Author: Dani Topaz (Page 1 of 6)

Citizens’ assemblies: meaningful or just a phase? Camden has some answers

As the country gears up for the first session of Climate Assembly UK in Birmingham this weekend, climate change is the topic on everyone’s lips. A fraught World Economic Forum in Davos just finished, set against a backdrop of Australia being pelted with fire, and ice, and fire.

This weekend’s session follows a groundswell in both climate change awareness and activism, and the popularity in citizens’ assemblies (or CAs, hereafter) as a whole. 

By and large, we think that methods of democracy that draw on the wisdom of citizens are basically a good thing, but the somewhat feverish craze surrounding citizens’ assemblies/juries/etc at the moment raises some concerns. Is it being run with the sole intention of getting on the bandwagon? Is there a plan for how to implement the findings after it ends?

Trendy or transformational?

That’s the bit that concerns me most – realistically, running a CA implies the means and willingness to implement practical changes based on public opinion. When I see an organisation that has a poor track record of responding to citizen concerns announcing that it’s starting a citizen panel, I worry it’s just a matter of keeping up appearances. But there are some that are going about it in the right way – Camden is one of those.

They ran the UK’s first climate CA back in August, which produced report with a list of concrete, actionable items that had support by a majority of participants. Some of the suggestions included increasing green spaces, all new homes to be carbon-neutral, and for developers to fund energy-efficient building retrofits.

All good stuff – but what’s notable is that now Camden is consulting on its Climate Action Plan (via their Citizen Space site), which incorporates the results of the citizens’ assembly as well as other engagement exercises it’s run on the subject.

Not that I thought Camden was a bandwagon-jumper, but running a formal consultation on the back of citizen-deliberated findings is a clear-cut indication that said findings are to be incorporated into policy. It also gives the wider public a say on the measures. What’s clear from the content of the consultation, as well as a dedicated section on Camden Council’s website, is that the Citizen’s Assembly was part of a robust wider initiative that’s been ongoing.

The consultation itself is well-presented, with plenty of information in plain English and a clear, easy-to-follow format. Citizen Space’s accessibility and data security lend themselves to high-impact subject matter such as this: the climate emergency affects literally everyone, so in order to consult effectively authorities need a platform that can be accessed by everyone.

Camden is a great example of how valuable citizens’ assemblies can be: they generate clear, distinct actions for an organisation that is committed to implementing them. And that, I think, is the key: it must be said that the assembly this weekend is being run independently, and the government has absolutely no obligation whatsoever to act on any of the findings. I wish them well, but I’ll be reserving judgement until we find out what actions will be taken as a result.

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.

Hope and restoration: the Earthquake Commission Inquiry

The Earthquake Commission Inquiry (EQCI) was established after a series of devastating earthquakes ripped through New Zealand in 2010 and 2011, leaving many homeless, displaced or injured and nearly 200 dead. The Earthquake Commission is a state-funded body that acts as an insurance company for those affected, but following the string of disasters at the start of the decade, many were still waiting on their claims to be honoured nearly a decade later.

The EQCI was set up to investigate what went wrong, and how to move forward. They used Citizen Space to consult with the public and gather evidence – read the full story here.

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.

The nuclear option

Consulting on nuclear with Citizen Space

So this was a fun one to research. Did you know that submarines powered by nuclear engines can operate for 25 years without ever needing to be refuelled? Well, now you do. However, when those 25 years are up you’re left with the issue of what exactly to do with a highly radioactive giant metal sea-tube.

The UK’s answer to this question has previously been…not excellent. Confidential documents from the MoD revealed that in 1989, the ‘plan’ for dealing with 22 out-of-service nuclear submarines was to seal them up, dump them in the ocean off the coast of Scotland, and then – and I quote –  ‘hope that everybody [forgot] about them’.

Thankfully – THANKFULLY – this did not happen, and there are Processes In Place for dealing with radioactive waste. It’s not something that is widely discussed, however, and nuclear projects are consistently dogged with accusations of being secretive and dishonest.

