to submit straight away or continue to the next section, so it’s clear respondents needn’t reply to the whole thing if they don’t wish to.

The Sentencing Council (UK) is consulting on Terrorism Guidelines

The Sentencing Council is running this consultation in response to the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Act, which received Royal Assent in February. The consultation clearly summarises existing and proposed guidelines, with the option to read the full document if the respondent wishes. This increases access to the consultation as respondents don’t need to read a dense 50+ page document before they provide their input.

The Environment Agency is consulting on Challenges and Choices

This is the latest high-profile consultation from the Environment Agency (UK), and it focuses on freshwater in England, as well as parts of Wales and Scotland, and the challenges that lie ahead in protecting this vital resource. They want as many affected citizens as possible to respond, so it’s super accessible. It’s a large chapter-based survey, and each chapter has an explanatory video at the top of the page, along with a transcript if required as well as plenty of explanatory graphs and supplementary information.

And that’s it for now! Happy post-Halloween party if you’re going to one and if not, happy official lead-up to Christmas. Great. And if you’d like to find out more about Citizen Space, you can book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

Building trust with Northamptonshire PFCC

Scrutiny and oversight

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were introduced in 2012 across most of England and Wales. Their role is one of oversight and scrutiny: their aim is to ensure that a police force is running effectively, and to cut crime as a result. A key part of their remit is to increase public trust in police forces and hold them to account; this means that PCCs have a democratic mandate to respond to the concerns of local people. Certain among them encompass fire services as well, which is the case in Northamptonshire County.

Northamptonshire Police Force’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) is Stephen Mold, who was elected in 2017. He’s determined to build trust in Northamptonshire and ensure that the force operates efficiently and effectively.

Building trust

In 2018, a report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Rescue Services (HMICFRS) concluded that the Northamptonshire police force ‘needed improvement’. The PFCC needed to reassure the public that they were working hard to put these improvements into place, and that their processes for doing so were transparent and open.

Simulator was an ideal way for the Commissioner’s office to gauge Northants citizens’ opinion of the force and what it should focus on moving forward. They used Points Simulator to engage with the public; a tool which enables an organisation to gather citizens’ priorities on things that are less concrete than budget figures, like time and existing resources such as officers and focus areas. Service groups such as “answering telephone emergency (999) calls” and “speaking to and hearing from communities” were put forward and participants could allocate points to the services they valued the most. 

A powerful prioritisation tool

Simulator works by providing sliders that participants can move left or right to allocate or remove points from a service or focus area. It’s built in a way that demonstrates the tradeoffs that are involved with complex decision-making, as well as providing a platform for the public to share their views. This means that, rather than saying they’d like to increase resources in all areas of policing, which wouldn’t be particularly meaningful for the PFCC, respondents are only given a limited number of points to work with. If there’s a particular service that they think is most important, they may have to take points away from another to balance it out. Consequences that appear with each move of a slider inform the respondent about the impact of their change.

At the end of every Simulator is the option to include a set of demographics questions. Northants went a step further with this section and included a set of questions related to how the public felt about the police force, and whether or not they trusted them to address crime effectively in the area.

The result was clear, informed and valuable feedback that provided a real insight into the things that citizens valued the most. And by consulting with the public on the direction of Northants police, the Commissioner’s office demonstrated that they took respondents’ views seriously and were committed to leading change and improvement.

Want to find out more about what Simulator can do for your organisation? Book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

More like this? Fostering understanding in Edinburgh with Simulator; Rethinking Policing: Police Service of Northern Ireland

Education, empathy, Edinburgh: fostering understanding with Simulator

This is the first of a 2-part series in which I speak to David Porteous, Strategy Manager at Edinburgh City Council, on their use of Delib’s digital engagement tools. 

b&w portrait of david porteous, strategy & insight manager at edinburgh city council
David Porteous, Strategy & Insight Manager, Edinburgh City Council

Between 2014 and the present, Edinburgh City Council have, at some point or another, used all three of the tools that Delib offers. They initially procured Citizen Space and Simulator, and have used Dialogue twice since then, as well as using Simulator twice more. Their use of Citizen Space has remained a steady constant throughout.

In this part, we talk about Edinburgh’s use of Simulator and how it’s helped them tackle some very specific issues surrounding the very general topic of engagement.

“When we started thinking about a Budget Simulator we were starting to understand – and this is still the case – that the average person does not know anything about how a local authority spends money. Even in terms of understanding the scope of services. We found that people don’t necessarily know that their local authority provides schools, for example. They don’t necessarily know that their local authority provides libraries, or care services, so there’s a kind of blurring together in public understanding of national government, the NHS, and lots of other things. And they certainly have no idea how much each of these things costs. 

