Author: Dani Topaz (Page 1 of 2)

It’s that time again: the Friday roundup

It’s officially summer in the UK today – not that you’d know it, as staff in our Bristol offices have practically been swimming to work all week. ☔️ (If you’re in an area affected by flooding, don’t forget to fill out the Environment Agency’s consultation on the UK flood mitigation strategy before the 4th July.)

That hasn’t stopped our customers’ activity on Citizen Space, though. There are 803 consultations open on the Aggregator at the time of writing. Here are some highlights.

The Isle of Man is consulting on future small unmanned aircraft safety legislation

The Isle of Man Civil Aviation Administration wants opinions on small unmanned aircraft, or SUA, legislation – think drones and remote control model aircraft. This is following on from the wider UK’s introduction of additional SUA requirements after flights were disrupted when drones were flown at Heathrow. The consultation is making use of response publishing – that is, respondents’ submissions will be published on the overview page where consent has been given to do so. The IOM use this feature a lot, which we love, because it renders the consultation process more transparent overall.

The City of London Corporation is consulting on wholesale markets

The City Corporation owns and manages three large wholesale markets in London: Billingsgate; Smithfield; and New Spitalfields. They’re proposing to bring all three of these markets together on to one site in Dagenham, and they want the public’s views on the proposal. They’ve used chapters to clearly lay out four information-only pages, with the survey questions on the final chapter. It breaks up what would otherwise be an overwhelming amount of info. Also, check out that bling banner image. Hungry, anyone?

Defra is running a call for evidence on non-elephant ivory trade

The Ivory Act 2018 will bring into force one of the toughest domestic bans on elephant ivory sales in the world. However, there’s potential for the Act to be extended to cover ivory-bearing animals other than elephants, such as narwhals and warthogs. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wants to hear evidence on trade in ivory from these species, with particular interest in hearing from people with specialist knowledge on their conservation or on the trade in their ivory.

That’s it for now – fingers crossed for some sunshine. And if you have any questions about Citizen Space or any of our products, you can always get in touch – we’re a friendly bunch.

Changing democracy for the better in Hamilton, New Zealand

In 2018, Hamilton City Council ran a consultation on Citizen Space on their 10-Year Plan for the city.

As the consultation date for the 10-Year Plan approached, administrator Julie Clausen wanted to address some of the issues the Council had previously experienced with public engagement, such as low response rates, long turnaround between the participation period and the accompanying public hearing process, and inefficient work processes for Council staff. The Plan raised some huge issues and would have a significant impact on residents, so it was important to involve residents properly.

The way they ran this particular exercise ended up totally revolutionising the way Hamilton engaged with the public. Delib director Ben Fowkes sat down to talk with Julie about how they did it.

“We wanted to work out how we could get our elected members to see a wider view, and actually to read peoples’ submissions,” Julie said. “Secondly, we needed to work out how to cope with the larger volume of responses that we were expecting.”

New Zealand has legislation in place, under the Local Government Act, wherein certain types of decisions councils make have to have a consultation open for a month, following which the public must be given an opportunity to present their views at a verbal hearing. One of the challenges with this, especially with responses submitted on paper or via email, was getting elected members to actually read and absorb them fully before the hearings.

Shaking things up

“To process submissions, [previously] we would usually export the submissions to Excel and then create a word mail merge template.That in itself is a huge exercise, and then we had to page number them all and index them all and serve them up to the elected members for them to read … Then, of course, the only ones that had access to it were our elected members even though they’re meant to be public documents.

“So we started looking at response publishing, and we could see for us it would have huge benefits; we wouldn’t have to do all that work. But more importantly, it allowed us to actually decrease the time between our consultation closing and when the information could be made available to the public. It allowed us to have our verbal hearings sooner, so that we could condense that whole timeframe, which was taking about two months from the time the consultations had closed until the time we were discussing it at a council table, making decisions.”

[Response publishing] allowed us to decrease the time between our consultation closing and when the information could be made available to the public.

Response publishing is one of Citizen Space’s key features. It gives site administrators the ability to publish respondents’ submissions on the consultation overview page, where consent has been given to do so.

The use of this feature sped up the entire democratic process. “It made it more real-time,” Julie said. “We dropped a whole month from the process.” What makes this more remarkable is that, whereas they had previously expected about 300 submissions, the 10 Year Plan received nearly 3000. They received nearly 10 times the amount of input, yet managed to feed back in less than half the time.

A more efficient process

Previously, it had taken three months from start to finish. “First of all, it was usually about three days before we could even start because we were getting paper copies, so we had to wait to get all of those [in the post]. All that processing took about three weeks at least. We still had to then publish it all and get it printed and sent to the councillors. Our councillors have to receive information for any sort of meeting seven days beforehand. You had to do all of that and still had seven days to wait. It was taking a good month and a half to two months to get to the verbal submission stage. By the time the council were talking about it everyone else had moved on in life…It was just reinforcing the message that when [citizens] do bother to get involved it disappears into the council black hole and they never hear about it again.”

