Author: Dani Topaz (Page 1 of 3)

Keeping up with KWMC

If you haven’t heard of Knowle West Media Centre, or KWMC, congratulations: you’re about to learn some stuff about one of the most prolific and innovative community organisations in Bristol. Comprised of districts including Filwood, parts of Knowle, and a bit of Hengrove, depending on who you ask, Knowle West is an unofficial ward which spans an area of the south of the city that’s been chronically deprived for the last several decades. Unemployment rates are high and the average life expectancy is about eight years shorter than in affluent areas of Bristol such as Clifton.

Carolyn Hassan, founder and director of KWMC, has lived in the area for the last 18 years. Coming from a background of film and photography, she doesn’t see the area through the lens of reputation and census statistics. She recognised the beauty and potential in its communities and young people and that’s what KWMC is for: giving opportunities to those on the losing end of the statistical register; groups who are less likely to have access to materials and technologies that enable them to create.

It’s a broad remit, and this scope is reflected in the sheer volume and variety of work they do and services they provide. In a general sense, their focus is on teaching and enabling community members to use technology and data to create art and media, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as we learned.

Last week, myself and a few other Delib staff were lucky enough to be taken on a tour of their impressive facilities and work spaces. They have a main building, built out of straw bales and which houses a fully-equipped recording studio and computer lab and in which they hold a myriad of activities and workshops for local kids. Then there’s the Filwood Community Centre, with the stunning gardens in the courtyard and hexagonal planters that were made by community members at their factory (!) housed in Filwood Business Park. Their factory boasts a laser cutter, 3D printer and CNC machine, all of which are used by local makers. They’ve hosted workshops on using digital as an art medium; that is, designing digitally and using these machines to create new types of art and fabrication.

Filwood Community Centre
Filwood Community Centre

As well as being a ridiculously cool organisation, their world and ours overlap a fair bit. As well as their focus on the importance of technology, a huge part of their activity involves engaging with the community.

One area where we’re really working in the same sphere is in terms of planning: KWMC have started an initiative that aims to shape the direction of planning in the area. Whether it’s having a say on what gets built and where, actually doing the developing themselves, or empowering locals to make changes to their own homes (planning permission is far less likely to be granted in the area for things like home extensions than it is in Clifton), they’re involving the community more directly in the planning process. The group is working with the Planning department at Bristol City Council and hopes to provide citizen-led housing in Knowle West that people both want and can afford. Part of this process involves regular consultation and discussion with the community. They even built a prototype home, called a TAM, as part of their ‘We Can Make Homes‘ project in partnership with White Design.

The TAM

This collaborative approach was brought up again and again at Centre for London’s planning event last month as the gold standard for increasing trust in the development process. Community groups that spoke said that an approach like this – one in which they’re involved from the outset – would increase trust and would make for better, more needed developments.

Our thanks to Carolyn for the very informative tour – it was great to be shown the workings of an organisation whose values align so closely with ours. Bristol is known for its enterprising and creative spirit and Knowle West Media Centre is a great reflection of this.

Follow KWMC on Twitter

Some consultations that have opened recently

Happy Tuesday, one and all. Hope you’ve had lovely weekends!

There’s plenty going on in the Citizen Space Aggregator at the moment, with over 18000 total consultations. Read on for three of the recent highlights.

The Government of Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is consulting on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Assessment Guidance

The EPA is looking for community and industry input on how it should consider greenhouse gas emissions when assessing significant proposals in Western Australia. They will publish responses where consent has been given to do so, and I like how they make it clear exactly what will happen to respondents’ submissions: for example, they can request that part of their submission is kept confidential, but they are also made aware that there’s a possibility it could still be disclosed under the Freedom of Information act.

The London Borough of Camden is consulting on ‘Improving health in East Camden’

Camden residents from Kilburn, Swiss Cottage, Fortune Green and West Hampstead have made up a Neighbourhood Assembly, and have worked together to develop six ideas that will make their neighbourhood a healthier and happier place to live. This consultation is now asking the wider public what they think of the six ideas. This model – deliberative, community-led engagement, followed by formal consultation – is a great way of building trust within communities.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is consulting on ‘Proposed changes to the dangerous goods rules’

CASA is seeking feedback on changes to the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations, with the aim of making the regulations for carrying dangerous goods easier to understand and comply with. It’s a chapter based consultation that quotes the relevant legislation, as well as embedding the full text into a fact bank, rather than linking externally to a PDF on a separate site which respondents then have to flick back and forth between. In keeping with their precedent, CASA will publish responses where consent has been given to do so. Response publishing is a key feature of Citizen Space and is a great way to increase transparency and accountability.

