Tag Archives: citizen space

8 things we learnt from our Citizen Space and Dialogue user group, London 2017

We had a really fantastic and inspiring day at our London 2017 user group last week. For the second year running we were grateful to be hosted by The Department of Health (DH) in Whitehall. The room was full, with over 40 Delib customers, and we were treated to a really good variety of presentations.

Read on for my top takeaways from the day.

We heard from DH about what they have learnt about who they consult with, using insight from their Citizen Space, and BEIS about how Citizen Space has helped them to improve their internal processes with regard to preparing and publishing consultations with policy colleagues.

Network Rail talked about the approach they take to communicating with 15 million people per year, and we heard from Camden Council about their upcoming consultation using Dialogue to start a two-way conversation with residents about the future of the borough.

West Sussex Council talked about how they use Citizen Space for more than just public consultations, and how this has saved them money, and time.

In amongst that:

  • Michelle from The Democratic Society talked about some examples of consultation best practice from around the world.
  • Andy from Delib gave an overview of product updates in 2017, including the fact that Citizen Space usage continues to grow and that growth is speeding up – there are now upwards of 11,400 consultations published to our Citizen Space Aggregator.
  • Louise from Delib shared examples of some of the many really interesting and high profile consultations that have been published on Citizen Space in the last 12 months.

Here are eight things we heard from customers on the day that we think could be useful for others:

  • Citizen Space can help organisations to understand who they are consulting with, (and therefore who they are not consulting with). This insight can help to demonstrate to others where targeted communication needs to happen, to maximise responses from those whose voices need to be heard.
  • Target your communications, but then be sure to sustain those communications throughout the period of the consultation, rather than just at the outset. This will increase the likelihood of yielding higher response rates.
  • Because Citizen Space enables analysis straight away and while the consultation is still open, it is possible to see where the gaps are and target communications dynamically.
  • Making use of as much imagery as possible (maps, charts, pictures etc) will make consultations much more accessible and inviting. We all know this, but it can sometimes be easy to miss out, if there is a tight deadline, or if image copyright is difficult to get around.
  • Be creative with the tools that you already have – we heard from West Sussex about how they are using Citizen Space for things other than consultation, such as application forms, library competitions etc. Our customer described this as ‘being naughty’ but we fully support it!
  • It can sometimes feel like a risk to give people the opportunity and responsibility to have their say but, more often than not, participants will rise to that challenge and respond positively – wise words from Shane at Camden. We couldn’t agree more!
  • Genuine buy-in at a high level can really help to enable more open engagement. For members of staff who might feel nervous about opening discussion up with the public, it can really help to have express senior permission.
  • If you enable the public to ask questions openly, you can then provide the answers openly, which saves time for all involved – why answer the same question privately over and over again?

And finally, from my perspective, having that many customers in one room, sharing their own learning and experiences with each other was really wonderful, and like I said at the start, very inspiring.

So, all in all, a great day. We’re already making plans for next year’s user groups, and for those of you in that part of the world, our Canberra user group is coming up – on Thursday 26th October.

Have a look at the Delib twitter feed for our real-time take on the day.

‘Digital democracy in practice’ – seminar/Q&A with Exeter University students

One of the best parts of my role as an account manager is to get out of the office and spread the word about digital democracy. Last week, I was fortunate enough to return to my old stomping ground – Exeter University, in south west England – and give a talk to third year politics students. (The third year module on ‘civic engagement’ makes reference to online tools generally and Delib specifically.)  It was a real delight to be there for the afternoon. I just wish the module had existed when I was at uni!

Whilst writing my presentation on ‘digital democracy in practice’, I was also able to reflect back on the changes in online consultation and digital in government from 2011 to now. I chose the end of 2010/start of 2011 as a starting point, as this is when Martha Lane Fox’s influential report on the revolution not evolution of directgov came out – a report which marked a bit of a sea change and the beginnings of gov.uk. This was also a useful reflection point for me as I started working at Delib a few months later!