Using Citizen Space meant that access to citizens’ responses was instantaneous from an admin perspective. And using the response publishing feature meant that this access was not only instant but public, too. When it came to public hearings, the ability to filter published responses made the process quicker and easier for councillors, as well as more meaningful for citizens. It also meant that a councillor would only need a laptop or tablet, rather than a sheaf of submissions that had been printed out on paper that they then had to rummage through.

Increased public interest

“Because we could hear what the community were saying a lot quicker, we held our verbal hearings for two weeks,” said Julie. “We had the hearings and the public could see that the decision making was about another two weeks later. So from a community’s perspective, they believed that the council was actually taking things seriously, working hard on something and being proactive and listening to them.

“Previously, we usually had a day of people coming in and bringing their submissions to councillors. This time, we had so many that we had to have five days’ worth of journal submissions. We were starting at 9:00 in the morning and finishing at 9:00 at night. A really high public interest. What the elected members really liked about the published responses is that they could put that person’s name in as a search word, and then they could have that person’s submission there in front of them to remind them what that person had said. They could then ask really specific targeted questions and it appeared as though they really understood what the people were talking about. Elected members were seen as really engaging with the community.”

Elected members could put a person’s name in as a search word and have that person’s submission there in front of them to remind them what the person had said. They could then ask really specific, targeted questions and it appeared as though they really understood what the people were talking about. They were seen as really engaging with the community.

Julie was initially concerned about getting elected members on board with the new process – the youngest were in their forties and the oldest in their seventies – but they loved it. “They loved it for two reasons: one is it meant that using, for example, the keyword search they could search for the people who were campaigning around certain issues. They could search for them and find what the submission was straight away, read through it and get a really good handle on it. And also, they could put in the keyword search topics like ‘Hamilton Gardens’ and then quickly see how many submitters commented about that issue.”

A wider demographic

The relationship between older people and technology was a theme throughout the consultation. Julie and her team worked hard getting people to engage in the survey and share their views. An essential component to this was Citizen Space’s kiosk mode: it enabled her to go into retirement centres and rest homes, armed with iPads, so that residents could participate then and there. “We got quite a good engagement from the older people in our community online, which was great. Otherwise, traditionally they would have completed paper forms, which brings its own issues because you can’t always read people’s writing, which makes their submissions obsolete.” It also meant that the team could head out to busy areas, like outside supermarkets, and make people aware of the consultation. 

Having the technology not only allowed them to take the consultation to a wider audience, but it was more accessible to that audience. “When you jump onto Citizen Space you’re straight in there giving your say. There’s no barrier to it. In terms of something like the ten year plan that had a number of issues, having the technology allowed citizens to go home, and when they’ve got time and headspace to make their submissions. It increases the ability of access more than anything. I think that technology plays a huge part in terms of actually getting a response rather than just giving a reaction.”

When you jump onto Citizen Space you’re straight in there giving your say. There’s no barrier to it…It increases the ability of access more than anything. I think that technology plays a huge part in terms of actually getting a response rather than just giving a reaction.

Julie’s tireless activity promoting the consultation certainly contributed to boosting the response rate. But even though they were looking at ten times the volume, feedback was posted quickly and she made sure that respondents knew about it. “Some of the councils in New Zealand, particularly the smaller ones, still like to write back to every submitter saying thank you for your submission,” she said. “We used ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ at the end. We put it out as soon as we could and then we emailed everyone who we had emailed through the submission process.” Putting out feedback quickly massively helped the public’s perception of the Council, the consultation, and the process as a whole.

Democracy in action

“From a democracy perspective, not only could people see the process moving along, but they felt that the council were taking the process and feedback seriously and were actually including that in their decision-making, and it was a lot more transparent than it had been before.”

The feedback that they posted directly took the public’s submissions into account, as well. Rather than just giving a platitude saying their comments would be fed to decision-makers, direct action was taken on the back of their submissions.  “We proposed two large rate increases over 2 years. The community came back and their key message was, yes, we get the fact that we need to have a large rate increase – we need to do it and we want our city to grow. But two years of it is too much. And so the Council has heard that and made it only one year.”

The whole exercise was a brilliant example of how consultation can involve the public in meaningful change, while increasing trust and confidence in public bodies in the process. Hamilton residents were meaningfully able to be a part of democracy in action – something that’s all too rare at the moment.

Delib user group: Edinburgh

Our second user group of 2019 was a success! 

This time, we went up to lovely Edinburgh, where we were very kindly hosted by the Scottish Government in their v impressive building. The room we had was pretty swish with a stage and a podium and everything. (Can you tell I don’t get out much?)

We do 5+ user groups per year, all across the world. They’re great opportunities for our customers to get together and share insight on how they use Citizen Space, as well as hearing in-depth presentations from our developers and account managers with tips and tricks on how to get the most out of their subscription.

