Author: Dani Topaz (Page 1 of 4)

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 their report here) 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.

Beyond consultation: 3 organisations running calls for evidence on Citizen Space

Citizen Space is a leading platform for formal consultation, and that is far and away the primary function for which our customers use it.

It’s certainly not the platform’s only use, however. We designed Citizen Space to be versatile, and it’s been used for anything from internal staff surveys to information-hosting pages and other types of digital engagement.

One such use case is calls for evidence. These are engagement exercises that take place before a policy, bill, etc has been developed and is still in its early stages. They ask for views from experts, professionals or affected parties with first-hand knowledge on a topic whose expertise will in turn shape the direction of a final decision.

So, to round off the week, here are three Delib customers using Citizen Space to run calls for evidence online.

1. The Scottish Parliament

scottish parliament call for evidence, online consultation platform, digital engagement

The Scottish Parliament’s a new customer, and this is actually their first ever activity on Citizen Space. Their site will feature calls for views only, rather than consultations. This one is asking for evidence on a Bill that was introduced to Parliament that would update the Animals and Wildlife Act of 2006.

The Bill would increase maximum penalties for serious animal welfare offences, among other things.

2. Edinburgh City Council

edinburgh city council call for evidence, digital call for evidence, digital engagement

Throughout 2019, the Edinburgh Poverty Commission is working to define the steps the city needs to make to end poverty in Edinburgh. They’ve run two calls for evidence already, and this one focuses on ‘places’. Some of the questions in the call for evidence include:

  • What are the biggest challenges to securing and sustaining an affordable home in Edinburgh?
  • How does the fact of inequality between places in Edinburgh impact on the lives of people in low incomes?

3. BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

BEIS are ‘seeking views on the £250 million Clean Steel Fund, which will support the UK steel sector to move to a decarbonisation pathway compatible with net zero.’ The call for evidence focuses on two themes:

  • transitioning to lower carbon iron and steel production through new technologies and processes, placing the sector on a pathway that is consistent with the UK Climate Change Act (net zero)
  • maximising longevity and resilience in the UK steel sector by building on longstanding expertise and skills and harnessing clean growth opportunities.

Well, that’s it from us for this week. Hope you enjoy your weekend, wherever you are!

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.

Practical Democracy Project #9: using data to stem the tide of mistrust and misinformation

Last Thursday, 3rd October, Delib hosted the ninth Practical Democracy Project – a series of events designed to foster discussion on practical ways in which we can actually change our democracy for the better.

While we were setting up for PDP #9 in Westminster, Extinction Rebellion sprayed fake blood all over the Treasury and a number of innocent bystanders just across the street. The botched moment of protest, during which rebels lost control of the fire hose and got several people (themselves included) absolutely drenched in red dye, felt oddly significant as we prepared for an event themed around the state of modern democracy. (Can’t quite put my finger on why.)

It was a truly excellent event, with thanks to our truly excellent speakers: Mevan Babakar from Full Fact; Kitty von Bertele from Luminate Group; and Marcus Shepheard from Institute for Government. They’re all very different organisations, but they all have a goal in common: to use data to combat the rising (dyed red) tide of misinformation, mistrust and misuse of power, facts, and resources within our democracy.

Here’s how.

Full Fact

Mevan knows just how quickly information can spread on the internet. This summer, she put out a tweet asking people to share a picture of a man who gifted her a red bike, back when she was a 5-year-old refugee in the Netherlands. She wanted to meet him again to say thank you for the gift, but didn’t know his name or where he lived. Within 36 hours, the man had been located and they met up in person.

However, for every heartwarming story like hers there are millions more claims, fake news posts and misleading quotes and articles shared across our vast information sharing networks. Full Fact’s modus operandi is checking these claims and pushing for corrections where necessary.

One of the ways they’re able to operate efficiently and effectively is by using machine-learning, which she demonstrated with a seriously impressive voice-activated live fact check. The algorithm did several things:

  • Correctly interpreted her spoken words
  • Recognised that her sentence was a claim
  • Recognised the words and statistics in the claim (‘employment’, ‘fallen’, ’10 years’)
  • Assumed the claim was made about the UK
  • Cross-checked the claim against ONS data and concluded it was false
  • Linked to the source information.

