Category Archives: Dialogue

From the Valleys to Hackney, and sharing all the way

Hello again from Delib – we’re fresh from enjoying a slightly unseasonal Halloween – here in Bristol we celebrated All Hallows’ Eve at a positively tropical 20 degrees – leaving us unsure whether to gather round the bonfire, or put on our swimsuits and launch ourselves headlong into the Avon. However, a reassuringly brisk bonfire night got us back in an autumnal mood – and ready to knuckle down in the run up to Christmas!

In any case, here’s a round up of some interesting things happening in the digital democracy world:

1) The Swedish power company Vattenfall are using newsletters effectively to keep in touch with those who left their emails when responding to their Dialogue App on the Pen y Cymoedd wind farm in South Wales, which is now closed.

Newsletter from Vattenfall

Spending a bit of time and effort following up with respondents in this way can help keep the community going after the dialogue has officially closed. Getting information about how many people have been involved in the discussion shows people that what they have been involved in was something significant, and that their contribution had an impact. They’re also probably more likely to get involved if you ask them to respond to another consultation that affects them!

Read more about the ‘Power in the Valleys’ Dialogue here.

2) The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, or BIS for short (pronounced ‘bizz’ among government insiders…) are closing their consultation on the ‘sharing economy’ shortly.

The staunch capitalists among us might be offended at just the idea of ‘sharing’ and ‘economy’ appearing on the same sentence – but the fact is, services like Zipcar and Airbnb are becoming more and more popular, to the extent that they almost threaten their counterparts with more traditional business models. We all have stuff lying around, from spare rooms and cars to tools and dogs (see, so why not let someone else use it while we’re not?

The power of web technology to create new connections between people is what makes this possible – and incidentally, is also what makes the engagement facilitated by our apps possible. So BIS using Citizen Space to consult people on a new social benefit of technology is just what we like!

PS. for the opposite (or perhaps the dark side) of tech that enables the sharing economy, see “jerktech”…

3) Hackney Council in London has launched an online consultation on its draft transport strategy for the 2014-2024. The plan itself is a considerable document, with a set of six ‘daughter plans’ that focus on specific areas of transport – understandable perhaps, given that it’s a ten-year plan for a fast-growing area of London with a lot of specific challenges.

There are a few things we particularly like about Hackney’s consultation. The team have made good use of the events feature to publicise the public meetings they are holding on the plan. Users can see a calendar of events, and with a couple of clicks can download the event straight from the website into their own calendars.

We’re also impressed by Hackney’s rather nifty interactive transport map, which lets users raise local transport issues by directly pinpointing them on the map – a great way to help  citizens engage with local issues and make it easy for them to give feedback.

Screenshot 2014-10-31 16.53.47


That’s all for this week! Have a great weekend!


Citizens, Summits… Solutions?

Welcome once more to our Friday blog, where we look at the interesting things happening in the exciting world of digital democracy.

Our Citizen Space user group

Last week, we took part in our first ever Citizen Space user group meeting for local government (after a successful central government meeting at the end of September). We had attendees from across the country – from Dorset to Cumbria – who took part in a lively discussion of what they are doing with Citizen Space, how they might use it in the future, and how we can help them with their digital engagement.

Four councils – Birmingham, Bristol, Leicester and Staffordshire – gave talks explaining how they have implemented the app in each of their organisations.

Citizen Space user group image of live presentation
Kristian from Staffordshire Council talking us through how they use Citizen Space

For myself, having recently started at Delib, it was striking to see the work that our local government partners have on their hands. Their challenge is not only to make their consultations engaging and easy to use for the public (it was great to hear that Citizen Space has made this much simpler for many), but also to make sure the rest of their organisation has the sufficient skills and familiarity with technology to ‘do’ digital. We’ll be following up next week with a post describing some of the stuff we learnt from the meeting.

