Author: Dani Topaz (Page 1 of 7)

Comms in a time of crisis

It would be trite to comment on the major changes that we’re all facing in our lives. We only hope that everyone is keeping safe and well. 

As with most organisations, particularly public bodies and those working to support them, the coronavirus has triggered a complete rethink of the way we work and how we communicate with the world. As a result we’ve been thinking a lot about how Delib can be most helpful in a time of crisis.

Unique insights

Most of our work centres on public participation: consultations, complex ongoing decision-making (budgeting, transport, policing), and discursive challenges on behalf of organisations that range from small local authorities to trans-national bodies. It sits at the intersection of digital, policy, democracy and online user behaviour, which has lead to the development of a unique set of insights and a huge depth of resources.

This, we hope, is deeply practical knowledge, which we’re going to start sharing to help public officials move processes online, in a way that works for everyone in society.  

Best practice in a digital-only world

We’re being inundated with requests for help from people who either want to start using our tech, or from those who already do and need extra assistance, as the world rapidly and suddenly moves online. Notable concerns are already arising around accessibility and how we can limit the number of people who may be excluded from online decision making processes. 

As a result, we’ve decided we’ll begin sharing everything we can over the coming weeks and months that we think will be directly useful to public officials, whether they’re a Delib customer or not. 

It’s going to look something like this.

TONE: 

  • We are humble
  • We are informative
  • Everything we post provides service

We want to help our customers and the wider world with adapting to life online. We’re here to assist. 

ACTIONS: 

  • We’ve fast-tracked the release of our podcast episodes (embedded below), as a) they’re full of useful insights and b) people will be listening to a lot of podcasts at the moment
  • As of this week (w/c 30th March) we’ll be trialling a series of themed Twitter and LinkedIn threads. These themes are Accessibility, Privacy and Survey/Service Design.  
  • We’ll still be sharing other helpful articles and news in between.
  • If there’s enough demand, we will send out an email containing a list of all the resources we’ve shared once a week. Sign up here.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and the strategy plan will evolve over time. Please get in touch if you have any feedback, suggestions for themes or content you’d like us to share. Dani is Delib’s content editor and is the best person to submit suggestions to; you can do so here.

For our advice on how to bring public participation online in a way that’s inclusive and considerate see here (UK/EU) or here (AU/NZ).

Thank you for reading. This was devised by Ben (director) and Dani (content editor). Get in touch with either of us on Twitter: @ben_fowkes and @DanielleTopaz.

Podcast: Democracy in a time of misery with Dr. Nicole Curato

How can we reconstruct democracy at a time when nothing is promised?

It was a pertinent question before Coronavirus hit, and it seems all the more relevant now. In this latest episode of the Practical Democracy Podcast, Ben Fowkes spoke to the endlessly impressive Dr. Nicole Curato about her new book, Democracy in a Time of Misery: from Spectacular Tragedy to Deliberative Action.

Nicole is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance. She describes herself as an ’embedded sociologist’, meaning she does a lot of research in the field. For the purposes of this book, she spent time on the ground speaking to and learning from survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines – one of the most destructive tropical cyclones ever recorded.

She and Ben spoke from opposite sides of the world (isn’t technology great?) for an hour about her book and the wider lessons we can draw from her research. Listen to the episode on Spotify/Buzzsprout, or via the embed at the bottom of this post.

Here’s a rough breakdown of timings:

0:00: Introduction

Nicole describes her job, her personal history with regards to field in which she operates (which includes an activist friend being kidnapped by the military in her teens) and her academic history.

10:25: Summary of the book

Here she summarises her research, and explains how it can resonate with people who’ve been part of political and democratic turmoil, like in the UK and the US.

20:00: The ‘ideal victim’

When we talk about disaster survivors, especially in the West, the image that might come to mind is of a plaintive child – like we see in charity appeals. The image of the ideal victim is of someone that is grateful and deserving of our aid. In this section Nicole talks about how digital technology can perpetuate this image, which ignores the wider context of the disaster and can drown out critical voices.

30:00: Publics

The concept of a public is something Nicole discusses in her book at length. Broadly, her definition of a public is a group of people that takes part in a particular narrative or discourse, political or not. Some examples of this are a contestatory public (listen at 37:24), which is a group of people that apply pressure to ask for government accountability, e.g. through activism and protest; and a collaborative public (39:38) which seeks to work with governments and officials to get homes rebuilt and aid delivered.

47:22: What change was effected?

In the aftermath of the typhoon, President Duterte, a man who vowed to ‘kill all drug addicts’ and ‘shoot female activists in the vagina’, was elected. The reason? He was there, in disaster-affected areas, helping survivors. Nicole discusses the deeper reasoning behind his election.

57:19: So…what can we learn?

What are the takeaways of this research, and how can they be applied to the strange times we live in today? Nicole calls for deeper listening to actual survivors and the recognition that for that to take place, we need to find more effective listening mechanisms.

You can get a copy of Nicole’s book on Amazon or via Oxford University Press.

Practical Democracy Podcast: Episode 1 with Dr Rebecca Rumbul from mySociety

Practical Democracy Podcast: Episode 2 – #NotWestminster Special (part 1)

Practical Democracy Podcast: Episode 3 – #NotWestminster Special (part 2)

The Practical Democracy Podcast: #notwestminster edition (Part 2)

Listen to Part 1 on Spotify/Apple/Buzzsprout. View the blog post here.

How can we make democracy work better? What are some practical improvements that we can put into place? These are questions that the Practical Democracy Podcast hopes to answer.

This is the second part of a podcast special that Ben Fowkes recorded while at Notwestminster 2020 last month. (Part 1 here.) In this episode, Ben talks to the very chatty Kevin Davies, Head of Public Engagement at the National Assembly for Wales, whose job role is about as broad as the title suggests.

