Category Archives: Dialogue

Digital hero: Carol Hayward

Across the globe, community engagement practitioner Carol Hayward is renowned for her ability to connect with communities and build relationships of trust.

Earlier this year, Carol was asked to join the working group for the Birkenhead Residents Association (BRA), and here at Delib we were delighted to provide Dialogue for their use in a planned consultation. While the consultation with Birkenhead residents is continuing, Carol has generously given her time to talk about the project and its continuing legacy.

Carol, what has been your role with the Birkenhead Residents Association?

I was asked to join the working group about a year ago because of my past links with the council and my community engagement experience.

Do you live in the community?

Yes – we have lived here for 8 years and the area is where my partner grew up. It’s a fabulous community to live in – close to the city centre, surrounded by bush and with a vibrant village feel.

How did you get involved with the association?

The Secretary of the Birkenhead Residents Association asked me if I would be interested in helping out and I thought it sounded really interesting. I think the main reason he invited me to get involved was through my past role at Auckland Council when I engaged with him and other village planning groups as part of a strategic planning process and then ongoing engagement to try to improve the democratic process. I’ve also been involved over the last few years within the local bush reserve on pest management and it was good to be able to bring my experience and connections to help with this work.

Why is there an engagement program happening at this time and what are you hoping to achieve?

The BRA had been thinking of developing this plan for a while but I guess there were a couple of key drivers for it to be progressed now. The first was that the mall owners have been talking about redevelopment. They are in the middle of redeveloping one of the other malls they own in another established community location and had some significant disagreements with the local community. The BRA were keen to pre-empt any discussion about the mall development and come up with a community-led plan first. The second driver is that Auckland is struggling with significant amounts of growth and the plan is a way of trying to ensure that any intensification that happens in the area happens sympathetically where possible.

Highbury Mall concept picture
Highbury Mall concept picture

 

Are you using a blend of online and more traditional engagement methods? Why? How have your stakeholders been responding to the engagement tools you have selected?

We launched the consultation with a community forum back in March. We then used that early feedback to inform the second phase of engagement which was a combination of online, face to face, door knocking etc. Dialogue was a great way of sharing ideas and getting people to have a conversation about them. In the online space, people tend to be more honest – when you’re in a face to face situation and there is someone with really strong views, it can be difficult to feel confident challenging them. Online it’s different. Dialogue is great as it allows people to come up with their own user name (so they can be easily identifiable or not) and then participate without fear that their neighbour is going to get upset with a comment they’ve made. I liked that I was able to share ideas from Dialogue on social media so I used that to promote the Dialogue and to get further feedback on comments. When we talked to people face to face, we also tried to add in their comments to the Dialogue – it’s good to have everything in one place that everyone can see.

How are you communicating with your stakeholders in terms of promoting project involvement and project findings/results? And how will you “close the loop” with them at the end of the project?

From the community ideas and discussions, a draft plan was developed. We were really lucky to have two local architects volunteer to be part of the working group and they turned the ideas into an amazing vision with concepts of how those ideas could be turned into actions. We then shared the draft plan with the community through a drop-in at the local primary school and online through our mailing list and social media. We have also started to get some wider publicity out through one of the local community magazines and are planning more over the next few months. We have been engaging with key stakeholders such as the local board and council staff, the town centre association and the mall owners on a regular basis throughout the project to keep them informed and involved. We have a few ideas about how we promote the final plan but it’s still a work in progress – however, I imagine we will use a mixture of direct email, physical promotion eg within the library, traditional and digital media.

Stakeholder viewing material birkenhead planning
Stakeholder viewing material on the future of Birkenhead

What do you think the legacy of this project will be?

We want the community vision to be relevant for the next 30 years (with regular reviews and adaptations as required). We want it to guide and provide inspiration for property developers, the council, business owners and local residents for us all to work together to enhance the great things about Birkenhead while supporting the inevitable growth that enable us to live, work and play in the area.

You can view the community-led working document here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9PxGqfAffnrUzFtNEhwdkcxWTA/view

Carol is the Community Engagement Manager at Waitemata District Health board in Auckland, involved as a volunteer within her local community and is also studying for a Master of Business Administration.

Prior to moving into the health sector 3 years ago, Carol worked in community engagement roles within local government for around 10 years in both Auckland and at Bristol City Council in the UK.

