Thoughts from Local GovCamp 2017

This weekend, Local GovCamp 2017 (the UK’s largest unconference on all things digital and government) was in Delib’s home city of Bristol for the first time.

We’ve attended UK GovCamp and Local GovCamp for many years, and we have a good history of staff blogs from earlier this year, 2014, 2013 and 2011.

Although I’m not unfamiliar with government/tech type unconferences, (I help organise Open Data Camp), this was my first ever Local GovCamp and I was really looking forward to attending. I missed the Fringe Friday, so it was just the Saturday ‘unconference proper’ for me – which, like all unconferences, started off with a long list of really interesting sounding pitches from a real variety of people.

I opted to start the day with a session called “Are we still innovating?” which was a great discussion, and, for me, certainly set the theme for the day. Whilst there have clearly been great leaps in recent years, there are still some major issues and frustrations which are sometimes felt keenly by those working in or with Local Government (I say this as someone who has been both the Local Gov customer and supplier in the last 12 months). In the spirit of Local GovCamp, this first discussion touched on some of the frustrations and disappointments but focused on the positives.

I’m a big fan of the unconference “Rule of two-feet” which encourages attendees to get up and move around between sessions, so was able to make the most of the packed agenda. Throughout the day I was in sessions about using NLP to improve communication within the context of Agile coaching; lessons on ideal team size learnt from working on a submarine; GDPR; chatbots and council websites; the risks and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence; and two different sessions on innovation within the context of digital government. And this doesn’t include the interesting conversations I was in, or overheard, in the corridors!

There was certainly plenty to think about following such a packed day, and my main takeaways are as follows:

Local Government is certainly still innovating

It can often be hard to take stock of how far we have come when change is such a constant. But having looked at the takeaways from the previous Delib blogs, it is clear to me that plenty of the ‘hot topics’ for innovation from 2011 or 2013 are now becoming much more par for the course, if not yet business as usual everywhere. For example, terms like ‘Digital by Default’, ‘Agile Working’ or ‘Open Data’ are now discussed as norms rather than ‘new’ things or ways in which government is innovating.

It is (still) really hard for Local Government to easily buy the right thing

There are all sorts of really good reasons why we have procurement rules for the public sector. However, there was a clear consensus that procurement processes can really hamper innovation, and can also be a real barrier for SME’s seeking to engage with Government. This was also touched upon during one of my ‘overheard corridor conversations’: “…Yes of course we need to keep innovating, but that doesn’t mean we don’t also all need to engage more and better with existing things like G Cloud that could really support innovation if more councils and suppliers engaged with it”.

We need to bring more people into the conversation

One of the session pitches was “Help! I’m an Elected Member!” which drew a big cheer from the crowd, (seemingly it is quite rare for anyone other than Officers to make it to these kinds of events). Certainly, there was a desire to find better ways to spread the word and share successes more broadly, and some were worried that there was a risk of only ‘preaching to the converted’.

It’s all about the people

Perhaps a cheesy way to finish up – but I’m afraid in my experience, it’s true. Anyone feeling disheartened by the challenges and frustrations of Local Government would do well to attend Local GovCamp and see how many brilliant, knowledgeable and dynamic people there are out there working hard to bring digital transformation to Government in all corners of the UK. And, yes, we do need to keep innovating, but judging by Local GovCamp last weekend, I have no doubt we will.

Introducing our newest researcher: Megan Tonner

Delib keeps on growing – both in number of customers and number of staff. One of the several new-ish recruits is Megan, joining our UK office as a researcher. As is now standard procedure, she’s completed our comprehensive set of taxing questions about bands, bread and, of course, biscuits.

What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Megan Tonner. I was born in Banbury, North Oxfordshire, with Scottish heritage. Growing up there meant I was lucky to live in a beautiful, picturesque village called Bloxham, with fields directly following my back gate – meaning I could escape in the countryside for a run with my gorgeous Hungarian Vizsla, Ede. (Which, by the way, often began as a relaxing stroll, until he’d decide to do a full “Fenton” on me and chase every sheep or pheasant we passed.)