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

Civic Tech vs. Gov Tech…and why they shouldn’t be separate

In the world of digital democracy, you see these terms being thrown around a lot. But what do they actually mean? Well, civic tech is, by definition, tech that is designed with the public in mind, giving them easier access to public services. Gov tech is tech that is designed to manage a public organisation’s internal and administrative processes. Given that they should be two sides of the same coin, it’s remarkable how few services are designed for both ends – which can have far-reaching consequences.

Having worked within a local authority before, I know first-hand how inefficient it can be. For example, there was the system that was designed to make it easier for council tenants to book repairs online, but its automated back end turned out to be faulty and booked them under the wrong category – meaning that someone’s whole job for a couple of months was going through the appointments and manually correcting them. Then there was the form on the council’s website that residents could fill in online to report street issues, but that asked for too much detailed information, which residents didn’t always have. They then turned to apps like FixMyStreet or Love Clean Streets, which make it easier to report issues than than doing so through the council’s website – but aren’t compatible with the council’s process, so for each report received, an administrator had to enter the whole thing into the council’s web form anyway.

These painful inefficiencies all add up and time, of course, is money – money that could be better spent elsewhere.

This is why understanding the relationship between Gov Tech and Civic Tech is so important. As Colin Wales says in his excellent article on digital transformation in government, there’s not much point in providing great user interfaces if they ‘aren’t married with the right back office systems…[as] they are not enough to deliver real value to citizens or the level of savings required to balance the books and avoid degradation of services.’ So when an authority approaches its digital transformation, it should be careful to consider this relationship.

Essex County Council is a great example of this done well. In an interview I did with him in May, Jason Kitcat, the Executive Director for Corporate Development at the time, told me about his unique approach to modernising the county council. ‘What we’re doing – it’s not a digital transformation, because that would imply a once-and-done thing,’ he said. ‘It’s business-as-usual for the 21st century – it’s continuous change and adaptation.’ It wasn’t just about procuring tech solutions – it involved a change in attitudes and ways of working across the whole council with the aim of delivering a better, more robust service for their citizens. It’s a huge undertaking and completing such a massive overhaul can be costly – but for the reasons I mentioned above, it absolutely saves money in the long run.

One of our three tools, Simulator, is simple to use from the front end…
…as well as the back end.

So how does this all relate to Delib? Well, we like to think of ourselves as placed firmly at the intersection between civic and gov tech. Our tools are made specifically to bridge the divide between the two. Our engagement platforms bring citizens closer to the democratic decisions that affect them – and simplify the analysis and execution for the decision-maker, too. We make it simple to create and publish a consultation, simulation, or challenge, and we make it simple to respond to one. Our built-in analysis tools speed up the feedback process, and we ensure that when feedback is posted it’s easy to find. Both parties are saving time – which, as I’ve mentioned, equals money – and effort. It’s a win-win. And that, quite frankly, is how it should be.

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

Streamlined stakeholder consultations: why the Gambling Commission chose Citizen Space

The Gambling Commission oversees and licenses all gambling operations in the UK. They regulate a huge amount of premises and are committed to doing so in a way that is fair, objective and accountable.

Part of operating in this way involves regular consultations with stakeholders on their decision-making.

They had a consultation system in place, but a survey with their stakeholders in 2017 revealed that people found their consultations to be lacking in consistency in terms of style, content and quality. They also found them to be labour-intensive. As a result of this survey, the Gambling Commission ran a review of its consultation process in order to add value to respondents.

Citizen Space was the clear choice.

It’s designed with consistency in mind, meaning that all consultations have the same look, feel and format. Organisations have full control over the content that goes in a survey, but the process for the respondent remains familiar. All consultations – open, closed, and forthcoming – are conveniently grouped together, so respondents can share their views, see what’s coming up, and read feedback on a closed consultation all from the same place.

It also makes the process of contributing easier for respondents by giving them the option of saving their progress and returning to it later – so for longer consultations, they can break it up in a way that suits their personal schedules.


Keeping it accountable

Citizen Space has been configured to provide organisations with a range of tools that help keep their processes open and accountable. For example, when posting feedback on a closed consultation, changes in colour and layout make it clear the consultation is no longer active while still allowing all initial information on its overview page. ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ is a feature that makes it easy to find concise summarised feedback on what was consulted upon, how people responded, and what actions were made on the back of their contributions.

Choosing Citizen Space meant that the Gambling Commission picked the best tool for their stakeholders, for their consultation team, and for their commitment to fairness and honesty in their work.

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

Some interesting consultations from this week

Welcome to August, everyone. Whether it’s midsummer, midwinter or monsoon season where you are, I hope you’re an ideal temperature!

With over 18 000 consultations on the Citizen Space Aggregator, there’s always plenty of interesting stuff being consulted upon. Here’s a selection of some that opened this week.

