Highland Council are the latest Scottish Local Authority to start using Dialogue to run structured discussions online. Since launching their site nearly a month ago, things have quickly gotten into full swing. Ideas have already been suggested, responded to and even acted on – an impressively fast feedback loop, which is great to see!
The Council had run a similar exercise 5 years ago, using a physical suggestion box in the head office. However, Highland Council is one of the largest local authorities geographically in Europe; with lots of staff working remotely, face-to-face engagement can be difficult. (Some staff can go years without physically checking back in at head office!)
As a result, the Council had been looking for both an opportunity and the right approach/tool to effectively open up these topics to discussion. They saw Dialogue recommended in a report by DemSoc for the Scottish Government and recognised that it was well-suited to their purposes. (An online tool was especially appealing as it would allow people to participate from anywhere with an internet connection!)
To ensure that staff were aware of the challenges being run on Dialogue, Highland Council first advertised the discussions on their staff Facebook group. Line managers were also informed and briefed to encourage team members to get involved. In less than a month, the council have already received over 200 ideas, 300 comments and 1,000 ratings.
Whilst they could have chosen to make the discussions private and invite-only, Highland opted to make them publicly visible to provide transparency on the conversation as it unfolded.
In terms of administering the Dialogue, Highland Council added a few starter ideas which helped make the first few days of launch a success. This meant that the initial ideas and feedback were pretty rapid. They were soon hearing suggestions like, for example, creating a creche at the council HQ.
They set up the Dialogue to use a post-moderated approach to ensure that ideas like this could naturally flow. The admin team also set themselves up as active members, adding their own comments and participating in the discussion – making it clear that the Dialogue was exactly that: a two-way conversation (not just a ‘black box’ exercise).
“We’re trying to let the Dialogue be as wild and organic as possible” (Dr Stephen Carr, Principle Policy Officer)
With ideas rolling in, the next steps are to review all the suggestions and take some of the best ones forward to a business case stage. One idea which has already been taken forward to implementation stage, for example, is the removal of blue paper towels – saving the Council thousands of pounds.
There’s also value in suggestions which it may not be possible to take forward. For example, removing water coolers from offices: a good idea but one which turned out to be impractical for some offices with older pipes. Highland administrators were able to comment on the idea and share this feedback with participants, making it an informative and educative process to boot.
Highland already plan to use Dialogue as part of their upcoming public budget exercise, and they have three other discussions in the pipeline too. We’re looking forward to seeing how it continues to take shape – watch this space!