Author: LouiseC (Page 1 of 2)

Kaizen: Continuous improvement and democratic product development

An experiment in deciding what goes in a milestone

We make products to improve democracy and we spend a lot of our time working to improve those products, too. In engineering at Delib, we’ve been wanting to run multiple product development tracks for a while, but we’ve been in the middle of hiring developers and have had some back-to-back commitments which have meant this has not routinely been possible.

We now have the space to look at multiple tracks of work and — on one of those tracks — to experiment with how we decide what goes into the regular product milestones.

Current state

The current state (for the most part) has been two tracks:

  • One support track running constantly: This is a developer on support every day of the week, rotated roughly fortnightly. Jess wrote about that back in 2015, and what she wrote is largely all still accurate apart from that we’re in a different office and I have no idea how Samuel the Spider Plant is doing.
  • The other track is for product development.

However: we run a lean business because we need to keep costs low for our government customers. Those customers also need us to meet high standards on things like security, accessibility and performance. These necessities can eat into that second track of ongoing product feature work. By that I don’t mean they eat into regular maintenance on products and infrastructure, but into the time for things which are a bit more than maintenance; those which deliver visible improvements and features or which break new ground by making tools for moving democracy forward.

It’s those visible improvements and features we all want to see more of.

New state

  • Support track
  • *New* Kaizen continuous improvement Citizen Space track (approx 4–6 weeks per milestone around about 6 times a year)
  • *New* Breaking new ground / projects / big ticket track (6–8 weeks or more per milestone)
  • + ?
  • + ?

We’re hiring for even more engineers*, so we’d like to keep adding tracks and moving faster.

It’s the Kaizen track I want to talk about in this post because not only is it a new thing but we’re going to try a new way of setting it up as well.

Kaizen and deciding what goes into each milestone

Milestones are typically planned via a set-up with Andy (MD and product owner) and one or more developers. Sometimes I might be asked to give my tuppenceworth on whether something is still a priority for our customers or not, but often the main bulk of work is decided in that set-up meeting/IRC.

We assign an account manager and a developer DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) for the milestone and, through them, there’s a process for making sure that what’s planned for the milestone is communicated internally so that we all know when code freeze is due, when we want to get the release rolled out to customers, and what documentation and other work needs to be completed. There’s a template for this, it’s all very organised.

What it isn’t, though, is especially democratic. And even with the internal communication improvements we’ve made, things can be missed by anyone not directly involved. And if we’re going to call this work Kaizen, we’d better be involving a few more people.

How might this change?

The new Kaizen milestone is all about quick wins and visible improvements: ones we can make on a regular basis to make our customers’ lives easier.

We have a project in in which we collect the feedback we receive on our products. These tickets collect as much detail as possible about the requested change and we document how many other customers have echoed that request. As you’d expect, we also log bugs that we, or our customers, find. Bugs are as bugs is. No software is without them. As long as the product change isn’t too big, it’ll be considered for Kaizen. Bugs will always be up for grabs, too.

We plan to round up all the tickets in which are potential candidates. This will be a job for Andy (MD), me and probably either Jess or Alan (technical leads) to start with. Then we want to open these up for others in Delib to prioritise. The five tickets or so which have been judged highest priority will go in the first milestone, though that doesn’t mean the others are out. Because these milestones will run regularly — about 6 to 8 times a year — it means the rest remain as possibilities to be chosen in the following milestone, and so on, and so on, until we have no more work to do and can all go for a lie down.

A good handful of bugs will go into every milestone as well; anything which doesn’t affect data integrity will be included in the prioritisation. Urgent bugs already get their own hot-fix via our support track.

How to prioritise?

We make a tool for government called Simulator and our plan is to use this to prioritise this development work. Simulator comes in three types:

  • One for balancing an organisation’s budget
  • One for simulating how making spending choices on services might affect a household bill (like council tax in the UK), and
  • One which allows you to prioritise services/items by spending points.

It’s this last one we plan to use.

We’ll be putting the candidates into Points Simulator, giving people probably 20 points to spend, and up to a maximum of 5 points for each item. Then we’ll all spend our points to determine what the top development priorities will be for the upcoming milestone. If it’s something you really want to happen, you’d whack 5 points on it. At the end of the exercise, points sim will let us easily establish where the top spends are. Through this we’ll also have more of us seeing and understanding the tickets sitting in our backlog waiting for some love, care and attention.

Priority simulator with a few sliders selected to show points being spent on certain items, with 13 points remaining to spend on priorities

Another benefit of this is that we get to test our own tool out in a real exercise. The term for this type of activity — using your own tools in-house — is called dogfooding. This name is blargh, so I suggest we call it toast-eating. Making some toast and then eating your toast to see if the toast is good or if there’s something you might do differently next time you make it. Toast-eating? Yeah. Like bread. Like toast. Mmm.