He talks about his work and the broader work of the National Assembly for Wales, which can be roughly categorised into the following headings:

0:40: Overview of the Assembly, soon to be renamed Senedd
3:50: Youth Parliament

The Senedd operates a youth parliament, which is fascinating in both its scope and structure. For example, its members are elected, in order that it mirrors the Senedd as much as possible. You can hear a description of a member’s role at 9:40. At 13:25, Kevin talks about the three priorities the Youth Parliament has identified: mental health; littering and plastic waste; and incorporating life skills in the school curriculum. At 15:20 he talks about the ways in which the Youth Parliament’s work feeds in to official decision-making.

27:47: Committees

Here, Kevin goes over the work that committees within the National Assembly do and the way they do it. At 30:03 he talks about the importance of making participation and involvement personal – that is, asking respondents for their lived experience on a particular issue, rather than broad impersonal questions. And at 37:00 he talks about working backwards from the desired outcome: that is; considering the audience you want to reach first, and tailoring your approach around maximising that engagement, rather than just publishing a consultation and just crossing your fingers that a representative sample of the population responds.

41:03: Why Notwestminster + closing thoughts

Listen to the episode on Buzzsprout/Apple/Spotify or via the embed below.

Practical Democracy Podcast: Episode 1 with Dr Rebecca Rumbul from mySociety

Practical Democracy Podcast: Episode 2 – #Notwestminster Special Part 1

The new normal: bringing public participation online for AU/NZ

In these landmark times, every single system, routine and process that makes up modern society is facing serious disruptions. However, we’ve still got the internet. 

With the ability for mass communication even while quarantined, many of our processes, in particular consultation and engagement, can and must continue. We recognise that offline participation is a vital part of a fully-formed consultation process that’s accessible to all parties and audiences. Now, however, quarantine and social distancing has removed the opportunity to consult offline completely. The question then becomes: how do we bring it online in a way that doesn’t exclude members of society? 

Delib has been answering this question since 2001. Over the past two decades our customers have run over 40 000 consultations and received nearly 5 million responses. We’ve got nearly two decades of insight to share, so we put together this guide for public sector officials in the process of transitioning their consultation processes to a digital-only format.

Here are some things to consider when making the switch.

Audience & demographics

The demographic spread of people who access services online has just jumped from ‘most people’ to ‘basically everyone’. The vast majority (88 and 89%, respectively) of the Australian and New Zealand populations already use the internet [1][2], but those that don’t tend to be elderly and/or Aboriginal/Māori and/or vulnerable [3][4]. So it’s more essential than ever that there are no barriers to participating online. Consider things like the fact that older people and harder-to-reach groups (e.g. Aboriginal/Māori and immigrants/non-native English speakers) usually access services via a tablet or a mobile phone, so your online consultation and engagement must be optimised for any device. 

Citizen Space is fully responsive, working seamlessly across all devices

Internet speeds

Given Australia’s notoriously patchy internet, you’ll need to make sure your online consultations are compatible with slow broadband speeds. Platforms with shiny interfaces and loads of bells and whistles are appealing, but aren’t much use if your citizens in poorly-connected areas can’t load them. You’ll need to use technology that has essential components like the option for simple landing pages/interfaces without lots of animation and large graphics, as well as the ability for respondents to save and come back later. Consider this as well if you usually ask citizens to respond by uploading a file: this can be a barrier if their internet is too slow or cuts out and means they have to try and upload it again.

Screenshot of Australian Department of Health's consultation named 'National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan'
The Australian Department of Health uses simple blue branding on its consultations

Different aspects of consultation/engagement

The process of consultation isn’t just collecting responses – there’s lots of surrounding activity as well. This could include complex information related to development plans, which is usually displayed in libraries and other public spaces for residents to look at. Displaying visual information will need to be moved online as well – you can see one of the UK Environment Agency’s online ‘information boards’ here. They display them on their consultation platform (Citizen Space), which makes it easy for respondents to follow the information thread when a related consultation is opened. Environment Agency consult frequently on flooding and emergency preparations and are an excellent example of digital best practice when it comes to consulting in times of crisis.

GIF scrolling through one of the Environment Agency's 'information boards'

Accessibility

Services should always be accessible online anyway, but this is an opportunity to ensure that your accessibility compliance is robust. Online-only services will affect your constituents with disabilities, as there are likely no or severely decreased options for alternative participation methods. Your digital engagement absolutely must be fully accessible – that means optimised for assistive software, conforming to visibility requirements, and so on. View the latest international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, WCAG 2.1.

The New Zealand Health and Disability System Review ran a consultation on Citizen Space last year to hear from those affected. The consultation was available in several different formats, such as one in Te Reo, one in plain English and one which included embedded sign language videos. This approach took a range of factors into account, such as the fact that deaf people have a lower-than-average reading age [5], and that English isn’t always the preferred language. To reach all of your constituents effectively, these factors will need to be taken into account.

Screenshot of the Health & Disability System Review's consultation with embedded sign language videos

Different forms of engagement

Not all democratic processes (for example, citizens’ assemblies) can be reasonably transposed into an online format, but consider those that can with the right tools. For example, numbers of councils around the world have some form of citizen’s panel. Some of these are fully online already, but key aspects of many are regularly scheduled meetings where constituents discuss ideas, so you’ll have to consider how this can also become fully digital. Done effectively, a digital citizen’s panel can be a way to reach a more representative audience (see point 1.).

Metro South Health is one of the most highly accessed health services in Australia. The land area they serve is vast, as is the variety of patients they serve. In order to make sure that everyone is getting the health care that they need, good quality patient engagement is essential. They used Dialogue to gather ideas on how to improve health services in an area with a huge demographic variety as part of their ‘Futures Lab’ project. The best submissions have a chance of being developed and implemented as policy.