Reading Borough Council is consulting on its Transport Strategy 2036

Reading is running a consultation on a mammoth transport strategy that will take the borough through to infinity 2036 and beyond. Rather than a consultation on a concrete proposal, they’re consulting early, and at this stage they’re assessing citizens’ priorities on suggested themes and preferred issues to tackle. Early engagement came up a lot at Centre for London’s event on participation in planning, but it applies universally- getting people involved at the outset gives more clout to their opinions and builds trust in an organisation.

The Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science are consulting on Proposed APEC Women in STEM principles

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation has proposed a set of principles designed to boost outcomes for women in STEM in member countries. Australia is one such country, so they’re seeking stakeholder feedback on the proposals. Once they’re finalised, APEC hopes for all member countries to adopt them.

Brighton and Hove Council is consulting on Unpaid Trial Shifts

Brighton and Hove City Council is seeking job applicants’ views on the prospect of ending the practise of unpaid trial shifts. This one is close to my heart; I remember the days of having to work days without pay in the hospitality industry, without a guarantee of actually being offered the job. It was extremely pants, so it’s nice to see a council taking action. It’s a good survey too: it’s routed based on whether or not applicants have been asked to work trial shifts. There’s even a question asking respondents to name and shame the businesses that have asked them to do so!

That’s it for now folks. Hope you have a lovely weekend!

If you’d like to find out more about Citizen Space, you can book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

Four organisations who’ve joined the Delib fold recently

The Independent Review of Learning Disability and Autism in the Mental Health Act, UK

The Independent Review of Learning Disability and Autism in the Mental Health Act (IRMHA) recently bought a Citizen Space subscription. The review is analysing evidence on how people with learning disability and autism experience the Mental Health Act in Scotland. They’ve released their Stage 1 report, and will be consulting using Citizen Space in upcoming stages. Read the report and find out more on their website.

Torfaen County Borough Council, UK

Torfaen’s Citizen Space site

Torfaen aren’t new to Delib; they’ve had Citizen Space since 2017 (hooray!). However, they’ve recently bought Dialogue. Rather than traditional organisation-led consultation, Dialogue is a discursive tool for hosting constructive conversations online. Organisations post challenges that they’d like public input on, and respondents share, rate and comment on ideas.

Coillte, Republic of Ireland

Coillte are a Republic of Ireland state-owned commercial forestry business, and have recently subscribed to Citizen Space. They released a slick consultation on the Dublin Mountains Forests earlier this month. They manage the Forests as commercial forests, but they receive high numbers of visitors, and they want to convert the management of these forests to the primary purpose of recreation and biodiversity.  Check out the consultation here.

City of Hume, Australia

Hume City Council have recently bought Simulator to get the public’s insight on how the Council should allocate its budget. They’ve just deployed it, so check it out here. Respondents move sliders left and right to allocate or remove funds from different Council services. It’s a well thought-out Simulator with plenty of information and consequences for each slider move.

One thing we love about our customers is that everyone has their on unique take on how they use our tools, so we look forward to seeing what these four organisations release in the coming weeks and months.

Want to know more about what our digital democracy tools can do for your organisation? Get in touch here.

Equality and diversity in Sheffield City Council’s consultations

Sheffield is a highly diverse city, something in which it takes great pride. It remains a popular destination for immigrants and international students, and these numbers are only increasing.

However, with diversity inevitably come certain levels of inequality. Sheffield County Council is determined to combat this, and puts ideologies of inclusivity and equality at the heart of its policies and decisions. One of the ways it hopes to increase equality city-wide is by making sure residents can share their views and get their voices heard.

They recognise the importance of involving citizens to being a trustworthy and accountable organisation – in fact, actively listening to their citizens is a key component in their corporate plan.

Sheffield County Council also understand that sometimes it’s hard to get the views of underrepresented democraphics, so they’ve taken action to combat this. They’ve set up ‘Equality Hubs’: regular meetings for minorities to meet and discuss issues in their community, facilitated by the Council.

So when it came to choosing an online consultation platform, they knew they needed a tool that would be in line with their values of inclusion, accessibility and equality. Citizen Space was the best choice.


They chose Citizen Space

Since its inception, Citizen Space has had these principles at its heart. It’s fully equipped to enable anybody to participate in a consultation, whatever their demographic. Its simple, easy-read interface and fully responsive design mean that respondents aren’t blocked from having their say by not having access to a computer: it can be used on mobile, desktop and everything in between. It has a ‘kiosk mode’ that enables administrators to take their consultations directly to the public, meaning that even if someone has no access to any internet-connected device they can still have their say online.

It’s also fully WCAG 2.0 compliant, meaning that it conforms to international accessibility standards. It’s optimised for use with screen readers, speech recognition software, and other accessibility tools.


Effective feedback tools

Sheffield City Council recognise that simply asking for residents’ opinions isn’t enough. Sharing post-consultation feedback and next steps is an essential part of any consultation and increases trust that an organisation takes its respondents seriously. Citizen Space includes a feature called ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ that enables an organisation to give concise feedback following a consultation that features visibly on the landing page. Citizens can see at a glance the impact that their opinion had on the outcome – and can see the difference they’ve made to their community.