How will we know if it’s worked?

  1. We’ll have regular milestones delivering for customers every 6 weeks. As evidenced by release announcements and feedback from customer check-ins (which we do as part of our release process. If we update something someone has previously asked us for, we call them to let them know)
  2. We’ll have a better picture across Delib of what’s in our ticket backlog and what we’re doing about it
  3. We’ll have tried out Priority Simulator for our own needs and found out what it’s like
  4. I run a support report every quarter looking at how many queries we’ve had in from customers and on what areas of the products. I hope this will show that, where we’ve made improvements to an area of Citizen Space, the support queries in that area have come down

NB: I’d like us to do a retrospective on this whole process after the first round and iterate on it after that.

And that’s it. I’ll report back on how it went. Warts and all.

Are you a developer? Would you like to work at Delib? It’s very good. Give me a shout on here or get in touch using the details in this job link.

Twice as fast: Citizen Space Version 4

This is a long post! Coming up:

tl:dr Citizen Space is now twice as fast and can cope with double the amount of things at once.


Lots of democratic decision-making bodies around the world use Citizen Space to connect with citizens, most often in the form of consultations (but not just those). They also use it to improve the quality of work around consultation and engagement inside their organisation. This means it handles a lot of information:

In the past year, approximately 1,080,000 responses were submitted to exercises run via Citizen Space, and currently around 15,000 people working in public service around the world are registered as administrators on Citizen Space sites across 124 different organisations.

It’s our main job to make sure that:

  • The information stored within customer sites is kept safe
  • Respondents are not prevented from submitting their views
  • The work of all those public servants is made easier rather than harder

Performance underpins all of this and has been the focus of the last few months.

How we do development

Our product development regularly focuses on incremental improvements multiple times a year, mostly through visible product features and updates which are largely suggested by our users.

There’s a lot of other stuff which competes for our time and it’s a balancing act of keeping the products moving forward while meeting regularly-changing security obligations, complying with (and proving compliance with) changes to data protection and other global legislation, answering support questions from users, internal governance and so on and so on. There are only about twenty of us across the UK, Australia and New Zealand, so we have to very carefully prioritise our work to keep on top of these competing demands.

A little on performance

Consistent performance is hard. Our customers are in control of how much content goes into their platform and we don’t apply artificial limits to number of consultations, users, responses or documents customers add to their sites, this results in varying requirements on our production infrastructure [1].

Administrative tasks in particular often consume a disproportionate amount of capacity as they can involve searching, annotating and exporting thousands of consultation responses and their supporting documents. If you have lots of people doing those things at once — and it’s the nature of this kind of tool that you do — that’s a big load for a server. Combining that with multiple active consultations and a constant stream of people visiting and submitting their views – a moving target which can peak at hundreds, and occasionally thousands, of requests a second – results in a constantly shifting workload where even small performance gains can have a big effect on overall throughput and time spent waiting.

What did we want for version 4?

Our aim was to improve on performance for Citizen Space so that it increased its capacity to perform well both for day-to-day needs and at peak times. We wanted to:

  1. Increase the number of people being able to do things at once: Concurrency = more citizens able to have their say on decisions which affect them + more admins across an organisation able to work simultaneously to get their jobs done
  2. To decrease the time it takes anyone to do something on Citizen Space: Speed = faster loading times, giving more time to spend on other things, saving time for the public purse, freeing up administrators, saving time for citizens who want to get on with making dinner/having a bath/going out/living life
  3. Improve sites’ ability to perform even under unprecedented heavy load: Availability = high-profile (often contentious) consultations do not suffer the double whammy of lots of people passionately keen to give their views and then struggling to do so on a site flapping under the pressure of sustained load

Version 4 delivery

Alongside our standard ongoing development work [2], we’d been working on preparing a large infrastructure update to Citizen Space for most of 2018 and this formed the backbone of the performance updates. Toward the end of 2018 we turned our technical attention to take a specific run at performance in our regular milestones, too, with the particular focus on delivering those concurrency, speed and availability improvements.

The updates were delivered over a series of smaller milestones released with no downtime for sites, plus one large overnight update in January 2019 with a few minutes of downtime, which comprised the main infrastructure release.

How do we know what difference these updates made?

