All posts by delib

Local Government’s Favourite Biscuit

Hello, Delib world! My name is Nicole Otero, and I’m a postgraduate student earning my MA in Marketing Communications at Richmond, the American International University in London. I’m a newbie to the world of tech and UK government (I’m originally from the United States). Photography and cooking (badly) are my try-hard hobbies and I’m almost constantly in search of a bottle of water or a snack.

But back to the topic at hand…

You may ask yourself: what does this tech and government newbie/student have to say on here that’s of any interest to me? Well, I’m here to talk about the big issue. The divider of a nation. An equalizer amongst the masses. The pièce de résistance.

Of course, I’m here to talk about biscuits.

More specifically, biscuits in local government. (Stay with me.)

Nicole Otero with a plate of biscuits

To complete my MA, I was required to undertake a topic of my own choosing for a professional research project. The task was to research a topic to the ends of the earth, create a media plan and try to get real world media coverage. Easy right? (Just to clarify, definitely hasn’t been easy).

I know it’s hard to believe, but the topic of biscuits in government was not my number one choice for my last impression I would ever leave upon the academic world (one hopes).

My first choice was open data: a more conventional choice (and sounds much better than biscuits when people ask you what your final dissertation is about).

My primary topic choice was a natural one. Leading up to the start of my professional project, I was working as a marketing communications intern at a SaaS company called Socrata. Their specialty is all things open data, and they’re great at what they do. So of course, I wanted to make the most of my access to expert opinion and knowledge on the topic!

But that’s not what the world of local government had in mind for me…

My open data approach started off well enough. Great, in fact! My colleagues were all incredibly supportive and helpful, and allowed me to craft and circulate a survey that would be informative for both Socrata AND my dissertation.

After a few drafts of hit or miss questions (and a lot of help from one of your former Digital Heroes, Ben Unsworth), the survey was ready to send out. But to me, it just seemed a little flat. So I decided to add a cheeky little addition to the survey and ask local government employees to name their favourite biscuit.

Of course, inspired by the one and only Delib blog and its penchant for throwing in a biscuit question here and there (and also again, Ben Unsworth! Who had introduced me to the blog…)

The results from the survey came pouring in. And although we were able to draw some great insights from the responses to the open data questions, I can’t say that people were wildly enthusiastic or excited about the topic. But MY GOODNESS do people get hyped about their favourite biscuits. The idea snowballed from there, and before I knew it I couldn’t deny my biscuit destiny any longer.

The result is the illustration below (well, not just that – a fifty page media plan as well. Still in disbelief myself.)

North East: Gingernuts; Yorkshire: HobNobs; East Midlands: HobNobs; East of England: Digestives; London: Gingernuts; South East: Bourbons; South West: Digestives; West Midlands: Jammie Dodgers; North West: Jaffa Cakes
The favourite biscuits of local government staff, by region

I had so many respondents to the survey, that I was able to pinpoint UK local government’s favourite biscuit by region. And also learn that nearly 40% of local government biscuit eaters dunk their biscuits… And apparently two biscuits is the ideal number to have with your tea… And that dunking your Jaffa Cake is definitely NOT okay (again, I’m American so this is all news to me).

Not only have I been able to learn and share some of these fun facts, I’ve had some great conversations with the Metro, The London Evening Standard and City AM about publishing a story based on my research (nothing confirmed yet, but fingers crossed).

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, thanks Delib! It’s been a bizarre few months writing this dissertation, but its been made all the more sweeter by being able to write about biscuits.

Real-world example: consulting a ‘hard-to-reach’ group; crossing the digital divide

The Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) in South Australia works to promote and protect the human rights of adults with decision-making disabilities. They provide information and education to the public, individual and systemic advocacy, investigatory services and act as guardian of last resort.

The OPA used Dialogue App to ask their community about how they think the OPA should promote their rights.