Carol also has experience in governance positions with strengths in leadership and coaching, and is a strategic thinker who has led the development of key strategies and policies. She is a relationship builder and networker who has a collaborative leadership style, providing mentoring and support to implement innovation and change.

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.

How Forestry Commission is opening up Dialogue with stakeholders

Would you like to involve citizens and stakeholders in the early stages of your policy making? Have you ever found yourself ‘in the field’, wondering if there were a simpler way to generate and collate ideas?

If so, you’re not alone. We speak to lots of people in public sector organisations who find themselves in the same boat. Victoria Tustian from The Forestry Commission was one of them.

Victoria is the Thetford Recreation and Community Manager. Not so long ago, she was looking for a simple way to engage audiences at the initial stages of decision-making. She decided to try out Dialogue – a tool we designed to help people produce valuable and actionable ideas through structured online discussion.

Victoria has since used Dialogue for a variety of consultations, including one that involved local people in finding a way to sustain valued visitor facilities at Birchden Wood.

We recently caught up with her to hear about her experiences.

Q: Why is participation so important for you in the early stages of policy making?

A: For us, a big part of participation is about increasing transparency. And we find there are a heap of advantages to working more transparently.

When people submit their ideas and get involved, they tend to feel real ownership for the project and want to see it through. We also find that consulting early on and providing good information gives people a better understanding of the decisions and processes, which makes them more open-minded about our solutions.

Q: How do you run these early stage discussions?

A: We use a variety of on and offline methods, including Dialogue. Creating an online discussion is becoming more of a first choice for us. It enables people who are less able to get out, or those who are always on the go, to get involved at a time that suits them.

Q: What are the benefits of Dialogue?

A: There are several main benefits. We get a good variety of participants and because the process happens online, the discussions are completely open. They aren’t taken over by one person, or one group. Everyone gets to have their say.

Being online, you decide when to get involved. You can book in dedicated time for reviewing, take turns to moderate – and respond quickly to any issues. For example, if you realise people need a bit more information or support, you can add to the discussion and help resolve any issues. You can also feedback as the discussion unfolds, which contributors appreciate.

I really like the fact the discussion happens in one place. It’s much more convenient for participants, and it’s easier for administrators. We don’t have to try and catch every email that comes in and it helps everyone keep track of the conversation. If people are feeding back on all sorts of disparate channels, we can’t always respond in a timely manner.

Q: Do you use other methods for consultation?

A: We carry out stakeholder analysis and then work out the most appropriate means of engaging with them. We do use a range of offline methods, including ‘in the field’ surveys and drop-in sessions, but if we did this all the time, it could be exhausting, especially when resources are limited.

Q: How do you promote your discussions?

A: This is where the hard work lies. Without promotion there is limited participation and the discussions aren’t as productive as they could be. You also have to demonstrate hard work on the outreach front, and show that efforts were made to get people involved.

We identify our key stakeholders and then cascade information out. We use posters in the local area and send out emails directing people to Dialogue. For the right topics, we’ve found schools can be really helpful, as you can reach out to hundreds of people in one go. 

Working with partners and key stakeholders is also important as they can help cascade information through their own social media channels. Having all the consultation information in one place online is very important when using social media as it means other social media channels can link to it easily, but you still have control of the information to ensure it’s correct and up to date.

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It’s great to hear that Dialogue has made such a difference to Victoria and the Forestry Commission. We’re pleased to say that Dialogue has also helped over 60 other organisations, including the likes of the Scottish Government, HM Treasury and Bristol City Council.

Three useful resources for creating successful consultations

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been digging around and updating some of our resources. We thought you might be interested in these three.

The Digital Consultation Playbook

What it’s all about: A booklet offering strategies, advice and principles for creating excellent online consultations – even if you’ve never done one before.

How it can help you: The playbook provides guidance on pinpointing a target audience, creating an engaging question, promoting consultations – and more.

Zendesk

What it’s all about: A comprehensive online knowledge base, crammed full of practical advice, support materials and FAQs.

How it can help you: Zen Desk addresses some of the most common questions our customers ask. These include: how do I set out a challenge? What’s the difference between a radio button and a check box? And how can I get consultation questions approved internally?

