Author: Katherine Rooney

8 things we learnt from our Citizen Space and Dialogue user group, London 2017

We had a really fantastic and inspiring day at our London 2017 user group last week. For the second year running we were grateful to be hosted by The Department of Health (DH) in Whitehall. The room was full, with over 40 Delib customers, and we were treated to a really good variety of presentations.

Read on for my top takeaways from the day.

We heard from DH about what they have learnt about who they consult with, using insight from their Citizen Space, and BEIS about how Citizen Space has helped them to improve their internal processes with regard to preparing and publishing consultations with policy colleagues.

Network Rail talked about the approach they take to communicating with 15 million people per year, and we heard from Camden Council about their upcoming consultation using Dialogue to start a two-way conversation with residents about the future of the borough.

West Sussex Council talked about how they use Citizen Space for more than just public consultations, and how this has saved them money, and time.

In amongst that:

  • Michelle from The Democratic Society talked about some examples of consultation best practice from around the world.
  • Andy from Delib gave an overview of product updates in 2017, including the fact that Citizen Space usage continues to grow and that growth is speeding up – there are now upwards of 11,400 consultations published to our Citizen Space Aggregator.
  • Louise from Delib shared examples of some of the many really interesting and high profile consultations that have been published on Citizen Space in the last 12 months.

Here are eight things we heard from customers on the day that we think could be useful for others:

  • Citizen Space can help organisations to understand who they are consulting with, (and therefore who they are not consulting with). This insight can help to demonstrate to others where targeted communication needs to happen, to maximise responses from those whose voices need to be heard.
  • Target your communications, but then be sure to sustain those communications throughout the period of the consultation, rather than just at the outset. This will increase the likelihood of yielding higher response rates.
  • Because Citizen Space enables analysis straight away and while the consultation is still open, it is possible to see where the gaps are and target communications dynamically.
  • Making use of as much imagery as possible (maps, charts, pictures etc) will make consultations much more accessible and inviting. We all know this, but it can sometimes be easy to miss out, if there is a tight deadline, or if image copyright is difficult to get around.
  • Be creative with the tools that you already have – we heard from West Sussex about how they are using Citizen Space for things other than consultation, such as application forms, library competitions etc. Our customer described this as ‘being naughty’ but we fully support it!
  • It can sometimes feel like a risk to give people the opportunity and responsibility to have their say but, more often than not, participants will rise to that challenge and respond positively – wise words from Shane at Camden. We couldn’t agree more!
  • Genuine buy-in at a high level can really help to enable more open engagement. For members of staff who might feel nervous about opening discussion up with the public, it can really help to have express senior permission.
  • If you enable the public to ask questions openly, you can then provide the answers openly, which saves time for all involved – why answer the same question privately over and over again?

And finally, from my perspective, having that many customers in one room, sharing their own learning and experiences with each other was really wonderful, and like I said at the start, very inspiring.

So, all in all, a great day. We’re already making plans for next year’s user groups, and for those of you in that part of the world, our Canberra user group is coming up – on Thursday 26th October.

Have a look at the Delib twitter feed for our real-time take on the day.

Thoughts from Local GovCamp 2017

This weekend, Local GovCamp 2017 (the UK’s largest unconference on all things digital and government) was in Delib’s home city of Bristol for the first time.

We’ve attended UK GovCamp and Local GovCamp for many years, and we have a good history of staff blogs from earlier this year, 2014, 2013 and 2011.

Although I’m not unfamiliar with government/tech type unconferences, (I help organise Open Data Camp), this was my first ever Local GovCamp and I was really looking forward to attending. I missed the Fringe Friday, so it was just the Saturday ‘unconference proper’ for me – which, like all unconferences, started off with a long list of really interesting sounding pitches from a real variety of people.

I opted to start the day with a session called “Are we still innovating?” which was a great discussion, and, for me, certainly set the theme for the day. Whilst there have clearly been great leaps in recent years, there are still some major issues and frustrations which are sometimes felt keenly by those working in or with Local Government (I say this as someone who has been both the Local Gov customer and supplier in the last 12 months). In the spirit of Local GovCamp, this first discussion touched on some of the frustrations and disappointments but focused on the positives.

I’m a big fan of the unconference “Rule of two-feet” which encourages attendees to get up and move around between sessions, so was able to make the most of the packed agenda. Throughout the day I was in sessions about using NLP to improve communication within the context of Agile coaching; lessons on ideal team size learnt from working on a submarine; GDPR; chatbots and council websites; the risks and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence; and two different sessions on innovation within the context of digital government. And this doesn’t include the interesting conversations I was in, or overheard, in the corridors!

There was certainly plenty to think about following such a packed day, and my main takeaways are as follows:

Local Government is certainly still innovating

It can often be hard to take stock of how far we have come when change is such a constant. But having looked at the takeaways from the previous Delib blogs, it is clear to me that plenty of the ‘hot topics’ for innovation from 2011 or 2013 are now becoming much more par for the course, if not yet business as usual everywhere. For example, terms like ‘Digital by Default’, ‘Agile Working’ or ‘Open Data’ are now discussed as norms rather than ‘new’ things or ways in which government is innovating.

It is (still) really hard for Local Government to easily buy the right thing

There are all sorts of really good reasons why we have procurement rules for the public sector. However, there was a clear consensus that procurement processes can really hamper innovation, and can also be a real barrier for SME’s seeking to engage with Government. This was also touched upon during one of my ‘overheard corridor conversations’: “…Yes of course we need to keep innovating, but that doesn’t mean we don’t also all need to engage more and better with existing things like G Cloud that could really support innovation if more councils and suppliers engaged with it”.

We need to bring more people into the conversation

One of the session pitches was “Help! I’m an Elected Member!” which drew a big cheer from the crowd, (seemingly it is quite rare for anyone other than Officers to make it to these kinds of events). Certainly, there was a desire to find better ways to spread the word and share successes more broadly, and some were worried that there was a risk of only ‘preaching to the converted’.

It’s all about the people

Perhaps a cheesy way to finish up – but I’m afraid in my experience, it’s true. Anyone feeling disheartened by the challenges and frustrations of Local Government would do well to attend Local GovCamp and see how many brilliant, knowledgeable and dynamic people there are out there working hard to bring digital transformation to Government in all corners of the UK. And, yes, we do need to keep innovating, but judging by Local GovCamp last weekend, I have no doubt we will.