We looked at request[3] data on all Citizen Space sites across 2018 to tell us how many times each request was made and the length of time it took for those requests to be delivered. We broke this data down by:

  • Public side and admin side
  • Type of request
  • Total number of requests (of each type)
  • Time taken to serve requests
  • We also split it down by the type of demand a site is set up to cope with: small-medium, medium-high, high-very high demand

We did the same with the number of requests and time it’s taken to deliver them since we ran the upgrades, and we’ve forecast this out using the 2018 request numbers to find expected time savings for 2019 [4]. In order to make comparisons: for both 2018 and 2019 we calculated the mean time to serve each request. [5]

The results for the public side of sites are similar across all of them, so there is only one chart for those. This is because, in order to prevent those chunkier admin requests from impacting on people responding, Citizen Space is technically structured so that it broadly separates out the public from the admin side.

It’s worth stating that some admin-side requests we would expect to take a number of seconds to serve because they require large multi-megabyte files to be exported, but for public side transactions we’re ultimately aiming for under two seconds on all types of request, which would make Citizen Space faster than about 70% of the world wide web. Either way, we still want both the chunky requests and the already-pretty-fast ones to improve and continue improving.

The results

Citizen Space is now twice as fast

What does this mean?

1. Citizen Space can cope with at least twice as many requests at the same time (concurrency)

2. Compared with 2018, it now takes about half (and often less than half) of the time to deliver on most requests (speed)

In short: it can do more at once, and it can do it quicker.

The following charts show the average time in seconds each request took to deliver, so the shorter the bar, the less time it has taken. If you hover over the bars it’ll tell you the mean response time for each type of request in 2018 (blue – first bar) and 2019 (orange – second bar). Sadly – as these are charts – they’re not great if you’re reading this on a smartphone, but I’ve put the links below each one to view them individually, or you can view the whole set together on Tableau Public (link opens in new tab).

Public side of Citizen Space

Citizen Space can now serve over twice as many requests per second i.e. it can deliver pages to double the number of respondents clicking on things at once.

See the chart on Tableau Public (link opens in new tab)

Admin side (across all sites)

See the chart in Tableau Public (link opens in new tab)

If we use the total number of requests made over the course of 2018 across all sites (approximately 2 million requests) and forecast out how long those same requests would now take in 2019 after the most recent upgrades, it’s a saving of approximately 420 hours (or approximately 56 full working days) in total across all organisations using Citizen Space, and that’s a lot of time which can be spent elsewhere.

Broken down by demand

Small to medium demand sites:

See the chart in Tableau Public (link opens in new tab)

This group comprises the largest number of our customers. If we use the total number of requests made over the course of 2018 for this group (over 870,000 requests) and forecast out how long those same number of requests would now take in 2019 after the most recent upgrades, it’s a saving of almost 123 hours (or over 15 full working days).

Medium to high demand sites:

See the chart in Tableau Public (link opens in new tab)

We have just under fifty organisations in this group. If we use the total number of requests made over the course of 2018 for this group (over 709,000 requests) and forecast out how long those same number of requests would now take in 2019 after the most recent upgrades, it’s a saving of almost 150 hours (or just under 19 full working days) for these organisations collectively.

High to very high demand sites:

See the chart in Tableau Public (link opens in new tab)

This is the smallest group of organisations (currently ten), but they are highly active. If we use the total number of requests made over the course of 2018 for this group (just under 470,000 requests) and forecast out how long those same number of requests would now take in 2019 after the most recent upgrades, it’s a saving of almost 150 hours (or just under 19 full working days) for these organisations collectively.

I’ve included more explanation of the time to deliver some requests in the footnotes below. [6]

In terms of the Availability goal, with Citizen Space able to do more and quicker, we expect to see fewer instances of sites struggling under very heavy load. Luckily, this isn’t a very regular occurrence, though we do track this via our site monitoring and tagged support tickets, so we’ll be looking at that data in the next few months to see if this too has seen an improvement.

What next?

We have a further release going out this week which will deliver improvements to the export of all consultations, so we should see the request times for that go down, too. This release includes other changes which we hope will add to the performance of Citizen Space, so we’ll take another look at these stats in a few months to see how we’re getting on.

As mentioned earlier, availability is a harder one to measure as it requires sites to have alerted our monitoring that there have been errors or issues, so we need more data to see what difference has been made as – thankfully – we don’t have regular instances of this. We have taken a look at the small amount of monitoring data since the upgrades and the indication is that this too has seen an improvement, but the numbers are so small that we’d rather have fuller information over a number of months to compare with 2018 to be sure.

Coming up, we’re working on meeting the new WCAG 2.1 standards. Citizen Space is currently designed to meet W3C WAI WCAG 1.0 & 2.0 Level AA.

There is much to do, let’s crack on shall we?

[1] We run a subscription model matching type of organisation and expected capacity requirements with computing provision, so that customers can have unlimited use up to the capacity of their machine.