Happy Friday! Have a consultation roundup

Happy weekend, folks. Hope you’ve had a good week, wherever you are in the world! The Citizen Space aggregator is as busy as ever, with over 18000 consultations. Here’s a selection of the latest.

The Government of Western Australia’s Department of Health is consulting on a Climate Health WA Inquiry

The Government of Western Australia’s Department of Health are running an inquiry on the impacts of climate change on health in Western Australia. The results of the inquiry will inform adaptations that can be made to the public health system in preparation.

The Forestry Commission is consulting on the Bernwood Forest Plan 2019-2029

The Forestry Commission are seeking stakeholder views for their long-term plan for Bernwood Forest. It’s an attractive survey which makes good use of Citizen Space’s ‘embed PDF’ feature and has a v. Good example of a matrix answer component. I also like how they’ve put their data & confidentiality policy in a fact bank: it means the first page of the consultation isn’t overly long but the info is there for those that want it.

The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham are consulting on Cathnor Park Area traffic Management Proposals

This one’s great for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are clear images depicting where the proposals each take place. Secondly, the proposals were developed on the back of conversations with local residents. This consultation will determine which proposal to implement, after which there will be a trial implementation and another consultation. This might seem a bit long-winded but the open dialogue they’re having with residents means that the plans will be what’s best for the community. The Borough also reckons this approach will mean the scheme will me more financially sustainable in the long run: they hopefully won’t need to make adjustments as the scheme will already be tried and tested.

That’s it for now. Have a lovely weekend! We’ll be back soon with more.

How Southwark Council is using Citizen Space to close the feedback loop

The London Borough of Southwark is keen to get its residents involved in ongoing decision-making as much as possible. They invest a lot of time and resource to consulting in an effective and inclusive way. For example, in 2017, they ran a broad-scope, ambitious consultation called the Southwark Conversation, seeking the public’s input on change across the whole borough, and what type of future residents imagined for their home. From housing to apprenticeships, nearly 3000 people shared their views.

The consultation team did a huge amount of work ensuring that underrepresented groups got to have a say, talking to hundreds of people face-to-face and in other innovative ways, like over the radio, via telephone and in community meetings. But the largest response rate by far was received online, through Citizen Space.

Designed for any scale

Citizen Space is designed for online consultation activity on any scale. From huge exercises like the Southwark Conversation to smaller, more localised issues like residents’ parking schemes, it enables an organisation to consult in ways that enable openness and accountability to their citizens. It has a range of features that support consultation activity of any kind; for example, the ability to embed related events, documents and supporting information into the overview page of an online consultation. This means, when running non-online consultation activity, the overview page acts as a central hub for all related events and information.

Closing the feedback loop

Southwark Council recognise that a consultation doesn’t end with the survey’s closing date. It’s a continuous process, and feeding back to citizens is an essential component. Not only does it keep citizens informed on what changes will take place, it validates the time the public has invested in sharing their views. Feeding back increases legitimacy and, as a result, trust in public bodies.

Citizen Space is designed with this in mind, so sharing feedback is both simple for the administrator and clear and visible for citizens. One of the features that Southwark uses is ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’. 

This feature provides a simple way to summarise the results of a consultation and what actions were taken in a clear, succinct format. It features very visibly on the consultation hub, with its own tab in the main navigation as well as appearing on the hub landing page underneath open and closed consultations. It means that residents can immediately see the impact that sharing their views had on the outcome without having to search through poorly-designed websites or read through council meeting minutes. With hundreds of examples of ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ on Southwark’s consultation hub, residents can feel reassured their responses are valued and are contributing to meaningful change in their home.

If you’d like to learn more about Citizen Space and its features, you can book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

9 things I learned from Centre for London’s conference last week

Last Tuesday, I attended ‘Developing trust: Strengthening public participation in London’s planning system.’ It was a conference hosted by Centre For London, an independent thinktank, watchdog and charity. The event’s focus was on planning in London (although the topics apply country-wide) – more specifically how the public interact with planning and development, what’s not working, and how it needs to change. There was an impressive line-up of speakers, with discussions from people on all sides of the issue: community groups, council leaders, elected members, housing developers. I learned lots of things. Here are the bits that I think are most important.