Customer stories

What they’re all about: Practical examples from other organisations who have run successful public consultation exercises.

How they can help you: Our case studies can offer useful insights and provide ideas for future consultations.

There are lots of customer stories online. The Scottish Government,  The City of Melbourne and Forestry Commission are just three of them.

 

We hope these tools and support materials are helpful. Should you ever find yourself stuck, or in need of some guidance on delivering a great consultation, do take a look. You can always get in touch with us for a chat too.

10 things we wish you had been there to hear at our 2016 Scottish user group

We kicked off our 2016 user groups in fine style up in Edinburgh this week. This one was hosted in collaboration with the Scottish Government, and the day was particularly exciting as it included our very first Dialogue user group in the afternoon.  The user groups are a regular opportunity for customers to catch up, to see how others in similar roles are using their platforms to manage their online consultation and engagement activity, and hopefully to pick up some interesting tips and insights.

SGusergroup
So, for the benefit of those who weren’t at the event, we’ve a quick round-up of 10 things we wish you could’ve been there to hear. Without further ado:

1. Timing is key

This is particularly pertinent as many of our UK customers are currently in purdah (pre-election period), so are not able to begin new consultations and would have needed to time their engagement activity carefully before this period began.

The key is ensuring consultation or challenge launch, promotion and feedback are timed correctly as this can impact on the success of the exercise. This might include timing promotion throughout the consultation period and not just at the start and end. Or when it comes to Dialogue, giving a challenge a specific window of time to run, as this can encourage participation:

“Dialogue has to be alive, the shorter a challenge is open the better”

Christine Connolly , Digital Engagement Manager, The Scottish Government

Our Dialogue Success Guide has a few tips on structuring when you run your challenges.

2. Using Dialogue for Participatory Budgeting (PB) can help generate ideas which may otherwise have not been heard

At the beginning of 2016, Glasgow City Council used their Dialogue instance  to consult on how they should save £130m in their budget consultation. In order to consult with as many stakeholders as possible, Glasgow ran their budget challenge at the same time as three associated events. What was immediately clear, was that the ideas generated at the events were different to those which had been received online. This helped ensure that views were heard from stakeholders who might not have otherwise provided their thoughts on the topic.

3. Processes are made for sharing

One of the most useful outputs of our user groups is hearing how our users create processes around their tools which can then be shared with other organisations. In our first UK user group in 2014, we heard how Leicester City Council had implemented a consultation tracker to manage their consultation activity – an idea for an effective process which came up again during our Scottish user group. If a consultation wasn’t listed on the tracker by a certain date it, then it wouldn’t be published on Citizen Space: this helped Leicester CC to ensure consistency in approach by giving them enough time to create quality consultations.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 11.12.56
Image source: Leicester City Council

4. Review and improve little and often

Both Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Government are not only reviewing their processes internally, but are also asking their respondents to feedback to them on how they have found the consultation. They do this by asking a standard question at the end of all surveys, meaning it’s possible for them to track satisfaction levels and to review their approach to online consultation.

5. Making the most of the Citizen Space support page can really help internal processes

One of our digital heroes, Emma McEwan presented how Edinburgh City Council have adopted their Citizen Space in the last couple of years. Following the launch of Citizen Space version 2 last year, Edinburgh were able to add in a support page to their instance detailing how to get support with online consultation from inside the council, and also sharing an issues log of what questions or queries had been raised and the associated answers.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 11.38.39

 

6. Make the most of the digital toolbox already availableScreen Shot 2016-04-28 at 10.31.29Making the most of existing digital tools can help compliment an engagement exercise. Glasgow City Council have one of the largest Twitter followings of any local authority in the UK. With this expertise, they decided to take a similar approach to running their budget challenge on Dialogue as they do on Twitter.

“We didn’t want to be too heavy-handed in our approach when it came to moderation. We really wanted to let the conversation flow as much as possible on Dialogue like we do on Twitter”

Gary Hurr, Strategic Web and Customer Care Manager, Glasgow City Council

In order to ensure that Glasgow City Council ran a well-promoted budgeting exercise, its chief executive hosted a Twitter Q&A and they published the outputs on their budget page. In order to feedback on the whole process, the council used Storify to display the Tweets received.