As an example, local regional councils with lower staff numbers and a smaller likely audience for their consultations do not require the same capacity as, say, a central government department, which runs national consultations and needs more administrators across a much larger organisation. We believe this approach saves organisations from needing to limit their ability to consult, or to take a risk with sharing log-ins as might happen with a model which charges per exercise or per user. We don’t want to restrict organisations from seeking the views of citizens, nor to encourage practices which might lower security. We prefer joined-up, improved processes across an organisation where people can work together effectively. The ‘limited only by hardware’ model helps to deliver that, as the organisation is free to structure their work as they need without being concerned about an increased cost for doing so. Most organisations never need to increase the capacity they need (and therefore subscription level), if they do then we’ll purchase and provide more capacity, or they can choose to manage their content accordingly. A bit like when you run out of space on your smartphone and you can either increase your memory size or, if you don’t want to do that, then you delete some photos.

As taxpayers and citizens, we care about the public sector being ripped off by suppliers, so we work in as lean a way as we possibly can and charge just enough for each subscription band to: be able to reinvest in continually updating the software, to meet any statutory and market obligations, to pay our taxes and fair wages for hard-working people, and to keep the lights on in our offices.

[2] In 2018 our other commitments as a company tended to relate to updates and additional measures around information security, and GDPR.

[3] A request means a request to the server, such as selecting to continue on a page, clicking a button, loading a page, requesting an export — things like that.

[4] We have more people using Citizen Space now, so the number of times these pages will be requested in 2019 is likely to be higher than 2018, and therefore the speed improvements will likely be cumulatively even more significant.

[5] There was a lot of data so it’s worth noting that when calculating the mean there were some outliers: sites with large databases which took longer to serve certain requests (like the export of all consultations), and newer customers with very small databases which were quicker. To account for that, in the charts in ‘The Results’ section, we’ve included both the mean across all customers, but also set out charts for the average response times of the three groups of different site demands, from smaller organisations on sites set up for small-medium sized demand, to the largest with sites set up to cope with high-very high demand.

[6] For the handful of the very largest customers, the data shows what we’d expect, which is that requests – especially delivering exports – take quite a bit longer as this reflects the huge amount of data on their platform. These customers typically: get tens of thousands of responses to consultations, run hundreds of exercises a year, have huge peaks in traffic, and hundreds of administrators (devolved governments, very large national bodies, certain central/federal government departments). By contrast, those who are small to medium sized organisations and therefore smaller demand sites, which is the majority of our customer-base, have quicker times for those exports as the data being served is smaller. These customers tend to have regional or interest-based audience groups (the customers may be local councils, specialist regulatory bodies, etc.) lower staff numbers, and are less likely to run consultations of national interest. In the middle, we have around fifty medium to large organisations who tend to be other central/federal government departments, large local government entities, larger regulatory / health / infrastructure bodies, again with quite a bit of data to manage with most requests.

Govcamp 2017: Bookcamp and the joy of sharing

This year was the 10th anniversary of UK Govcamp, an unconference that we’ve been attending and sponsoring for a number of years. For me, it was the fourth year of spending a frosty Saturday in London with a group of people to talk about UK public sector, digital, and – more than anything else – making things better.

Govcamp typically has a mix of those working in digital in government (at all levels), those who have at some point worked in digital in gov/public sector, and those who work with the public sector doing digital things.  We fall into the latter group, so I try to spend my time listening to what those in the know have to say and learning about the things being discussed. If I can chip into any session with valid experience or something that may be helpful to people in the room then I will, but largely I like to listen to the fast-thinking from others.

Let me tell you, if you need heartening evidence of how many progressive and intelligent people there are in and around public service, you should get a ticket to GovCamp.

On that note, last year I attended Janet Hughes’s excellent discussion on being bold and what boldness means. I have thought about that 45 minutes a lot since then as, ironically, I felt too shy during it to give my input. I made a resolution to break out of my comfort zone this time around and pitch a session.

Behold the advent of Bookcamp.

Bookcamp, why and what
I like to read, and a few weeks ago through the noise of Twitter I noticed a lovely-looking book pile posted by Kit Collingwood. Kit had in her photo ‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes, which I’d just finished. We hadn’t actually spoken before, but we do follow one another and from this photo I guessed we shared similar book taste.
I chose boldness and offered (somewhat out of the blue, I’m sure!) to lend Kit a great book called ‘A Whole Life’. This started a conversation in which we decided to exchange a couple of books with one another in real life, and ultimately led to us meeting in person a couple of weeks later at UK Govcamp. It was a refreshing and lovely way to make a new friend, plus I now have two excellent books to read.