Mevan made the point that none of this would be possible were it not for the fact that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has made its data completely open, as well as readable by machine-learning programs. The fight for open data continues.

Luminate

Kitty von Bertele spent nearly a decade working in the public sector, at a time when seeds of change in terms of open government were beginning to germinate. Indeed, it seemed like open government was the inevitable future, and there was a palpable sense of excitement at the brave new world it was going to bring with it. Sadly, things don’t always work out the way we think they will and there’s still much work to be done on getting governments to be more open and accountable.

Luminate does this work all around the world, and in the last two years, they’ve started working in the UK, too. (While it’s excellent that they have, it’s also a bit depressing that they should need to.) In the UK, their support goes towards independent media and organisations that work on strengthening data & digital rights. Luminate ran a focus group in partnership with the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and the Open Data Institute, which you may have seen being discussed on Twitter under the hashtag #WeAreNotRobots. The key takeaway? People do care about their data and are concerned about how it’s used. We just feel powerless to control it. 

Still a public servant at heart, Kitty wants that to change: she’s a cheerleader for deliberative forms of democracy and empowering people – under-represented communities especially – to become advocates for things that affect them.

Institute for Government

Marcus Shepheard is a senior researcher at Institute for Government, a think tank with an ambitious remit: helping people to understand government, and helping government to understand itself. One of the ways they do this is by providing quantitative data reports, which is a huge undertaking in and of itself. Marcus pointed out that it’s easy to quantify how well a prison is performing; they have targets, and performance metrics. It’s not so simple to quantify how well Parliament is doing. But by taking data from the ONS, Freedom of Information requests, web scraping, and interviews with people, Institute for Govermnent can create a picture of what government is and how it could be better. For example, they created a chart displaying the amount of FOIs granted per quarter by each department. The Cabinet and Foreign Offices weren’t doing so well. Other departments performed much better.

By displaying performance in a quantitative, statistical format, Institute for Government can present information in a way that is transparent and therefore holds government accountable – to itself, and to the people. One of their charts, on what happens when a vote of no confidence is made, was displayed in the office of a cabinet minister. 

Open data, practical democracy project, digital government, fake news

It was an eye-opening couple of hours, which really served to highlight just how important open and accessible data is to a functioning modern democracy. We’ve been fighting in that corner for a long time, but it’s good to be reminded of how much data policy affects other organisations, too. And with further seismic changes in our democratic landscape ahead, which could have a huge impact on how data moves across our borders, it’s important that the fight for open data, open government and honest information continues.

Endless thanks again to our speakers for generously donating their time and wisdom. You can follow them on Twitter: Mevan, Kitty, and Marcus. Also thanks to One Birdcage Walk for the event space.

If open data is your jam, an excellent resource for open government data in the UK can be found here. Also check out the ONS’s Open Geography Portal.

Missed out this time? Sign up to our newsletter to stay in the loop about future Practical Democracy Projects and other Delib events.

The Friday roundup

Happy Friday, everyone. Hope you’ve had a good week – we certainly have! Our ninth Practical Democracy Project event went down a treat yesterday. Keep an eye out on here for the writeup if you couldn’t make it.

Meanwhile, we’re up to 900 open consultations on the Citizen Space Aggregator, so that’s as busy as ever. Here’s a few of the highlights from this week.

SEPA are consulting on the use of biomass or feed to regulate the organic output from marine pen fish farming to the environment

Or, in layman’s terms, regulating how much organic waste is produced by fish farms. This follows from the Finfish Aquaculture sector plan consultation they ran last year. It’s similarly well laid-out, with an embedded consultation document on the overview page. It’s not too long, either – which is nice for stakeholders who may often find themselves faced with endless, overly technical consultations – with a good mix of yes/no questions and options to elaborate further if respondents wish to do so.

The Australian Department of Health are consulting on their Stem Cell Therapies mission roadmap

digital consultation, engagement, digital democracy

The Australian Government recently announced a commitment of $150 million, over 10 years, for an ambitious stem cell research programme. This consultation seeks the public’s views on its ‘mission roadmap’: a series of short statements that the government would use in what’s essentially an elevator pitch on the direction of the programme.