Delivery Director Louise Cato started off the day, giving a talk on Delib news and what we’ve been up to this past year. We’ve done Lots of Things, including big updates to Citizen Space, Simulator and Dialogue, introducing Kaizen as a development methodology, and some impressive numbers regarding all the consultations that have been run through our platforms.

First of our customer speakers was Christian Storstein from Scottish Government, who’s an old hand at Delib user groups by now. He gave a great talk on ScotGov’s consultation activity, which is pretty immense – they run upwards of 100 consultations a year, on anything from devolution of taxes to animal welfare to climate change strategy. Managing this is obviously a lot of work, so they use Trello as a project management tool – which is also helpful in terms of devolving access to their Citizen Space, as it’s all centrally managed at the moment. He also raised some interesting points on the use of social media as a consultation and engagement tool: one consultation that they shared on their social media received more activity in the comments than the actual consultation itself, which raised some questions on how that data should be used when it came to analysing the consultation responses.

One of the themes that popped up throughout the day was data security and GDPR. We had a really strong focus on privacy in 2018, and added lots of extra security features (for example, controlling how long admin users can stay logged into Citizen Space before an automatic logout). Emily and Mike from Falkirk Council gave a fantastic presentation on their view of GDPR as part of an ethical framework for conducting research (consultation is a type of research). They already held the view that data protection and confidentiality are essential to carrying out responsible consultation that protects the respondent, and GDPR coming into effect made the process of ratifying that framework much easier – because everyone had to comply! Erin and Clare of the Scottish Borders Council also mentioned it came up when they were procuring Citizen Space: the tools they had been using previously (Snap Survey, SurveyMonkey) had data protection issues even before GDPR came into effect. Once legislation passed they knew they needed a tool that was fully data compliant, so Citizen Space was the right choice.

Mike and Emily also talked about how their ethical framework translated into the way they run their consultations: before a consultation goes live, it has to go through rigorous checks, and all their Citizen Space users are given a series of rules to follow. These include:

  1. protection from harm for the user (there isn’t exactly a risk of physical harm from an online consultation, so this means social or psychological harm – for example, no consultations that might cause unnecessary distress or cause rifts in communities)
  2. Informed consent: users agree to take part, and the language used is written simply and with core elements only. No council-ese!
  3. Managing expectations: they must be open and realistic about the outcomes of the consultation. This means no promises they can’t deliver on in terms of policy change, and no consulting as a box-ticking exercise when a decision has already been made. This was absolutely brilliant to hear, as honesty and accountability are behaviours we hope to foster when organisations choose our products. They have a feedback section at the end of each consultation, and 40% of respondents think that the answers they provide won’t have any impact at all. By being honest about the consultation process and the effects it has, they hope to reduce this number over time. 

They are very strict when it comes to these rules. If they find that users aren’t publishing responses and feedback after the consultation has closed, they may even suspend access for that user. They’ve found the ‘saved questions’ feature useful when it comes to devolving access to other users: it helps to standardise all their surveys.

Erin and Clare of Scottish Borders Council had a slide saying ‘Citizen Space is Fab’, which we obviously enjoyed. They talked about how they’re using it in ways other than just public consultation – they use it internally quite a lot as well as a way of monitoring evaluation as well as an online voting tool for staff. One example they gave was learning disability data monitoring – i.e., how many children with learning disabilities attend each school. Previously a form would be sent out to the relevant staff member at the school and it would have to be sent back in the post, so using an internal Citizen Space survey which can then be sent out in an email is much more efficient.

They are trying to move the Council towards a digital default rather than a document-based one. They mentioned one consultation that was run by publishing a long, 50+ page PDF online, and simply asking respondents ‘What do you think?’. It got a grand total of one response. Their public consultations on Citizen Space, on the other hand, have been getting hundreds. We’re all about making the participation process easy for citizens, so we’re very much fans of not making people read 50 page policy documents before they can even take part!

Lorna Bryce from SEPA (the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) spoke about the impact the issue of climate change is having on her organisation. Understandably they have to be leaders on the issue: incremental change is no longer enough. In terms of sector plans, they’re going to start with stakeholder engagement and making sure that businesses are compliant with climate obligations. She also spoke about a consultation that was run on the topic of Finfish Aquaculture. This was a contentious topic which made the news; a number of FOI requests were made; so they knew the consultation had to be excellent. Citizen Space was a great tool to use as it essentially created a ‘one stop shop’ for all of the different complex information, engagement events, press releases, videos, and so on that related to the consultation. Rather than citizens having to look through the website for documentation that might be old or buried somewhere, Citizen Space allowed SEPA to feature everything on one page.