Various councils seem to be trying different methods of getting everyone up and running on Citizen Space, but it looks like digital skills are an issue that’s not going away in a hurry. Improving digital competencies is a big priority for central government as well – in fact, that’s part of the reason I’m here at Delib, to pick up on some of my new colleagues’ tech expertise and take that back to government. It’s certainly something all suppliers of digital services to the public sector need to bear in mind.

Northern Futures shining bright

One of our Dialogue App customers – and we’ve talked about them on this blog before – is the Deputy Prime Minister’s ‘Northern Futures’ discussion. The Northern Futures summit itself is not far off now, on the 6th of November, and last week saw ‘Open Ideas Days’, run by the Cabinet Office’s Policy Lab, being hosted in eight cities across the North.

The Open Ideas Days were a great way of complementing the discussion and idea generation taking place on the Dialogue App in a ‘real-world’ context. Having the days creates a tangible point for the debate to work towards. As they get closer, they provide a way of building excitement about the discussion – and the Northern Futures team have been putting Twitter to good use in that regard. The ideas that get brainstormed on the days have been fed back onto the site, where they get run past a wider audience for comment – the two form a nice loop of engagement!

Image of a tweet about the Northern Futures project with a video of Nick Clegg

You can follow the discussion on twitter at @North_Futures, or look at the ideas on their Dialogue App site. This storify also captures some of the excitement the project has generated

A manifesto for open, transparent government

The Open Government UK Civil Society Network is crowdsourcing ideas for the UK’s next Open Government Action Plan. Whilst this is something we’d be excited about however it was being carried out, it’s particularly exciting that they’re doing it using our very own Dialogue App.

The Open Government Partnership is a kind of international pact between countries – now 62 of them including the UK, which was one of the founding members. These countries have committed to various actions, all aimed at opening up government to decrease corruption and promote participation and (you guessed it) openness in public life. You can find out more on the Open Government Manifesto dialogue site.

If you’ve as passionate about democracy and public transparency as we are, we’d suggested you get involved and pitch your ideas!

In other news…

The London Borough of Waltham Forest launched its Budget Simulator last week – you can check it out on the dedicated website, with pieces in local media from This is local London and a Waltham Forest local Guardian article.

Whilst not a Delib project, this article in the Guardian on Sunday attracted some attention on social media, drawing attention to the impact of the spending cuts being imposed on local government. We were particularly interested to hear about the council’s analog solution for engaging citizens in budget cuts ‘a monopoly-style exercise’, where players compete to make the necessary savings:

Players who select the arts, museums and theatres box save the council £3m. Players who land on residential and nursing care for adults wipe a satisfying £58m from the budget. Land on the street cleaning box – save £6m. Abandon housing advice and homelessness support – cut £19m.

As we enter the last six months before a general election, the volume of discussion around cuts to public spending will no doubt increase. That’s why we think it’s great to see local councils being candid and open about the reductions they have to make, and involving citizens in making those decisions.




Using Citizen Space and Dialogue App together – suggestion 1: start an Ideas Lab

Ever found yourself in that situation where you’ve got a whole host of ‘tools’ and ‘channels’ and ‘systems’ for public interaction, but it’s a struggle to actually bring them together and put them to good use? We’ve just put together a quick document outlining some of the ways you can combine two of our apps to make your online engagement even more effective.

From the doc:

You could start an Ideas Lab – an ongoing way for stakeholders to share creative ideas for improvements.

The theory

Dialogue App uses a peer rating system – anyone can rate anyone else’s idea. This surfaces the best contributions. It’s a great way to find out what your citizens themselves think are good ideas. This makes it ideally suited for an ongoing, open Ideas Lab about ways to improve a city, service or activity.

The practice

Open your organisation to the creativity of the public! Use Dialogue App to run the Ideas Lab itself, with people submitting ideas, ratings and comments. Then use Citizen Space to promote the Ideas Lab: showcase it as a featured consultation, email consultees and invite participation.

Dialogue App rating system
Dialogue App rating system

Bristol City Council did it…

They had a lot of success with a pioneering, mayor-led City Ideas Lab. For more detail, see

Bristol City Council - George's Ideas Lab
Bristol City Council – George’s Ideas Lab

Download the full PDF for more suggestions (no ‘registration required’ or any of that, don’t worry) – or wait for more blog posts!