Defra is running a Call for Evidence on Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs)

In June 2019, the government announced an independent review into Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs). These would be areas of strong environmental protection that would allow marine wildlife to recover, free from human damage. They’re seeking evidence and views on how HPMAs could be introduced and what criteria should be used to decide how and where to implement them.

And that’s all for now! Have a great weekend everyone!

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.

Continuing the conversation: Defra and Dialogue

A digital engagement overhaul

Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is a huge UK government department, with a vast array of legislative responsibilities spanning agriculture, climate change, waste, recycling and more. So when it comes to engaging with stakeholders and the public, they’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

Defra chose Dialogue as part of a move to overhaul their consultation and engagement activity. Previously, they had been consulting and asking for feedback via email, which was clunky and inefficient. They bought Citizen Space, Delib’s flagship consultation tool, at the same time, which modernised the way they ran formal consultations. 

There are restrictions in the type of engagement that formal consultation provides, however, and they recognised the need for a tool that was less constrained by official consultation processes. Defra have a huge range of stakeholders who have important views on the direction a policy should take before it’s been written into draft stage, or indeed what new legislation could and should be introduced surrounding a certain issue.

Open discussion

Dialogue is a discursive digital tool that allows public bodies to facilitate thoughtful, constructive discussion with citizens and stakeholders on complex issues. Organisations around the world have used it to crowdsource ideas and comments on a huge range of topics, or ‘challenges’. Contributors can rate others’ ideas out of five stars and leave comments, with the most popular ideas shown at the top of the page. Moderators or site admins can add ideas or respond to users as well, meaning that the conversation is an open, multi-directional forum rather than ‘top-down’ engagement. It provided Defra with an innovative and effective way to tap into stakeholders’ views in an open and transparent environment.

Water abstraction reform

Defra ran a challenge on ‘Water Abstraction Reform and Water Company Discharge’: that is, the extraction of water by various companies including water and sewerage providers (abstraction) and the percentage of that water that is returned to rivers and waterways (discharge). The relationship between the two is important as water discharge can account for a significant percentage of water levels in rivers or aquifers in some cases. It’s a complex issue and Defra understood that it needed better regulation, but wanted to capture stakeholder views on how exactly they should proceed.

They opened the challenge following a public consultation that they’d run on the topic on Citizen Space the previous year. The results of the consultation were highly informative; however, they noticed that a lot of people responded that they felt unqualified to comment on how specifically Defra should introduce reform.

Conversation beyond consultation

Dialogue was a way to dive deeper into the specifics and lead a conversation in a way that elicited informed responses. They posted several areas for discussion as ‘ideas’ and invited comments on each. Then, when responses had been submitted, they posted another idea which was a summary of the comments received, so interested parties didn’t need to click through and read every individual thread.

It was an ideal way to gather further intelligence to supplement their consultation responses. All respondents’ feedback was collated and was used in the development of their final policy.

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

A Friday consultation roundup

It’s Friday! Congrats! Hope you’ve had a good week wherever you are…it’s been a busy one here at Delib. Judging by the Citizen Space Aggregator – there are 18000+ total consultations to date – it’s been a busy one for our customers too. Here’s a selection of what they’ve been up to lately.

Warwickshire County Council are consulting on their Council Plan 2025

consultation software, democracy tools, Citizen Space

This consultation has a really nice flow to it and it looks great, too. It features good use of a range of answer components, like matrix questions and drop-downs. A highlight for me is an embedded PDF with a fact bank underneath containing just the text. PDFs don’t work with screen readers so inserting the text in a fact bank means its still accessible but the page doesn’t seem endless!

Northamptonshire County Council are consulting on emergency preparedness

consultation software, democracy tools, Citizen Space

I learned a lot just by clicking through this consultation. It makes a good case for being prepared for emergencies without being alarmist: for example, keeping a stock of tinned goods and a grab bag in case you need to leave home in a hurry. There are explanatory videos for each section and it’s easy to follow. Worth a read, even if you’re from elsewhere!

The Australian Department of Health are consulting on data-matching to prevent fraud

consultation software, democracy tools, Citizen Space

This consultation relates to a bill that would enable Medicare providers to access data from other government organisation in order to prevent fraud. Concerns about data privacy are high in Australia at the moment (more on this here), so the document attached to this consultation is clear about how privacy would be protected under this amendment – it’ll be interesting to see whether stakeholders still rank privacy as a concern with regards to this bill.