Last of our speakers was Ali Stoddart of the Scottish Parliament. He works with the digital engagement department the Scottish Parliament, as part of a team identifying digital tools and trialling processes. When it comes to finding tools, they go by the ‘4 Ds’ of digital engagement: Discover new ways of gathering info; Debate –  encouraging and facilitating the exchange of ideas; Decide – participants make and contribute to decisions; and Do – this one’s pretty broad but it generally means ‘allow participants to create, share and take action together’.

They’ve recently procured Citizen Space (yay) after having used Dialogue to facilitate a discussion among teens on what mental health services they’d like to see available to them. This was prompted by a petition by a parent following the tragic loss of her daughter, who took her own life after being denied the support she needed. All too often tragic events occur with no meaningful discussion with the public or action from the authorities on how they can be avoided in the future – an issue brought into relief today by the 2nd anniversary of the Grenfell tower fire. Seeing an authority taking positive action in the wake of something so sad is hopeful.

We had presentations from Delib staff as well as customers. Developer Michaël Ball spoke in-depth about Kaizen, a methodology we’re using when it comes to product development. It means ‘continuous improvement’, so in the context of Delib, it means making small but visible changes to our products on a regular basis. This means customers don’t have to wait as long to see improvements. Customers submit suggestions to us on what they’d like to see, and we vote internally on what makes the next update using Simulator. We then roll out the changes in frequent updates, about 6-8 times per year. He also told us that he frequently gets emails intended for the singer Michael Ball and has to politely redirect them. Kind of reminiscent of the endlessly patient man called John Lewis who gets a LOT of misdirected Tweets around Christmas time.

Account manager Chris Neil gave a presentation about good survey design in Citizen Space. Some of the important things to remember are:

  • Work backwards: think about the type of data you’ll be receiving and the analysis process. What types of answers will be most useful, qualitative or quantitative? Then build the questions around that.
  • Make it as easy as possible for your respondents – this can include things like tailoring the reading age, keeping the survey concise, and including plenty of information in case respondents don’t have prior knowledge of the topic.
  • It’s all in the question: this ties in to the first point. They type of question plays a huge role in the type of data you’ll receive.
  • Test, test then test again.
  • Close the loop: feed back to your respondents! This relates to what Emily and Mike were saying about building trust: if citizens participate in a consultation and never find out the outcome, they may feel like their time was wasted. Feeding back builds trust with citizens and stakeholders.

All in all it was a great day, and it was encouraging to see our customers sharing ideas and taking inspiration from each others’ work. Thanks to everyone who attended and to ScotGov for being excellent hosts!

A new consultation approach: the Scottish Borders Council

The Scottish Borders Council wanted to revitalise their consultation approach.

They had existing consultation processes in place, but found they weren’t getting as much engagement as they hoped for. They wanted to bring their consultation activity primarily online and needed the best tool for the job.

They decided to opt for Citizen Space. With its central, unified hub, all of their consultation activity could now be in one convenient place online, which in turn could increase response levels. They bought it in 2017, in the wake of GDPR legislation coming in to force, and the tool’s built-in data compliance features put them at ease, knowing that all data that went through it would be safe and secure.


More than just consultations

It suited their needs in other ways as well. As well as running public consultations through the platform, they use it internally, too. Citizen Space allows site admins to create private surveys, which can be used to consult with specific audiences (like internal staff or stakeholders), rather than the wider public. This meant that they didn’t need to run internal surveys on a separate platform, and that site admins were aware of all internal and public engagement at any given time.


Plenty of features

Scottish Borders Council have made use of the many features Citizen Space offers, including ‘skip logic’, which routes respondents through the questions that are relevant to them only. This meant that they could essentially combine two or more surveys into one: for example, rather than asking for attendee feedback about two events on separate surveys, they could combine the two and minimise the workload. This helped further consolidate all their activity and improved ease of access for respondents.

Altogether, Citizen Space helped bring their consultation activity to a level in line with the SBC’s ‘Fit for 2024’ programme, aimed at making the Council more adaptable, efficient and effective in the age of the internet.


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Openness and accountability: General Optical Council

The General Optical Council wanted to transform their consultation approach.

They already have a Consultation Framework in place, which outlines how they consult, and the standards to which they hold themselves when they do so. They pride themselves on being open and accountable, and were looking for a tool that would help them uphold these principles in the best way.

They chose Citizen Space as the best platform for their online consultation activity. It has plenty of features that encourage openness and transparency – like response publishing, where responses from contributors who have consented to having their comments published can be displayed publicly for anyone to read; and the ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ page, where the consulting organisation posts a summary of the responses received and what actions were taken as a direct result of respondents’ views.


Accessible for everyone

They also needed a tool that had in-built accessibility features. It was important that respondents who were visually impaired, or otherwise disabled, were able to access consultations as well. Citizen Space is fully integrated for use with screen readers, so that nobody is blocked from sharing their opinions.