Dialogue is a platform for holding constructive conversations online

If you’d like to learn more about how Delib can help with your digital transition, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

The new normal: how to bring participation online

In these landmark times, every single system, routine and process that makes up modern society is facing serious disruptions. However, we’ve still got the internet. 

With the ability for mass communication even while quarantined, many of our processes, in particular consultation and engagement, can and must continue. We recognise that offline participation is a vital part of a fully-formed consultation process that’s accessible to all parties and audiences. Now, however, quarantine and social distancing has removed the opportunity to consult offline completely. The question then becomes: how do we bring it online in a way that doesn’t exclude members of society?

Delib has been answering this question since 2001. Over the past two decades our customers have run over 40 000 consultations and received nearly 5 million responses. We’ve got nearly two decades of insight to share, so we put together this guide for public sector officials in the process of transitioning their consultation processes to a digital-only format.

Here are some things to consider when making the switch.

Audience & demographics

The demographic spread of people who access services online has just jumped from ‘most people’ to ‘basically everyone’. The vast majority (90.8%) of the adult UK population already uses the internet [1], but those that don’t tend to be over 75 and/or disabled and/or vulnerable [2]. So it’s more essential than ever that there are no barriers to participating online. Consider things like the fact that older people and harder-to-reach groups (e.g. minority ethnic & non-native English speakers) usually access services via a tablet or a mobile phone, so your online consultation and engagement must be optimised for any device.

Image of Citizen Space, which is fully reactive, displayed on a tablet
Citizen Space is fully responsive, working seamlessly across all devices

Different aspects of consultation/engagement

The process of consultation isn’t just collecting responses – there’s lots of surrounding activity as well. This could include complex information related to development plans, which is usually displayed in libraries and other public spaces for residents to look at. Displaying visual information will need to be moved online as well – you can see one of the Environment Agency’s online ‘information boards’ here. They display them on their consultation platform (Citizen Space), which makes it easy for respondents to follow the information thread when a related consultation is opened. Environment Agency consult frequently on flooding and emergency preparations and are an excellent example of digital best practice when it comes to consulting in times of crisis.

GIF scrolling through one of Environment Agency's 'information boards'

Accessibility

Services should always be accessible online anyway, but this is an opportunity to ensure that your accessibility compliance is robust. Online-only services will affect your constituents with disabilities, as there are likely to be no or severely decreased options for alternative participation methods. Your digital engagement absolutely must be optimised for assistive software, conforming to visibility requirements, and so on. View the latest international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, WCAG 2.1, or the government’s guide to accessibility.

The New Zealand Health and Disability System Review ran a consultation on Citizen Space last year to hear from those affected. The consultation was available in several different formats, such as one in Te Reo, one in plain English and one which included embedded sign language videos. This approach took a range of factors into account, such as the fact that deaf people have a lower-than-average reading age [3], and that English isn’t always the preferred language. To reach all of your constituents effectively, these factors will need to be taken into account.

Image of the New Zealand Health & Disability System Review's consultation with embedded sign language videos

Different forms of engagement

Not all democratic processes (for example, citizens’ assemblies) can be reasonably transposed into an online format, but consider those that can with the right tools. For example, numbers of councils around the world have some form of citizen’s panel. Some of these are fully online already, but key aspects of many are regularly scheduled meetings where constituents discuss ideas, so you’ll have to consider how this can also become fully digital. Done effectively, a digital citizen’s panel can be a way to reach a more representative audience (see point 1.).

The Scottish Parliament used Dialogue to gather ideas on how to improve mental health services for teens. That specific project was an example of how a digital exercise was more beneficial than an offline one, as Dialogue’s optional anonymity meant it became a safe space for young people to discuss their mental health concerns.

GIF scrolling through Scottish Parliament's Mental Health Dialogue challenge
Dialogue is a platform for holding constructive conversations online

If you’d like to learn more about how Delib can help with your digital transition, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

The Practical Democracy Podcast: #notwestminster edition

How can we make democracy work better? What are some practical improvements that we can put into place? These are questions that the Practical Democracy Podcast hopes to answer.

Last month, Delib director Ben Fowkes braved Storm Dennis and travelled up to Huddersfield to attend Notwestminster 2020. (Remember when catastrophic storms and flooding were the only reasons we couldn’t go outside? ‘Twas a simpler time.)

For those not in the know, Notwestminster is an event that brings people together to create and share new ideas for local democracy. The event ‘aims to turn discussions around local democracy and digital into some practical tools and techniques that we can all use to make democracy work better for us’.

While he was there, Ben managed to get interviews with some of the attendees, and thus the second episode of our democracy podcast was born.

See below for timings and an overview of what each contributor talked about. You can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or via the embed at the bottom of this page.

0.42 Carl Whistlecraft, Head of Democracy at Kirklees Council and member of the Kirklees Democracy Commission
Carl talks about the Commission’s work and engagement based on places: that is; that what’s more important than Kirklees as a place or council catchment is the individual localities within and their identities, and how having conversations with this patchwork of individual communities informs Kirklees’ policy and budget decisions.

10.50: Kate Grigg, Research Officer at the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CFPS)
Kate discusses the role of the CFPS and the way they work with councils across the UK. She also answers some questions regarding scrutiny itself, shares some thoughts about citizens’ assemblies and what the perfect local authority would look like in terms of governance and accountability.

32.30 Joe Mitchell, from Democracy Club
What’s it like to have a job that, by rights, shouldn’t exist? Democracy Club’s work involves collating information, particularly around elections, that *should* be easy to find – but isn’t. They answer questions like ‘Where do I vote?’ and ‘Who can I vote for?’ Joe discusses the processes and frustrations around Democracy Club’s work – and the importance of machine-readable data.

Grab a pair of headphones and listen below. It’s a good’un.