David Cripps is an Advocate at the OPA and oversaw the Dialogue App project. We caught up with him to find out more about it:

Before using Dialogue App, how did you know what the people of South Australia wanted in regards to guardianship?
We used old-fashioned education like community presentations and stakeholder meetings. Attendances varied and people are very concerned about basic human rights like self-determination, illness and disability in their stakeholder groups.

Was this why you wanted to use the tool?
Yeah, to add value and expand on our existing consultation and engagement.

One of the questions put to the public was ‘how can we promote rights better?’ Did you have any idea what people wanted to discuss before embarking on Dialogue App?
We were very moved with the responses – the stories people were prepared to share with us were incredibly moving.

One of the highest rated ones was self-advocacy; about how it’s not a practical idea for people who are disempowered.

One example was someone living with an intellectual disability and they had difficulty speaking up. It was an incredibly sad story that came from the heart of someone.

People found the consultation to be a safe place to discuss their concerns and they felt like they could participate equally.

There was an issue of digital divide – it wasn’t just about people living with an illness or disability. It might have been easier for professionals who had internet access. It is hard to assert yourself and make choices if you are disadvantaged in the first place.

What about the types of people who took part? What were their backgrounds?
Looking at the comments people made, there were a lot of differences in stakeholder groups.

There were more people engaged through Dialogue App who identified themselves as someone with a mental illness compared to someone with a disability.

There was a degree of unfamiliarity with this method. Crowd sourcing has been around for awhile but it is particularly new in this sector.

Were there any obstacles for people wanting to submit ideas? For example, a disability or language difficultly which may have prevented them from taking part?
The digital divide would be the biggest thing. Not everyone having access to the internet or a computer. We went to advocacy agencies to let them know what we were doing.

We found people who had a mental health issue were more engaged through our website.

What were you hoping to find in regards to the mental health guardianship laws?
The outcome was to garner ideas to inform the advocacy agenda in South Australia.

We have met our outcome goal – we have been told some powerful stories and we’d like to promote them further.

One of the ideas mentioned was there being a gap in higher education for welfare professionals. We liked this idea and told them the OPA would take it further.

We wouldn’t have heard these conversations had we not used this method for community engagement.

The beauty and neatness of this method is the issues stay as a live topic and people can comment during the duration of the consultation.

Why is it so important to have the people’s input?
It is important from a relevance perspective. The promotion of rights and self-determination is particularly important.

The relevance and credibility in our stakeholder groups and finding out the types of issues people face is also important.

I believe you spent time in the field, face-to-face with people? How was that experience?
I did a lot of networking and recognised there might be a reluctance to engage with the internet.

I targeted the not-for-profit sector and made a lot of calls to let people know what we were doing.

What is the process now? How do you use the information you obtained through the Dialogue App discussions?
Some of the information is informing our advocacy agency now and some will shape advocacy positions in the future. We will promote them further and publish them further.

Did the consultation give you any new ideas not previously thought of by the OPA?
The strength of the method. There were bullying and inequality contributions from people who were very critical of human services – but they felt they could contribute and felt their contribution was valued. In turn, we got relevant comments from professionals.

There are issues with inequality on the internet but it didn’t feel like it happened here. It was a space people felt they could be honest in.

The issues most people had were close to their heart but they felt like they could share them.

David’s responses illustrate one of the things we love about Dialogue App: not only is it capable of generating a large quantity of ideas and comments, but its structured format also means you can get really high quality interactions with people. And running a user-friendly online consultation alongside other channels of engagement allows you to maximise the opportunities for people to participate in the way that suits them.

That can all sound rather technical but one of the practical consequences is just this: Dialogue App gives people a space to tell stories that you might not otherwise hear. And that’s hugely valuable.

Engaging with the budget cuts….

Back in November, nearly 8,000 people tried out Liverpool’s budget simulation exercise. We worked with Mayor Joe Anderson and Liverpool City Council; a city facing a £45 million savings target this year, with further cuts to come. It was Mayor Joe’s idea to run a mobile budget consultation, to not only gather valuable feedback from Liverpool’s residents, but also to communicate, and help create some understanding of the challenges they were facing:



‘This budget tool simulates the difficult decisions that councillors will have to make…/…There is no option other than to deal with the situation head on and make the decisions in the fairest way possible…/…their (residents’) comments give us valuable feedback on what people see as the priorities for spending over the next year.’

