Tag Archives: budget consultation

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.

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.

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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

How The Australian Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science used Citizen Space to consult on ways of working

The Australian Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science have been using their Citizen Space instance for the past two years to run a variety of external and internal consultations. Endorsed by their executive, the department’s use of the tool is only continuing to grow.

One consultation which particularly caught our eye, and which was presented by the consultation team during our ACT user group in Canberra, was their series of internal ‘ways of working’ surveys. The aim of these surveys is to determine how different members of staff like to work in order to inform how their new work space will look.

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In order to create the survey, the department enlisted an external company to create a series of images to depict the topics at hand. Spread across 10 key themes ranging from ‘chat’ through to ‘create’, the survey asks respondents to rate how important each of the different themes are to them.

“Using these kind of images are not so ‘government’ which I think helps” (Paulette Pope)

The consultation also helps to identify how different individuals like to work across different divisions and in different roles in the organisation. Using Citizen Space’s survey cloning feature, the department could create the survey and then clone it for each additional division. This helped ensure that the data was kept separate across the different divisions being consulted with. The data could also be broken down by staff role – meaning the department could look for similarities in how, say, project officers like to work.

The department was also able to take advantage of Citizen Space’s private consultation feature in order to run the consultations. An additional benefit of running these internal ‘ways of working’ surveys on the platform is that it has helped to promote the use of Citizen Space internally: the department saw a noticeable spike in the use of Citizen Space following the initial phase of the project. The message of ‘digital first’ is also being seen and reinforced by the whole department.

The consultation outcome has helped the team shape the way that their offices are fitted out. The project is able to move a whole floor or division out, consult and see what their preference is before taking into account the feedback and moving them back in. Depending on the staff preferences identified through the survey, each office will be fitted with different desks and layout.

“There has been a direct correlation between feedback from the survey and how the offices have been fitted out” (Glenn Cowling)

The program and changes which are happening here also help to improve the health of workers – to ensure they have sufficient breaks, the work setup they need and are supported in managing an appropriate work-life balance.

Thorough consultation informing substantive change, run via Citizen Space? That’s the kind of thing we’re always pleased to hear about.

Your money your views? 3 British councils open up the public ledgers…

We like to take the time every now and again to talk about some exciting ways the people we work with are doing consultation. Citizen Space is our app that fits a standard consultation approach most closely – but our other platforms, Budget Simulator and Dialogue App, use technology to enable citizens’ involvement in policy in different ways. Read on to hear about what’s going on at the moment…

Budget Simulator

Budget Simulator is an app that lets organisations share the spending decisions they have to make with everyone.

At the moment Enfield council are facing a budget gap of £30 million in 2015/16. There are no easy ways of making the necessary cuts – every reduction in spending will impact citizens in some way. Using Budget Simulator, residents of Enfield can see where money is currently being spent, explore the impact that a reduction or increase in each area will have, and submit their own budget

Enfeilf Council Budget Simulator front-page


Derby City Council have a similar job to do, and have also been using Budget Simulator to let people have their say. They’ve been working hard to get everyone involved in the discussion, especially those who might not be the first to add their voices in a consultation exercise. The Council have run a busy schedule of events, visiting schools, community groups, residents associations and others. Those attending events can go on the budget simulator while they are there and give their responses in real time.

Big Conversation logo  Proud of Derby logo

Respondents could also add comments to their budgets, giving them the flexibility to express other opinions related to the budgeting process. Throughout the consultation, they have consistently used the taglines ‘Your Money, Your Views’, and ‘The Big Conversation’, to create a recognisable brand. This has helped to take the exercise away from a traditional model of consultation, and make it a more exciting, innovative and involving process.

Edinburgh council’s budget simulator has gone live today. Edinburgh have taken an interesting approach to grouping the different services they provide. Rather than breaking it down according to the organisational structure of the council, they’ve tried to badge them according to how they affect citizens’ lives

  • An attractive city to live and work in
  • A strong economy for the city
  • Better services for customers
  • Opportunities for all to achieve their potential
  • A good quality of life for everyone

Edinburgh Budget Simulator allocation page


Dialogue App – North Futures

On the 7th of November, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will be chairing the Northern Futures summit in Leeds. Leading up to the summit, the Cabinet Office are leading a multi-pronged program of engagement, centred around their dialogue app site. The site gives everyone the chance to submit their ideas, as well as to comment and give ratings to proposals others have put forward.

Accompanying the website, The Northern Futures team are also using twitter (follow them at @North_Futures!) and are convening ‘Open Ideas Days’ around the North on October 16th.

This kind of approach – creating a high-quality debate across society, using different media platforms, is exactly the kind of ‘Open Policy-making’ that we hope government will be doing more and more of!

Matthew is at Delib for 6 months, as a secondee from the Civil Service Fast Stream.