Real-world example: engaging a local community in the future of a building with Dialogue App

People often tell us it’s helpful to see real-world examples of how others are using our apps to engage and consult the public. So we were delighted to receive this ‘at the coalface’ report from one of our clients – Forestry Commission – recently. (Not least because it chimes with our particular enthusiasm for activities that really get into the nuts-and-bolts of local decision-making: asking people immediately affected by decisions how they want to see them play out).

The Forestry Commission Management Training Centre at Coleford
The Forestry Commission Management Training Centre at Coleford

I’ll let Hayley Clayton tell the story herself. She’s a Community Ranger with Forestry Commission, stationed at Dean Forest Park. Just one quick bit of context: Forestry Commission bought a single Dialogue App licence for the whole national organisation. Because it comes with unlimited discussions, much smaller, local branches (ha!) are able to use the app whenever they want without having to worry about infeasible costs – just the way it should be.

Anyway, here’s Hayley’s report:

What is the future for the Management Training Centre (MTC) building in Coleford, Forest of Dean?

The Management Training Centre was vacated in 2012 when the Learning and Development team were relocated to Cannock Chase. After this the building was left vacant for sometime whilst decisions were discussed as to the use of the building. I was asked to run a discussion with the local residents surrounding the building, particularly as it is situated at the bottom of a cul-de-sac.

I was told about the Dialogue App and decided that this would provide a platform to discuss the use of the building. Usually any discussion with the local community comes via posters asking people to drop into the office or contact the Forestry Commission.

It was decided to use the Dialogue App over a three week period from mid July until the first week of August. I promoted the discussion using posters around the building itself and an A5 leaflet drop to approximately fifty residents in the immediate area.

The building had been empty for just over a year when we began this process, the residents voiced concerns over the amount of traffic different uses of the building would produce, ideas for what sort of use for the building and even re-developing the whole site to residential. There was a good response to the discussion, providing good information.

The three week discussion produced a variety of ideas and concerns that provided information to aid in the decision as to what would be the use of the building. We could make a more informed decision that took in to account the feelings and concerns of the local residents. The Estates team could then move forward with working through the planning consent to change the use of building to enable a lease to be advertised.

The end result of using the Dialogue App for making the decision regarding this building has been instrumental, the building has now been advertised and is about to be leased to a nursery group. This will be in keeping with the feelings and concerns of the residents that were voiced during the discussion.

I would definitely recommend Dialogue App to other organisations and for projects that require discussion with the local community.

So there you go – hope that’s helpful. Thanks to Hayley for sharing! If you’ve got a similar example of how Budget Simulator, Citizen Space or Dialogue App has helped you connect your audience with decision-making, we’d love to hear it.

And if you’d like to see some more examples of how people are using our apps, the Citizen Space aggregator is a near-endless source of thousands of consultations being run on the platform right now by organisations all over the world. Enjoy!

How to run an effective Dialogue App with some help from the Forestry Commission

Forestry Commission England has successfully used its Dialogue App to consult with stakeholders on a diverse range of topics. Here we look at the discussion held about Friston Forest to gather ideas and comments about the way bike trails are accommodated within the forest. Here are some top tips from the Friston team’s experience;

Keep the information online and in one place

Before using Dialogue App, Forestry Commission England would promote consultations via a poster and email address, with drop-in sessions being held for any significant consultations. Being able to move this process online has enabled Forestry Commission England to create a single information source which can be boxed off and heralded as a primarily web-based activity. Furthermore, the discussion – including most importantly the key outcomes- can be accessed and referenced by any stakeholder, as and when needed.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 15.45.33Establish a process and promote it

In terms of promotion, stakeholders were directed to a single overview page on Forestry Commission England’s main site, with all key content for the discussion and the consultation process held on this page; Additional promotional materials, including posters and press service, were provided for key stakeholders to review prior to being published, ensuring they were consulted on the key text before going to print. Once up and running, the Friston Forest discussion team continually reviewed how the Dialogue App was being promoted, often considering what more they could be doing to further involvement.