7. Don’t let anything slip through the net: supporting your users

Digital engagement includes a broad spectrum of responsibilities and knowledge learnt. Tools like Zendesk can help ensure this knowledge is recorded and shared in the right way and that your colleagues’ requests for your expert help don’t get lost in your overflowing inbox. At Delib, we use Zendesk to manage our online support and knowledge base of help articles. It’s a pretty big job to keep this updated, but an important one to support the thousands of people that use our software. The Government Digital Service (GDS, UK) has also been using Zendesk since 2012 and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS, UK) also uses Zendesk to manage its digital ticketing work flow.

8. Make something you are proud to share and use plain English

This was a key message from most customers at the user group and one of Edinburgh City Council’s key learnings since adopting their Citizen Space instance in 2014. Making something you are proud to share goes hand in hand with giving yourself the time to pilot surveys. Often you will know when a big consultation is about to spring up, but the smaller ones can slip through the net without any quality assurance run against them to check whether they have been translated from policy speak to plain English.

9. Running internal meetings with colleagues can help share important messages about how you do online consultation

Another of the key questions which came out of the user group was around how to encourage different teams to begin doing online consultation (adopting a de-centralised approach) and to ensure the quality of consultations they are running is high. To help solve this, Edinburgh City Council run regular internal meetings with their Citizen Space ‘power users’ alongside their own internal user group twice a year to share information and best practice.

10. Decide early how you are going to analyse and feedback to respondents, but be open to adapting your planned approach

Before launching the budget challenge on their Dialogue instance, Edinburgh City Council decided that they would get back to the top five highest rated ideas as part of their feedback process. As it turned out, the top five which had the highest rated average vote didn’t fully capture other ideas which generated equally important discussions, so they responded to the top fifteen ideas: adapting their feedback criteria appropriately.

We hope you enjoyed the user group as much as we did and if you didn’t have time to attend don’t fret we’ll most certainly be holding more user groups in 2016 with London up next. In 2015, we ran no fewer than 5 user groups around the world: kicking off in Scotland and finishing in Australia.  Here’s a summary of the other user groups we ran around the world last year:

London: October 2015
Perth (Western Australia): October 2015
Canberra (ACT, Australia): October 2015

Participatory Budgeting Network conference 2015 – tools for online participation

It was great to be at the PB (Participatory Budgeting) Network annual conference on Monday. There’s already a round-up of the day (including links to the various presentations that were given), plus you can always browse #PBNet2015 on Twitter if you want to get a sense of the event.

One particular thing that came up a few times, from several different people, was a question about practical ways to bring in more participatory processes. And, whilst there was lots of discussion of in-person methodologies on the day, we’ve got a couple of digital examples that might also be pertinent.

Dozens of government organisations around the world are already using these in various ways to try and increase public participation in budgetary/decision-making processes:

  • One is Budget Simulator (a spending/saving prioritisation process) – which people like EdinburghCalderdale and and Powys councils are using at the moment
  • The other’s Dialogue (which is actually one of the digital tools that Ali Stoddart presented in his session on the day). Bristol City Council used this for a participatory budgeting exercise back in 2010, Vattenfall managed a £1.8m community fund through it and the Ministry of Justice used it to seek public ideas for allocating a £500k support fund.

Just thought we’d quickly flag those up as a handful of real-world examples for anyone looking into practical tools for realising more citizen participation.

We really appreciated both the specific conversations and the general atmosphere at the PB Network conference – and hopefully there’ll be plenty more similar opportunities/events/conversations as interest in improving public participation continues to grow.

Now is the time for government to embrace online Dialogue

There are moments when it’s just ‘the right time’ to do something. Sunny afternoon in Bristol? Ice cream ahoy. Zombies inbound? Better head to The Winchester, have a nice cold pint and wait for it all to blow over. Woken up in 1976 with £100 in your pocket? Apple shares, here we come.

Today, we’re launching our new Dialogue – the third of our public engagement products, alongside Budget Simulator & Citizen Space. With Dialogue, you set a challenge and then let participants submit their responses publicly: everyone can read, rate and comment on each other’s proposals. It’s a great way to generate discussion and actionable ideas. And we think now is one of those ‘right time’ moments for a tool like this.

Why? Because there’s a growing demand for a different kind of interaction when it comes to how organisations connect with the public on decisions that affect them. That demand comes in part from the public but, crucially, we’re also hearing it from our customers: government organisations themselves.