  • Public trust in the planning process is abysmally low. Just 2% of people trust developers to act with honesty, and 7% trust their local council in matters of planning and development. Communities don’t feel that development happens in their area to benefit them: they feel it happens despite them. And, too often, it does: community groups are deemed a ‘risk’ to getting planning permissions through by planning departments and private developers. 
  • It’s been said before that simply building houses isn’t a solution to the housing crisis – what’s desperately needed is more social housing. This point came up at the event, alongside the position that those who need or rely on social housing are a demographic that aren’t likely to seek out and respond to a consultation, so more work needs to be done to hear the views of these groups.
  • The current consultation model of many councils isn’t working. Communities feel excluded from the decision process: often a consultation will be published as a glorified box-ticking exercise once the decision is all but made, thereby increasing distrust between residents and local authorities/developers. 
  • Community groups get marginalised again and again, but we heard from some very inspiring activists who’ve done amazing work in their own neighbourhoods. They can be an invaluable resource, especially in terms of local knowledge – developers aren’t usually local to the area they’re building in. As Michael Ball from Waterloo Community Development Group said, ‘community groups are the canaries in the mine. [They] know what works and what doesn’t.’

Bit depressing, isn’t it? But it’s not all bad. What I really enjoyed about this event was that it wasn’t just a group of people talking in circles about how terrible things are. There were plenty of practical solutions to the issues shared and the audience was invited to participate as well. So, here are some ways that we can improve the relationship between residents, local authorities, and developers.

  • A point that came up again and again was consult early. Getting the public involved from the outset can mitigate tensions and shape the development into something that truly adds value to the community and the wider area, rather than just altering the skyline.
  • Consult well – think outside the box! We come across too many consultations where an organisation has uploaded a 60-page PDF and then gone ‘what do you think?’ It leads to low response rates and consultation fatigue. Putting the onus on the public to seek out these consultations and spend hours and hours responding to them is unfair. It also limits the demographic that can and will access the consultation. There are loads of different approaches – I’m a big fan of direct consultation; that is, taking it to the people. (You can read about a great example of this in our interview with Julie Klausen from Hamilton Council in NZ. Her team went into retirement homes with iPads and asked elderly people to respond to their 10-Year Plan consultation.) 
  • Give community groups a seat at the table. They know the area best and have invaluable insight to share. Eileen Conn of Peckham Vision made the point that redevelopment is not the same as regeneration. There must be a publicly agreed audit of what exists & its value, before deciding to tear a building down or develop something that already exists in another capacity. For example, Fiona Fletcher-Smith of L&Q said they were asked to fund a new community centre when there was an existing centre down the road that was on its last legs.
  • Following on from the above: the vast majority of people don’t know anything about planning. It’s easy to forget that when it’s your job. This is why community groups are so important: they have more of a relationship with residents who aren’t activists, and also have a better chance of communicating with underrepresented groups.
  • Be more open about money, trade-offs and compromises. Obviously there needs to be a balance between what’s needed and how much it costs. Developers should be more upfront about the costs involved with building, what they can do within the constraints of their budget, and how much profit they intend to make. This can increase understanding and trust from the public.
  • Public participation doesn’t just have to mean traditional consultation. There was a general sense in the room that deliberative democracy models were an effective and inclusive way of making decisions. 

These are all suggestions that align with our ethos here at Delib, and we make products designed specifically to help implement solutions like these. Dialogue is a discursive tool for hosting constructive conversations online – it’s ideal for pre-application discussions in planning. Simulator is a deliberative prioritisation tool that’s been used all over the world to involve the public in complex decision-making – it’s designed for mapping out trade-offs and compromises. And our flagship tool, Citizen Space, was designed to create a consultation process that’s more open, transparent and accessible to all.

To find out how our tools can help your organisation, you can get in touch any time.

Time for a consultation roundup

Since the last roundup, I’m excited to announce that we’ve hit – and exceeded – 18 000 consultations on the Citizen Space Aggregator. There are nearly 844 open consultations at the time of writing. Impressive stuff! Read on for some recent highlights.

Coillte, Republic of Ireland, are consulting on ‘Dublin Mountains Forests; A Woodland for our Future’

Coillte is a state-owned commercial forestry business. They manage the Dublin Mountains Forests as commercial forests, but they receive high numbers of visitors, and they want to convert the management of these forests to the primary purpose of recreation and biodiversity. They’re running a slick chapter-based survey with chapters on different sections of the forests, embedded PDF plans in each chapter, fact banks containing things to do in each woods, pictures and maps…oh my! Not only is it shiny, but it means the public can find all the information they need to give their views at the point of response and don’t need to do additional research or reading.

The Ministry of Health, New Zealand, are consulting on a Medical Cannabis Scheme

The Ministry of Health are looking for public, industry and other stakeholders’ views on a medical cannabis scheme. It’s a large survey that has been organised in to chapters according to whom each topic will be relevant, i.e., patients/consumers, health professionals, prescribers, and so on. It’s convenient both for the admin, in that they don’t have to create separate consultations for each group of respondents, as well as for those giving their opinions. Respondents can easily see which sections are relevant and only need respond to those rather than having to click through an entire survey.