I went to school in Bloxham, and even got to do a GCSE in Environmental and Land-Based Science – in other words, ‘Farming’ – where I literally had to sing to cows (email me for cattle-related tips). I moved to Bristol four years ago to study Graphic Design at UWE and fell in love with the city. Never had I lived in such a liberal place and I’m very excited about my future here.

Favourite band and/or artist?
I’m finding this extremely hard to answer – I’m rather peculiar when it comes to my taste in music! My favourite genre is Math rock (I know, it’s a bit niche and sounds like I’m trying to be hip.) It’s a genre that was influenced by post-hardcore and progressive rock bands. Try out Chiyoda Ku, a band from Bristol that I discovered on a trip to The Stag and Hounds. Or, if you’re super keen, come along to ArcTangent festival just outside of Bristol.

Moving on from that my taste ranges from anything like old school R&B to minimal techno and 140 Dubstep. Hit me up for a playlist. But if I were only allowed to listen to one band for the rest of my life, I guess it would be The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I really wish I were a creature of habit; I try, I make lists sometimes and then throw them away when I find them lost in my laundry basket a week later. I speak my mind, often a little too quickly but I do have to have some sort of routine to my life, that’s why I love working. Especially now I’ve found something I’m passionate about.

You get mysteriously transported to a desert island, with only time to grab a couple of precious things to take with you. What makes the ‘keep’ list?
If time allowed, a painting of my interpretation of a Chinese New Year that I did with my father when I was 14. It’s still one of my favourite pieces of art work I’ve done to this day, and it’s priceless, as painting with my dad is one of my most sentimental memories of my childhood. I’d also grab my electric guitar, that we built together too. Finally, my collection of Harry Potter replica wands, because they’re obviously the coolest things I own.

Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I don’t have a sweet tooth really, let alone a soggy sweet tooth… Throw me a bag of salt and vinegar Kettle Chips over a biscuit any day.

Before joining Delib, how did you put bread on the table?
When I applied for this position, I was working in PieMinister, which I know sounds like the dream. I served pies, I made pies, I spoke all things pie. I loved the part of hospitality in which you were meeting hundreds of new people a week – but the job wasn’t too exhilarating, or pushing, and after a short while there’s only a certain amount of pie one girl can eat. I was also a games journalist, and just before that worked for Samsung, training staff in different stores on their new tablet releases. But I was a student, so until now I didn’t have the time to find something that tingled my taste buds and motivated me as much as Delib has. I’m a tech-head at heart, and it’s amazing to be back in that industry.

Why did you want to join Delib?
Delib is a company that’s truly doing something I believe in, something innovating, and something anyone would be lucky to be involved in. After a few interviews, and meeting the fabulous staff here, I realised it was somewhere I’d be comfortable being myself, excited about my day, and more importantly enthusiastic about the subjects we work in. As well as constantly learning and developing through the process of being here.

Any shout outs, comments or other musings?
Thank you Delib, and everyone within the company, that have kept me smiling since I started my position in January. What a load of beauties!

Digital Hero: Deb Thomas, Australian Treasury

We are really thrilled to introduce you to our newest Digital Hero, Deb Thomas. Deb is the
Web Manager for the Australian Treasury (on secondment from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science).

Deb’s role involves managing priorities, to keep on top of publishing content to the sites under Treasury’s portfolio – while, at the same time, implementing digital transformation in the department. Deb is constantly striving to deliver the best digital content that she can!

Over to you Deb…

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
Deb Thomas. I’m originally from the warm and humid environment of Darwin in Australia.
Unfortunately, now I’m in Canberra. Freezing!

2. What do you do for a living?
I manage government websites. I’ve spent quite a few years at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science running the web team, and I’m currently doing a secondment at the Australian Treasury, where at last count we have over 20 websites to manage.

3. Favourite band and/or artist?
Probably The Beatles – a classic band that will always be up there (I’ll be seeing Paul
McCartney live in concert at the end of the year which is quite exciting). Also really enjoy
listening to Angus and Julia Stone who produce some great music. Of the Disney movie
soundtracks I have to listen to at home, Moana is the least irritating.

4. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I’m quite a creature of habit socially – as in, I’ll habitually cancel any plans we make or hope that someone else cancels them. At work, I would say I’m much more maverick: “why do it the way you’ve always done it when you could do it better and easier?”

5. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I don’t drink tea…. The shock of everyone dropping their cups of tea at this very moment. All of my biscuits are unsullied.

6. What does digital democracy mean to you (or maybe, what should digital democracy mean)?
Digital democracy is the next step in citizen engagement. It allows everyone to be given the same platform – it levels the ground for everyone to offer their voice, opinion and needs to government and corporations. The availability of the internet in Australia means that very few miss out and we can all impact policy development.

7. Where do you see the field of digital democracy/ digital engagement in ten years?
Opportunities and pitfalls?
I think that citizen engagement through digital tools will be a lot bigger than it is now; it will hopefully be the default step government takes with stakeholder engagement.

The reach provided will be increased in an easy and cost-effective manner which in turn will allow more to engagement opportunities, giving government a richer context to work with.

The downside to this will be if we can’t find a way to improve the level of conversation we (as a society), have online – the too-fast turnaround of information, the summary versions
rather than the full picture and people’s obsession with trolling leads to a less valuable

If we can all mature to use the digital tools for a meaningful conversation, then we will see much more input and value given to those with the quietest voice. And hopefully some hashtags disappear (#fakenews).

8. Best project you’ve worked on at Treasury? Are there any projects coming up that you would like to highlight?
Working through the delivery of the Commonwealth Budget was very interesting – so much going on that I didn’t understand, but I was surrounded by lots of very smart and dedicated people working hard.

9. Any shout-outs?
The Department of Industry and Australian Treasury for allowing me to encourage new tools and be digital, and all the people who work here who come to me and let me take them into the world of web.

And James from Delib who lets me ask questions multiple times and understands that I have never completed the task I said I was going to do!


There we go – finishing up with a compliment we didn’t even fish for! Thanks to Deb for the insight into her work, thoughts and views on the digital space and stakeholder engagement. We look forward to following the digital transformation at Treasury.

We’re Hiring – Office Manager

Delib is a global digital democracy company of around 25 people, providing digital tools to connect citizens with government. Our main office, a grade 2 listed building, is on King Street in Bristol and we have staff working in Australia and New Zealand. Here in the UK, we share the Bristol office with our sister company, Rubber Republic, who write, shoot and distribute fantastic online films. We are a well-established and growing business.

We’re looking for a new Office Manager for Delib (we’re also recruiting for another new Office Manager for Rubber Republic). The Office Manager role is integral to the support and success of Delib and you will have a lot of autonomy and accountability from day one. Your colleagues are excellent, the working environment is open and friendly and the role carries a lot of responsibility and trust.

Your role is split into two:

  1. Supporting Delib staff in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. This includes a wide range of company operations, including (but not limited to) HR, recruitment, event support, finance, systems, suppliers and information security.
  2. Supporting the office in general such as covering phones, intercom, general admin, building management and facilities. These tasks will be shared with our part-time Office Manager Jayne and the new Office Manager for Rubber Republic, so you must work well together to ensure nothing gets dropped.

You need to think globally. Delib is a registered company in Australia, New Zealand and the UK and each territory has a range of essential and varying operational requirements. We also have customers in other areas of the world. You will be responsible for ensuring the requirements for each territory are met and for supporting each company, wherever needed. You’ll have a big to do list and lots of different staff members relying on you to keep all the plates spinning – we need an excellent organiser. The ability to prioritise the needs of staff from all territories and constantly maintain communication across all territories is key. You’ll be proactive, ensuring that we operate effectively on a global, not just local scale.

Due to differing time zones, you will need to be flexible and adapt your working hours to accommodate calls in the early morning and late evening when needed.

In a nutshell, your role is to support the company and the people in it. This can range from clearing out the fridge to resolving HR issues, making insurance claims and organising company events. Therefore, it is essential that you have a positive and helpful attitude so that the team feel comfortable asking you for help. You must be able to keep calm under pressure, problem solve and re-prioritise your work load at short notice.


Key responsibilities – The needs of each territory can vary, but this is a general overview.