“Being able to articulate that is an ongoing problem, I think, for democracy. Simulator worked on two levels: it allowed people to see what that amount of money was relative to all other services, and then it allowed them to vary that and get feedback from it immediately. Seeing that they can change that amount, and then get feedback on what their change actually means for that service. Having a solution that works on both levels is incredibly important.”

screenshot of edinburgh city council's budget simulator
Edinburgh’s four-year Budget Simulator

Public understanding of authority can be a touchy subject, especially working in a sector that seeks to improve the process of public engagement with authority. It can feel counterintuitive to say that the public don’t know all the ins and outs of services that affect them when asking for their opinion on those same services. But at the end of the day, it’s the same with anything: unless you’re directly involved with, or work in, a complex system, chances are you’re not going to know much about it. I, for example, haven’t the foggiest understanding of many of the processes involved with developing Delib’s tools, even though it’s an open plan office and our developers sit literally 10 feet away from me. I can, of course, tell you how site administrators and the public interact with them, and it’s the same with public services: people interact with the public-facing side of their libraries, their care services, their bin collections. A lot of the time, they don’t know much about the systems that create or provide those services because there is no need to.

Simulator worked on two levels: it allowed people to see what that amount of money was relative to all other services, and then it allowed them to vary that and get feedback from it immediately… Having a solution that works on both levels is incredibly important.”

Which is why, when asking for public opinion, it’s essential to do so in a way that educates as well as engages.

“Frankly – and I’m not by any means recommending this, merely saying – you could take a million pounds out of primary school education in Edinburgh, and would anyone notice [what effect it had on the school service]? The answer is probably not,” David says. Edinburgh Council’s spending on education services is projected to be more than £380m in 2019/20. “But it’s very emotive – it’s a big figure, and it’s a really important service. If you took a million pounds out of trading standards in Edinburgh, people would think, ‘well, how important is trading standards?’ but that’s a third of their budget, and that would be incredibly impactful on their service. Having a mechanism that allows people to compare in some way between those two very different types of services is important.”

So Edinburgh Council was using Simulator as an educational tool as much as an engagement tool?

“Communication and engagement, I would say. It’s both us being able to broadcast and raise awareness of [how council budgets work], and get feedback from people of what their priorities are. And that’s actually the feedback that we got, that a lot of people were specifically saying that they were surprised by how much different things cost; they’d no idea what scale of savings were necessary and what the impact would be on services.”

On the whole – and more on this in part two of this series – Edinburgh City Council are very proactive and responsive to citizen feedback. An excellent example of this is the most recent time they used Simulator to engage with the public on their budget, which was in 2018. Rather than running a Simulator asking for priorities on a one-year budget, they asked citizens to plan for four years’ worth of savings.

“Most recently, the four-year [budget] was our initial target, so that would’ve been something like £105m worth of savings from a budget which people could influence, which is about £700m. That’s a big ask, first of all, and we set restrictions on it so that people couldn’t reduce any individual service by more than 20%, and couldn’t increase a service by more than 10%. And that’s where we got the feedback that, within those restrictions, that’s too difficult…We got so much negative feedback at the difficulty, that we basically just said ‘we’ll set a one-year target for you instead, see how you go with that’. And we got a much better response.” 

screenshot of edinburgh city council's four-year budget simulator, online engagement tool
Edinburgh’s four-year Budget Simulator

Simulator is a tool that’s inherently flexible. During the process of participation, respondents can add feedback and comments at any stage. So when Edinburgh City Council saw that they were getting feedback that the task they’d set their citizens was too difficult, they were able to go back in and relax the submission requirements without having to take the whole thing offline and start again.

“Because we’d applied a fixed target from the beginning – you had to clear that 4-year target to be able to submit your budget – we then relaxed that and said as long as you make at least one year’s worth of savings, so at least £25m, something like that, then we’ll allow you to submit any amount. We then got people who submitted at various different levels – one year, two years, three years, and even the four years after that. Giving people a little bit more flexibility in there allowed them to make it still a reasonably engaging, and… ‘fun’ is not quite the word for it, but you understand that there’s positive feedback and there’s a puzzle that people are solving, so there are the game elements which were present, which we’d kind of eradicated by making it a four-year thing.”

Citizens’ responses were, of course, carefully considered and factored into the final Council’s budget plan; in a general sense, they were found to align with the Council’s own plans and priorities. 

David and the engagement team ran other consultation activity alongside the Simulator, including in-person sessions. A takeaway from all of the different activities, as outlined in the final report, was that participants were “often surprised and sometimes dismayed” at the difficult decisions councillors had to make. So while having to make millions of pounds of savings will never be an easy decision to implement, exercises like Simulator show that involving the public in these complex decisions can shift the narrative away from resentment to one of more mutual understanding.

This piece forms part of a longer conversation I had with David, so keep an eye out for part two which will be released in a few weeks. To find out more about Simulator, you can read this post here and check out the Aggregator, which lists open and closed Simulators. Or, you can jump right in and book a free demo.

Follow Dani on Twitter.

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