London Borough of Camden, UK, is consulting on ice cream licensing

Because who doesn’t love ice cream, right? Camden wants residents’ views on a scheme to license ice cream vans in the area, with the aim of reducing emissions from engine idling, clearer pricing, and increasing enforcement.

That’s it for now. If you’d like to hear more about Citizen Space, you can always get in touch.

How South East Water used Simulator to understand consumer priorities

South East Water is a metropolitan water retailer to Melbourne, Australia. In 2017, they submitted a draft Water and Sewerage Price Plan for 2018-2023. Water rates aren’t exactly the most popular of bills, and consumers are often frustrated at the costs involved.

In an effort to try and increase public understanding of costing decisions and the associated process, South East Water undertook a huge consultation and engagement effort with the public surrounding the draft Plan.

One of the tools they employed was Simulator: a digital prioritisation tool which enables the public to simulate the complex decisions public organisations have to make. It has three formats: points; bill; and budget. South East Water opted for a Bill Simulator. Participants are given a base bill amount, and move sliders left or right to allocate or remove money to and from services, resulting in an amount they’d be willing to pay for the services they wish to receive. Embedded information and impacts of each allocation that appear throughout the exercise enable participants to learn about the bill pricing process as they take part, leading to greater understanding of where their money goes and why they need to spend it.

By complementing traditional engagement approaches with leading digital tools like Simulator, the results and participation rates weren’t just impressive – they overwhelmingly exceeded South East Water’s expectations.

Following the submission of the draft Plan, South East Water’s Customer Strategy and Digital Transformation Manager, Beverley de Kretser, generously sat down to talk to Delib and share her reflections on the customer engagement exercise, its process and its successes.

One of the challenges we had was understanding their willingness to pay for them and what trade-offs, if any, they might make –  Bill Simulator provided a great way for us to do this.

Beverley de Kretser

“We implemented a robust customer engagement program to ensure our business decisions best reflect our customers’ priorities and deliver what they value most,” she said. Overall, the engagement process took 14 months and was overseen by an independent Customer Engagement Council. There were five key phases to the process, with the insights of each phase informing the approach and focus for the next. Bill Simulator took place in the third phase, ‘testing prioritisation and willingness to pay’.

“While earlier phases of our engagement empowered customers to define value and develop initiatives to deliver on [these priorities], one of the challenges we had was understanding their willingness to pay for them and what trade-offs, if any, they might make –  Bill Simulator provided a great way for us to do this,” said Beverley.   

The decision to use Simulator as a major consultation tool provided South East Water with the opportunity to engage a greater cross-section of its customers in a unique, convenient and cost-effective way. This phase of their engagement process was remarkably successful, garnering more contributions than all the other phases combined. All in all, nearly 4000 people responded to the Simulator. “We’d seen the participation rates for Bill Simulator and similar engagement tools and knew our target of 1,000 participants was ambitious – so you can imagine how astounded we were to see nearly four times that response rate along with some great feedback from customers on our approach,” Beverley said. Over 90 per cent of respondents took the time to provide additional detail to just moving the sliders, including free text comments and demographic information, resulting in a wealth of meaningful data and feedback.

Success of that caliber doesn’t come without hard work, and perhaps the key is knowing exactly the best areas in which to invest that effort. For Beverley and the team at South East Water it came down to two elements: refining the user experience, and effectively communicating the opportunity to participate with the public.

We knew our target of 1,000 participants was ambitious – so you can imagine how astounded we were to see nearly four times that response rate along with some great feedback from customers on our approach.

Beverley de Kretser

“At South East Water, we’re focused on continually improving our customers’ experience, whether that’s through digital and/ or traditional interactions… Simulator was no exception – we knew participation was dependent on simple, effortless, meaningful, and intuitive engagement. We had to get the user experience right.” 

Simulator is designed with both the participant and the administrator in mind. It’s simple, easy to understand visually with a game-like interface, and there are a whole host of opportunities for its admins to insert information – meaning the user is able to understand the different elements involved in making a complex decision. It’s also fully responsive, meaning it works on desktop, mobile and everything in between, meaning it’s accessible from anywhere. However, Beverley and the team wanted to be extra sure they got every customisable element of their Simulator exactly right.

 To do this, the team conducted extensive user experience (UX) testing, ranging from trials internally with staff and their Customer Engagement Council, to conducting one-on-one UX sessions with customers through their research partner GfK. These sessions involved customers from different demographic backgrounds testing the Simulator across different devices. 

The insights from all these testing efforts led to a crucial decision to delay the Simulator release date so that they could make further improvements. In particular, they wanted to ensure it was clearer and less jargon-heavy for respondents, which meant refining their language and questioning style and developing an introductory video to ensure customers fully understood the exercise.

“We knew delaying the Bill Simulator would impact our overall engagement program timings, but not getting the user experience right would have been a much bigger risk,” said Beverley.   

