You can listen to the podcast at the bottom of this post, or read on for a summary of the key points.

On a cold rainy winter night in Bristol, UK, and a sunny warm morning in Hamilton, New Zealand, Delib Director Ben Fowkes had a conversation with Julie Clausen from Hamilton City Council about how they’ve been using Delib’s Citizen Space tool to run various elements of their democratic process.

Given the current media noise around the negative impact of digital technologies on democracy – primarily Facebook’s influence on recent global elections – it was refreshing to get a view from inside government on the positive effects of technology on democracy.

So compelling was the conversation with Julie, we decided to turn the conversation into our first Delib podcast – which you can listen to at the bottom of this post. Key take-aways from the conversation largely focus on specific uses of the Citizen Space platform having significant impact on various parts of Hamilton’s democratic process, which I’ll summarise here.

Julie and her team ran a consultation on Citizen Space for Hamilton’s 10 Year Plan. They were expecting high levels of participation, and they set two key objectives:
1) Getting elected members to feed back quickly; and
2) Handling a large number of responses.
Citizen Space helped them achieve these objectives in a number of specific ways.

Speeding up the feedback loop with Response Publishing

Core to Hamilton City’s management of their 10 Year Plan consultation was the use of Citizen Space platform – specifically, its Response Publishing functionality – to enable elected members to quickly read citizen’s submissions and then rapidly feed back and publicly publish responses. The result was to turn what had previously been a sluggish, two-month-long process into a four-week process. This is despite the fact that they saw a tenfold increase in responses: whereas previously they could expect 300 responses, their 10 Year Plan consultation received about 3000. By using Citizen Space they were able to radically speed up and scale up their democratic process.

Informing / engaging elected members using filters & tagging

Elected members took to using Citizen Space really well for two main reasons:
1) using the keyword search functionality enabled them to quickly find the specific submissions that were relevant to their local area; and
2) by using filters, they could identify hot topics (topics with the most comments) and dig further into those.

Using real-world digital technologies (via iPads) to engage community groups & older demographics

The Hamilton team used Citizen Space’s ‘kiosk’ mode to consult face-to-face using iPads, talking to people out and about, in playgrounds/parks, as well as targeting older people by visiting retirement villages.

Creating more efficient ‘Public Hearing’ processes via central data aggregation (both offline and online)

Historically, the public hearing process would take around 2 months to complete – including collation / publishing – meaning that most people who’d participated initially would have lost interest.  Comparatively, using Citizen Space, verbal hearings started happening within two weeks, with decision-making happening another two weeks later. By compacting the process down into four weeks, they created a much better and more engaged democratic process.  As Julie says in the podcast: ‘From a democracy perspective people not only could see the process moving along, but that people also felt that Council was taking their feedback seriously and having a real effect on decision-making.’

From a democracy perspective, people not only could see the process moving along, but that people also felt that the Council was taking their feedback seriously and having a real effect on decision-making.’

Scaling up participation

The benefits of scaling participation on such a significant level meant that there was a greater representation of the community.  A big part of the strength of Citizen Space was having no barrier to take part immediately – providing greater ease and access.  Julie succinctly summarises the benefits of using technology: ‘online increases access and getting a response rather than getting a reaction.’ This is a result that is at the core of Delib’s DNA, as a company wanting to promote more deliberative constructive democratic processes.

The podcast interview with Julie is truly fascinating to listen to if you’re interested in what happens behind the scenes of Council democracy, so give it a listen.

Finally, if you’re in New Zealand you can talk to Hamish – Delib’s NZ consultant based out of Christchurch – about everything Response Publishing and Citizen Space related.  Email: hamish@delib.net