  • Systems and suppliers: Be responsible for Delib’s password and supplier systems and any other records essential to business operations. Ensure that our suppliers comply with company policy and that services meet company needs, including insurance policies. Organise the diary so that we don’t miss essential renewals and deadlines.
  • Tech and equipment: Manage our equipment (allocation, configuration and return) and resolve problems with staff laptops or other office equipment including the phone system.
  • Human Resources: Oversee all aspects of the recruitment process: posting job ads, processing applications, holding phone interviews, inducting new starters and following the process for leavers. Look after aspects of HR for current staff including arranging training, holidays and sickness management, involvement in disputes and disciplinary processes.
  • Finance: complete all aspects of monthly payroll, report purchases to the Finance Manager and support the finance team as required. Resolve any issues with credit cards and company accounts.
  • Information Security: Work with the Information Security team to create, implement and follow policy to ensure that company operations and the building systems are secure. Assist with internal and external audits in line with ISO 27001. Understand our policy, flag any risks, report and respond to security incidents and work to promote best practice.
  • Events and support: Organise event bookings, trips, company away days and travel itineraries.


UK only

  • Building Management: Ensure the utilities in the entire building operate as expected and be a first point of contact for the other businesses renting space. Liaise with the building owners to ensure that any issues are resolved. This includes organising repairs, managing security and key holders, running Health & Safety tests, organising services and liaising with the cleaners.
  • Facilities Management: The working environment needs to be as pleasant as possible with all equipment fully functioning including computers, printers and the telephone system. Be responsible for the renewal of supplier contracts, organising repairs, Health & Safety obligations and training, managing meeting rooms and ordering in supplies as needed.
  • Reception cover: Handle incoming calls and cover the intercom to welcome visitors and collect any post and deliveries.


Knowledge & Experience

  • 2 years of experience in a similar Office Manager role or with managing teams. You should have experience in a role with high levels of responsibility.
  • HR experience – dealing with sensitive HR processes/issues and being entrusted with confidential information.
  • Highly computer literate, specifically experience with using Apple Mac laptops would be beneficial. Must be very confident with setting up and using Excel and Word documents and generally proficient navigating systems and databases.
  • Confident and professional telephone manner.


Personal Attributes

  • Thrive on working autonomously and able to prioritise, plan and organise effectively to manage a diverse workload, even when under pressure.
  • Have confidence to make suggestions and influence change.
  • Highly developed communication skills with an open and transparent approach.
  • A personable down to earth nature, able to work at all levels.
  • Personal integrity and discretion.
  • Willingness to learn, try new things and progress.


Salary and benefits

  • This is a full-time position and we offer a salary of £24 – £30K per annum depending. on experience.
  • 24 days of holiday, plus bank holidays.
  • Company pension scheme.
  • Enjoyable working environment in an excellent location.
  • Training budget.
  • Your own Mac which you can take home if you wish.
  • Decent chairs and desk setup.
  • Fruit boxes delivered twice a week and a kitchen packed with tea and coffee.


Recruitment Process

  • We are hoping to hire and train both Office Managers for Rubber Republic and Delib as soon as practically possible. You will be invited to a phone interview, face to face interview and then a trial period in the office to give you a good feel for the role.
  • If you think you are the right person for this role, please send your cover letter and CV to Applications that do not include a cover letter will not be accepted.
  • We follow the HMG Baseline Personnel Security Standard and you will therefore need to satisfy basic eligibility criteria/certain conditions of employment (e.g. nationality rules/right to work); and provide appropriate documentation to verify ID, nationality, employment and/or academic history, criminal record (unspent convictions only).
  • No applications will be accepted via recruitment companies. Closing date: As soon as the right applicant is found.


Introducing our 2017 London and Canberra User Groups

After kicking off our 2017 user groups in Scotland and Northern Ireland in April and May, we’re now firmly looking ahead to our next 2017 user groups in London and Canberra. The Department of Health have kindly agreed to co-host the London event with us on Wednesday 11th October in their Westminster office. Hot on the heels of our London user group, we’re also getting plans in place for our Australian user group which will be in Canberra in late October.