The General Optical Council made use of these features in its largest consultation to date, ‘Fit for the Future’. They wanted stakeholder views on their Continuing Education and Training (CET) scheme. The CET scheme ensures that registrants have access to continued training and development, and also continue to be fit to practise.

All in all the consultation received nearly a thousand stakeholder responses. This enabled the General Optical Council to make an informed decision on their plans for the scheme. In keeping with their principles of transparency, they updated the We Asked, You Said, We Did page with information on how respondents influenced their decisions moving forward.

It’s high time for a consultation roundup

Happy Friday – and also, happy last day of May! There’s plenty going on in the Aggregator at the moment, with nearly 800 consultations open. Here’s a selection just in time for the weekend.

The Office for National Statistics has opened a Homelessness Indicators Consultation

Need new Website, mockup, product design, advert? Business Request: lukasz@matysiewicz.com

ONS are working in partnership with the Centre for Homelessness Impact (CHI) to create an indicator framework to measure homelessness across the UK. They want peoples’ views on whether they’re measuring the right areas relating to homelessness. It’s a great survey with some snazzy graphics as well as clear, simple language, meaning that the survey is accessible to everyone. There’s a good mix of answer components, too – I like the use of dropdowns for arranging items in order of preference.

Essex County Council is consulting on changes to fees for Park & Ride Concessionary Bus Pass holders

Essex County Council are seeking views on whether there should be changes/increases to fares for people using concessionary bus passes on Park & Ride services. The survey is extensively routed, meaning that respondents are only completing answers that are relevant to them. This also means that responses are more informed, which makes them more meaningful to site admins.

Reading Council is consulting on designs for the Ivydene play area

Short, to the point and some brilliant illustrations to boot. What’s not to love?

And that’s it! Have a great weekend and we’ll see you in June for the next one.

Tackling transport issues at Bristol City Council

Transport is a complex issue at any given time, particularly in cities. Bristol is no exception. It’s a high-population area with existing infrastructure that isn’t coping efficiently with increasing demand. High levels of congestion lead to poor air quality, reduced safety for cyclists and pedestrians and an unreliable public transport system. With the number of homes and jobs in Bristol set to rise in the next 20 years, it is vital that the transport system fully supports the city’s growth.

Bristol City Council were aware of the challenges the city faced, and launched their draft Bristol Transport Strategy in 2018 to try and tackle them. However, any solutions would be far from simple, and they wanted the public to understand the complexities involved when they opened the draft Strategy up to public consultation.

They needed a tool that would enable them to consult the public, whilst also educating them about the complex challenges and tradeoffs involved in creating options that would benefit the whole city. They opted for Simulator: a deliberative, interactive tool that helps citizens learn through the process of participation.

Bristol City Council’s transport Simulator

Respondents move sliders to the left or right to allocate points to areas they consider a priority. As they do so, they are given information on what the consequences for their choices might be in a real-life setting. This interactive model simulates trade-offs that planning, transport and environment officers need to consider before implementing decisions – for example, more cycle lanes might reduce road area for cars, resulting in more vehicle congestion in certain areas.

The priority simulator tool has provided a more engaging way for our citizens to get involved in the consultation process. I have received a number of comments on how easy it is to use and I am convinced that having the simulator tool has encouraged more people to take part in the consultation than using traditional consultation methods.

Jodi Savickas, Transport Policy, Bidding and Strategic Projects Manager, Bristol City Council

Due to the educational quality of the tool, the responses that Bristol City Council received were more informed, thoughtful, meaningful and valuable than they might have been using a more traditional consultation method. In the back end, handy charts displaying live data enable site admins to keep track of respondent numbers, as well as peak times for responses.

An example of the administrator’s dashboard in Simulator

The consultation was well-promoted by the council and covered by local press in the city. The ability to share responses via social media gave people the chance to see how other citizens would prioritise transport issues too, making the process more interactive and providing transparency, as well as increasing the number of participants. All of the responses to the simulator will inform the final Bristol Transport Strategy which will be adopted in full by the council in 2019. 

To view a copy of Bristol City Council’s Simulator, click here. Responses will not be sent to the Council as the Simulator has now closed.

It’s back! The Friday consultation roundup

It’s been a busy few weeks lately, what with the release of two new podcasts (which you can check out here and here), customers making headlines, and updates to Citizen Space, so the roundup has been on pause for the past fortnight. So just before we head off for another bank holiday here in the UK, here’s a selection from some of the hundreds of consultations open on the Aggregator at the moment.

Birmingham City Council is consulting on Sensory Support in Further Education

Birmingham CC want to hear from young people with hearing or sight loss who have received sensory support in college. The survey is simple and well-designed with a good mix of response types – i.e. free text answers, drop-downs, and checkboxes. This breaks it up for the respondent and keeps it interesting.