Book swap. From Kit: Someone Like You by Roald Dahl; On the Other Side by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg. From me: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

Book swap. From Kit: Someone Like You by Roald Dahl; On the Other Side by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg. From me: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

Importantly, this little book swap got me thinking about the power of books, sharing (properly sharing) and kindness, and how inspirational reading long-form ideas can be. We wrote a blog before Christmas with a Delib recommended reading list, so I wanted to expand that idea to get recommended reading from a few people at UK GovCamp.
The idea was pretty simple:

  • Come along to the session, share what your favourite book is and why
  • Share one other thing you would recommend everyone to read if you could
  • Hopefully come away with some mind-expanding reading opportunities

Below is the list of recommended reading from our session. You can support your local library and take most of these books out from there (this link takes you to to search for your local libraries):

Favourite books from the room: (links lead to Goodreads or the author’s own website)
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
The Magus – John Fowles
Hiroshima – John Hersey
The Bees – Laline Paull
A Fraction of the Whole – Steve Toltz
The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Good Omens – Neil Gaiman / Terry Pratchett
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Before I go to Sleep – S. J. Watson
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Quiet – Susan Cain
Wanderlust – Rebecca Solnit
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
Sharpe (and all the Bernard Cornwell collection)
Days Without End – Sebastian Barry
and fresh from a suggestion on Twitter: Independent People by Halldór Laxness

Bookcamp must-read choices for work/leadership/growth:
Transform, A rebel’s guide to digital transformation – Gerry McGovern
The E Myth – Michael Gerber
The Art of the State – Christopher Hood
7 habits of highly effective people – Stephen R Covey
Organising & Disorganising – Michael Thompson
From Arrogance to Intimacy – Andy Williamson and Martin Sande
The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
The Toyota Way – Jeffrey K Liker
South. The story of Shackleton’s last expedition 1914 – 1917 – Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton

NB: For those with a Kindle, South is free to download and is one of the best books I have read about leadership and bravery. It also feels strangely relevant for the turbulent times we’re living in.

I wanted to extend my thanks to those who came along to the session and contributed to this excellent list. Also a special thanks to Paul Brannigan who came along and gave me a copy of his own book, The Spiral Mindmap, which was an unexpected and lovely thing to do.

I wanted to round this post off with a little snippet of info from the first session I went to about gender balance in tech. I’m sure others have written more eloquently about this particular subject in the past so I won’t try and tackle it in depth here. However, to carry on with the book theme: Jess Figueras mentioned that there are very few female characters in children’s books aside from your standard princess. Almost all animals in children’s books are male and most characters that get up to anything vaguely progressive or interesting are male, too. Not only that, but children’s books which are culturally diverse or contain LGBTQ characters are even rarer.

Books can shape how children begin to see the world and, the more the characters reflect them, the more they can picture themselves doing those things and being part of their own story. There are some great children’s books out there which allow girls to be astronauts and scientists and which reflect people of varied ethnicities and sexualities, but they’re not that easy to find. Here are a few you might like:
Blast Off – Linda C Cain and Susan Rosenbaum
The Mr Gum books – Andy Stanton
The boy in the dress – David Walliams
The BFG and Matilda – Roald Dahl
Zog – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Max and the tag-along moon – Floyd Cooper

and a few catch-all lists:

Happy reading 🙂

Introducing…Eric Lui, our new Civil Service Fast Stream secondee

Eric is the second civil service fast stream secondee to clamber the stairs of the old Bristol cork factory we call home. Here for six months to learn about life in an small supplier to government; the world of digital democracy and civic tech; and importantly, to discover the varied ways our users across government interact with our software, with citizens and with each other.

Here we take time to ask a few words of the man himself
< swivels chair around, puts on serious face, holds out microphone >

So Eric…

What’s your name and where are you from?A photograph of Eric standing in the Delib office

Eric Lui – and I’m from Northwood Hills…(near Watford)

What’s your professional background?

I’m in my second year on the Civil Service Fast Stream graduate scheme. So far I’ve had the opportunity to work in the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Defence and also the Department of Education doing a variety of commercial, finance and policy roles. Before that I had a stint working at an Apple store doing training and tech support. I love social activism so I’ve also done some volunteering for the Global Poverty Project.

What made you want to be seconded to a digital company/ Delib?

I am passionate about getting the public invested in politics and participating in democracy. Delib definitely ticks those boxes and even better it does it using innovative and forward thinking technology! Government is working hard to be more open and transparent and I think the applications created by Delib can be an essential tool in achieving this. What better way to learn than by working directly in Delib! I look forward to getting stuck in and participating in the digital democracy revolution.