To ensure the full consultation process was clear from the outset for key internal staff, the project team created a timeline for the discussions in the form of a Gantt chart. By running a discussion for a set 5 week period, key promotional activity and staff involvement could be planned for in advance.

Take moderation seriously

Moderation is a key part of any successful Dialogue App discussion. With clear content and expectations given to users from the beginning, the Friston Forest team only needed to act 3-4 times on inappropriate comments. In total, 43 ideas and 213 comments were contributed from 71 individual user accounts. In order to anticipate a higher volume of ideas flowing through, 5 of the team took it in turns to be the key moderator on the Dialogue App for a week each – all moderating under a consistent name on behalf of Forestry Commission England. Update meetings on a weekly basis gave moderators the chance to hand over to each other, ensuring they were moderating consistently.

Think about your outcomes and then shout about what you’ve achieved

As an organisation responsible for multiple sites and infrastructure across the country, Forestry Commission England are hoping to continue using their Dialogue App as a key consultation tool to help decide how to sustainably manage other sites. Key outcomes from these discussions can then be added to the discussion overview page to ensure stakeholders have a hub for discussion outcomes and feedback.

Share what you’ve learnt with colleagues running the next discussion

One of the key project managers involved in the Friston Forest discussion also took an advisory role for another successful discussion, which sourced ideas on how dogs could be better managed in Jeskyns Community Woodland to ensure everyone can continue to enjoy the space.

Working across two discussions enabled this lead to share key learnings for both teams. Both discussions had, for example, two key milestones – one in the middle and one at the end, with natural highs and lows in activity. Another key learning was to involve the policy officer (who would be in charge of implementing the decision) in the community moderation; this gives them the chance to comment and feed back directly on users’ ideas and comments in a manner which acknowledges them, and also identifies how they will be acted upon.

George’s Ideas Lab – A Retrospective of Sorts

It’s been a few months now since we launched ‘George’s Ideas Lab’, a place making initiative with the mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, and as such I thought it was time for a quick mid project review. The Lab is still going strong and we’re now waiting for George to sort through the highest rated ideas before implementing some of them, but I suspect you’re itching for the latest news, and here it is.

So, for any of you who aren’t familiar with it – what is George’s Ideas Lab?

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 17.18.38


Bristol’s first Directly Elected Mayor, George Ferguson, wants Bristol to “become a testbed for new ideas” and has consequently launched a number of initiatives including ‘Make Sundays Special’, Residents Parking Schemes and a promise to deliver an arena of national standing. To coincide with his first year in office he also launched George’s Ideas Lab, using our online crowdsourcing platform Dialogue App. This allows residents and people who work in the city to share, discuss and rate ideas that make Bristol a better place. Ideas were welcomed that fell into the following categories:

  • Focused on making Bristol a better place to live, work or play

  • Something new, not something the city is already committed to e.g. an arena

  • The idea could be big or small – something citywide, or focused on improving a particular neighbourhood – “Sometimes a small, novel idea can make a big difference.”

  • Help the council to save money or do things differently

  • Realistic about how it could be funded – particularly, in the current climate where the council needs to save a further £90 million over the next three years

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 17.18.06

As the Lab uses Dialogue App we could guarantee quick deployment, proven response interactions and a robust support environment; alongside consultancy to help with question framing, site design, communications approach and a framework for taking ideas forward.

I often get asked how much the marketing budget was for the project and, interestingly, it had none whatsoever. Instead the good people of Bristol City Council pulled in every last favour they could, to work with partners in the city whose mailing list, social media presence and events could be leveraged.  The Lab was also launched as part of George’s ‘State of the City Address’ and continuously promoted using his active, personal, Twitter account.