In 2016, we ran no fewer than 5 user groups around the world: kicking off in Scotland before heading to Australia and finishing up in London. If you’re not sure what to expect, check out these learnings from our user group in London last year.

Image courtesy of @beisgovuk the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (UK)

Who is the user group for?
Site Admins, Digital leads, analysts, policy leads, communication managers – anyone using Citizen Space or Dialogue.

1-2 people will be initially invited from each organisation currently using Citizen Space or Dialogue. Tickets are free and will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. If you’re reading this and interested in speaking on the day, please email us.

What should I expect?
Talks will focus on all things digital engagement; our previous user groups have included:

  • An opportunity to meet fellow customers from across government
  • Show-and-tell of recent or upcoming engagement exercises by current users
  • Review of the process and challenges of how you do consultation
  • Roadmaps – we’ll talk through our plans for development and get your input
  • Digital surgery on any questions/topics requested

These sessions work best with real examples from the coal-face. If you’re interested in sharing how you do great consultation or if you have a proven process please get in touch.

We’re hiring: outbound comms

We need some comms help. We’ve got a lot of things we want to say and a lot of people to whom we want to say them. There’s way more ‘saying interesting things to the right people’ to do than we can manage with our current capacity (we’re a small team, about 20 in total). So we’re looking for a full-time content writer/researcher/reporter to join us and do a whole bunch of high quality, proactive communicating.

This is first and foremost a new business/sales role. We’re expanding our efforts to grow our customer base and you’ll be working closely with our sales team. Your primary responsibility will be to increase the number of people interested in us and our products, and to increase the level of that interest.

About you

There are three key things we need from someone to excel at this role:
  • exceptional at being articulate. You need to turn thoughts, facts, opinions and information into engaging content – quickly, repeatedly, with a good understanding of your audience and subject matter, to a consistently high standard, without a load of prompting or hand-holding.We get that digital democracy is quite a specific niche; we don’t expect you to know it inside-out before you apply and we will bring you up to speed but some interest in politics, civic society, democratic participation etc – and, more importantly, a capacity to learn fast – is pretty key.The exact form of the content will be up to you: it might include images, graphics and video but it will always include words, so we’re looking for an excellent writer.
  • relentlessly ‘outward-focused‘. You must be keen to engage with the outside world, happy making noise in public, energised by looking for new people to talk to. This job isn’t about refining internal company strategy or quietly working through a backlog of essays that need writing. It’s all about getting to know people in our network and market, understanding what they’d enjoy hearing from us and taking the initiative to bring those two things together. You need to get a buzz from getting stuff out into the world, seeing people share it and talking about us more and more.
  • sufficiently organised and driven to actually make it happen. This job isn’t about writing a certain number of words or researching a certain market segment and then handing the result on to someone else to do something with. Lots of the initiative and responsibility will rest directly with you. You’ll be researching material, writing thoughtful stuff about it and disseminating it to interested people yourself. So you need to be good at things like scheduling and contact management as well as ideas and words.
Beyond that, there are many possible ‘nice to have’ qualities: team player, nifty with statistical analysis, GSOH, frequent cake-baker etc etc. But if you can do this job, you can figure out things about yourself that add value and sell them to us in your application.

About the job

This is essentially a content production and dissemination role. Your primary responsibility will be conceiving, making and sharing interesting material, to build our presence, profile and influence and, above all, to provide our audiences with good service – stuff that makes their lives easier, helps them do their jobs better and ultimately improves civic society.
Specifically, your regular work will include things like:
  • Content research, news monitoring, regularly reading relevant books/studies/articles etc
  • Identifying and participating in relevant events
  • Planning content and contact campaigns
  • Producing timely thought pieces
  • Arranging interviews/content contributions from relevant experts/leaders in our field
  • Writing customer stories/case studies of our work in action
  • Producing documents, landing pages and other supporting material for new business campaigns
  • Producing a regular newsletter and other recurring email activity
  • Reviewing effectiveness of content, monitoring analytics
Our office is a professional-yet-relaxed open plan environment. We’re a small, smart, hard-working team and you’ll be working closely with our senior sales consultant, our team of account and territory managers and our marketers.
Exact salary depends on experience but it’ll likely be somewhere in the region of £23k-£27k.
If this sounds good to you, please get in touch. Send us a cover letter (to and your CV. We’re more interested in covering letters than in CVs. If we like the look of yours, we’ll get you in for a standard hiring interview.
We follow the HMG Baseline Personnel Security Standard and you will therefore need to satisfy basic eligibility criteria/certain conditions of employment (e.g. nationality rules/right to work); and provide appropriate documentation to verify ID, nationality, employment and/or academic history, criminal record (unspent convictions only).