Check out Episode 1 with Rebecca Rumbul from mySociety

The new face of Citizen Space

Much like my alma mater’s student union in 2016, Citizen Space has a new look. But unlike my student union, who spent £26 000 on a rebrand after a failed engagement campaign, only to be landed with a 1000-strong petition stating how much students hated the new styling and demanding it be changed back within a day of the unveiling, Citizen Space’s new look came about on the back of customer feedback, careful consideration and planning. We call it the configurable hub.

It’s not just superficial, however, although it does look pretty bloody great. With the new hub comes a new set of functionalities for our customers. The clue’s in the title: it’s configurable

Customers can now customise their hub to display thumbnail images next to consultations, add a second landing page and adapt blocks to suit them.  

Here’s what the old landing page looks like:

And here’s an example of how the new one can look:

Over time, we noticed that our customers were and are using Citizen Space for far more than just formal consultation. It’s been used for engagement activities, event feedback surveys, internal staff engagement, voting, and even data collection. Which is, of course, brilliant – but we realised that the standardisation of the consultation hub just wasn’t reflective of that spirit of creativity and inventiveness. So we changed it.

The main use case for Citizen Space does remain consultation, and we haven’t taken anything away from that functionality. The key difference is that the configurable hub allows customers to separate and present information in different ways according to what suits them.

Users can now create dedicated second landing pages, to feature whatever content they’d like. This can be used to create a separation between formal consultation and different types of activity, like engagement.

Or it can be a specific consultation project, like ‘The Street Where You Live’ from the Western Australian Department of Planning, Lands & Heritage. They’ve used the second landing page to consolidate all the different components of the wider consultation (public events, quick surveys, further information) into one page:

Or it could be a second language page, like Powys have linked to in their landing page welcome header here, for flicking between English and Welsh-translated content:

Then there’s the option to add images and blocks, like bespoke lists based on specific search criteria.

Users can also add link tiles to the header:

And for those that choose not to include images, the look has changed too. Consultation links now feature short descriptions, rather than just the title, providing more information up front.

The cumulative effect of the changes we’ve made is a platform that’s reflective of customer wants and needs, but is also more accessible to citizens. It’s more visually appealing with clearer separation between different types of activity, and the increase in displayed information means less need to search.

It’s been rolled out gradually to our customers which is why we didn’t do a huge bells-and-whistles release announcement, but it’s exciting to share. Given that Citizen Space users keep using the platform in ways that surprise us, I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with these new features. 

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.

‘Big Squeeze’ budget exercise gets praised

This article originally appeared on The Consultation Institute’s website and has been posted here with permission.

Powys County Council’s budget consultation exercise, conducted using Delib’s Simulator tool towards the end of last year, has been praised for utilising residents’ feedback. Following analysis, the Cabinet has recently approved spending plans of nearly £270m, which includes a proposal to increase council tax by 5% in line with resident feedback.

The original spending plans have also been revised to take into account residents’ views about the need for sustained road maintenance. An additional £0.5m has been allocated to this budget. Education and Children’s Services were also areas where residents felt there was a need for more funding rather than less, and this has been taken into account.

Every local authority is facing challenging decisions around how best to spend the money allocated to them via Westminster or the Welsh Government.

For Powys County Council, the use of a digital engagement Simulator has allowed for genuine resident input which has been given due regard.
The final budget package will be considered by the Full Council on 20 February.

How does it work?

The Simulator works by setting a savings target and asking residents to ideally reduce the current spend across several service areas to meet said target. However, there are options to leave the current budget as is, and also increase spending. People can choose to submit their own budget at any point in time and don’t have to meet the savings target given. The results have provided Powys Cabinet with interesting insights about where and what services residents value and would prioritise over others.

This article was written by Sue Ling, Corporate Consultation Officer, Powys County Council.

Powys’ Simulator has now closed, but you can view the page in English or Welsh.

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

From Excel to excellent: Edinburgh’s consultation transformation

I cannot conceive how a local authority could deliver consultation or engagement…without a tool like Citizen Space.”

This article is part of an interview I did with David Porteous, Insight Manager at the City of Edinburgh Council. In this instalment, he talks me through the specifics of bringing in Citizen Space and how it’s impacted Edinburgh’s consultation activity. (Read part one and part two.) He’s been working at the Council for a long time – sixteen years, to be exact – so he’s seen the authority’s consultation processes completely transform over time.

Edinburgh Council have been a Delib customer since 2015. The landscape of the internet is a lot different today than it was then, particularly in terms of digital democracy and consultation. Since that time, the world has moved increasingly online, with the expectation from many – particularly for younger generations –  of ‘digital by default’ for the services we access as citizens. 

Before they procured Citizen Space, Delib’s flagship engagement platform, Edinburgh’s online consultation process was scrappy and inconsistent, without a clear system in place. “There were a couple of really clunky message-board things, and spreadsheets that got updated with current public consultations and put up on the council’s website,” says David. “Completely inadequate, and nothing like what you would expect even back then. Nowadays, expectations have obviously got higher.”

Solving common consultation problems

Expectations have got higher, both from a citizen’s perspective in terms of the online experience, and from the authority’s perspective in terms of supplier quality. But principles of good consultation have remained the same: keep it accessible, keep it simple, keep it secure. Unfortunately we still see a lot of online consultation run on poor systems, or even without a system; just a PDF with an email address attached, buried in a remote corner of a website without a working search function.

“When Citizen Space came in, there was nothing in the market that could’ve provided the same sort of service. We had a number of engagement or consultation activities going on, but when it came to having a handle on that, knowing what was happening centrally, being able to control quality, being able to notify citizens that these things were happening, and then having any repository of information to say that the consultation had happened – that just didn’t exist. When we adopted Citizen Space, we thought, ‘this does everything that we need it to do – it solves so many problems’. Even a local authority as large as Edinburgh is completely unequipped and under-resourced to be able to tackle those problems in isolation, so an off-the-shelf solution was a no-brainer.”

Citizen Space does everything we need it to do – it solves so many problems.