What are you most looking forward to learning about?

Most definitely the culture and the working practices of a digital company, the ‘agile’ way of doing things effectively and efficiently. It will be fascinating to see how things are done outside of Government, especially in the digital space where I think it still has a lot to learn. I am a bit of a geek as well so getting some exposure to the development side of things will be exciting. Hopefully aside from learning I can also contribute too and bring some of my experiences in Government into Delib.

Your house is on fire, what do you save?

Myself and my spectacles because I’m as blind as a bat without them.

Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

Dunk away! My preferred dunker is the hobnob, aka. the SAS of the biscuit world due to its high tolerance for multiple dunks.

Favourite band and / or artist?

The XX, love moody atmospheric baselines. Recently I’ve also taken an affinity to artists wearing cool hats, Pharrell Williams and James Bay.

Bristol – historic, vibrant city or regional backwater?

Vibrant definitely. I’ve timed my secondment perfectly with summer so I’m looking forward to exploring the waterfront and all the festivals!

Anything else to add?

Yay to having Macs at work. I’m winning already!

We’d like to welcome Eric to the Delib team and hopefully we’ll be able to share our enthusiasm for participation in all its forms over the coming months.

How the Scottish #IndyRef showed us all how to do democracy

Here at Delib, we’re not political, but we are passionate about democracy. With the vote announced this morning, we look at how Scotland won at democracy during this momentous referendum.

We’ve been following this with interest, from the initial discussions and consultations, to the fiery passions and clamour of the final few weeks. Arguably, it is the fervour with which this campaign has been fought, particularly in its latter stages, that has led to a record number of citizens registering to vote and standing up to make their voices heard on the future of their country. The result: a voter turnout of over 84.5% – the highest in the UK since the general election of 1950.

Some basic rules of engagement were followed as part of the referendum:

A simple question was asked > in a defined timescale > with full inclusion of the Scottish public in the journey to polling day.

The seeds of change were sown in 2012 at the beginning of this referendum process, when the Scottish Government ran the Scottish Referendum Consultation (using Citizen Space).

The consultation asked the Scottish people to become part of the machinery of democracy and to shape the structure of their referendum. It asked nine questions, ranging from whether 16 and 17 year olds would get the vote, to how voting could be made easier for them to take part.

An image of the nine questions in the Scottish Referendum Consultation

The nine questions in the Scottish Referendum Consultation

To keep things completely transparent, the responses of all consenting participants were published in full on the site.

What we really loved about this consultation was that the public response to the questions asked, was directly actioned by the Scottish Government. When it asked whether 16 and 17 year olds should get the vote, the public said yes – so it happened. The nature of the referendum question and the ballot paper were decided by the respondents to the consultation. This was true of all nine questions – no response was left unread, no voice left unheard.

By asking Scottish citizens to be involved from the outset, the result has been that they have responded in their millions to vote and to own the process.

There will be many people in Scotland today understandably feeling defeated, but their participation in the vote means their assembled voices cannot be ignored. Their actions may also be the catalyst for significant, democratic and constitutional change across the UK.

We have a number of Scottish customers using our apps; Scottish Government, Clackmannanshire Council, East Renfrewshire Council, East Lothian Council, East Dunbartonshire Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Scottish Borders, Edinburgh City Council, Forestry Commission Scotland and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, and we’ve worked with more in the past.

One thing we have known for a while is that Scotland does democracy well, and now the rest of the world has been able to see it too.

It’s the Friday consultation round-up

This blog comes courtesy of Megan Bennett. Megan has just completed her AS-levels and has been working with us this week, learning about digital democracy and looking at how local and central government use consultation to develop their public services.

It’s Friday again! Yay! And the best thing about it being Friday is that it’s time for another round up of super consultations. So, let’s see what’s been going on…

A strategy for cycling – Bristol City Council

The poster for Bristol City Council's draft cycling strategy consultation

The poster for Bristol City Council’s draft cycling strategy consultation

Bristol City Council is consulting on its Draft Cycle Strategy to look at the way bikes are used in the city. Bikes are a convenient and environmentally-friendly way of getting around, and those who have visited Bristol will know that the city wholeheartedly embraces this mindset, so I’m sure a lot of people will have a relevant response to this consultation.

Whether you live in Bristol or not (and whether you’re a fan of cyclists or not), the council’s explanatory document is a brilliant example of how proposals can be put into plain language to make it more accessible and encourage participation. There are some pretty nifty statistics on pages 5 and 6 of the draft as well, if you like that sort of thing.

North West Leicestershire’s placemaking exercises
North West Leicestershire District Council is giving residents of local villages Moira and Donisthorpe the chance to have their say via a Placecheck. It allows residents to suggest ideas for their local area that will have a significant impact upon their lives. This is a great opportunity for citizens, and something that more and more councils are starting to do.