Mayor Joe Anderson, Liverpool Express

The Budget Simulator uses a combination of consequences and service descriptions; by presenting background information the tool enables participants to make informed spending allocations, whilst gaining a real insight into the reality of the task:


The understanding gained through the project is a two way street of course; the meaningful, insightful responses collected from Budget Simulator ensure decisions can be made to better reflect the priorities of those they affect.

‘It’s not a formal consultation, and it’s not legally binding. But it is a hugely important part of finding out what the public wants regarding how the city copes with cuts. It builds solidarity with the public, because everyone can see just how difficult it will be to balance the books.’

Cllr. Patrick Hurley

There are many reasons why Liverpool’s Budget Simulator was such a successful project, not least the tool’s ability to work on mobile devices, which helped to garner more ‘armchair involvement’.  Liverpool’s active approach to promotion and transparency, coupled with their clear commitment to ensure that the insight gained from the exercise informed the outcome, has helped to better prepare their residents for the tough options that lie ahead.

To find out how Budget Simulator could help your organisation meet its challenges, please request a consultation.



Cardboard consultation… anything but stiff!

Working at Delib, it’s no secret I’m a sucker for consultation and all things digital democracy, but something people may not know is that I’m also an illustrator and passionate about art. So when the two come together, let’s just say it ticks all my boxes!

In February this year, eight Junior Digital Media Producers from Bristol arts charity Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC), were set a challenge to engage their community and encourage community activism. The project was called Data Patchwork and the team’s response to the brief was a fascinating exploration of innovative ways to collect and represent data. One of the outcomes was an exhibit called ‘The Cardboard Living Room.’ As you might glean from the name, the exhibit was a room filled with 3D cardboard furniture, but perhaps less expected is that every piece of furniture was connected to a computer which reacted to movement.

photograph of carboard furniture
Cardboard shoes

As residents walked around the room playing with objects, their interaction logged answers to survey questions, and in turn triggered reactions from the furniture. The exhibit was part of a survey with an online counterpart, enabling people to have fun engaging with local issues while reflecting on their lifestyle and community perceptions. I was lucky enough to chat with Sammy Payne, one of the eight technical leads on this project, when she recently came into Delib HQ to talk at our Bristol democracy event. She told me a bit about her goals for the project:

‘So much data exists, is held by councils and organisations and is open, but none of it is visualised. So all the data is there but no one sees it because it isn’t digestible. We wanted to use the exhibit to instil a sense of responsibility in residents to act on shared concerns and use the physical interaction of being in the room as a spring board for discussions.’

Sammy, a journalist and photographer by trade, admits to having a naturally political edge (and a bit of a reputation amongst friends as a feminism activist) but this particular project required a technical ability to code, which was far removed from her usual skill set:

‘The project was part of a wider initiative to equip creative people with the skills they need to find creative employment more easily. Nesta set a brief to create a data toolkit and wanted to see community engagement, activism and how an arts charity could use data to deliver these outcomes. Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) won the bid to deliver this project, and myself and the other seven digital producers [Baylea Hart, David Biddle, Andy Squibbs, Thomas Kirby, Candice Pepperall, Joanna Mitchell and Max Dowding] were given the training we needed to code the survey and realise our vision for the project.’

Hundreds of residents took part in the survey designed to cover real areas of local concern, inspired by genuine insight from a paper survey generated by a local steering group. This is a true example of ground up community engagement – although there was outside funding from organsiations and the council – the concept, execution and participation came entirely from the team and the community the centre inhabits.