It’s nice to hear that from a customer – to those of us within the very limited sphere of digital democracy, a well-designed tool is a no-brainer. Having good, accessible online democracy processes increases response rate, saves time and resource, and makes life easier for citizens as well as administrators. Plus, because Citizen Space is an annual subscription, rather than multiple licenses for the same tool, it’s cheaper than other common tools. Why wouldn’t you?

“I think the only online tool we had was—” He interrupts himself to ask if I can hear his neighbour screaming at her child. (I can’t.) “Ok, good, that’s only distracting me then.”

“Anyway, the only online tool that we had where people could respond to us, besides email, was SurveyMonkey. When I was talking about populating information on spreadsheets – we kept a repository of active consultations on the Council website, at that point. But it would have been out of date, very poorly maintained, and woefully incomplete. Because there was no easy way of storing or presenting consultation information, our spreadsheets would include a phone number for the lead officer and little, if any, other information.”

One of the barriers for a local authority procuring new tools is existing work structure: there can be a real culture of ‘well, this is the way we’ve always done things, and we don’t want to have to train everyone on a new system.’ I ask David how the uptake of Citizen Space was at Edinburgh.

“Almost everyone has been very receptive to it. People who work in community planning, transport and such – services that would normally be conducting a lot of consultation and engagement activities themselves – immediately realised the benefits. Everybody else was fine with it at worst!”

Public consultation standards

Edinburgh consults fairly often, and many of its consultations are high-profile, like the one on the introduction of a Transient Visitor Levy or ‘tourist tax’, which David spoke about in part two of this interview series. So does Citizen Space help to manage that scale and scope, and if so, how?

“One of the main aspects is standardisation. If you created a space which was like a Word document – blank and you can fill it with anything – what you would have is an asylum of random and inconsistent approaches shaped by a hundred different people trying their best, making something for the first time or in their own style. Having a structure is really useful; it helps people understand how they should think about both presenting their information and the process their engagement should follow. The ability to have one dedicated site means that we, as a central support service, can see what’s going on, and other services or departments can identify things that they wouldn’t necessarily have been aware of otherwise. The survey mechanism built into Citizen Space itself and the ability to create and load organisation-specific or standard demographic questions is helpful. A standardised reporting function also helps people become familiar with the consultation reports; staff understand what data exports will actually be from a system before they get their data. We don’t do anything automated with the reports, so it’s all manual analysis… I mean, it happens with computers, not picks and axes, but it’s still manual. There’s also a certain amount of gloss which individual services might struggle to create; applying branding, pictures, images, and so on, to landing pages for their consultation or engagement activity, which at the same time fits with the Council’s own website branding.”

I cannot conceive how a local authority could deliver consultation or engagement in any sort of rational way without a tool like Citizen Space.

Does he think that Citizen Space and its features, like standardisation, have helped create efficiencies in Edinburgh Council as a result?

“The volume has increased year on year. Consultation and engagement activity have a larger resource implication for local government now than five or ten years ago. It’s difficult to accurately estimate improvements in efficiency; but what I can say is I cannot conceive how a large local authority would be able to deliver consultation or engagement in any sort of rational way without having a tool like Citizen Space. In terms of institutional awareness I’m sure we’re managing and avoiding a lot of risk by having it.”

I ask if he can give me an example of how Edinburgh have avoided risk by using Citizen Space, which he politely declines. He does give me a hypothetical scenario, in which a lower-level manager signs off an activity without the awareness of elected officials or senior managers and ends up publishing information that isn’t suitable for public consumption. “The risk of something like that happening is minimised because a central support service have a window into operations through having Citizen Space. There’s also something on the standardisation topic: a tool exists and people are aware of the support that surrounds it, which means that they understand implicitly that there are some standards that they need to meet.”

an example of one of edinburgh council's public consultations
An example of one of Edinburgh’s public consultations

Edinburgh have used all three of Delib’s tools over the years. One thing that we’ve noticed as the expectation for digital-by-default has increased, and the number of suppliers in our field along with it, is that what tends to get offered is an all-in-one ‘engagement solution’.

“If you were being an absolute purist around what you were doing, then you would think about your information needs for a process: what is the decision we need to get to, and how is best to get there? Then you would start thinking about the tools that you have available to you. That is a good general rule for everyone. The reality is that if someone is equipped with a limited set of tools, then they begin to see problems through those particular terms. It’s difficult to not do exactly the same thing we just did, because it feels roughly right. I suppose the bigger quote is, for a man with a hammer every problem is a nail. It’s useful for us to be able to say, ‘this year we have this vision for what it is we’re doing with this project, and this one of Delib’s products fits with that’. 

There’s a real challenge with how you train and maintain skills across an organisation for a wide set of tools that are built into a product. With software solutions, you often buy functionality which most people will never need or use, and might not use well. I don’t know if I’d be happy if every single person who was conducting an engagement activity suddenly decided they wanted to run message board-style online ideation, because while it can be really useful and you get some really good feedback, it requires more staff resource than anything else. Until you run that project yourself, you don’t really understand the demands of using those particular tools. 

Often times a bundled solution is just crap in one area. It may be that whatever the tool is, it does A fantastically but does B just awfully. If you can’t get a better solution for B, then you end up either not using it or doing something really inferior.

If everything gets bundled together then you’ll never get agreement from budget holders to do anything different, and often times a bundled solution can just be crap in one area. It may be that whatever the overall tool is, it does A and B fantastically but does C, D and E just awfully. If you can’t get a better solution for C D and E then you end up either not using those elements and are never able to do something in that context, or you end up doing something really inferior, that potentially damages the outcomes that you’re aiming for and your organisation’s reputation.”

My time talking to David is coming to a close – he’s been generous with his time, talking to me for an hour an a half. Before I let him get on with his life I ask him if there’s anything else he wanted to add?