It’s a contentious topic, and the public certainly have a right to know what happens to radioactive material or if a nuclear project has been proposed. Which is why it’s encouraging to see public consultations being held on such things, on Citizen Space to boot. Here are some examples:

HMNB Clyde Application Consultation – SEPA, UK

This consultation regards the Ministry of Defence’s license at Faslane to handle radioactive waste from decommissioned nuclear submarines. It’s very technical, which is unavoidable for this type of thing, but SEPA is demonstrating a commitment to getting the public involved by steering clear of dense PDFs and including plenty of background information.

WHY IT’S GOOD: They’ve included a timeline of the different stages of consultation, as well as a list of relevant organisations who they will contact regarding the issue, so it’s pretty transparent.

Sellafield Radioactive Substances Activities (RSA) Permit – Environment Agency, UK

The Environment Agency consulted on a revised permit for Sellafield Ltd, a multi-function nuclear site in Cumbria. Due to the changing nature of its activities, their permit needed adjusting to reflect the new types of activity.

WHY IT’S GOOD: the EA posted a list of issues and topics that were within its remit and a list of things over which it had no control, which gave respondents an expectation on what sort of action they could expect on the back of their feedback.

The EA published responses where consent was given, which, given the subject material, you’d expect a public body might wish to avoid. Responses were from a combination of stakeholders and the public.

Code of Practice for the Security of Radioactive material – Ministry of Health, NZ

In 2017, the Radiation Safety Act came into force across New Zealand. As a result, new codes of practice needed to be established to ensure that relevant industries were upholding safety obligations. This consultation was one of several consultations on such codes of practice.

WHY IT’S GOOD: The language is plain and concise, with minimal technical jargon, so that anyone with an interest can respond rather than respondents being limited to those that can understand industry terminology.

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.

The Strategic Review of Irish-Scottish Relations

The Scottish & Irish governments released a joint consultation on Scotgov’s Citizen Space this week, called ‘Strategic Review of Irish-Scottish Relations’. 

A joint op-ed, published in the Examiner and the Scotman, says of the Review:

Scotland and Ireland have long been neighbours and friends, from our historic Celtic roots to contemporary links in business, education, culture and beyond….[our] continued political engagement has seen relationships flourish across political, cultural and trade fields.

After more than two decades, and in the changing context of Brexit, it is timely to review our relationship.

It’s exciting to us for a number of reasons, not least because we’re the type of people who genuinely get excited about consultations.

It’s always cool to see large-scale consultations run on Citizen Space because it really shows off what the platform can do. The Scottish Government’s first ever consultation, back in 2012, related to the Scottish Independence Referendum, since which time Citizen Space has become loads more powerful and generally better. It’s optimal for this type of thing: it’s able to handle large volumes of responses and for site admins to be able to analyse them with ease. It’s also got watertight security (we adhere to GDPR data protection standards and will continue to do so after Brexit) and accessibility standards, which is essential as the two countries may well have differing legislation on these points post-Brexit, when GDPR won’t apply to Scotland any more.

We’ve had multi-national consultations in the past, but they’re certainly uncommon. Countries work together all the time but they don’t often consult together. It’s really interesting (and also great) that Scotland and Ireland have chosen to involve the public in their international relations on this occasion. It’s probably quite tricky to orchestrate but the Scottish & Irish governments have done this well. The questionnaire doesn’t delve into any specific policies or legislation; rather, it’s seeking broad-level opinions on the general direction of the two countries’ relationship.

I predict this won’t be the last exercise of its kind that we see arising as a result of/catalysed by Brexit (more on this here), so watch this space.

I’ll sign off with another quote from the op-ed cited above.

Our approach is encapsulated in the word dual. In the Gaelic of Scotland and Ireland, dual means a strand, to twine; a concept of Scottish-Irish interconnectedness.

To take part in the questionnaire, you can do so here.

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.