Metro North Takes Digital to the Community and Improves Oral Health

At Delib, we are continually inspired by the organisations we work with. And we want to introduce you to our clients who are transforming the digital engagement space and, most importantly, transforming the lives of their customers.

When their community and their health are at the heart of everything they do, and their ethos is ‘Connecting for Health’, you know Metro North Hospital and Health Service will strive for continual innovation in community engagement.

Metro North’s Oral Health Services team, led by Jan Anderson, has recently taken their consultation to community members who experience significant personal and social barriers, with the aim of enhancing and improving their health and wellbeing.

Jan and her team recognised that to connect with these patients they would need to move out of the office and clinics and connect at a location where they felt most comfortable.

To reach those customers in the Queensland community who experience high social disadvantage, homelessness, mental health, alcohol and drug addiction issues, Oral Health North partnered with leading community groups such as The Big Issue, Moonyah Recovery Services and Queensland Injector’s Health Network.

This partnership allowed the team to gather feedback about why this group might not access oral health services and how they could be encouraged to attend. But instead of delivering oral health promotion, as the team originally assumed, this open consultation gave them better insights and information on what the community wanted and needed.

As a result, Oral Health changed their plan and supported people in understanding how to make appointments and access public dental services, provided outreach, much-needed dental treatment and distributed essential items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste. This initial activity became the platform for continued outreach and engagement with the community.

One community member the team met was Mooynah client Ronnie. Ronnie (and his transformation) had a big impact on the team. After Oral Health provided him with new dentures, Ronnie’s confidence grew and he was selected to play for Australia in the Homeless Games in Glasgow. He engaged actively in community, education and ultimately employment. Ronnie is now also firmly giving back through promoting the advantages of oral health care with his peers.

While the team was focused on gaining valuable input via Citizen Space, it then also became the ‘vehicle’ through which conversations could be started and strong connections and relationships could be developed. And for those readers involved in engagement, you’ll appreciate this as a very real achievement of this program.

Metro North Consumer and Community Engagement Manager Shelley Kulperger identified that through the use of Citizen Space, data was also able to be inputted daily and ongoing evaluation carried out. This ongoing evaluation shaped the consultation and communication and team members could identify issues and react to information as it came in.

Shelley spoke to us about community engagement and what it means to Metro North, and it has really stuck with us at Delib.

Shelley reflected, “This is not just about collecting data, it’s about connecting with people.”

OECD Musings

Last month, I attended the annual OECD Forum in Paris (this year’s theme: “Bridging Divides”) where representatives of governments, civil society organisations and the press come together to discuss and debate issues affecting their member countries and the wider world. This year was a little different, though: Holly Richards (OECD public affairs manager) and Vincent Finat-Duclos (OECD Better Life Index project manager), whom I’d met at TICTech a month earlier, had decided to run a Civic Tech Hub with its own track of talks.

Although the space they had been allocated was just a little wooden amphitheatre and screen in the atrium, it attracted a huge amount of interest and most of the talks ended up standing-room-only.

Talks ranged over all sorts of subjects, from how the Better Life Index has helped engage the OECD with the public of their member states, to how computer coding collaboration platforms could be used to more effectively draft legislation, and even how to use blockchain mechanisms to decentralise democracy while securing it from malicious manipulation. A full list of the talks on the Civic Tech track can be found on the programme site (the farthest right-hand column), though sadly they weren’t among the talks that were filmed for posterity.

All great things start small and it has been suggested that the track’s success may mean that civic tech may find a more central role in OECD Forum 2018. Here’s hoping!