London Borough of Sutton’s budget consultation
Many consultations on Citizen Space ask residents to provide their thoughts on some of the difficult decisions that councils have to make. The London Borough of Sutton has one such consultation, asking residents to help them shave £40 million off their 2019 budget. A hard task that I would not like to be solely responsible for – good thing everyone can get involved. This is a great way for citizens to contribute because it encourages productive discussion and provides a space for residents to have a real say in issues that directly affect them.

Birmingham City Council’s short breaks for adults with learning disabilities

An image taken from Birmingham City Council's Citizen Space site showing a collection of adults and carers to promote their consultation on short breaks for adults with learning disabilities

Birmingham City Council’s consultation on short breaks for adults with learning disabilities

Birmingham City Council is running a consultation based on disabled people and their carers, an often under-represented group in society. In this consultation, the short break service for adults with learning disabilities is being reviewed and improved with the help of disabled people, carers and anyone else who has an opinion. This is a very worthwhile service and the only people who can really tell the council how to improve it are those who use it or have the opportunity to use it. This shows a good use of consultations to reach people who actually use the services they are consulting on.


DECC’s consultation on the Government Electricity Rebate proposal
The Department of Energy and Climate Change is consulting on delivery requirements for the Government Electricity Rebate proposal, which will rebate £12 to domestic electricity account holders in Britain. This will affect pretty much everyone (27 million households to be precise) and cost the government around £620 million, so it is important that everyone can make their voice heard.

Those are just a few of the interesting consultations that are live this week. To see all the current public consultations being run on Citizen Space, check out the Citizen Space Aggregator

Guest Blog: Social media tools for public organisations

This blog comes courtesy of Megan Bennett. Megan has just completed her AS-levels and has been working with us this week, learning about digital democracy and looking at how local and central government use consultation to develop their public services.

As an A level student lucky enough to be doing work experience with Delib, I have had the unique opportunity to learn more about how democracy can be increased through the use of online applications. Here I’ve been looking at how social media tools can help organisations to build an online presence and promote their engagement activity.

The stats

As of last month there were approximately 1.28 billion Facebook users, 343 million Google+ users and 255 million Twitter users. It is estimated that by 2017 there will be a total of 2.33 billion social media users, nearly a third of the global population, up from 0.97 billion users in 2010*. These social networks can be referred to as tools when they are used to promote online consultations. Modern organisations can use the upsurge to get a broader, more accurate and therefore more democratic public opinion on new policies or budgets.

*statistics and figures taken from: and

What are the benefits of using social media as a tool to promote online consultations?

1. Increased awareness of the organisation and increased traffic to website and the consultation – social media is possibly the best way to increase awareness of an issue or consultation as users can share and discuss it with each other.

An image of Avon and Somerset Police's Flickr feed

Avon and Somerset Police use Flickr to show what they are up to

2. Greater favourable perceptions of the organisation and a better understanding of the perception of the organisation.

3. Organisations are more able to monitor conversations and frequency of conversations about them or their consultations.

4. Improved insights about their target markets and development of targeted activities, such as consultations aimed at specific groups based on what they have been shown to want.

5. These tools can also help improve democracy in local communities.

An image of Bristol City Council's YouTube account

Bristol City Council use YouTube to show what happens behind the doors of city hall.

A working example:

Leicester City Council had a good outcome from their online consultation on the redevelopment of a skate park, but it was the lively debate on Facebook that prompted the council to take a phase two of the consultation out to the skaters themselves. The council also used the ‘We Asked, You Said , We Did’ feature on Citizen Space to feedback this decision, showing they had listened to their audience and adapted their approach.

Feedback from Leicester City Council about a consultation on skate park redevelopment

Feedback from Leicester City Council on their innovative and flexible approach to consulting a specific audience

Using the right channel for the right audience

Many organisations have lots of accounts on a wide variety of social media websites. This is important as each website appeals to a different type of user, expecting a different type of content.

An image of Transport for London's Facebook account

Transport for London use Facebook amongst other tools

An organisation could not effectively use the same content on LinkedIn and Instagram as these both have different target audiences. Organisations need to carefully consider their audience and what platform would be the most suitable. Once you know your target audience for each channel, you can create consultations that appeal to these people and broadcast them on the relevant form of social media in order to boost the response.

Many government agencies and organisations use social media to monitor public opinion on key topics, to extend the impact of campaign messages and to build a retainable audience for campaigns over extended periods. In this way, social media can be used to get an idea of what proposals would be the most popular with citizens, once again helping to get a more widespread and accurate response.