That’s it for now, folks. Hope you have a great weekend. And if you’d like to talk to us about Citizen Space, or any of Delib’s democracy tools, you can always get in touch.

Customer case study: NHS Digital’s story

NHS digital consultation

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner to the health and social care system. Their mission is to transform the NHS and social care services using digital technology. So when it comes to procuring technology from external sources, they’re under a lot of pressure to get it right.

They use Citizen Space

Citizen Space was the right fit. Its unlimited nature – that means as many consultations and admin users as you like – meant it was easily scalable across such a large organisation. It was important to them to find a tool that could support a large volume of activity; to date, they’ve run nearly 600 consultations on Citizen Space.

The transition between NHS Digital’s website and their consultation hub is seamless, thanks to Citizen Space’s customisable brand colours and banner images. It makes the journey between the two virtually unnoticeable and much smoother than if the interfaces looked completely different.

Consultation and beyond

The engagement activity that NHS Digital runs doesn’t stop at formal consultation. Citizen Space’s slick built-in survey tool means its ideal for engagement of any kind. NHS Digital also use their site to run staff surveys, stakeholder engagement, event and project feedback, as well as less formal engagement activities with the public. 

Engagement best practice

NHS Digital have run hundreds of surveys and consultations. However, that doesn’t mean they’ve had to compromise on quality. They’ve adopted best practice habits across the board. These include:

  • Featuring data protection and GDPR information on the overview page, so that respondents can make an informed decision whether or not they’d like to take part. 
  • Using Citizen Space’s integrated feedback feature, ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ consistently, increasing their accountability and demonstrating that peoples’ views have a demonstrable effect on the outcome. The feature is set up so that respondents can easily see a summary of how their responses informed the outcome of a decision.
  • Listing how long from the closing date feedback is expected to be provided. This creates a publicly accountable deadline, but also keeps respondents in the loop. If people are kept waiting for feedback for months without explanation it can decrease public trust – so by being open about processing times, NHS Digital are helping their respondents feel like their time and opinions were valued.

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.

How to have The Talk (about climate change) with citizens

climate change, public participation, engagement

We saw news reports on Friday of climate protests taking place all across the globe. From Bangladesh to Berlin, people of all ages turned out in astonishing numbers in a ‘climate strike’ to raise awareness of the consequences of a warming planet. At Delib HQ in Bristol, protesters passed close by our office on their way to City Hall. 

There couldn’t be a more appropriate time, then, for a public body to open up a conversation with its citizens on the subject, which is exactly what the Isle of Man did last week, in a challenge on Dialogue called Climate Change Emergency Action Plan. Island communities are more susceptible to the effects of climate change, like flooding due to rising sea levels, so it’s essential that residents’ comments and concerns about the future of their communities are heard. The Manx have had several recent opportunities to share their views on the matter by way of formal consultations, hosted on Citizen Space. This exercise is the latest in the Isle of Man government’s efforts to tap into the collective intelligence of islanders. 

Dialogue is a discursive tool that allows public bodies to facilitate thoughtful, constructive discussion with citizens and stakeholders on complex issues. Organisations around the world have used it to crowdsource ideas and comments on a huge range of topics. Contributors can rate others’ ideas out of five stars and leave comments, with the most popular ideas shown at the top of the page.

The Isle of Man have used Dialogue before. A challenge called ‘Your services, your money, your ideas’ received over 1300 ideas and many thousands more comments. This challenge is slightly different, in that the government has used individual ‘ideas’ as subject headings for which they’re seeking citizen comments. This will mean that moderators are able to easily separate comments out for the relevant departments to view.

The government wants citizen’s suggestions on green solutions for areas like agriculture, energy, transport and housing. Given how vocal Manx have been on previous consultation and engagement activities – a consultation on their Climate Change Mitigation Strategy 2020-30 got over 1000 responses – a high level of public participation is expected on this Dialogue challenge. The responses will inform future decision-making on the Isle of Man.