Edinburgh Council is consulting on plans for its City Centre Transformation

Edinburgh is planning on making its city centre a car-free area and they want people’s views on the proposed plans. It might seem like I’m a sucker for consultations with pictures in (not entirely untrue) but it’s hard to contextualise big infrastructure projects without images. This consultation has plenty – maps, illustrations AND diagrams – which means that, when it comes to submitting opinions, respondents are fully informed with a clear understanding of the project. This in turn means that their feedback is more specific and therefore more valuable.

Highways England is consulting on the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine Project

Highways England want to hear from the public on their proposed options for improving a section of the A66. The consultation is highly comprehensive, with lots of information on the overview page, including in-person consultation events, other ways to respond and the consultation brochure embedded as a PDF into the page. This means that everything respondents need is on one page, so they don’t need to download any documents or open pages in new tabs if they don’t want to.

So there we have it. Hope your weekend is filled with sunshine wherever you are! ☀️

The Practical Democracy Project #8: Glasgow

We don’t like to toot our own horn (just kidding, we totally do) – but PDP #8 was a definite success.

Held in Glasgow on a gloriously sunny day, we were delighted to see the venue full up, with a few people even standing at the back. The event took place in the Tron Theatre, which not only was a great venue but also meant that we had professional stage lighting, so our speakers and guests were all bathed in a lovely purple glow. (For some reason the photos make it look much more intensely purple than it actually was.)

Ben Fowkes kicks off the event

We try and hold events at times that will be convenient to everyone, including people who might be at work. This one started at noon, so people could come down on their lunch break, and you can bet free lunch was included. No holds barred.

Delib director Ben Fowkes kicked off the event with a brief introduction and run-down of Delib’s history. If you’re interested to learn more about our origins, check out this podcast where he chats with founders Andy Parkhouse and Chris Quigley.

Niamh Webster: Scottish Government

The first of our four speakers was Niamh Webster. Currently she works for the Scottish Government, helping to coordinate their Open Government Programme – an international partnership of over 90 governments all around the world, who have all signed up to principles of openness, transparency and public involvement. Scotland joined in 2016.

One of the key things she has learned about this programme is the importance of partnership to deliver effective results – both as part of the global programme, and closer to home in individual policies. As part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to openness, they have released the Open Government Action Plan. In keeping with Scot Gov’s pledge to meaningfully involve the public, they put the Plan out to consultation.

They quickly realised that their consultation activity wasn’t working for a few reasons. In order for it to be effective, they needed to change the method – which also involved recognising the changing role of the citizen in public participation. The language they were using was too complex and jargon-heavy (we come across a lot of ‘Council-ese’ in our work at Delib); there was a lot that people didn’t understand about the Plan itself and also about wider government processes.

What also became clear was that they needed to involve other partner organisations – for example, local governments, community organisations, and charities. Citizens had concerns not just relating to the Action Plan, but also to more localised issues. For the consultations to properly function, and for all concerns to be considered properly, they recognised that they needed to engage everyone with an approach that best suited their needs.

Thanks to attendee Serena Nüsing for these brilliant sketch notes of the event – check her out on Twitter

Ali Stoddart: Scottish Parliament

Next up we had Ali Stoddart, who works for the Scottish Parliament’s Committee Engagement Unit (CEU). The unit was set up as part of Scottish Parliament’s Public Engagement Strategy, aimed at helping committees within Parliament engage effectively with the public. He is decidedly not a fan of the ‘filling out a form in Word and attaching it to an email’ model of engagement (we aren’t either). CEU ran a comparison of this traditional method and a digital approach – digital was much more popular with the public and would be used more. No surprises there!

He talked about how they were both improving the consultation process and bringing innovation into the fold – he gave Delib a nice shout-out, in that they have used Dialogue for online discussion and debate, and will be using Citizen Space in the near future to manage their consultation activity. They used Dialogue to garner views from young people on the best ways to improve how they access mental health support, which worked well as it was a safe space for teens to talk about deeply personal issues (submissions can be anonymous) while feeling assured that someone was actually going to pay attention.

Ali also told us about an initiative called Young Women Lead, a leadership programme for women under 30. They’ve held committee meetings in the Scottish Parliament on issues such as female participation in sports and sexual harassment in schools.

Some challenges he’s come up against in improving public participation revolved around bringing employees round to a new way of doing things. Engagement could be seen as a luxury, or as creating additional workload; and work needs to be done on convincing sceptics to sign up to the idea as well as those who were already willing. Another issue is finding time and resources to learn new skills in a busy organisation.

Vilte Vaitkute: Media Co-op

Lastly, we had a presentation from Vilte Vaitkute of Media Co-op. They’re an organisation who run participatory film-making projects. She showed a selection of short films created collaboratively by a wide range of people. The first she showed us was called Strong Man, about the damaging effects of violence against women – and against the perpetrators themselves. 67 people were involved in its creation. She said  – and this could be applied to government and politics as well – that she loves participatory projects, because handing power to the people to create something of their own results in a sense of ownership, pride and a great deal of honesty. 