‘The most accessible review of a law that we are aware of’

The Independent Review of Learning Disability and Autism in the Mental Health Act (or IRMHA for short) was set up to assess whether changes needed to be made to the Scottish Mental Health Act. Because they were speaking to people with lived experience, as well as professionals and carers/guardians, they needed to uphold outstanding accessibility standards throughout. In their final report, the IRMHA said that it was the ‘most accessible review of a law we are aware of’. They chose Citizen Space to use for the third phase of the review – find out more here.

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.

Just don’t call it a transformation: an interview with Jason Kitcat

Jason Kitcat took on the daunting task of modernising a local authority. Here’s how he did it.

Jason Kitcat spent two years as Executive Director for Corporate Development at Essex County Council. I interviewed him shortly before his role came to a close. Over the course of his time there, he did work that would radically change the way Essex County Council operated, preparing it for the age of the internet and beyond.

I’m not 100% sure what Jason’s title actually means, but somehow I don’t think it matters much. He has a vision, and is very much getting on with making it happen, whatever his title. He talks at a hundred miles an hour, in a fascinating mix of metaphors, allegories, and buzzwords, giving me not just the answer to my questions but to all the follow-up questions I was thinking of asking before I could ask them. I’m glad I recorded the conversation rather than attempting written notes.

            I get off to a good start, asking him to talk me through the digital transformation strategy at Essex CC. “Well, we don’t have a digital transformation strategy. We don’t use the word digital, we don’t use the word transformation,” he replies. (Excellent work on my part.) “But other than that – what we do have is a view that internet-age tools, products, packages, and business models have a fundamental impact on the way we need to operate to stay relevant and improve outcomes for the citizens of Essex. We found that the word ‘digital’ wasn’t helpful, because a lot of people didn’t know what it meant, and also the term ‘transformation’ suggested it was a once-and-done thing, when we believe it’s about continuous change.”

Photo of an Essex beach

            He prefers I think of it as “business-as-usual for the 21st century”, which makes sense for any private organisation, but the thing with local government is that it wasn’t designed for the 21st century. Essex County Council was founded in the late 1800s, back when the word ‘digital’ meant ‘of or pertaining to fingers’. It was transformed into something like its modern iteration in the 1970s. And, like many, if not most local councils in the UK, it’s been struggling to keep up with sweeping changes in the technological landscape ever since.

            What Jason is doing, then, to take inspiration from one of his metaphors, could be described as inducing a long-overdue evolution from a mechanical, analogue county council into an organisation that’s equipped to flourish in the age of the Internet. “We need to change our mental model to much more mental agriculture or gardening; that is, we need to work to understand and support the positive conditions that will enable seeds to germinate and for plants to flourish,” he says. “You can’t actually make a seed germinate, you can’t make a flower bloom, but you can do everything you possibly can to make it as likely as possible. And that kind of way of working is how we need to look at the world, and at complex systems.” Systems like crime, for example – he goes on to tell me about something he heard on the radio that morning on knife crime in the West Midlands, and how its chief constable says there’s a multi-level approach needed to tackle the issue effectively.

What we want to do is get to a place where engaging citizens in our decisions is the new normal. So modern tools like Citizen Space…are a really important thing to add to the mix.

            The ‘flower’ Jason is referring to in this instance is an effective Council service. And the gardening he’s been doing has been extensive, ranging from implementing more agile internal work practices and bringing new staff on board to using technology more intelligently.

            “We’ve created a set of capabilities in the organisation…by bringing together all the skills we think we need to build a multi-disciplinary team that can deal with any big problem that a local government might face. So we’ve got service design, delivery management, programme management, commercial experts, technologists, data scientists, researchers, ethnographers, strategy people, equalities specialists, and communications and marketing. By bringing people together from all those professions, we can really make a big difference in terms of the serious problems that face us.”

photo of ruins in Essex countryside

            In terms of the digital aspect of this ‘garden’, he is keen to stress that it’s just one element – albeit an important one – of the wider plans, which is why he doesn’t want the term to hold too much currency. “We found it just muddies conversations,” he says of the word itself. “I guess you could call it digital change, you could call it becoming a new internet-era council – we prefer not to have a big brand and flashy lights around it. Technology can certainly help with the complex problems – it can improve collaboration, it can improve understanding, it can give you more insight and data, but in and of itself it’s not going to change the problem if you don’t have the right analysis, understanding, and capabilities of people applied to the problem.”