Open, considered discussion and debate is a key tenet of protest group Extinction Rebellion’s demands when it comes to the climate crisis, and deliberative democracy efforts are slowly making their way into the mainstream. Dialogue is an easy, intuitive way to have these discussions online without the mess and confusion of messaging boards or social media. It works in two directions: organisations encounter ideas and viewpoints they may not have otherwise considered; and their citizens feel that their insight is heard and valuable. The recent protests have made clear that this principle of open and honest discussion will be vital in navigating policy decisions relating to the mitigation of climate change; top-down conversation (like formal consultation) won’t be sufficient on its own. Dialogue is the ideal way to foster respectful discussion and debate.

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

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Privacy by design: data ethics at Delib

australia & new zealand from space

Australia and New Zealand are both paving the way for some pretty big changes in the way they manage and secure data. Both are looking at updates to their privacy laws; in New Zealand, a Privacy Amendment Bill was put forward in 2018 and had its second reading last month. In Australia, the the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) published its final report following a ‘Digital platforms inquiry’ and recommended a number of updates to the Australian Privacy Act.

Some of the suggestions include:

  • Strengthening consent requirements in the Australian Privacy Principles to require express, opt-in consent that is informed, voluntarily-given, current and specific.
  • Enabling the erasure of personal information where consumers withdraw their consent and the personal information is no longer required to provide the consumer with a service.
  • Increasing penalties for breach of the Privacy Act to at least mirror the penalties for breach of the Australian Consumer Law.

And contained in the New Zealand Privacy Amendment Bill:

  • No information may be collected on an individual that isn’t relevant to the purpose of its collection
  • Agencies have a responsibility to ensure that identifying information is not used publicly without an individual’s consent
  • Mandatory reporting of data breaches and increased penalties for data mismanagement.

No new laws have been announced, but the Australian Government has been consulting on the proposals, with a consultation seeking stakeholder comments (hosted on Citizen Space, I might add) that closed last week, and New Zealand is likely to implement the amendments.

Privacy by design

If you’re reading this in Europe, chances are you’ve come across regulations that are similar to the above since the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in 2018. These suggestions by the ACCC do seem to indicate a shift towards a more European model of data use and ethics.

Around the world, we’re seeing governments that are realising the importance of data ethics and there’s been a big shift towards better data management in recent months. Off-the-shelf survey, consultation and engagement tools are being held up to higher scrutiny and some have been found wanting in terms of user privacy. The need for engagement tools and companies who prioritise good data practice is at an all-time high.

Part of Delib’s operation is based in Europe, so we’re well-versed in the intricacies of data management. All our tools are fully data-protection-compliant, but it’s more than that: we believe GDPR mirrors what was already best practice in data and research ethics anyway. Citizen Space, Delib’s flagship platform, was built with ‘privacy by design’ principles, which are recommended by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office. This means that rather than being GDPR-compliant just because it’s the law, we think that protecting user data and privacy, and respecting people’s right to know what information is held on them personally, is the Right Thing To Do.

Data sovereignty & information security

This principle of privacy by design is why we take steps to maintain best practice wherever we can, to apply globally rather than just within the European Union. Because we operate internationally, a frequent concern that we come across is data hosting. Data processing regulations vary across the world, which is why our customers’ data is hosted in the same country from which they operate. It means the data they collect never has to leave their shores (and therefore become subject to another country’s data policies) which saves a lot of potential complication. The way we operate means that no matter which policies your organisation falls under – whether it’s Australian data sovereignty, or Indigenous Data Rights, our tools are trusted and secure.

We also run a tight ship in terms of data security. We operate an Information Security Management System (ISMS) that’s certified to ISO 27001:2013, so all data that we do store is kept extremely safe. Strictly no ‘Password123’ allowed in this establishment! 

We know how important it is to maintain good data management as an organisation. That’s why we do, and will continue to do, everything within our capability to equip our customers with the tools to help them do so. Our customers trust us. We’d like to keep it that way.

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.

A regulation roundup

We have lots of customers with regulatory responsibilities who use Citizen Space to consult effectively with their stakeholders. It can be hard to run a consultation on what’s often highly technical legislation without making it a chore for respondents to plough through, so this week, we thought we’d celebrate a few organisations who have managed to strike the right balance.

CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) is consulting on proposed rules for manned free balloons and hot air airships

It’s a consultation about hot air balloons! Specifically, the consultation focuses on changes to Part 131 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations, which will seek to improve public safety surrounding the use of these aircraft. CASA always publish responses, and their consent page is always clear and robust – something that will come in handy when new Australian data protection law comes into effect this year.

SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) are consulting on a Forestry and Wood Processing Sector Plan

This is the most recent in SEPA’s series of Sector Plan consultations. The consultation document is embedded in the overview page, which makes this far easier to respond to on mobile as respondents don’t need to open multiple tabs. It’s also succinct, which is kind of a big deal for a stakeholder consultation!

HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) are consulting on curriculum data

OK, a little sneaky perhaps, given that this one closes today…but it’s still a good example of stakeholder consultation that’s clearly mapped out with all required information included inline with the survey. HESA uses chapters in two different ways here: firstly as a section of questions to answer, and secondly as information-only pages, which breaks up the consultation nicely. There are embedded flow-charts galore in this one so the topics are broken down in a way that’s simple to understand and respond to. Also, it’s just *such* nice branding.

So there you go – three organisations that are making stakeholder consultation a little bit simpler. For more consultations, you can always check out the Citizen Space Aggregator. Hope you have a lovely weekend everyone; we’ll be back soon with more.

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.

GDPR shouldn’t mean less democracy

We saw a tweet this morning that contained some pretty alarming information. If it’s true, it could have significant ramifications for local democratic decision-making.

The tweet claims a rise in the number of local authorities that are ‘beginning to stop putting representations on planning applications online, claiming GDPR reasons and a lack of resource to redact’.

Including representations on planning applications is an essential part of the democratic process. It keeps planning processes open and accountable: if residents are able to see others’ comments on an application, an organisation has a lot more to answer for it if approves, for example, an application that has been visibly and publicly opposed – quite apart from the fact that publishing representations demonstrates transparency.

As one Twitter user said: “Knowing what my fellow citizens are saying is a fundamental part of effective participation in the system.”

Trust in the planning system is already at an all-time low, as was widely discussed at Centre For London’s event in July. As few as 7% of citizens trust their local authority to act with integrity when it comes to planning. With local authorities not publishing representations, this statistic is set to drop even further. 

Luckily, there’s a simple fix to the problem: technology. Reasons like this are reminders why employing good technology is so vital: it’s cost-effective, it saves time, it saves resource. Twitter commenters shared horror stories of local authority administrative nightmares:

An effective tech solution would solve all sorts of problems here. Efficient digital redaction! Digital submissions! Integrated user consent! It’s why we’ve built Citizen Space to allow organisations to publish representations online in a way that’s completely, 100% GDPR compliant. No hand-written stickers, no battling with scanners. Our work involves local plans, not individual planning applications, and we recognise that they are discrete processes, but the principle of openness and honesty remains. Here’s a good example of the response publishing feature.

Local authorities need access to technology that improves both their internal administrative processes and improves the user experience for their citizens. It’s precisely problems like this that we set out to solve. Rather than stopping publishing representations, local authorities should be looking into procuring appropriate technology and getting to grips with the bearing GDPR has on their work.

GDPR was brought in to protect peoples’ identities and their freedom to speak, act and live in both physical and online realms without fear of their personal information falling into the wrong hands. It categorically was not brought in to stymie our rights to a public voice. 

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.

Follow Dani on Twitter.

A spotlight on Simulator

We write about consultations that our customers are running a lot. Which is understandable, because there are literally hundreds of them. Citizen Space is Delib’s flagship tool and we’re extremely proud of the things that our customers have achieved on it.

This week, however, we’re skipping the consultation roundup in favour of celebrating another Delib tool, cos Citizen Space has been hogging the limelight a bit and the others are feeling left out.

Enter Simulator, the leading deliberative prioritisation tool on the market. It works on two levels: it educates citizens about complex decisions that their representatives have to make; and provides meaningful, informed feedback to those representatives. It has three versions: bill, budget, and points. Participants participate by moving sliders left or right on a scale, which either allocates or removes money or points from a certain service. With each movement of the slider, they are given information on what the consequences to that decision would be on the service in real life.

Citizens can learn all about the trade-offs and complexities involved in complicated decisions such as budgets through the simple act of taking part. Obviously, we’re biased, but that’s pretty cool.

Now’s a good time to be talking about it because we are excited to present the recently-launched Simulator Aggregator. Similar to the Citizen Space Aggregator, but you know, for Simulator. It displays live Simulators as well as those that have closed and links to sites where available. 