“What we have found with all of the people we’ve worked with at Delib is people who are enthused about what it is they’re doing and what we’re doing is helpful. Sometimes we’re very enthused about what we’re doing, and sometimes (laugh) what we’re doing is a slow grind against multiple forces that we have very little control against. It’s nice to have positive suppliers who are actually, oddly, often not trying to sell us anything else. It’s an unusual thing in the public sector.”

We definitely like to do things a bit differently and it’s great that David appreciates it. He’s been saying such nice things about Delib that I’m tempted to let him talk all day, but that wouldn’t be fair. Huge thanks to him for giving up his time for this series – you can see some the good consultation work he and his team have been doing on Edinburgh’s Citizen Space site.

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

Read part two: Public participation and the policy cycle

On the safe side: three authorities consulting on safety in their area

Bit of an amorphous topic, safety. There are so many contributing factors to a safe neighbourhood that fall across so many jurisdictions of governance that it’s basically impossible to tackle in its entirety. But although a local authority may not be responsible for things like allocation of police services, there are still plenty of measures they can implement to make their area safer. Here are three organisations consulting on safety via Citizen Space.

Southwark – Our Healthy Streets: Dulwich

This is phase three of a consultation on how to make Dulwich safer for cyclists and pedestrians in an area that’s heavily congested by through traffic, through traffic calming methods and vehicle bans on certain streets.

Why it’s good: There’s a lot to like about this, like the fact that it’s the third phase of consultation which indicates a real willingness to involve residents every step of the way. It’s also ideal that there are visualisations for all the different proposals, and summaries of the topics covered in the previous two consultation phases, meaning there’s no prior knowledge needed if respondents missed the first two.

Scottish Borders Council – Alcohol Byelaws 2020

In 2019, Scottish Borders Council ran a consultation regarding alcohol in public places. 44% of respondents felt that it wasn’t an issue, 36% thought it was and 20% weren’t sure. After councillors considered the responses, Scot Borders released this second phase of the consultation. Rather than focussing on the county as a whole, it asks for views on four towns where responses to the previous consultation indicated that an alcohol byelaw might be of the most benefit.

Why it’s good: it’s split into chapters, so respondents only need to give views on their area. There’s also lots of great further information embedded into fact banks, such as FAQs and ‘What Happens Next?’

Brighton & Hove – Community Safety Strategy

This one’s interesting as it’s tackling the whole amorphous blob that is ‘safety’ within the constraints of council powers. For example, their strategy on violent crime focuses on a prevention method (e.g. with intervention for youth at risk of falling into violent or organised crime.)

Why it’s good: it’s routed, meaning respondents only answer questions relevant to them rather than clicking through all the survey questions. What I particularly like is that rather than routing respondents through automatically, they can choose if they’d like to be routed to a question set by clicking yes/no.

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.

Grit me, baby, one more time

Gritter Thunberg. Spreaddy Mercury. Slushay Away. These are some of the supremely excellent names that were chosen for Manchester’s new fleet of gritters, as submitted and then voted on by the public. Other local councils have been running similar competitions (Leicester’s is still accepting submissions at time of writing. My suggestions were The Grit Gatsby and Grit Me Baby One More Time, FWIW.) One in Yorkshire was named ‘Er Ner, Sner’ which is truly a gift.

Point is, everyone loves a naming competition, right? Boaty McBoatface and these gritters are testament to the British sense of humour. But…why? And what does it have to do with Delib?

Well, the obvious answer to the first question is that it’s a bit of lighthearted fun. But there’s something a little bit psychological behind it, and that is ‘the win scenario’.

Winning at public participation

Everyone wants to win. Right? Win at Monopoly, win at Instagram, win at life. We are naturally inclined to make choices that benefit us in some way, and winning a gritter naming competition benefits us by making us feel clever, and acknowledged, and part of a Thing. 

Which is where the second question comes in. The win scenario is something we incorporated into our tools – in particular, Dialogue. It makes the process engaging and rewarding, and encourages meaningful contributions.

Dialogue is a crowdsourcing platform. It’s designed to gather ideas and suggestions on a topic in a way that’s broader and/or in earlier stages than formal consultation – harnessing collective intelligence, if you will. Respondents share their ideas, and are able to rate others’ out of five and leave comments. 

The comment with the highest rating can be the win scenario in itself – validation is, after all, something that makes us feel good. But some organisations take it further, like Metro South Health, AU, are doing with their Dialogue around their Futures Lab project.

Their challenges are branded as ‘ideas jams’, and they’re ways for members of the public, health professionals and stakeholders to contribute to improving health services in the area.

All ideas are then assessed by the project leads, with the aim of selecting the best ones to be developed and ultimately delivered. This means that participants are encouraged to provide thoughtful, detailed and informed submissions as there’s a chance they’ll be implemented in real life.

So while naming a gritter might not be the most meaningful democratic process, it’s a good example of what makes people want to get involved. Designing the process of public participation so that respondents feel valued and validated makes for meaningful, thoughtful responses – which makes everyone a winner.

To find out more about how Dialogue can transform your public engagement, book a free demo and we’ll talk you through it.

The kids are alright: consulting children with Citizen Space

There’s a lot of discussion within the participatory democracy field about how better to reach marginalised groups, and the best methods of harnessing their collective intelligence. Marginalised might mean immigrant communities, who might have difficulty understanding an online consultation in English; the elderly, who may not be able to respond digitally; and so on.

One demographic we don’t hear much about is children. Responding to consultations probably isn’t high on the priority list of your average 8-year-old, but the voice of the child is an important one to hear. After all, they’re going to inherit the Earth. (Best of luck, kids.) That said, there are a few organisations that are using Citizen Space to ask for responses from young people at the moment. 

Department for Education are running a Call for Evidence on music education

The DfE are seeking evidence relating to their planned refresh of the National Plan For Music Education. It’s asking for submissions from a range of people, like teachers and music instructors, as well as children and young people. There’s a dedicated section of questions specifically for young people, which is outlined in the consultation’s overview so they know which bit to click through to.