            So how does Citizen Space fit into that ideology? Well, it’s part of the plan to make new ways of working the usual ways of working. “We have a research and insight team who really champion doing consultations in the right way. They also do things like ethnography and guerrilla research, like stopping people in libraries and on the street, a whole mix. And certainly, partly because of the scale of Essex – we serve 1.45 million citizens, you can’t physically meet all the citizens who want to have a say – digital tools can enable a broader reach and also they’re cost-effective.

“Our historic tools for doing this were really antiquated and not very enticing, and they were hard to use internally as well, and what we want to do is get to a place where engaging citizens in our decisions is the new normal. So modern tools like Citizen Space, that are proven, that have a good track record, are a really important thing to add to the mix so that we can encourage officers to take more use of it and make it a more friendly experience for citizens.”

People didn’t enjoy setting up consultations in the old system, and [citizens] weren’t really responding to them…If we make it easier and lower the barrier to entry, we’re going to encourage more officers to include consultation in how they work.

So were there any specific issues he was looking to address?

“I think the thing was that people didn’t enjoy setting up consultations in the old system, and citizens weren’t really responding to them. There was a general feeling that, if we make it easier and lower the barrier to entry, then we’re gonna encourage more officers to think that consultation is something they can include in how they work…but it also means the public don’t feel like ‘God, that was an awful experience, they didn’t really want to hear what I thought’ – cos that’s always a suspicion, isn’t it – ‘maybe they don’t really want to know.’ Public bodies have to fight hard and show that [consultation] is not a cynical exercise – it’s genuinely changing how we think about things.”

So Citizen Space helped change the culture around consultation from the inside, too?

“Yes, that was part of it, about encouraging people to use consultation tools more often. If the tool is hard to use, not pleasant, all of that, it reduces peoples’ willingness to say, ‘well, why don’t we get some engagement?’ So we were trying to shift that culture, yes.”

I say I notice that he seems keen on listening more effectively to citizens, and consultation is one of the ways to do that. What does he think about the importance public participation, particularly in terms of county councils?

“I think it’s key. I think county councils, because of the scale of them, and how the nature of two-tiered authority goes, find it harder to engage with their citizens than other types of authorities. So we need to work extra hard on it. So I do think that’s really important. You always need a varied approach, so we’re working a lot on social media approaches, engaging the local Facebook groups, and so on. You know, there’s got to be a mixed model there, but there’s a lot of people who probably want to get involved and don’t even know how to, so we need to reach them. We can’t expect them to beat a path to our door, so there’s a lot of work to be done there. And there’s a lot of social assets out there, in terms of community groups and informal networks, that we really need to build on and not try and replace or overcome with structures, we just need to tap into them. We need to learn and use that knowledge, rather than pretend it’s not there.”

photo of Essex county flag

It seems, promisingly, that the citizen is at the heart of the plans through and through. I mention that there can be a trend in local councils of deploying new technology in the name of modernisation that doesn’t actually add value to either citizens or staff, and it’s encouraging to see a council taking a different approach. So how does he think the ‘gardening’ approach, along with proper use of technology, can actually improve the lives of citizens in Essex?

“That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Probably a multi-billion dollar question, really,” he says. There are clues, he thinks, to be taken from the private sector: “I’m not saying the private sector is ahead in all cases, they’re certainly not – but some of those models around, for example, supermarket deliveries, or what companies like Monzo have done with banking, suggest there’s an opportunity there.

The way people behave in the world is changing, and society is changing, so we need to change. We need to be reflective of that.