One of the most intriguing things I learned at the forum was in one of the main plenary talks. Virgile Deville of Democracy Earth* told us how the Colombian government has forged a peace deal with the leftist insurgent group FARC. They then ran a referendum last year in the hope of getting a retroactive public stamp of approval for the new state of affairs, but it was unexpectedly defeated by a slim majority.

Democracy Earth went on to perform their own polls on the matter, breaking down the initial yes/no question into a set of more nuanced queries. From this research, they found that the public were in fact strongly in support of a peace deal – as long as this would not involve integrating insurgent leaders into the government. This reiterates a lesson that those of us with an interest in public consultation should take to heart: the way questions are framed can have a significant effect on the kinds of answers we get, and complex and multi-faceted issues rarely come down to crude binary choices. You can read about all of Democracy Earth’s intriguing findings on the Columbian referendum here.

If anyone’s interested in attending next year’s forum or has any suggestions for other events we’d find interesting, please drop me a line: or @LudwigKayser .

[* Edited 27/07/17. Because of my atrocious note-taking skills, I originally attributed this research to the Pew Research Centre, who at the same conference had been showing us fascinating but unrelated stats about public economic confidence in OECD countries. The insight that Democracy Earth gleaned is extremely important and they deserve credit for the excellent work they did. Many thanks to Nuria Villanova from the OECD for pointing me the right way.]




Top UK #localgov jobs – July 2017

It’s time for the monthly round-up of great digital, strategic and engagement jobs from the UK local government sector. Here are our top picks for the month of July.

Deputy Director, Regional Transport Strategies
Department for Transport: London
Closing date: 10/07/17

Community Engagement Officer
Woking Borough Council
Closing date: 10/07/17

Volunteer Coordinator
Surrey County Council
Closing date: 17/07/17

Assistant Planner (Planning Policy)
South Bucks District Council
Closing date: 23/07/17

Voluntary Sector Network Coordinator (Children & Young People)
Bath & North East Somerset Council
Closing date: 07/07/17

Environmental Health Officer/Senior Technical Officer
Reading Borough Council
Closing date: 09/07/17

Head of Information and Communications Technology
London Borough of Hillingdon
Closing date: 17/07/17

Planning Officer
Hastings Borough Council
Closing date: 10/07/17

Head of Operations – Regeneration, Planning and Housing Directorate
London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham
Closing date: 24/07/17

Planning Policy Officer
Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead
Closing date: 16/07/17

‘Well-designed democracy’ – event round-up

Last Tuesday morning (June 27th) marked the first in our series of Practical Democracy Project events – kicking off with a focus on ‘well-designed democracy’.

If you couldn’t make it along on the day, this right here is a quick round-up, including links to all the slides/talks from our speakers. And we’re planning more events in the series so there’ll doubtless be other opportunities to talk digital democracy with roomfuls of interesting people.

Well-designed democracy event at Newspeak House

These events are designed to get people talking about the interaction between technology and government, with a particular emphasis on the stuff that actually makes a difference to effective public participation in decision-making.

This one was at Newspeak House in Bethnal Green (a fascinating thing in itself – it’s a dedicated ‘community space for political technologists’). And it was a great crowd that turned up: a really interesting mix of civil servants, service designers, techy start-up types, local gov staff – all sorts.

After a slightly mad dash to grab the promised breakfast and some excellently buzzy conversations over coffee and croissants, the talks got underway.

First up was Temi Ogunye from Citizens Advice.

Temi was presenting findings from a piece of Citizens Advice research called ‘Going with the grain: why democracy needs to fit with modern life’. It was grounded in concern for the practical, everyday things that can make it harder for people to get involved in politics – often disproportionately across different groups.

I was delighted – but not surprised – to hear that one of the main findings was that in the UK, in general, people want to take part – but there are a load of barriers that prevent them participating as much as they would like to.

It’s one of the core tenets of Delib, one of the main reasons we exist: that if you make it easier for people to get involved in the decisions that affect them, they will take up the opportunity – and that makes those decisions, and democracy, better.

Temi gave a host of great examples/findings. I was particularly struck by his observation about financial security as one such barrier to participation. He talked about how it is often harder for less affluent people to get involved in government decisions – even though they may often be those most drastically affected by policy changes. He hypothesised that this might be a simple issue of ‘headspace’: if you’re worried about making ends meet, it’s tough to find the time for what feels like the ‘luxury’ of political engagement.