Surrey are running a survey for primary schoolers called Your Voice Matters

First of all, the banner image for this is just downright adorable. This consultation is aimed specifically at primary school children up to age 11, and asks for their views on a range of things, from mental health and bullying to their thoughts on climate change. Kids under 8 might need help to fill it in, but the language is plain enough that it’s accessible for 8 to 11-year-olds.

Birmingham City Council

Birmingham are consulting their young people on out-of-school clubs and activities. The Council ‘is looking at all Out-of-School Settings across the city to make sure that all children are safe and protected from harm.’ I like how they’ve summarised data protection and consent stuff in a format that’s easy to understand on the overview page. Again, I would imagine really little kids would need a grown-up to help them, but older children would have no trouble giving their input.

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.

Back once again: Liverpool’s third Simulator

image of Liverpool. budget engagement with Liverpool City Council

Austerity has been tough on all UK local authorities, but councils in the midlands and north of the UK have been more heavily affected. Local authorities in the north of the country have had cuts of roughly double the percentage of their overall budget than those in the south. There’s also the fact that northern cities are on average more deprived, which means that councils will have higher spends on social services and are also less able to raise revenue from council tax.

Centre for Cities estimates that Liverpool has had the largest cuts per resident, equating to £816 per resident.

It’s little surprise, then, that mayor Joe Anderson, when faced with a fresh wave of cuts to the city’s budget from 2021, recently announced that he refuses to implement any further government cuts. He said in a statement: 

“We have worked hard under enormous pressure to keep our libraries and children’s centres open because they affect the life chances of people in Liverpool, these new cuts would mean losing those services and I’m just not going to do it.”

Joe Anderson

Budget engagement with Simulator

Liverpool's budget engagement with Simulator in 2017
Liverpool’s budget engagement in 2017

Liverpool City Council have used Simulator three times in total to engage with the public on their finances: once in 2013, once in 2016 and once in 2019. Their second Simulator was a notable use of the tool because they were the first to use the ‘worst case’ model; that is, whereas with most Simulators, respondents can increase allocation to an area as well as decrease, Liverpool allowed respondents to decrease only. In other words, respondents were only able to cut funding. They couldn’t increase funding for a single service – and could only submit once they’d balanced the budget by making £30 million worth of cuts per year for three years.

Despite the intense financial pressure they were under, bringing Simulator on board was worthwhile. It served as a stark way of educating citizens on how government cuts were affecting Liverpool’s budget, and gave some insight into why essential services were being scaled back even though demand was increasing.

Screenshot of Liverpool's 2017 budget engagement
Liverpool’s 2019 Simulator

Last year, Liverpool bought Simulator for a third time. Only this time, respondents were tasked with closing the budget gap of £57 million over a year – nearly double the amount in their previous Simulator. Respondents were able to increase funding to services, but only by one slider point, which equated to 5%.

On all three occasions, Simulator has been a way of illustrating the seemingly impossible decisions with which the city is faced. Just quoting figures doesn’t really mean a lot to the average citizen, who likely doesn’t know at all how much different services cost and how they’re weighted. But running an exercise like Simulator, where respondents have to make difficult tradeoffs, puts those numbers into context and fosters understanding in the process.

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

Getting creative and closing the loop: Warwickshire Council on Citizen Space

Lucy Rumble, Strategic Consultation and Engagement Lead at Warwickshire County Council, runs a tight ship when it comes to the organisation’s consultation and engagement activity. It’s not just her – there are others on the team – but she is one of a handful of all-access-pass holders and is closely involved with consultations run on Warwickshire’s Citizen Space site from start to finish.

I interviewed her on a sunny afternoon and we chatted about Warwickshire’s five-year council plan, feeding back to the public, and using Citizen Space in new and creative ways.

When we spoke, their Council Plan engagement had just closed. They ran an online survey on Citizen Space, as well as a series of ‘roadshows’ where people could go and speak to elected members in person.

It’s one of the largest responses we’ve had to a general survey as opposed to an issue-based one.

“We wanted to do quite a high-level engagement. The council has identified a set of objectives to inform our five-year plan, so this was about sense-checking whether these objectives resonated with residents and other Warwickshire stakeholders, understanding people’s priorities, and putting forward some broad financial information.

“We don’t really know what the world’s going to look like financially over the course of the 5-year plan so we were really just asking questions. We know that we have a strong financial base as a local authority so we were asking questions like; ‘if we had more money where do you think we should be spending it? And if we have less, where do you think there are less significant priorities?”

Then, while they were planning the engagement, Warwickshire County Council declared a climate emergency.

Integrated consultation feedback on Warwickshire County Council's 5-year plan
Warwickshire County Council’s 5-year plan

“We haven’t got a specific objective around the environment, because we felt it should inform all of  our objectives. So we wanted to ask people some very open questions around climate and what they felt that we should be doing as an organisation, in terms of our own carbon footprint, and perhaps what we could be doing to help other people who are residents and businesses in Warwickshire. We had something like 5000 comments on this with lots of really useful and thought provoking suggestions.”

Overall, they got a high response rate, with high levels of engagement both online and at the roadshows. “To the online survey, we have had about 1200 responses, so I would say it’s one of the largest responses we’ve had to a general survey as opposed to an issue-based one.”

As well as helping to increase their response rate, Citizen Space has facilitated improvements in other ways: one of these is feeding back to citizens promptly and effectively with the help of the ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ feature.

Clear, effective feedback

“Before we moved on to Citizen Space we identified a real issue, which was that we weren’t feeding back to the public consistently,” she says. “I started with the council about the same time as we procured Citizen Space so it was quite timely, and part of my role includes making sure that what the public have told us is reported, as it should be, to our members, and that the decisions that are made on the back of that are fed back to people who took part. So that’s really how we manage to make it work, because I’m involved end-to-end with anything that is a formal consultation.”