He’s featured here on our blog. You can also follow him on twitter at @Matth0rnsby 

Engaging with the budget cuts….

Back in November, nearly 8,000 people tried out Liverpool’s budget simulation exercise. We worked with Mayor Joe Anderson and Liverpool City Council; a city facing a £45 million savings target this year, with further cuts to come. It was Mayor Joe’s idea to run a mobile budget consultation, to not only gather valuable feedback from Liverpool’s residents, but also to communicate, and help create some understanding of the challenges they were facing:

Twitter: liverpoolcc.budgetsimulator.com/

Twitter: liverpoolcc.budgetsimulator.com/

‘This budget tool simulates the difficult decisions that councillors will have to make…/…There is no option other than to deal with the situation head on and make the decisions in the fairest way possible…/…their (residents’) comments give us valuable feedback on what people see as the priorities for spending over the next year.’

Mayor Joe Anderson, Liverpool Express

The Budget Simulator uses a combination of consequences and service descriptions; by presenting background information the tool enables participants to make informed spending allocations, whilst gaining a real insight into the reality of the task:


The understanding gained through the project is a two way street of course; the meaningful, insightful responses collected from Budget Simulator ensure decisions can be made to better reflect the priorities of those they affect.

‘It’s not a formal consultation, and it’s not legally binding. But it is a hugely important part of finding out what the public wants regarding how the city copes with cuts. It builds solidarity with the public, because everyone can see just how difficult it will be to balance the books.’

Cllr. Patrick Hurley

There are many reasons why Liverpool’s Budget Simulator was such a successful project, not least the tool’s ability to work on mobile devices, which helped to garner more ‘armchair involvement’.  Liverpool’s active approach to promotion and transparency, coupled with their clear commitment to ensure that the insight gained from the exercise informed the outcome, has helped to better prepare their residents for the tough options that lie ahead.

To find out how Budget Simulator could help your organisation meet its challenges, please request a consultation.



New Budget Simulator Lands in Liverpool

It’s Here! Budget Simulator v2.0 made its debut this month having been adopted by Liverpool City Council. The Liverpool team have been an absolute pleasure to work with (like all of our customers!) In particular it’s been a joy to have Mayor Joe Anderson personally champion the project from the very start; in fact it was his idea to run a mobile budget consultation…

Screen shot of Liverpool's Budget Simulator welcome page

Screenshot of Liverpool's Budget Simulator interactive page

Mayor Joe at the Heart of Participation

All over the UK , councils are facing financial cuts from the Government, some more than others. Liverpool City Council has been particularly hit hard, having the difficult task of finding £156 million of savings of over the next 3 years with £45 million of this in 2014/15.

photograph of Mayor Joe

Amongst other appearances, Mayor Joe has been seen on BBC North West news and the BBC Daily Politics Show speaking out on the importance of this consultation;

‘This budget tool simulates the difficult decisions that councillors will have to make…/…There is no option other than to deal with the situation head on and make the decisions in the fairest way possible…/…their (residents’) comments give us valuable feedback on what people see as the priorities for spending over the next year.’

Mayor Joe Anderson, Liverpool Express

v2.0 Optimised for Mobile

According to a recent summary from the Office for National Statistics, access to the internet from mobile phones has more than doubled between 2010 and 2013, rising from 24% to 53%, so the importance of enabling participation through these platforms is more prevalent than ever before.

With this in mind, Mayor Joe specifically wanted to run a mobile budget consultation to ensure engagement with as many of Liverpool’s 470,000 residents as possible. Budget Simulator has recently been rebuilt from the ground up to work on smartphones and tablets as well as desktops, so was the perfect solution.

Graphic of desktop computer, mobile phone and tablet computer

We are approaching the fourth week since the Liverpool Simulator went live and it has received over 4000 visits, of which 28% have been from a mobile phone or tablet and 72% from a desktop. 920 of these participants have submitted responses; a real win on the side of engagement.

Understand Through Engagement

The Liverpool team had a second key goal for this consultation: to inspire an understanding from residents of the challenges they were collectively facing as a community. Budget Simulator uses consequences and service descriptions to do just that. By presenting background information, the tool enables participants to make informed spending allocations while gaining a real insight into the reality of the task.

Screen shot of Budget simulator, the word 'consequences' is circledThe understanding gained through this project is a two way street of course; the meaningful, insightful responses collected from Budget Simulator ensure decisions can be made to better reflect the priorities of those they affect.

Embracing the Principles of Consultation

The simulator sits within a wider scheme of events and promotion, all geared towards understanding what really matters to the people of Liverpool. The campaign is transparent and accessible, for example the Mayor’s Budget page is a simple and clear port of call for all important dates, how to take part in the consultation and easy access to supporting information and reports.