Lots of organisations launch similar projects to the Lab, which often publicly, and somewhat embarrassingly, fail due to actions that in my opinion are predictably wrong. For the Lab we instead used a proven and, dare I say it, prescribed approach gained from our experience of running many, many similar projects.  As such, the ‘challenge’ to be consulted upon was narrow and inviting, (‘Wanted! Innovative ideas to improve Bristol’) participants were informed of how the chosen ideas were to be taken forward, a succinct YouTube introduction video with George was created and embedded within the site, and the project was split into phases.

The phased approach was designed to ensure maximum rating and commenting (idea refinement), and was achieved by removing the idea submission option after the first phase ended at Christmas.  In doing so, participants recognised the Ideas Lab was essentially a competition, further aiding engagement, as there was a way to ‘win’.  Interestingly the social media debate, and in particular the one that took place on Twitter, acted as a secondary level of engagement that neatly sat above, and dovetailed with, the Lab itself.

As I stated in the preface to this somewhat wordy post, the Lab is still very much alive and we’re now waiting for George to announce the winners; at which point the pilot phase will be complete. Without wishing to overstate the case, I think the Ideas Lab has been one of the most useful, genuine, multi-phased crowdsourcing projects of recent years, especially within local government. The response it has received is testament not only to the project’s design and George’s reach, but also the citizens of Bristol who truly took it to their hearts. It also proves that if a city is prepared to take a chance and invoke the wisdom of its citizens, they will respond and will attempt to improve the place they live, providing insight from without the usual channels and suspects.

How Future Bristol are engaging online

What is Future Bristol?

Future Bristol is an online environmental awareness and academic research project which aims to engage citizens in a discussion about Bristol’s potential future as a low carbon city.

The project, which runs from the website, launched on 28 February and presents two potential futures for people to choose from, and provides information about the various options as a way to educate and enlighten Bristolians about the possible outcomes of their choices.

Future Bristol website

The two scenarios are the result of research carried out which asked local influencers, ‘what would you like Bristol to look like in 2050 if it was a low carbon city, and how do we make it happen?’

Within each scenario on the site, visitors click on different options to vote on which they would or would not like to see in the Bristol of 2050.

Future Bristol scenario option example

Future Bristol uses Dialogue App

Linked from the site is the Future Bristol Dialogue App instance, which features the same branding as the main site. Visitors access the Dialogue App via a ‘Your Ideas’ link in the main menu of the website, and from the ‘Have Your Say’ link within the various options in each scenario.

Future Bristol Dialogue App

Future Bristol uses a free version of Dialogue App. As our global headquarters is in Bristol, we chose to sponsor the project, and provided free skinning of the Dialogue App so that the branding would tie into the main site (this would not normally be possible with a free Dialogue App).

Dialogue App allows Future Bristol’s visitors to add new ideas to the discussion, and comment on and rate others’ ideas, such as this one:

Future Bristol Dialogue App

Future Bristol uses social media to promote their site

The project is being run by Dr Rose Bailey, who had great success using Dialogue App for her Bristol Green Capital project. Dr Bailey is a gifted researcher and has a solid understanding of how to engage the public in her work. For Future Bristol, she is using Twitter and Facebook to publicise the project and motivate people, not just to get involved but also to make ‘green’ changes in their own lives.

Future Bristol on Facebook

This light touch approach gently encourages people to get involved, and the tone of Dr Bailey’s writing is friendly and accessible.

Future Bristol on Twitter

Visitors can share the site on Facebook or Twitter by clicking on the sharing buttons throughout the site, and from within Dialogue App.

Share Future Bristol on TwitterFree publicity

Future Bristol has been featured elsewhere online, including on The Ecologist Facebook page, The Institution of Environmental Sciences website, Bristol Culture and on the Smashing Awards Designs of the Week site.

Future Bristol are using illustrations from Andy Council, a well-known Bristol artist. This has worked to bring more people to the site as Andy’s fans visit the Future Bristol site to see his new, original work.