“An example I like is delivery of food – there’s a lot of work that’s gone in to creating a really smart experience. You can say ‘I hate spinach, never send me spinach’ – there’s all sorts of clever stuff going on, giving you a really personalised on-demand experience. Even Ryanair, for goodness’ sake: you can do a web chat with them to solve your issues on extended hours. Which is great for people who can only access support services outside of normal hours, due to the type of job they do. So all of that stuff has really improved people’s experience of how they can get things done, and local authorities and public services have not kept pace with it. There’s definitely a gap there. But fundamentally, the theory that we’re working to is if we can reduce the cost and complexities and burdens of delivering the services, we can release resources and gain data and everything that should make us able to intervene more effectively where we really have to – you know, the human touch in the high-cost, complex areas. That’s the idea we’re working to.

Things like Citizen Space are all part of [determining] … how we actually meet the true needs of our citizens, not what we think they need.

“We need to absorb the best of that [private sector] culture and understanding and creativity, the best things about being agile – you know, working in different ways, and using technology to change how we reach people but also to change the way we think about what we do. Are we enablers? Or we actually have to be deliverers all the time? Because in many cases, getting out of the way, listening to citizens more effectively and just being a platform for them to improve their lives is far better than trying to introduce structures. So things like Citizen Space are all part of that – how do we listen better? How do we co-produce? How do we actually meet the true needs of our citizens, not what we think they need?

“All of that stuff I think is really where the action is in public services right now, and I think there are huge opportunities there. It’s not as simplistic as saying, ‘oh, if only we were like Amazon,’ I think that’s rubbish, it’s not true. But I think there’s something about the spirit and the thinking and trying to really look at things with fresh eyes, because people are changing – how they behave in the world is changing, and society is changing, so we need to change. We need to be reflective of that.”

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.

More like this: People and the policy cycle: lessons from the City of Edinburgh

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Looking back on 2019: democracy edition

sign on a lamppost with the text 'good news is coming'

I thought about doing one of those ‘year in review’ posts, but let’s be honest, it would probably be more for our benefit than anyone else’s. Instead, I thought it would be nice to counteract all the doom and gloom with a bit of positivity: a roundup of good democracy news, so to speak. I expect I’ll miss some off the list but it’s the holidays so bear with. In no particular order, here’s some good democracy stuff that happened in 2019.

Citizens’ assemblies as far as the eye can see

CAs have undoubtedly been a huge democratic development this year, with several having taken place already in the UK and many more planned. They’re being seen as a good supplement to democracy-as-usual with organisations using them to guide decisions on everything from climate change to facial recognition technology. Here’s a list of UK-based Citizens’ Assemblies in 2019.

Digital transformation train

Organisations are increasingly seeing the value in well-executed digital transformation – I swear I see a job posting for ‘digital transformation executive’ about once a week. This has plenty of good implications for citizens in terms of accessibility, service design and, of course, digital democracy. (Read about Essex County Council’s transformation digital change here.) This has led to some interesting projects and collaborations, like this one between Australia and Vietnam.

Democracy is good for your health

image of christmas greenery surrounding a sign saying 'happy new year'

The Lancet released a study in March with findings that citizens of democracies, particularly those that had access to free and fair elections, had fewer cases of HIV, cardiovascular problems, TB, and other causes of mortality. On a similar note, the WHO found that public participation in health-related decisions increases health equity.

Young people getting involved

I loved this story out of Pakistan in April: one of its most underserved provinces has partnered with the World Bank on a program that employs tech-savvy youth to come up with ways in which technology can boost economic growth. I’ve also heard the importance of the youth voice mentioned several times at events this year; my hope is that 2020 will bring more initiatives like Pakistan’s into play.

A year of democratic experiments

We had Macron’s Grand Débat in France; G1000 in Belgium; America in One Room in the States; Chatham House’s crowdsourced project on technology and democracy in Europe. Whether or not they’re successful (the Grand Débat was seen to fall flat of its potential) remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the value of deliberative democratic exercises is becoming more widely recognised.