Having such a well-considered UX was only worth doing if they got the Simulator in front of as many citizens as possible. To best cater for the high cultural and linguistic diversity of its customer base, South East Water ran targeted print and social media ads in the top three languages other than English in its region. The Facebook advertisements – both in English and other languages, resulted in high online conversion rates.

Bill Simulator not only made this phase of the engagement easier and cost-effective for us, the participation rates and feedback indicate it was appreciated by our customers too– now that’s value for everyone

Beverley de Kretser

A radio interview on Melbourne’s most popular morning talkback station exposed Bill Simulator to hundreds of thousands of listeners, and helped attract complimentary local newspaper coverage. Employees and community facilities also helped promote the Bill simulator handing out business-style card promotions in public spaces like train station and libraries. They also sent out a mass direct email marketing campaign using their own communication programme, ‘Have your say’.

No doubt the multi-channel approach, along with their laser focus on user experience, helped achieve enviable results of participation from stakeholders and the community. Over 5,690 customers were directly involved in South East Water’s 14 month program, nearly 4,000 of which chose Bill Simulator as their preferred way to have their say.

At the end of our time together Beverley reflected, “understanding and researching willingness to pay is challenging at the best of times, and it’s even trickier to encourage participation when you’re exploring low engagement services like water and sewage. Bill Simulator not only made this phase of the engagement easier and cost-effective for us, the participation rates and feedback indicate it was appreciated by our customers too– now that’s value for everyone.” 

If you’d like to talk to Delib about how Simulator could be used in your organisation, you can book a free demo and one of our staff will walk you through it. We’re very friendly.

Lightning talks and flamingo hats: a recap of the Simulator Launch Party

Recently, we’ve made some pretty big updates to one of our products, Simulator. We updated the admin dashboard, meaning it a) looks loads better, b) is easier to use and c) contains all the essential information an administrator needs at a glance. We also rebranded Simulator somewhat; now, rather than being solely a budget simulator, it’s a more multi-purpose tool.

We’ve realised along the way that Simulator can do more than simulate balancing the books. It can be used for less quantifiable concepts than hard numbers, like prioritising allocation of resources, or mapping trade-offs when updating a transport network. Its third iteration is a bill simulator, which can be used to understand public priorities when it comes to bills – like water rates in Melbourne, or property tax bills in Wichita.

An example of the new Simulator admin dashboard.

In all three models, Simulator helps the public understand the difficult trade-offs involved in complex decision making, while helping organisations understand the priorities of the people they serve. Its game-like interface on the respondent’s end, and its swish new administrator user interface, are designed to be simple and easy to understand while delivering meaningful data that directly influences decision outcomes. We’re pretty proud of it. So we decided we should celebrate, and what better way than having a party?

We booked out the upstairs bar at our favourite Bristol pub, the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer, bought some bar snacks, flamingo hats and party poppers, and asked as many people as we thought would fit in the room to join us.

The evening was very excellent, with lightning talks from Carolyn Hassan, of Knowle West Media Centre; Delib director Ben Fowkes; and filmmaker Tiffany Maddox. Here’s a little rundown of what they talked about.

Carolyn is the founder of Knowle West Media Centre, an arts centre and charity that runs community projects aimed at improving peoples’ lives with the use of technology and the arts. She and her colleague Zoe talked about some of the work they’ve been doing lately, from helping people with limited tech knowledge learn skills in an age of increasing automation; to developing a citizen-led housing project called We Can Make. They’ve even developed a pre-planning protocol, currently being piloted with Bristol City Council and the Park, wherein the community consulted (woo!) on proposed developments in the area before planning permission is granted. It’s all brilliant stuff and we’re lucky to have them in Bristol.

Carolyn gives her talk

We then had a talk from Ben, who gave a talk on the history of Simulator and how it came about. Basically, democracy is broken, and it needs to be better, but it is very complicated. Budgets even more so. Simulator was developed as a way for the public to have their say on these complex issues, whilst also learning about them (and just how complex they are) through the actual process of participation, thereby increasing public understanding and organisational accountability. We got to see some screenshots of V1, when it was Budget Simulator only. It looked about as early-2000s internet as you could get. (Every time a participant moved a slider, the whole page would refresh. Remember those days?)

The final talk was from Tiffany Maddox, who gave a brilliant and sweary presentation called ‘5 creative myths – and how to close the gap’. Being a creative director and filmmaker, she has to rely on her creativity to pay her bills, which means she can’t rely on ‘the muse’ to hit her whenever. She shared five myths that annoy her about the creative process.