This is such an important facet to Liverpool’s approach; making it easy for people to participate and clear how their input will make a difference. The concept of government consultation sometimes comes under scrutiny where the public feel their contribution makes no difference to the outcome. The government consultation principles document highlights the importance of reforming this perception;

‘It [the consultation guidelines document] is not a ‘how to’ guide but aims to help policy makers make the right judgments about when, with whom and how to consult. The governing principle is proportionality of the type and scale of consultation to the potential impacts of the proposal or decision being taken, and thought should be given to achieving real engagement rather than merely following bureaucratic process. ‘

Consultation principals: guidance, 2013

Mayor Joe represents an increasing number of visionary leaders making steps towards consultation practices which connect them to citizens in meaningful ways. Delib’s online tools facilitate these connections by enabling policy-makers to:

1) Engage with residents directly in an open and transparent manner.
2) Provide a forum for residents to interact with each other and have meaningful dialogue.
3) Engage with residents anywhere – Budget Simulator can be used on mobile devices and is responsive, opening up a wider market for engagement.
4) Create lasting policy partnerships between residents and decision-makers.

Digital tools at the centre of Mayor-led engagement projects

Liverpool Showing Us How It’s Done

There are many reasons why Liverpool’s Budget Simulator has been such a successful project so far. The tool’s ability to work on mobile devices, Liverpool’s fantastic approach to promotion and transparency, along with their clear commitment to ensure insight gained from responses will inform the outcome.

It’s likely to be a combination of all these factors, but one thing is for sure, the Liverpool team have set the bar high for engagement and best practice, and we couldn’t be more proud of how they have showcased the capabilities of shiny new Budget Simulator.

» Find out more about Budget Simulator

Friday Afternoon Consultation Review

A round-up of some of the innovative ways our customers have been using Citizen Space for their consultations this week:

BBC Trust’s use of tables:

The BBC Trust is reviewing News and Current Affairs and used tables in its overview to explain what the consultation is about and provide lots of ways for respondents to take part.

It’s not difficult to do and can make things clearer – we’ve written an article on how to add tables to a consultation

Scotland’s National Tree

Forestry Commission Scotland has put in some lovely images and a video to capture the imagination of respondents in their bid to choose a National Tree.

Guess what? We’ve also written an article on how to embed rich media such as videos and slideshows into a consultation

Norfolk County Council’s two-pronged approach to budget consultation

Norfolk are running a detailed non-linear Citizen Space survey alongside the use of our Budget Simulator for maximum local input on its current budget consultations. Get in touch if we can help with budget consultations, we’ve just the tools for this job.

NHS England’s registration form

In an innovative use of its Citizen Space hub, NHS England is not just using this for consultations and surveys, but also as a registration form for some upcoming webinar events. Nice!

Birmingham City Council’s Twitter

Using more than one avenue to encourage communication is a great idea. Birmingham has employed the use of a dedicated Twitter account and hashtag to further engage local citizens in an important consultation on Sexual Health Services.


Following a successful budget consultation GMPA renew their Budget Simulator

Greater Manchester Police Authority (GMPA) have recently completed a consultation using Budget Simulator to influence their new Policing budget in Greater Manchester for 2011/12.
Working closely with the Delib team to develop custom animation design, GMPA used Police themed animations to successfully demonstrate the consequences of proposed budget cuts.

“The support in the early stages in terms of designing and building the Budget Simulator was excellent”

David Byrne, GMPA.

Screenshot of GMPA Budget Allocation Screen

Greater Manchester Police Authority used responses to inform the decision making process of the Police Authority Members who were tasked with agreeing new Policing budget in Greater Manchester for 2011/12. Using a series of newsletters, members of the public and partners were also informed about the response rate and subsequent budget changes. The ability to add comments into the simulator ensured that responses could be used to inform future budgeting plans.

Recently choosing to renew their simulator for the 2012/13 budget consultation period, GMPA have chosen to use the same animations as last year in order to provide consistency within their consultation process. GMPA will also be using the introduction of the results dashboard in the latest Budget Simulator to further assist with data analysis.

When asked if they would recommend the Budget Simulator to others following this yearʼs consultation David Byrne commented “We would recommend the simulator tool to others and have already been contacted by other partner local authorities who are interested in using Budget Simulator”.

If you’d like a free demo of Budget Simulator, or just to discuss running budget consultations online, please call on 0845 638 1848 or email gillian.crea@delib.co.uk

Budget-setting: it’s more than just cuts. PLUS how can you involve the public?

Cuts have been the background to budget consultation in recent years. When cuts must be made, it’s obviously essential to engage the public in budget setting.

However it’s a worthwhile reminder that even with cuts, public sector organisations – especially local authorities, NHS, fire and police – oversee significant spending of taxpayer funds.

Public sector budgets are a large proportion of local GDP, and will remain so. They’re the means by which essential services are provided, and they can be significant drivers of employment and economic growth in an area.