One of the key changes I have seen since 2011 is a shift from one-off ‘singular (project-based) democracy’ which costs government thousands of pounds in websites/one-off builds towards more ‘continuous democracy’ in 2017.  Government departments can now consult more regularly using low cost online tools. The result: more cost-effective solutions for citizens and improved transparency.

The second key shift I have witnessed is a more deep-rooted cultural change in working practices. Government departments are increasingly adopting more agile, lean and collaborative ways of working. Scenes that you see posted on gov.uk’s blog simply wouldn’t have existed in 2010.

Source: gds.blog.gov.uk

During the session, we reviewed some of the key grounding principles, focusing on the Gunning and consultation principles before applying these to real customer examples and teasing out some of the key challenges government departments face. I then opened up the session to questions. Here’s a flavour of the topics which came up from the students and an idea of how I answered them:

+ How does digital democracy help open up the conversation beyond ‘the usual suspects?’

Digital democracy can help open up the conversation to a broader range of participants by providing a different medium through which to conduct those conversations. Customers have indicated that using digital tools has enabled them to reach a broader audience group, which is fantastic. That said, if you are consulting a niche group on a specific topic, you may find that some of the ‘usual suspects’ still turn up, but who’s to say that they will be the only ones there contributing to the discussion?

+ How can social media help these conversations and government departments in 2017?

Social media can both promote and dilute the conversation you are hoping to have in my experience. If you start a conversation on one social media platform or digital engagement tool and it spreads across other platforms, sometimes the conversation can become disparate. It may also become difficult to analyse if there is no obvious flow or output from the discussions taking place.  When used well, however, social media can be a great opportunity to get into spaces where these conversations are already happening or to open up participation to individuals interested people/groups.

In order to use social media effectively, civil servants need to be equipped with the right community management skills. Luckily, there are an increasing number of short, free courses opening up such as this one from Future Learn on using data from social media platforms to understand public conversations. I’m hoping to check the course out to help with the guidance we give our customers.

+ Are these methods inclusive or do they often exclude certain generations?

This topic also came up at a conference I recently attended called NotWestminster as we were working with a case study which featured retired users. It was interesting how quickly some of the group jumped to assumptions. I wouldn’t say that digital democracy excludes certain generations and the idea that the older generation not necessarily having strong digital skills isn’t always true. Often the blocker is confidence in digital which isn’t necessarily age-based. Where there are gaps (sometimes referred to as ‘the digital divide’), the UK government often looks to address them – for example, via setting up departments within GDS, such as the assisted digital team.

+ Do you find that government departments look at the cost-benefit analysis of running online consultation?

Some government departments that we work with are starting to drill into more of the details and nuances in this area, which is great to see. For example, we heard from BEIS at our 2016 London user group about working with statistics and conversion rates from gov.uk (they got from a 3% conversion rate to an impressive 25% by studying what worked well). BEIS are really hot on their analytics at the moment and I’m excited to see what they are going to do next.

+ Do you have plans to expand outside of English speaking territories?

Our current goal is to continue our expansion within English speaking territories. But it would be great to work in more countries around the world one day! Our main blocker to this is being able to translate all 3 applications (though it is something we’re looking at). Government structures are fairly similar in the countries where we work at the moment, but expanding to new countries always means learning more about the particularities of their context.

+ Where’s next for deliberative discussion?

So what will the next 5+ years hold? Well, the biggest challenges I see are around standardisation and sharing of best practice. This is perhaps not new or unique to online consultation but does hold one of the biggest opportunities in my opinion. Jodie Lamb, a Communication and Stakeholder Engagement professional recently posted about what she had learnt whilst working in New Zealand. Sharing best practice or having ‘hands across the ocean’ is key. If something has already been trialled in the UK and failed, then let’s ensure that digital teams in Australia and NZ learn from this. There are also some really exciting projects and learning opportunities coming out from countries like Iceland, Brazil and Estonia. Sharing best practice is key.

The future of government and effective online consultation lies in the hands of the next generation of digital leaders. Learning that modules like this one on civic engagement exist is really exciting. I’m hoping that this talk will pave the way to other opportunities to talk to young digital leaders in the future.