  1. Creative intervention is divine: it isn’t. It’s a process that you have to work at. Here are some steps:
    • Gather material. Learn about, and be fascinated with, a wide range of topics. Fall down a Wikipedia/Reddit hole and force yourself to use what you’ve learned.
    • Forget about it. Let your brain have a break from it.
      Be prepared for the idea to come to you when you’re doing something mundane.
    • Tell people about it: it doesn’t have to be Yours and Yours Alone. Talking with other people about your ideas can be super helpful, but be sure they’re not ‘w****** with agendas.’
  2. Restraint kills creativity: actually, you need it. Make yourself harsh deadlines. Stick to them.
  3. It’s not a real job: it is, and it’s hard, but also nobody will die if you don’t meet your deadline. 
  4. You’ll never measure up: comparing yourself to others is useful to nobody. 
  5. I’m just not creative!’ Yes, you are. You’re a human.

After the talks, we popped our party poppers, donned our pink flamingo hats and had a bit of a good time. It was a glorious evening, so lots of people headed up to the roof terrace. We had a great time, so many thanks to our speakers and our guests for helping make it a success.

Big plans: an interview with West Lancashire Borough Council

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Grace Wilson, a Planning officer at West Lancashire Borough Council, to talk about how Citizen Space helped them manage a consultation that matched the scale and ambition of their Local Plan.

The Council are relatively new customers to Delib, and started their consultation activity off with a bit of a bang: Grace and her team consulted on Preferred Options for their upcoming Local Plan, which proposed to plan for three decades instead of the usual 15 years.

The ambitious plan would see 15 000 new homes built across the region by 2050. Some of the developments would be built on green belt land, which attracted a lot of opposition from local residents. All in all, the consultation received over 1600 responses.

Previously the Planning department used several tools – Objective, Smart Survey and Survey Monkey – to manage their consultation activity. Citizen Space eliminated the need to use these platforms and has made life easier for the consultation managers.

‘We went for a different approach to what we normally do,’ Grace said of the plans. ‘Normally local plans run for about 15 years, but we proposed something on a bigger scale than that, and proposed a 30-year local plan which would run through to 2050 – which generated a great deal of interest in, and response to, the Plan. People are quite concerned about the scale of the plan that we’ve proposed and the amount of development that we’ve proposed within the local plan.’

I asked whether she thought the public’s concerns about the development was part of the reason why there were so many responses.

‘Yes – we proposed quite a lot of development across the area. The numbers have seemed quite high because it’s across such a long period, so everything’s multiplied by the years that you’re planning for. So I do think that has increased people’s interest in it.’

The team behind the consultation used Citizen Space’s response publishing feature to display comments from respondents who consented to having their responses shown publicly. I read through a random selection and many of them include long-form, free text comments. Looking at the long list of responses is a bit intimidating.

So how has Citizen Space helped her and her colleague, Helen, manage a consultation on this scale? Response tagging – the ability to categorise free text responses in the back end of the platform – has certainly helped.

‘All the [planning] officers have been able to get in to Citizen Space and access their topic area. Whoever’s dealing with the environment side of things has got all the environment comments, and so on…we separated everything off policy-wise, topic-wise and area-wise so it’s been quite easy. Having multiple admin users allowed has been super helpful, definitely when it came to moderating, because it wasn’t just left to the two of us…with that many responses it would’ve been quite a job!’

Did they get many offline responses?

‘We had about 260-300 responses come in through the post or by email. And to be able to pop stuff ourselves into Citizen Space – that was really useful. As the consultation closed, we [input responses] through the ‘add response manually’ function. Everything was in one place, which was great, rather than having a big separate pile of [paper responses] as well as the online responses.’

Having multiple admin users allowed has been super helpful, definitely when it came to moderating, because it wasn’t just left to the two of us…with that many responses it would’ve been quite a job!

Grace Wilson

Due to the nature of the consultation, they did a great deal of offline consultation activity beyond asking for responses – for example, press releases, articles in local newspapers, and leaflet drops. They also held consultation events – short, appointment-based Q&A sessions with a planning officer, which about 6 local residents attended at a time. ‘There was plenty of opportunity to just have a good chat about the local plan – instead of the public just being talked at, they could ask us questions as well.’ The events were listed on the consultation overview page, and I asked if she thinks that having them up there helped get more people in. ‘Yeah, I think so. The way it’s laid out is really easy to understand, so having one central point of contact for the consultation – with everything up there, like the events, and all the supporting documents – will have definitely helped.’

So all in all, would she recommend Citizen Space?

Turns out she already has. ‘We’ve had some interest from other internal departments within the Council, so we’ve started to share the software and get them on board with the use of it. I even did a demo to a few of my colleagues in Housing. I went through what kind of things you can do with it and they all seemed really impressed with it compared to software they’ve used in the past. It’s so easy to understand and communicate to the people through it. Someone from another council emailed me asking for a reference recently, so I said yes, I think it’s great. It’s a good piece of kit.’

If you’d like to hear about what Citizen Space can do for your organisation, you can book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it. Or you can always get in touch.

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