A different kind of interaction

We have lots of conversations with our current and prospective customers – especially consultation and involvement staff working in local or national government in the UK, US and Australia. It’s invaluable because that’s where we hear from the people at the coalface. They can tell us what will genuinely help their organisations to better connect with the public. And we’re frequently hearing that, in addition to existing activity, there’s a real interest in being able to layer in the different approach to participation that Dialogue affords – in particular because:

It’s open

Dialogue is an open process. It’s as much about participants talking to each other as talking to you as an organisation. Ideas, comments and ratings are submitted publicly, allowing people to respond and discuss amongst themselves. While of course all submissions can be moderated as appropriate, the point is there’s a different dynamic at work compared to, say, a survey where responses are submitted ‘behind closed doors’. Dialogue is a multi-way conversation, not a one-way consultation. It can be a great way to show transparency in your public interaction, to spark different kinds of responses or to refine and react to ideas throughout the process.

It’s structured

Dialogue is also a structured process. It’s not just a shapeless ‘talking shop’. It provides a format and a focus for discussion, designed to generate productive engagement. When you run a Dialogue, you set a specific ‘challenge’ – like ‘what can we do to improve the quality of parks in the area?’, or ‘how would you spend a £1m community fund?’ Participants then submit ideas in response. People can rate and comment on these ideas, bubbling the best to the top. This keeps the conversation open, within parameters that guide it towards useful outcomes. With Dialogue, you’re getting a method as well as a technical platform for public involvement.

It’s ‘intimate’

No sniggering at the back, there. One part of Dialogue’s appeal is that it changes the dynamic between the decision-making body and the people affected by that decision. Where surveys and questionnaires might feel more formal and focused on individual responses, Dialogue provides a space for you to be ‘in the room’ with a group of people who want to have their say about something that’s important to them – and to them collectively, not just as isolated individuals. It gives you the opportunity to feed back on ideas and comments as they come up, to react to different directions in the discussion that you might not have anticipated, and to engage more conversationally with the community.

Of course, it’s not an either-or between Dialogue, surveys, simulators or any other kind of public interaction. As always, it’s a case of choosing the appropriate methodology (or mix of methodologies) for a given engagement exercise. And we think Dialogue provides an important, different approach to add into the mix.

Why this is increasingly in demand

Partly, this is the natural development of online engagement generally. It’s now pretty much a given for most organisations that they should make consultations available digitally. As that becomes more and more part of the everyday business of government, it’s to be expected that there’s an increased interest in more, different and more tailored options for implementation.

But there also seem to be some wider factors that are changing the general climate (particularly in the UK) of public engagement at the moment – certain trends in how governments are choosing (or having) to operate, which are growing the demand for the different approach you get with Dialogue. These include, for example:

The devolution agenda – from the political (and social media) frenzy of the Scottish #indyref to the recent Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, there’s a growing appetite for a certain decentralisation of power – a sense that more decisions should have more of a local dimension to them. This makes it even more important that governing organisations have engaging, appropriate means of connecting with their constituents and citizens. Dialogue can be a great way for organisations to keep a conversation open with the communities they work with – not least because there’s no limit on the number of challenges you can run, meaning you can open up online conversations on everything from a 5 year national strategic plan to which keep-fit classes to offer at the local gym.

Major, austerity-driven service change – as finances get ever-tighter and organisations are forced to find significant cuts to their budgets, there are inevitably more difficult and contentious decisions to be made. With such divisive issues having to be tabled (and with public cynicism often running high) it’s understandable that government bodies want to find ways to genuinely bring citizens into the conversation and make them feel part of the process of navigating incredibly hard choices. Lots of people seem keen on Dialogue because it will allow them to have a form of online public engagement that feels human, inclusive and productive (where sometimes there is a risk of appearing clinical, aloof or tokenistic). We’ve seen that participants genuinely appreciate the way in which Dialogue lets them get involved in solving challenges that affect them.

The rise of community planning, participatory budgeting etc – lots of government organisations are running more processes that put decisions more directly in the hands of the communities they affect. Things like community planning, neighbourhood forums and participatory budgeting are increasingly common. Dialogue is ideally structured for this kind of direct public decision-making. In fact, it’s already been used to gather ideas for a participatory budgeting exercise, to administer a £1.8m community fund and to provide an online component to neighbourhood forums. These methods are becoming more widely adopted, and it’s vital that they can be accessed digitally as well.