Help with managing your online presence

An image of the Forestry Commission's Twitter account

Forestry Commission sharing via Twitter

A good idea may be to use a social media management tool. There are a number available including HootSuite, SocialOomph, Buffer, SproutSocial and many more – do some research into which is best for you or your organisation. A certain amount of trial and error may be required, but it won’t be a waste of time if you are serious about using social media to promote consultations. These programmes can also tell you a bit about who your followers are, for example, their age, gender, how often they tweet etc. Some can even tell you the best times to tweet based on when most of your followers are usually online.

Social media is a great opportunity for organisations to take advantage of. While there are always risks to a strong presence online, it would be a good idea to consider these against the potential advantages – not least the increase in the democratic process through opening up consultations to a wider audience, many of whom may not have even been aware that such things existed.

We made things for Citizen Space – a look back at 2013

It’s a new year!  Not only that, but we’ve almost made it through January – the monthly equivalent of a long, hungover bus ride home.  As 2014 stretches out before us with all the promise of a brand new notebook, we reflect upon how we spent the months of 2013.

It’s easy to be engrossed in the day-to-day and not realise the big achievements made when you look at things as a whole.  The same goes for public engagement; all of those individual consultations, public events and budget discussions have collectively reached a huge number of people whose responses are vital in shaping public services.

Here at Delib, we work to 10 regular development milestones per year and try to fit as many useful features, updates and fixes as we can into each – we’re a very small team, but a busy one!  Now seems a very good time to run through all the significant developments we made to Citizen Space in 2013:

New features added:

Survey cloning

Editable ‘call to action’ link text

Consultation preview link for anonymous users

Ability to remove duplicate or test responses

Help links throughout Citizen Space (wherever you see the [?] icon)


Key feature improvements:

Total responses at a glance

Editing and improving the way a consultation URL is presented

PDF summary report improvements

Email list management – improved working with MailChimp and other mail services

Citizen Space makeover (many small, but cumulative style improvements)

Consultation finder results listed by close date

Easily turn-off-and-on-able social media widgets


Key pioneer features created:

Event pages and calendar

Response moderation and publishing

Not only that, but our development team carried out 109 bug fixes and behind the scenes improvements in 2013 too.

We’ve previously written about the iterative and Agile* way we work; this allows us to be flexible and responsive (and also help keep the Post-It note industry alive!).

A photo of kanban boards

Just some of our kanban boards with their many colourful post-its

Your feedback is vital in helping us to know how important a potential feature or enhancement is to you – the majority of the above improvements were down to suggestions and support queries generated by our users.

You might not also know that you can collaborate with us if you have an idea for a feature which isn’t on our roadmap, but is something you really want.

“What’s planned for 2014?” you might ask.  Well for starters, and it’s a big one, there’s Skip Logic (otherwise known as survey routing), something many of you have asked for.  This will be winging its way to your Citizen Space instance in the next week or so with some helpful supporting articles on our Knowledge Base.

Another 2014 aim is to help as many customers as we can to become centres of excellence for consulting, through training and support and sharing best practice.

We’re keen as mustard to know what your plans are for 2014, so tweet us @delibthinks, email, send a carrier pigeon, come and see us at any of our lovely offices or just give us a call for a chat – we would love it!

0845 638 1848 (UK)

1800 034 129 (Australia)

+44 1173 812 989 (Anywhere else)

*For extra reading on Agile, the UK Government Digital Service have a great blog post on working in an Agile way.

The Friday Consultation Round-Up

It’s Friday again, and time to catch up with some of the interesting consultations happening around the world!

Stroud County Council’s private demographics consultation:

We can’t link to this, but it’s a really interesting use of our private consultations feature.

Stroud District Council has been capturing respondent demographics by linking the final page of each consultation to a single separate private consultation. This is great in three ways:

1) This means that demographic data is entirely isolated from consultation responses, and therefore anonymous.

2) It can be analysed as a single data set more easily.

3) It also minimises drop-out rates from those who just want to respond to a consultation without providing demographic data.

Win. Win. Win.

Sutton engaging with young people

Sutton County Council has an interesting consultation running to find out what young people in the county view as risky behaviour. The results will help to build services based on their needs. This shows a great example of using consultation to engage with an often under-represented group.

Transport for London’s Garden Bridge Trust Consultation

Images, maps, roadshows – it’s all going on in this consultation. It looks lovely, is really engaging and is about a garden bridge. What more could we want?

Clackmannanshire Council’s Planning consultation

You can tell this consultation comes from a Planning department as it is incredibly well thought out, making it easy for respondents to engage with and understand. Lovely stuff.

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