An organisation that’s running one at the moment is Winchester City Council. They’re asking for input on their 4-year budget, over the course of which they have to find £5m worth of savings. There are options for generating income as well as cutting services, such as raising council tax and parking charges, and it also features a section on their climate change response. This will enable the Council to understand if its residents wish for them to increase their climate obligations at the cost of reducing public services and/or raising taxes.

There are due to be several more opening within the coming weeks, so stay tuned and we’ll update you next month on all the simulating that’s been going on.

Have a fab weekend everyone!

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

Switching it up: Moreland City Council’s Budget Simulator

Moreland City Council, Australia, needs to balance its budget every year. Traditionally, they have put their budget out to formal consultation each year, and 2019 was no exception. However, this time, they also wanted to try something a bit different.

They chose Simulator

They brought in Simulator, a powerful, deliberative prioritisation tool that works on two levels: it gathers public feedback on complex issues such as government budgets; and it educates at the point of response.

This means that citizens can learn about the complexities and trade-offs that their councils have to make, all while providing meaningful, informed feedback.

Unlike many councils around the world, Moreland was not experiencing a budget deficit. However, the Victoria State Government enforces a rate increase cap of 2.5% per year. They needed to operate within this cap, while still continuing to provide improvements and investment into the city. They used a Budget Simulator to ask their citizens which services they’d like to improve, and help them to understand the trade-offs that would be involved with doing so within the constraints of a rate cap – such as reducing spending on one service if they wanted to increase spending in another.

Quality data

The Council were impressed with the quality of the responses received, and they were pleased to find that the responses to the Simulator aligned closely with the plans they had drafted. Feedback demonstrated that citizens wished to prioritise funding in open space and parks, waste and environmental sustainability. Seeing these results meant that Moreland knew they were already on the right track before they had published the draft budget for consultation. Simulator acted as a pre-consultation engagement tool which gave them confidence that their priorities aligned with those of their residents.

Simulator is an ideal tool to incorporate into the decision-making process. It fosters better understanding of the often difficult decisions public bodies need to make, and for Moreland, it added an engaging new element to their annual budgeting consultation methods. The tool provided a new way for citizens to get involved and was well-received by residents.

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

A Friday consultation roundup

It’s the weekend! Which means it’s time to celebrate some of the interesting work our customers have been doing lately. There are over 18k consultations on the Citizen Space Aggregator right now, so we’ve picked a small selection for your perusal.

South Ribble Council are consulting on the future of Worden Hall

This is a great consultation on the future of a listed building. There’s an introductory video that shows footage of the hall’s interior, which is currently off-limits to the public, which is a nice touch. What I like about this is it’s very thorough: the three options they’re presenting are outlined in detail, each with their own section of the consultation. Each option has an overview plan embedded in a fact bank and its projected costs and income are made clear. The option that will bring in an income high enough that the Council doesn’t make a loss would mean significantly restricting public access, so there’s a trade-off involved. They’ve handled this by summarising the main points of each option in a ‘confirmation of understanding’ page, where respondents tick to signify they’ve read each of the main points. There are also associated consultation events, which are linked under the consultation, so South Ribble is putting a lot of groundwork into making sure they get the public’s views on this one.

The Gambling Commission are consulting on using credit cards in gambling

Gambling Commission always consult to a high standard and this is no exception. What’s interesting about this one, though, is that they’ve treated the first few pages as ‘information-only’. They’re using them as a way to feed back to respondents the results of a call for evidence they ran on the subject earlier in the year. What this does is prompts people to fully read previous results before they can start the consultation, leading to more informed and thoughtful responses.

Sheffield City Council is consulting on lowering street lighting levels

Sheffield have been running trials in a few residential areas on reducing street lighting output. By lowering lighting levels, they estimate they will save 380 tonnes of carbon emissions, as well as reducing light pollution and enabling residents to ‘derive greater enjoyment from the night sky’. It’s routed in quite an interesting way, based on whether residents have noticed/been affected by the changes in any way. Those that reply ‘yes’ are taken to a set of subsequent questions and those that say ‘no’ to another.

Well, that’s all for now. Wishing you a lovely weekend wherever in the world you are!

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