She showed us several more films: one was made by young people about being in foster care; one was about two young people and their carers; and one about the importance of staying active in old age. Their oldest participant was 93.

After a break for lunch, we went in to a panel discussion/audience Q&A. Vilte’s colleague, Louise Scott, joined the speakers for the discussion. All of the questions were thoughtful and probing, and there were lots of them. Here are a couple of highlights:

There was a question on the public’s opinion on participation activities – the term ‘consultation fatigue’ was mentioned. Ali said that attitudes do need to change on this – public participation needs to become part of everyday life. (Our ethos at Delib of lowering the barriers to consultation, and making the process of participation simple for the citizen, is part of how that could change.) Vilte agreed that participation can be difficult, but told us a story of a young boy she worked with who was worried his friends would make fun of him for being involved in the project – but when it came to the screening, he lit up with pride. When we see the results of our participation, we feel included and it can be exhilarating.

David asked Niamh to talk more about her point that the role of the citizen is changing, and how we can support citizens in participating more and taking more of a deliberative approach. She replied that it’s a concept she’s ruminating over and would love to hear people’s thoughts on how we can bring that change from the bottom up. Ali added that there is an element of learning to be a participant: that many people who’ve been involved in deliberative processes are surprised at how they’re run and how effective they are; and that education on how public participation works is something that organisations can teach and facilitate.

All in all, it was an excellent and informative event. Our speakers covered some fascinating topics and the audience was attentive and insightful. Thanks to everyone who came and if you didn’t make it, don’t worry – the Practical Democracy Project is an event series, so we’ll be putting on another one in the not-so-distant future. Sign up to our newsletter to be notified when we arrange our next one.

Increasing citizen participation at Norfolk County Council

Norfolk County Council take consultation extremely seriously.

They have an entire team dedicated to consultation, and regularly consult on complex issues targeted at broad demographics.

They needed a robust tool that would help them reach high numbers of respondents, as some of the consultations they needed to run would affect many or most Norfolk citizens. Citizen Space was the best tool for the job. Its simple, no-nonsense user interface meant it was easy for people to share their views, and its reactive design meant that people could respond on any device – computer, tablet or mobile.

Since they started using it, Norfolk County Council have released more than 250 consultations, on topics including the year’s budget, road restructuring, children’s centres and libraries. Many of these have had thousands of responses. Even with a dedicated consultation team, going through such a huge amount of data can be a huge undertaking.


A simple admin experience

Fortunately, Citizen Space has plenty of features that simplify the response analysis process. Responses can be tagged, meaning it’s easy to turn qualitative (for example, free text responses) into quantitative data. Admin users can easily filter data by question or response for at-a-glance information on who answered what. And responses received offline, e.g. on paper, can be scanned directly on to the consultation’s back end and tagged in the relevant category, so there is no need to spend time on manually inputting offline data.

All in all, the platform has enabled the consultation team to engage with a huge range of citizens, whose opinions have been used to inform everything from the margin by which Council Tax should be increased to what the future of elderly care in Norwich should look like.

The tool was really easy to set up and manage and the team at Delib were extremely helpful and supportive.

Anne Tansley Thomas, Senior Consultation and Involvement Officer, Norfolk County Council
People wearing plastic-covered boots in calf-high water

The future of flood management in the UK

The Environment Agency has issued a stark warning about the impact that flooding caused by climate change will have on the UK in the years to come. They want the public’s opinion on their strategy for tackling it.

 If climate change continues at current levels, we could see rises in global temperatures by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. If the UK is to be resilient to the increased levels of flooding this would cause, £1 billion would need to be spent per year on flood defences. Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd said ‘we cannot win a war against water’ by building higher flood defences and called for a new approach to ensure communities are resilient to the threat of flooding posed by climate change.

As well as issuing these warnings, the Environment Agency yesterday launched a large-scale consultation on their National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England on Citizen Space. This the biggest that they’ve opened on the subject of flood management so far. But it’s certainly not the first – they have been working tirelessly to inform and converse with the public about the risk of floods over the last two years. The consultations and information pages that they have published on Citizen Space range in scope from single streets to river basins covering dozens of miles.

They aren’t just doing consultations, either – they have been using Citizen Space as an information sharing tool, for areas that aren’t being consulted upon, or aren’t at the moment but will be in the future. They have been proactive and consistent in their analysis of respondent feedback, posting clear and concise feedback documents on consultation landing pages or using information pages as opportunities to expand on specific timelines and updates for projects on which consultations have closed.

Emma Howard Boyd says a new approach is needed. Certainly the surest way to mitigate the flood risk is to make efforts to mitigate the root problem of climate change (simple, right?), which will involve some pretty fundamental changes. But as I mentioned in my last post, an important first step to tackling the issue is to keep the public involved in the conversation, and the Environment Agency has been doing exactly that.