‘It was great to to watch people in the room actually interacting with local issues and the living room sparking conversations between neighbours about shared concerns that never would have been voiced or realised as a common interest otherwise. It’s still early days to know if anyone took those conversations forward, but the interaction was definitely valuable to the community and this was a completely ground up process.’

children playing with cardboard furniture
Child wearing a cardboard hat








The team are still waiting for the official results from the data analysis, but the conversion rate is expected to be high, specifically for this area. Delib’s own customers run high profile consultation exercises worldwide, and expect between 5% and 10% of visitors to an online consultation to submit a response. At Delib we are more than aware that the success of a consultation hinges not just on its existence, but its promotion. I was interested to chat with Sammy about their approach to promotion and what she credited the high community engagement to:

‘We followed a rule of 3 for this project; People had to see a piece of promotion at least 3 times before it would stick in their head and they would remember or be inspired to take part. Due to the nature of the Knowle West Centre’s strong and long-standing connections with the community, they had experience of this kind of work and could give us insights into what promotion worked best with residents. For example, residents significantly preferred being informed about local events in person as opposed to being emailed or sent a letter. So we knocked on doors, flyered in the streets, contacted youth networks all alongside additional channels such as videos and social media.’

This multi-faceted approach to promotion, the sheer creativity and uniqueness of the project, and the opportunity for residents to have fun while participating in more serious wider issues, are all reasons this survey caught the eyes and hearts of Bristol.

Working at Delib, I love seeing the inspiring ways our customers combine the technology we provide and their imaginations to run consultations that change lives in small, but significant ways. The Cardboard Living Room is a fantastical, Alice in Wonderland-esque experiment into the endless potential of people when they are engaged and inspired to take action. I believe this is the future of democracy and with more experimentation, fun, creativity, technology (and possibly cardboard furniture)…who knows what can people and communities can make happen.

10 April 2014: Heartbleed Security Announcement

Earlier on today we posted a statement for our customers regarding the Heartbleed security vulnerability, which is currently hitting the headlines. We thought we should post it here too, to cover all bases!

Please follow the link below to read the statement from our online product knowledge base:

If you’d like to read more about Heartbleed itself, we’d recommend this site:

If you have any queries or concerns, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Engagement Jobs this January

We like to keep an eye on the sorts of roles that are being filled in areas that relate to us and our customers, so this month we’ve put together a list of organisations that are hiring early this year. This month we’re focussing on roles within Local Government.

Community Engagement Officer, Surrey Heath Borough Council are looking for an excellent communicator and strong team player who will manage the delivery of a number of health, well-being, sport, and community development projects.

Senior Planning Officer, Kent County Council need a planner who will assess local plans and development proposals for their impact on Kent.

Planning Manager, East Sussex County Council are looking for a self-motivated team player who will be responsible for developing, monitoring and evaluating performance measures for the Children’s Services Planning and Performance team.

Communications Manager (maternity cover), Camden Council require an individual with excellent organisational and project management skills to manage internal and external communication and consultation strategies for the North London Waste Authority.

Senior Communications Officer, Camden Council need an individual who can provide strategic communications and consultation advice to senior managers and councillors, as well as managing the North London Waste Authority’s media relations strategy.

Policy and Research Manager, Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council are seeking someone to manage a team of project officers and oversee a number of high-profile policy projects involving schools, health and other sectors.

Head of Policy – Housing and Planning, London Councils, which represents the 32 boroughs and the City of London, are looking for a dynamic leader who will work with senior politicians and officers to help develop and articulate housing and planning policy across London.

Head of Communications, Adur and Worthing Councils want to find an ambitious communications professional who will lead a small team to help the councils engage with local communities.

Head of Communications – Culture and Sport, Aberdeen City Council are looking for an ambitious, creative and passionate person to be responsible for community learning, delivery of cultural opportunities and strategic development of sporting provision.

Friday round up

It’s Friday round up time again and, following a very merry Delib Christmas party last night, we are feeling festive (and sleepy) as we have a look at the consultations our simply brilliant customers have been running this week:

1) SEPA’s current condition and challenges for the future: Solway Tweed river basin district consultation.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s consultation is an exercise in providing detailed information via Citizen Space. With a clear design, graphs and tabular data dotted throughout, it shows how scientific reports can be presented for viewing and responding to within the system. It’s such an interesting topic and way of displaying data that we had to share it.