From our conversations with people working in government, it certainly feels like layering in new, different methods for online public engagement like this, alongside well-established surveys and consultations, is the current direction of travel. We hope that Dialogue can be another way in which we make it easy for government organisations to involve citizens in decision making. To that end, we want your feedback on it, too…

Find out more

We’ve literally just launched the new Dialogue today. You can have a bit of a poke round the demo site at http://demo.dialogue-app.com/

We hope you like Dialogue as much as we do, and we look forward to having lots of examples of it in action in the near future. Watch this space!

Three big challenges for Open Government

A couple of colleagues from Delib and I had the pleasure of attending a workshop this week run by the Open Government Partnership Civil Society Network in Bristol, led by Tim Hughes from Involve.

The workshop brought together a mix of people working in digital democracy in Bristol and the area with the goal of discussing what the OGP has achieved so far and what the priorities should be in the future – then working up some new ideas of our own for how to make the vision a reality.

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To give some background, the Open Government Partnership was launched in 2011, bringing together governments and civil society around the world to promote transparency, build civic participation and tackle corruption. Each country that signs up produces an action plan, which contains a series of commitments to opening up government. The UK is now on its second action plan – which includes commitments to make more data open data, to practise ‘open policy making’, and to increase transparency among government contracts, amongst others.

The OGP Civil Society Network plays the role of coordinating civil society input to what government is doing, ensuring that the process of opening government itself does not become a closed one! They are also collecting the public’s contributions to a crowdsourced Open Government Manifesto – using (what else) our very own Dialogue App.

With a desire to make sure they avoid being too London-centric, they are running a series of workshops around the country this spring to engage with local civil society – and it was the inaugural session that brought them to Bristol.

opengov

Personally, I got a lot out of the workshop. In particular, listening to a group of people expressing their hopes and concerns for Open Government highlighted what for me are three of the biggest challenges in this area:

1. Turning transparency into participation

Working in government, the open government agenda tends to generally be very closely associated with open data and transparency. This is one of the areas where the UK has performed very strongly on a global scale – coming in at first place for 2014 in Open Knowledge’s Open Data Index. Sites like data.gov.uk are really impressive pieces of work, and the enterprising citizen now has an unprecedented range of government information available to them at the end of a google search.

However, I can’t help feeling that this strand of work only takes us so far. Whilst all of this data is useful, much of it is unintelligible to the ordinary citizen without being summarised or analysed by an expert. Such a focus on opening up datasets risks neglecting one of the other main strands of the OGP’s work – increasing participation. After all, what better incentive do citizens have to engage with the data that is available to them than if they are asked to make real decisions based on that data? There is also the concern that the section of the population that engages with open data tends to be predominantly well-educated, well-employed, and already in the orbit of government and policy.

Projects like the open policymaking pilots show a lot of promise – in the future I’d love to see government finding more ways to let citizens make, or at least contribute to, the decisions that the data can help inform.

2. Making the data useful to everyone

Following on from the point above, there are a lot of challenges relating how data is presented. We could perhaps imagine a matrix that plots clarity against obscurity on one axis, and useful accuracy against confusion/inaccuracy on the other. Typically, a lot of information released by government is either clear but confusing/inaccurate or accurate but obscure/unintelligible.

For the former I am thinking of press releases, ministerial speeches and infographics that use easy to understand language and visuals, but strip out the important detail to an extent that without context they are very little use in appraising the policy concerned.

For the latter, I mean the very lengthy delivery plans, parliamentary bills, and spreadsheets of data that are all publicly available, and comprehensive in their detail, but whose size and complexity mean that they are only really of use to the few people with the time and inclination to read them.

It would be great to see more data that is both clear and comprehensive, giving the facts in a nuanced way that is also easy to understand. There already some organisations that do good work producing this kind of information – fullfact.org is a favourite of mine, and the BBC and Guardian Data Blog do a good job too.

In the future, I think it’s important for government to be filling this space more – working hard to make sure that everything published presents all the facts, rather than the ministerial office’s ‘lines’, and seeks always to inform, rather than to hide or deflect.