I think 2020 will see more of these types of experiments taking place, certainly with some failures among them. My hope is that these won’t impede democratic progress; rather, other organisations will take the opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes. Here’s to a year of democracy that is more open, transparent, accessible, and that values the collective wisdom of the public.

Happy holidays, everyone.

What does Brexit mean for public participation?

When Boris Johnson dramatically strengthened his position as UK prime minister last Thursday, leaving the EU in January got a whole lot more likely. Organisations nation-wide will have their work cut out for them, both before and after the exit date. For public bodies, it’s going to mean new policies – lots of new policies. Which will mean a lot of consulting. Like, a lot a lot.

At the base level we’ll be seeing statutory consultations, but there’s also stakeholder and non-statutory engagement on top of that, on anything from government-mandated topics to much more localised issue-based ones. It’s safe to say that EU regulation impacts pretty much every area of life in the UK, from clean water to hoovers and, yes, bananas.

Citizen Space is the consultation tool of choice for over 150 organisations worldwide. Here are a few reasons why it’s the best platform for the coming influx of UK-wide consultation activity.

Scale

Citizen Space is unlimited, meaning that users can consult as often as they like. The Post Office run, on average, nearly 12 consultations per week. Since their site deployed in 2016, they’ve run over 2000. Hopefully, organisations won’t need to run that many just on Brexit-related stuff (please, no), but if they have to then Citizen Space will support that level of activity.

Versatility

Citizen Space has been used to run consultations on everything from the Scottish Independence Referendum to private staff surveys. There’s no topic too big, small, specific or broad.

Security

Brexit will have a lot of implications for data privacy and security, not least because GDPR may no longer apply. We operate on ‘privacy by design’ principles (read more here), and Citizen Space is fully GDPR compliant. It will remain so after Brexit. Privacy is Important.

There are plenty more reasons why it’s the best choice. To find out more, you can book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

Three London boroughs consulting on electric cars via Citizen Space

Electric cars. Back in 2006, there was a theory going round that Big Oil had lobbied them all into the scrap heap (remember this documentary?) Now they’re increasingly ubiquitous. The UK Government is considering giving them special road privileges. Whether you’ve got one or not; whether you’re for or against green licence plates; one thing looks (and already is) pretty inevitable: not enough charge points to go around.

For the last couple of years, you may have heard a lot of talk about clean air, resulting from central government’s big to tackle emissions resulting in poor air quality across the UK. Local authorities were tasked with improving air quality, and one element of that for many councils has been improving electric car infrastructure – particularly in the capital. Here’s how London boroughs have used Citizen Space to give residents a say on how this infrastructure will be delivered.

Richmond-on-Thames

Screenshot of London borough Richmond-on-Thames' consultation on electric vehicle charge infrastructure
London borough Richmond-on-Thames’ consultation on electric vehicle charge infrastructure

Richmond-on-Thames launched a consultation on charge points following a number of resident requests for them to be implemented in a certain area. They used the consultation overview page to show post codes of potential installation sites, which respondents could click on to see an image. They’ll consider the responses of residents and whittle down the prospective sites to a shortlist, which will then be consulted on again in order to move forward with putting the plans into action.

London Borough of Brent

Screenshot of London Borough of Brent's Citizen Space site, showing different electric vehicle charge point consultations
London Borough of Brent’s Citizen Space site, showing different electric vehicle charge point consultations

Brent released a series of consultations on charge points earlier this year, rather than a single centralised one, to gauge resident opinion on where to install electric vehicle charging points. These consultations were part of the start of a second phase of installing charge points across the borough, with 26 points currently being delivered. Given the increasing numbers of residents registering electric vehicles, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that Brent may see the need to run a phase three – and beyond.

Hammersmith and Fulham

Screenshot of London borough Hammersmith & Fulham's consultation on improving air quality
Hammersmith & Fulham’s consultation on improving air quality

Hammersmith and Fulham are very responsive to resident feedback. They incorporated questions on electric vehicles into a wider consultation on improving air quality in Hammersmith Grove in 2017. In it, they made clear that they would only implement changes that had support from a majority of respondents. Following the consultation, they introduced more electric vehicle charging points alongside other measures that were supported by residents. They also consulted on trialling a zero-emission zone – i.e., only electric cars would be allowed through it – but based on feedback (88% of respondents opposed) they didn’t go ahead with the proposal.