Public involvement in local budget setting is both important and achievable.

I recently found three useful pieces on approaches to setting local budgets, which are shared below – followed by tips and tricks for getting the most from a budget-setting process.

Cook County (Illinois, USA)
First, a trip overseas. I found this really interesting budgeting process “Look at Cook” from Cook County (Illinois, USA)

“Every year our Cook County government budgets and spends more than $3 billion. The County’s budget impacts our lives every day. All of its funding comes from you—your sales and property taxes, your purchase fees on gas, and other goods. All of its spending exists to support you too.”

Look at Cook is a nice site showing the potential to link spending data and budget consultation. Particularly effective is the clarity of the message about the amounts spent and where they go. It would be great to see approaches like this from the UK (know any good examples?).
Look at cook

Community Budgets
Back in the UK, Community Budgets have received a lot of attention recently. Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have a primer on Community Bugets.

“A Community Budget gives local public service partners the freedom to work together to redesign services around the needs of citizens, improving outcomes and reducing duplication and waste.”

DCLG also have a dedicated Community Budgets site, with weekly updates on progress and development in Community Budgets.
Community budgets

Placed-based budgeting
Also interesting is this piece on place-based budgeting from Office for Public Management (OPM) – discussing localism in budget setting, and the need for strong, transparent governance.

“The basic idea of place-based budgeting is that local government has the responsibility for making decisions about how best to deploy taxpayer money and public resources….local government will need to demonstrate good governance so taxpayers know that public resources are being used properly.”

Read more about place-based budgeting on the OPM blog.

Tips & tricks for involving the public in your budget-setting process
An online process is arguably the most cost-effective mechanism to involve people in budgets. It’s convenient and easy for the public to participate in an online process, and it matches the expectation that services will be delivered online.

For the staff who run the budget consultation an online process also has several benefits, including convenience of working with the data, which is already in an electronic format. Key metrics are also available on demand during the budgeting process.

Walsall Council and South Yorkshire Police Authority both found an online process with Budget Simulator to be highly effective for engaging a wider audience with the budget process.

Online, offline, or both?
Walsall Council identified that an online process got a much higher response rate than a previous paper survey. However, it’s worth maintaining an offline process based around a paper consultation document (or printable PDF), as this provides an additional means of participating.

A paper consultation document can be made available on request to people (saving the cost of mailing it to all households). It can also be used at events and roadshows.

Budget Simulator can be provided in an offline format which matches the format of the online process, providing additional rigour and minimising the costs of data entry from the offline version.

Make sure online processes are widely accessible
There are accessibility standards that must be complied with when running a public sector process online. Failing to comply with these standards is unfair to those who need the support that the standards provide. Failing to use an accessible process exposes an organisation to legal risk as it violates equalities legislation. Failing to be widely accessible also reduces the cost-effectiveness of an online process as it limits the number of people who can participate quickly and easily.

Budget Simulator has been built in compliance with web accessibility standards (see our Accessibility Policy), and is designed to be usable by a wide range of people including those with older computers/software, those who don’t have broadband, and those who have an impairment or disability. It’s also usable on smartphones (including iPhone and Android).

Maximise participation
We’ve been helping councils and government departments run budget consultations since 2005. Based on this experience we’ve put together a participation guide with 15 tried and tested ideas for promoting your budget consultation and encouraging people to take part.
Ways to promote your budget consultation: Twitter; mailing list. Links to PDF of 15 ways to promote your consutlation

Budget Simulator Case Studies
Greater Manchester Police Authority (GMPA) have recently completed a consultation using Budget Simulator to influence their new Policing budget in Greater Manchester for 2011/12. Read the case study.

Walsall Council recently extended their Budget Simulator license to allow local residents to have their say on spending priorities for the 2012/13 financial year. Find out more.

If you’d like a free demo of Budget Simulator, or just to discuss running budget consultations online, please call Ben or Gill on 0845 638 1848 or email gillian.crea@delib.co.uk

Brighton and Hove City Council use Budget Simulator as part of their wider budget consultation process

Brighton and Hove City Council are currently considering their budget proposal for the next two years and Budget Simulator is being used as a key indicator within this process.

With coverage on BBC News and planned consultation around the use of their Budget Simulator, Brighton and Hove City Council are consulting through the following methods:

1) An online Budget Simulator which currently has 657 completed responses with over 2700 people visiting the site.

2) Ensuring local residents know how to contact their local Councillors throughout the budget consultation coverage.

3) Live question and answer session with a Local Councillor following the option for residents to submit any questions to the Council using their live web casting page.

4) Opening the conversation through the use of Twitter.

Brighton and Hove City Council use Budget Simulator as part of a wider consultation process

This is just one example of how Budget Simulator can be used to supplement a wider budget consultation process.

For more information on Budget Simulator please contact Ben on 0845 680 0575