Check out the Aggregator to see what other environmental public bodies have been consulting on. You can follow me on Twitter – @DanielleTopaz

Talking with the public about climate change

The people’s movement

Climate change has very quickly become one of the hottest (no pun intended) topics of the year, with news of environmental protests shunting even Brexit out of the headlines, and David Attenborough documentaries such as Our Planet broadcasting the urgency of the situation to a global audience. Cities are declaring bold carbon-neutral targets. The UK Parliament has declared a climate emergency. It’s not a fringe issue any more – climate change has gone mainstream.

One thing that is becoming increasingly clear alongside the swell in conversation around the topic is that this is a movement of the people. Governments have set targets to reduce carbon emissions, but protesters from organisations like Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion say it’s not enough, that further action is needed, and that protests will continue until reasonable efforts to meet their demands are made. The people are controlling the narrative here, and governments will not easily be able to implement policies without involving them.

A different approach

So it seems as though a new democratic approach may be needed to tackle the climate crisis. But what exactly will that look like? Will Extinction Rebellion’s demand for a Citizen’s Assembly be realised? We can’t be certain. What we do know is that it’s an issue that affects every person in the world – so it’s important to keep an open discourse. And public bodies are already taking steps to meaningfully involve the public in the conversation. From national government agencies to small local councils, organisations are talking to the public about climate change and how to tackle it.

The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs have been running a series of high-profile consultations on packaging waste and recycling, while government policies like the Clean Air Strategy 2019 are reflected in localised consultations, such as those by Birmingham City Council and the London borough of Camden. The Isle of Man is thinking long term in with a consultation on its Climate Change Mitigation Strategy for the next 10 years.

This is just a selection of the consultations that our clients have run on Citizen Space. We also offer two more deliberative tools for public participation: Simulator, which enables respondents to prioritise the outcomes of a complex decision, and Dialogue, a tool for open crowdsourced discussion.

Book a demo to see how your organisation can become part of the climate change conversation.

3 important consultations the Scottish Government is running right now

The Scottish Government is running several consultations on some hefty topics at the moment. They have 20 consultations open, with most of them on topics that are far-reaching and will affect much of Scotland’s population. Here is a small selection.

Fire safety in high-rise buildings

Following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower in 2017, the Scottish Government set up a group which created the Review of the Fire Safety Regime for High Rise Domestic Buildings in Scotland. This consultation seeks the public’s views on the proposals, how they could be strengthened, and, ultimately, how they could best be implemented.

Regulation of short-term lets

Short-term or holiday lets, such as via companies like AirBnb, have been a contentious issue across Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh. The Scottish Government is running a consultation on the possibility of introducing regulations to the industry. Among other things, this will help ensure that residents in tourist hotspots aren’t priced out of the housing market due to short-term let saturation.

Environmental Principles and Governance in Scotland

This consultation seeks the public’s views on how to maintain best practice in environmental governance after Brexit. Scotland has pledged to maintain or exceed EU environmental standards, with the hope that they can continue to do so without EU oversight once the UK leaves the European Union.

The Scottish Government has a great track record of consulting on topics that are part of the national conversation, often opening consultations on subjects or decisions that have been discussed in Westminster and/or national news. Doing so ensures that the Scottish people are able to remain part of the discussion. Also – it proves that there’s no topic too big to tackle in Citizen Space!

As ever, have a great weekend, and enjoy your bank holiday. We’ll be back next week with more.

Police officer watching a street

Rethinking policing: Police Service of Northern Ireland

New types of crime

The Police Service of Northern Ireland faced an unusual set of circumstances.

Over the last decade of austerity in the UK, they saw their budget reduced by 25%, resulting in 17% fewer officers. Despite this, crime rates actually dropped by 33% over the same period.

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


Involving the public in police priorities

It was a question they needed to put to the people, but they needed the right platform to do so. Because of the nature of the situation – i.e., it wasn’t a case of allocating money or balancing a budget, but of prioritising use of existing resources – they decided to use Simulator. Respondents were allocated 100 points to ‘spend’ on the areas of policing that mattered to them the most, such as community policing, criminal justice investigations and emergency response. Each decision they made was accompanied by informative impact statements, detailing what real-world implications their choices would have were the PSNI to adopt them.


Thoughtful, informed responses

This meant that citizens’ responses were fully informed and carefully considered, resulting in high-quality data for the PSNI to work with. With over 4000 submissions received, the exercise was a triumph in public participation, and the people of Northern Ireland were meaningfully involved in shaping the future of their police services.

We needed those answering the consultation to have an understanding of the demands PSNI face and how challenging it is to balance the resource across the various demands on local policing. The simulator was an ideal way of doing this, it was interactive and not only did we receive feedback, we received feedback which was more informed.

Inspector, Police Service of Northern Ireland

If your organisation would benefit from using Simulator, you can book a free demo, or drop us a line – we’re always up for a chat.

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