As mentioned, Lucy is one of just a few central admins of Warwickshire’s site. But for those others that have full site access, uptake of the feedback process has been pretty seamless.

Integrated consultation feedback feature We Asked, You Said, We Did on Citizen Space
Integrated consultation feedback feature We Asked, You Said, We Did

“Our colleagues in schools have their own admin access as they run a high turnover of statutory consultations around changes to do with schools. They don’t go through the same corporate process as other consultations, but they understand that when you put [a consultation] up you have to close the loop. ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ [or WAYSWD hereafter] is such a clear, intuitive way of doing it that it’s just habitual for them to use it on their own consultations as well. Even with…engagement activities that don’t have to go through that formal process, site users can see the value; I think there is a will to feed back to people anyway. We have a template [for feedback] that people know, and it’s just something that they expect now. And they’re starting to use that template as part of their own internal reporting mechanism. WAYSWD is starting to be used as terminology!”

‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ is such a clear, intuitive way of [feeding back] that it’s just habitual for site users to use it on their consultations.

(I tell her we call it ‘was-ee-wod’ in the interest of saving syllables.)

I can tell that Lucy believes giving feedback to citizens who have taken the time to share their views is simply the Right Thing to Do. It sounds like her colleagues all feel the same – it’s become an automatic part of their consultation process. And they do it very well: feedback is posted on WAYSWD, as mentioned, but also on the overview page of the closed consultation in question. They often feed back within 6-8 weeks, which is a pretty quick turnaround in relative terms.

So what does she think the value is of feeding back in such a way?

“It’s really important. We’ve got analytics running on the site so we can see what sort of page views are happening monthly, and it’s really evident that people keep coming back. Sometimes they do go to the WAYSWD entire section, but people are actually more frequently going back to a specific consultation and following up what’s happened. So we can see from our analytics that people want that closing of the loop. But aside from anything, we should be doing that if people have given their time. Where we’ve asked them for their feedback it’s really important that we can explain what’s happened with it, or if something hasn’t happened very quickly, why, and what the process is. It’s not just important for those that have been involved but also for other people looking back to find out what happened surrounding a certain issue. Hopefully the more that we can do that the more we can evidence to people that the process of engaging with us is a really good robust system.”

The biggest thing is the confidence to know that actually it is going to be accessible. In terms of people being able to access it through a whole range of devices and using assisted software, it meets all of those requirements without me having to worry about it. It really does make a difference.

We’ve always emphasised the importance of letting respondents know what the outcome of a decision was. I’m not sure if the act of responding to a consultation can ever be described as enjoyable, but receiving updates on the outcomes certainly makes respondents’ time feel valued. It also increases trust in an organisation as it demonstrates they’re willing to be accountable for their decisions. I ask Lucy if she thinks Warwickshire’s feedback processes encourage citizens to come back and share their views again.

“That’s the hope, in terms of our overall strategic approach of building trust and building that two-way dialogue. Over time we’ll be able to tell, but our levels of engagement are increasing cumulatively and we’re certainly seeing the number of people who are subscribing to our consultation and engagement alerts is increasing month on month. So there is a growing interest, and I think the feedback is part of that.”


New use cases for Citizen Space

Warwickshire don’t run a huge amount of public consultations, averaging at about two per month. When Lucy and I spoke, however, I was interested to learn about the ways in which they use Citizen Space privately.

“Publicly, it’s a couple of consultations a month. However, we use it for a relatively large number of private surveys and also we use it increasingly for data collection, for a number of subject areas,” Lucy says. I ask her what she means by that.

“Well, we had a number of things – for example, our audit of case files within our social work area – that had previously been done in a paper-based format. Citizen Space offers really good data security, and when you’re working with remote teams and trying to share and collect information [you need a safe way of doing that as it’s sensitive information.]

“We started a conversation to see if [using Citizen Space] would be a better way of doing that, so we piloted it and we’ve been doing it for about a year in both children’s and adults’ social care, and various other quality-assurance data collection exercises. When monitoring and auditing we basically need to ask somebody questions, some of which are optional and some of which are required, and using that basic format is proving really useful.”

Citizen Space offers really good data security, and it [provided] a safe way of working with remote teams to share and collect sensitive information.

I tell her I’ve not heard of that specific use case for Citizen Space before.

“No, I know, and I remember ringing the account managers up and saying look, we’re thinking of using it for this, is this OK? But effectively it’s just a private survey, it’s just that we’re not necessarily asking for opinions, we’re asking for data.”

One of the great things about Delib’s customers is that we’re constantly surprised by the different ways in which they use our tools. We design them to perform a certain function, but once they’re in the hands of an organisation it’s really up to them how the tools are used. Private data collection is another use case that we can add to Citizen Space’s lexicon, alongside things like private staff engagement, feedback forms, event registration, and even voting.

My time talking to Lucy is coming to a close, so I ask her my final question: what one thing about Citizen Space does she think provides most value to Warwickshire CC?

“Gosh, that’s the big question!” She says, and pauses. “I think….from my perspective [as a central admin], it’s a very user-friendly interface, so when we roll it out to the few other users, people can it pick up easily. I would say too that the biggest thing is the confidence to know that actually it is going to be accessible. It’s really important for me, because in terms of people being able to access it through a whole range of devices and using assisted software, it meets all of those requirements without me having to worry about it. It really does make a difference. Certainly we’re aware that people are accessing it from a whole range of devices in a range of ways across a range of age groups.”

It was a pleasure speaking to Lucy and hearing more about how she works. We bang on about the importance of feeding back and closing the loop quite a lot, so it was great to hear her talk about how that’s become standard procedure at Warwickshire. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear about the new use case they’ve discovered for Citizen Space. I look forward to seeing how they use their site in the future.


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.

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