Screen shot of a table of statistics within SEPA's consultation

2) Bristol City Council’s Help shape our draft West of England Strategic Economic Plan 2013-2030

Bristol City Council have been using the ability to edit the online survey text in Citizen Space to enable admins to edit the call to action link which leads participants through to the online survey. It previously read ‘Online Survey’ for all consultations, but now it can be changed to whatever text is suitable, in this case ‘Read and shape our plan.’


3) Transport for London’s Alderbrook Road consultation

The awesome thing about investing in a complete online consultation system like Citizen Space is that you then have freedom to run as many consultations as you want, no matter how big or small. Some of the consultations that catch our eye are the smaller ones which affect people’s lives on a local level in little, but significant, ways. This TfL consultation is a great example; a simple, well-structured consultation, which gives people the opportunity to submit comments about plans for their local area.

4) Stockport CCG’s BSL Consultation

Stockport CCG are running a consultation asking for feedback on all their services, and this one is specifically designed to reach the local deaf community. The consultation uses embedded videos within every question to sign the question, in addition to having it written below. It is a triumph on the side of accessibility.

Screen shot of Stockport's consultation dashboard

5) Clackmannanshire’s experience of using Citizen Space and Staffordshire County Council’s Minerals Local Plan Consultation

A lovely customer of ours recently described how flexible they have found Citizen Space:

‘Surprise, it’s not only an on-line survey tool! It is indeed a comprehensive engagement tool. Nine months on, we see Citizen Space as Clacks’ ‘notice board’, where we advertise consultations, public meetings, put out questions to the public.’

Maciej, Performance and Information Officer, Clackmannanshire Council.

It is great to see people really adopting Citizen Space into their culture to improve engagement and the Minerals Local Plan consultation from Staffordshire is another good example. The consultation is purely a contact detail gathering exercise, to generate a list of members of the general public, minerals industry, landowners and their agents as well as other stakeholders to be involved in helping to develop their new Minerals Local Plan.





Friday Consultation Round-Up

Another week and another host of interesting consultations being run by our awesome customers. Here are 5 nice examples and this week Liverpool and Bristol have been showcasing the capabilities of Budget Simulator and Dialogue App:

1) Liverpool City Council’s mobile Budget Simulator breaks response rate records!

Liverpool City Council have pioneered Delib’s brand new Budget Simulator this month, and the response has been record breaking. The tool is now accessible on mobile devices and has undergone a full face lift. Liverpool have done a great job at populating it with well written consequences and extending their effort through to effective PR. The Simulator has received over 1000 responses, a UK record for Budget Simulator, and the comments are still rolling in. Have a read of our blog to find out more about how Liverpool did it.

2) East Sussex County Council’s use of consultation cloning for ‘Safer School’s consultations.’

East Sussex are running a consultation to gather opinions and experiences of bullying behavior in schools and communities. They have made the most of the cloning feature to publish 23 identical consultations which allow residents of specific areas to submit responses directly relevant to their local school or community. One school in particular caught my eye, Priory in Lewes, the secondary school which I actually attended in my (much) younger days.

3) ‘George’s Ideas Lab,’ uses embedded video & the lab theme for a bit of fun.

Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson has launched a Dialogue app called Georges Ideas Lab, inviting the residents of Bristol to submit ideas for improving Bristol as a place to live and save the city money. Ahead of 2015 which will see Bristol awarded European Green Capital by the European Commission, the mayor and his team are looking in particular for green ideas to consider implementing. The site has been customised with lots of science-y, lab type images and an embedded video from the mayor himself making for a very entertaining welcome to the consultation.

4) ‘We are Camden’ uses RSS to integrate Citizen Space with their website.

Generating engagement with online consultations often starts before a participant even lands on the consultation overview. London Borough of Camden Council illustrates this really well by utilising RSS feeds to effectively integrate their Citizen Space instance with their website. Using RSS feeds, consultations from Citizen Space can be presented on your website which automatically updates as new consultations are added. The use of a custom RSS feed also adds further filtering power ensuring that consultations of interest are displayed.