Customising your Dialogue App

Everyone has a favourite flavour of ice-cream, right? I’m a fan of anything with toffee or caramel in it. Maybe you’re a lover of strawberry, or perhaps you like something a little more exotic like rum and raisin or tutti-frutti. But who’s favourite is vanilla? Sure, most people like it, but isn’t it a bit… bland?

If you are using Dialogue App, you’ll know that straight out of the box, it comes in plain vanilla flavour. Nice, and relatively tasty, but if you are using Dialogue App on a paid subscription, with a few customisations to the design we can turn it into a ‘jazzy mint’ or an ‘off-the-wall cookies and cream’!

We’re not saying that vanilla is bad, it’s just a bit run-of-the-mill; the safe option that everyone is happy with but doesn’t really relate to the identity of their organisation or the theme of their project. In this blog post I’ll show you how with a few tweaks here and there we can turn your Dialogue App into something that really reflects your brand.


Let’s start with the background image. We’ve always been a big fan of white; it’s clean and modern, and allows for the attention to be drawn elsewhere on the page. But it’s also a blank canvas, and ready for you to take advantage of. Some of our customers have chosen to remove some of the white and add their own ‘flavour’. Take this example from the Nation Grid’s Powering Britain’s Future dialogue, which makes great use of a fantastic graphic illustration:

Screen Shot of National Grid's Dialogue App instance


Then there’s the page header. Ordinarily we’d replace the Dialogue App logo with your own, but why not go one step further and add other elements of your branding into it? The City of Edmonton in Canada did just this with their Complete Streets Dialogue (notice the pyramid theme to the left):

Screen Shot of Edmonton Complete Streets Dialogue


Colour is heavily customisable throughout the app, and we can change the background colour of the page or tag cloud, or the colour of borders around the main content area or discussions boxes. Take a look at this striking orange on Vattenfall’s Conversation Wales campaign:

Screen Shot of Vattenfall's Conversation Wales Dialogue


We can create new buttons for your Dialogue App that mimic your branding or the buttons on your main website. The changes could be as simple as a using a different colour, or creating an entirely new design. Here are some examples of buttons some of our customers are using:Selection of custom Dialogue App buttons

Want more flavour?

If any of this interests you, then get in touch! Customisations such as those listed above are all included in the Dialogue App price, and your account manager will be happy to help with this.

If you’re looking for even more inspiration, take a look at this Dialogue App demo we created to show off some extreme skinning options. For this example, we’ve added a big background image and played around with the transparency of the page itself, which introduces some interesting effects. We’re not saying you should go this far, but it demonstrates the power of customisations.

Go on, add your own flavour!

How Dialogue App may be used to engage with deaf citizens

At a time when many public services are undergoing significant changes, it remains vitally important that all community groups, including the disabled, are able to have their say in any consultations or engagement activities regarding issues that affect them.

Engaging with deaf citizens
There are around 10 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss, which is about one in six of the population. Of these, 800,000 are severely or profoundly deaf. When communicating with those that are hard of hearing, Action on Hearing Loss recommends using both British Sign Language and subtitles and/or text to make the information as accessible as possible.

As Dialogue App allows for the embedding of videos, British Sign Language translations can appear throughout consultations.

International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD)
The ICSD are currently running a consultation aimed at engaging with those that are hard of hearing. They are using Dialogue App to consult with the public about changes in the governance of the organisation. The consultation spans twelve key themes and asks users to provide ideas and suggestions on any of the themes.

Screenshot of ICSD Governance Review Consultation PageTo make the consultation fully accessible to the hard of hearing, the overview and a description of each of the themes of the Dialogue are available in both text and British Sign Language.

Accessibility and Usability of Our Apps
Dialogue App has been tested by The Shaw Trust Web Accreditation Group. As our apps are web-based, font sizes and the colour contrast can be adjusted through the user’s web browser, operating system or device. Our apps are also W3C AA and WCAG 2.0 compliant and use Arial font by default, as recommended by Pesky People, a business start up that works to improve digital access and inclusion.

If you’ve got any view on online accessibility and usability, feel free to leave a comment.