Citizen Space is the platform of choice to run broad-scope statutory consultations for over 100 organisations worldwide. If you’d like to find out about what it can do for yours, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.

For patients, by patients: Metro South Health’s Dialogue

Metro South Health covers a huge demographic range and is a highly-accessed health service. They use Dialogue in innovative ways to engage effectively with their patients – essentially asking people to decide how the health services can be improved. The best ideas will be put forward for development and implementation.

Read the full story here.

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

Consulting on the climate with Citizen Space

We see certain trends in the types of consultations that are run on Citizen Space. If you have a look through the Aggregator at any given point you might notice several different organisations consulting on the same topic. At the moment, there are a few good consultations open on climate change, which we’ll almost certainly see more of as local authorities begin to put plans in place after having declared climate emergencies. Here are three organisations who’ve opened climate consultations recently.

City of Edinburgh Council

Screenshot of City of Edinburgh Council's public consultation on mitigating climate change
City of Edinburgh Council’s consultation on climate change

Why it’s good: As detailed in my conversation with David Porteous, which you can read here, Edinburgh tend to consult in multiple stages, the first of which has the aim of ‘testing the water’ of public opinion as it were. This consultation does just that: composed mainly of matrix questions, it’s testing for public perception on the climate crisis as well as what people are willing to do personally and what barriers to this they might face.

Why that matters: This is a good example of public response guiding a council agenda, rather than the other way round. Tackling climate breakdown requires everyone to be on board, so using a collaborative approach rather than prescribing actions (which could end up backfiring) is important.

Environment Agency

Screenshot of the Environment Agency's public consultation on effects of climate change on english waterways
Environment Agency’s consultation on the effects of climate change on English waterways

Why it’s good: there’s a lot of information in this, but videos for each section break it down to the basics, which are then fleshed out in more detail in the text. If the respondent then wants more information they can click on links to further documentation. It does an excellent job of illustrating the vast importance of our waterways and the extent to which they impact our lives (and how much we take them for granted). It also demonstrates the interconnected nature of climate change, biodiversity, and our waterways. I learned a lot clicking through it.

Why that matters: There wasn’t a point where I felt unqualified to respond to any of these questions after I’d watched/read the supplied information. This means the consultation isn’t off-limits to anyone who isn’t an expert in climate change – anyone can take part, which, given its scope and how many people are affected, is important.

Leicester City Council

Screenshot of Leicester City Council's public consultation on mitigating climate change
Leicester’s public consultation on the climate emergency

Why it’s good: This chapter-based consultation is laid out similarly to the Environment Agency’s one above, asking for views and priorities on a different topic for each chapter. All essential information is summarised, so there’s no need to refer to external documents, but the option is there if a respondent wishes. It’s also made clear on the table of contents that responding to all sections isn’t compulsory.

Why that matters: At first glance, the consultation can look a bit daunting as there are a number of different chapters. By making it clear that all contributions, whether they respond to the whole survey or just parts of it, are valid, they increase the likelihood that people with limited time, etc., will share their opinions too.

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

Introducing our new Scotland account manager: Lauren LaRocca

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

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

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

2. Favourite band and/or artist?

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

3. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?

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

4. You (and, for the sake of keeping it interesting, any spouses/partners/kids/significant others) get mysteriously transported to a desert island, with only time to grab a couple of precious things to take with you. What makes the ‘keep’ list?

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

5. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

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

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

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

7. Why did you want to join Delib?

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

8. Any shout outs, comments or other musings?

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

Welcome aboard Lauren!

Citizen Space v5.6 will be rolled out this week

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

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

What’s new?

Manage Theme will now automatically resize images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And much more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Lancashire

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

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

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

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

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