5) Norfolk County Council tell us What happens Next with their ‘Putting People First Consultation.’

Norfolk have just closed their Putting People First budget consultation, and have really utilised the What Happens Next? feature to ensure their respondents are kept in the loop. This is a really important aspect of consultation, to ensure participants feel their contribution will make a difference and is appreciated. Norfolk have included dates and links to where results will be published and suggested alternative ways to get in touch with them now that the consultation is closed.




Engagement Jobs this December

We take a real interest in the sorts of roles that are being filled in areas that relate to us and our customers, so this month we’ve put together a list of organisations that are hiring this December. There are a number of interesting posts that need to be filled that are perfect for people looking for a role that is in the media, digital, or engagement sectors.

Senior Campaigns Officer (Media), Staffordshire County Council Staffordshire County Council are looking for an ambitious and creative operator with exceptional news sense to work on the planning, delivery and evaluation of communications campaigns.

Communications Officer, Avon and Somerset Police Avon and Somerset Police are looking for a dynamic, flexible and highly motivated professional who will work in a variety of different areas across print, broadcast and digital media.

Chief Executive, Policy Connect Policy Connect is a vibrant, fast moving policy-focused social enterprise looking for a smart leader to develop and manage its team of policy experts and researchers.

Web Communications Officer, Leicester City Council Leicester County Council are looking for three candidates to to help create, edit, and moderate content for the council’s corporate websites.

Operational Services Manager (Temporary), Renfrewshire Council Renfrewshire are seeking an individual to manage, lead and develop major customer facing service areas within their Department of Finance & Corporate Services.

Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Health and Social Care Information Centre HSCIC are looking for an individual who can provide support to programmes and services through the development of communication and stakeholder engagement strategies and the implementation of communications plans to support programme delivery.

Engagement Officer, Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust The RD&E NHS Foundation Trust is looking for an individual to support a range of programmes and projects including all aspects of stakeholder management and engagement.

Top 10 Posts of 2013

It’s December, and that means it’s time to look back over the last year of posts on the Delib blog (as well as a guest appearance on the DemSoc Open Policy website). So, here are the top ten posts of 2013:

1. Emerging good practices in budget consultation

A breakdown of the results of the 2012 Open Budget Survey, exploring examples of effective consultation across the globe.

2. Analyse This:

Ben’s blog on the DemSoc Open Policy Making website is all about analysis. It gives a great overview of ways to reduce the load when analysing consultation data.

3. Delib and Participatory Budgeting

Nina’s post explains participatory budgeting in a bit more detail, and examines the ways in which Delib’s products can assist in the process.

4. Social media record keeping for government (here and here)

This two part post does a great job of exploring the role social media plays in politics, as well as the importance of record keeping when it comes to social media interactions.

5. Online consultations engaging hard to reach groups

In the world of consultation it’s important to consider how you are going to involve the relevant people. Sometimes they aren’t that easy to engage, but this post does a great job of explaining how to get hard to reach groups to participate.

6. Digital tools for mayor-led projects

This blog examines the things mayors are doing to engage their citizens, and looks at two of our projects in particular: George’s Ideas Lab and the Liverpool Budget Simulator.

7. Budget Simulator v2 launch

Andy’s post has some great images and coverage of the v2 launch night back in September, just before the new-look Budget Simulator was released.

8. Digital Heroes – Christian Storstein

This interview with Christian, who is the Digital Engagement Manager for the Scottish Government, gives a lot of insight into the inner workings of the indy ref consultation and the inner workings of a very interesting man!

9. A look into the mind of John Miri

Craig’s post about John Miri is an interesting look at government practices in the US, looking at the ways in which all things digital are beginning to make their way into government work.

10. Get your consultation noticed by adding images

This post is both informative and fun, explaining the ins and outs of using images in consultations to engage respondents, as well as looking at where to find images without having to spend a penny.