Have a look at Temi’s slides

Or check out the full ‘Going with the grain’ report

Then we heard from Involve’s Sarah Allan.

Sarah made a fantastically clear and compelling case for the benefits of involving people in decision-making (perhaps not surprising given that she’s the Engagement Lead for an organisation literally called Involve).

She then shared a bunch of great practical/at-the-coalface stories from her work with Involve (my half-remembering of the details won’t do them justice – check out the full deck instead).

I particularly enjoyed her report of the ‘IWOOT’ phenomenon – where someone will ring up from an organisation wanting to do some public engagement and say ‘we saw this fantastic exercise from so-and-so. We want to do one of those, too!’. As Sarah explained, whilst the enthusiasm is laudable, that’s not really the best way to settle on a participatory process.

Instead, she argued for approaching involvement as a design challenge. This is something we’re forever banging on about: good engagement is about finding what’s appropriate to the decision/situation and effective for the people who need to be involved – and what works for one situation often won’t be the right fit for another.

Download Sarah’s slides (PDF)

Next up was Dr Michael Hallsworth from the Behavioural Insights Team.

He rapidly shared an amazing wealth of stats, stories and insights – all around a common theme of how ‘small things can make a big impact’. Again, these were fantastically detailed and thoroughly-researched case studies: the Behavioural Insights Team run lots of real-world control tests to get measurable evidence on changes that make a difference to people’s actions. Have a look at the detail for yourself in Michael’s slides.

And it’s a point that definitely bears repeating: small things that remove ‘friction’ from the process of participating can end up making a massive difference to people’s involvement. (It also reminded me of some of the stats we heard from BEIS at one of our Citizen Space user groups – about going from a 7% to a 25% completion rate on online consultations). The more people come to appreciate and get accustomed to this design-led approach to policy and participation (design in its truest sense – not just ‘making things pretty’ but elegantly crafted and perfectly suited to their purpose), the better.

Download Michael’s slides (PDF)

And wrapping up the morning was Glyn Britton of ad agency KBS Albion.

Glyn gave a really eye-opening account of the creation of GiffGaff – ‘the UK’s first democratic brand’ (in that user participation was central to its business model and how decisions were made).

The whole story was packed with great examples of learning the value of testing and iteration, user feedback, community interaction and designing decisions around the people they affect – as Glyn put it, ‘in the wild’. (For example, the fact that they extensively tested incentives for people getting their friends to switch to GiffGaff: apparently, straight-up cash was by far the most effective [no great surprises there, perhaps] – but there was no major difference in the amount of cash offered. £5, £10, £20: the response rate was the same. So it seemed to be more about the sense of fairness/getting something back/not being exploited, rather than just a money grab.)

Whilst there are obviously differences between the world of government and private business, especially when it comes to ‘rewards’ for participation, I think there’s a lot of overlap in the process of learning to function in a more emergent, iterative, responsive way – especially online. It was great to hear some of those parallel challenges and opportunities from a fresh perspective.

Read the transcript of Glyn’s talk

There was one other thing that Glyn said that stuck with me, just near the end of his talk (and he was the last to speak, remember). Namely, that he felt ‘a bit of a fraud’ and ‘inexpert’, giving thoughts on designing democracy in a room full of people who are specialists in exactly that. While I think that’s far too modest of him, he was right to remark on the room. Here was a whole group of people who are passionate and knowledgeable about how to make it easier for government and citizens to connect with each other online. In fact, a good number of them work in government and are paid to think about this stuff as their actual job. That certainly has not always been the case and it’s surely something to celebrate.

As Tom Steinberg argued recently, this stuff – this user-led, design-based approach to public involvement – is (finally, thankfully) becoming established, mainstream, the norm. It’s an idea that can’t be put back in the bottle. And that is excellent news: the more it becomes embedded, the more it will genuinely improve democratic involvement. And we hope we can continue to grow the conversation, refine the practice and keep making public participation better and better.

Well-designed democracy sign (in the rain)