3. Turning Open Government into something big

One of the real difficulties when discussing Open Government is balancing expectations against reality in terms of the scale of what can be achieved. The concept promises a lot,  especially in the current era, with its distrust of politicians and parties. There’s also the sense that new technology should have the potential to redesign the way we participate in public life in the same way it has completely changed how we shop and socialise.

In this context, some of the projects that are being carried out – many of which are quite specific and policy-wonkish – might appear to be failing to address the issues at the required scale. What the government has done to improve transparency in aid spending, or what we do at Delib to help councils consult on budgets, is (we believe) good and important work, but it all often falls beneath the public radar despite our best efforts. At the workshop, there was also a sense that even for those us working in the sector, the goals and actions of the UK’s Open Government programme hadn’t been high-profile enough.

For open government to really capture the imagination of the wider public, we need to embrace big ideas, and these ideas need representation at the top of our political system. The OGP has called on political parties to commit to open government going into the general election – let’s hope they do!


Thanks again to Tim and Jo (with support from Development Initiatives and VOSCUR) for facilitating a fun and thought-provoking session – see you again soon!

Matthew 

BBC3 consultation

The future of the BBC is in your hands!

If you’re reading this, congratulations for surviving the twin perils of Friday 13th and Valentine’s Day (although there’s bad news for the susperstitious amongst you – this year the 13th of March will again fall on the dreaded day).

In the Delib office, the broaching of V-Day at our weekly catch-up meeting elicited a collective moan of despair – but hopefully there are some more committed romantics among our much-beloved users and partners.

Today, we thought we’d bring you some recent excitement from the online consultation world. The BBC Trust’s consultation on the future of BBC 3 closes today; and the IWA are crowdsourcing a new constitutional convention for Wales.

Last chance to have your say on the future of BBC3

In a consultation that closes today, the BBC trust are asking the public’s opinion on the future of many of the BBC’s TV services. Most notably, they are proposing to remove BBC Three from the television airwaves and make it a purely digital channel, available from the BBC iPlayer website. This goes together with a proposal, in line with current TV viewing trends, to create more ‘web-only’ content, that will be premiered online rather than on a broadcast schedule as it traditionally would have been. Fear not for your water-cooler conversation topics, though:

“Programmes that contain spoilers, or ones that have a sense of shared viewing experience such as The Apprentice or The Voice...are unlikely to or would never premiere online.”

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The removal of BBC 3 from broadcast hasn’t been without controversy – there has been a prominent petition gathering campaign, savebbc3, arguing that the channel should be kept in its current form (there’s even a rally taking place today in London).

There are plenty of arguments for and against the closure. From the BBC’s perspective, it’s a way of making £50m of annual cost savings in a focused way, allowing it to invest more in or protect its other services, rather than having to keep cutting spending across the board. For opponents of the move, it will get rid of a channel that has helped a lot of innovative and diverse content, artists and actors get exposure to a big audience.

So, if you feel strongly about when or where the public will be able to tune in to Russell Howard’s Good News or Snog, Marry, Avoid?, get yourself over to the BBC Trust’s Citizen Space and let them know your views – the consultation closes at midnight today!

IWA convention

The public debate about the future of the UK’s constituent nations that was inspired by last year’s independence referendum in Scotland has been taken up in Wales by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. The prospect of further powers being devolved to the Scottish government from Westminster has raised the question of what a new arrangement with Wales might look like, but the IWA are trying to take that further for a discussion on Wales’ future.

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The IWA’s idea is inspired by the movement in Iceland to crowdsource a new constitution in the wake of financial crisis and political upheavals. They are running the exercise in phases, with a new topic for discussion every one or two weeks. These range from the economy and Europe to the big question about Welsh nationhood – ‘What is Wales for?’ – and are generating all kinds of fascinating ideas and discussion.

We’re really excited by what the IWA are doing – channeling some of the excitement about democracy that the Scottish referendum injected back into some sectors of the UK’s public life. This week’s new topic is the welfare state in Wales, and you can get involved in the debate online here.


 

Both of these exercises are all great examples of public bodies trying to open up the debate about issues that previously might have been decided by a small group without members of the public ever having the chance to make their views heard – and digital tools are an important part of making this happen.

Here’s hoping this is a trend we’ll see more and more of 2015!

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.