How our Citizen Space customers are consulting with cyclists

Thanks to our Citizen Space Aggregator, it’s possible to quickly identify who our Citizen Space customers are consulting with and on what topics. Among the many audiences our customers are increasingly seeking views from are cyclists.  Here’s a quick round-up of some of the ways they’re going about it:

Using illustrative visuals

Transport for London (TfL) are currently consulting on further improvements to lorry safety in London: a consultation which includes some excellent illustrative visuals. These images clearly depict the differences being proposed (namely, having lorries operating in London that are fitted with vision panels in passenger side doors for improved visibility of cyclists).

4 Lorry interior with panel_colour
Source: TfL ‘Further improving lorry safety in London’ consultation


Embedding videos explaining schemes

The London Borough of Enfield are using their Citizen Space instance to consult with residents on the fourth scheme of their ‘Cycle Enfield’ project, for which they recently secured £30m of funding from Transport for London. This funding is proposed to be used for new cycle routes, improving the use of existing routes, developing green ways, secure bike parking  and investing in local projects. All these proposals are clearly explained in the introductory video on the consultation overview page which respondents can watch before completing the consultation.

Consulting on strategic issues: new super routes

Camden Council are consulting on ‘Brunswick Square Walking and Cycling Improvements‘, a project which which aims to capitalise on proposals from nearby schemes which have identified Brunswick Square as an important intersection of east-west and north-south cycle movements. In order to clearly present the proposed changes, Camden Council have included side-by-side images of both current and future state for the square. This helps respondents re-imagine how cycling can become a key part of improvements.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.49.27

Running staged local consultations and associated events

Southwark Council are currently consulting on improvements to a number of quiet ways: a network of bike routes for less confident cyclists using mainly low-traffic back streets. The council are consulting 6 different areas of the borough in total; including running 4 different consultations concurrently. One of these examples is the ‘Elephant and Castle to Crystal Palace Quietway (QW7) Turney Road‘. In order to provide cyclists with the opportunity to comment, Southwark have also included a number of associated events which are running on a weekly basis in nearby schools and town halls. Both the events and associated consultations are linked from the consultation hub page:

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Transport for London are also holding a number of public events as part of their consultation on the new East-West cycle super highway from Paddington to Acton. Again these events are clearly displayed on the consultation home page.

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Use tables to detail proposed changes

Edinburgh City Council used tables on the consultation overview page of their ‘Roseburn to Leith walk cycle link and street improvements consultation‘ to present proposed changes in a clear format to respondents. By breaking down the changes by geographical area, cyclists can quickly see which changes apply to them.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.40.58

Consulting on ‘hyper-local’ issues: bike hangars

A small handful of our customers have also been consulting on ‘bike hangars’ recently: an example of ‘hyper-local’ consultation. For instance, both Camden Council and Southwark Council are consulting on where bike-hangars should be installed. Using images of how the bike hangars will look helps residents consider how they’d feel about them being installed in their own neighbourhood.

2014 09 17 LB Southwark - Hayles St - Bikehangar Installation -1- -2- blurred
Source: London Borough of Southwark

Lots of the examples above provide ideas for how to make the most of the consultation overview page. Here’s a handful of top tips for optimising your own cycling surveys:

Have you seen any great examples of methods to consult with cyclists online which we haven’t included above? We’re always interested in seeing how our customers are making the most of the tools at their disposal!

 

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 12.27.33

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.

5 things I learnt from AU/NZ about online consultation & digital services in government

Australia, New Zealand and the UK are often considered among the world leaders when it comes to digital government/online public involvement. Having recently returned from a secondment to Australia and New Zealand, I wanted to reflect back on what we in the UK can learn from these markets and our customers there.

To set the scene quickly: let’s remind ourselves how far digital in government has progressed in all three countries. With digital increasingly recognised as a ‘given’ (even declared a basic human right in a recent UN report), all three countries have been taking online developments seriously in government – perhaps especially over the past 5 or 6 years:

Each of these countries are striving to make rapid advances in online government in their own different contexts. So what can the UK/what did I learn from Australia and New Zealand about digital government and online consultation? Here are 5 things that stuck with me from my trip:

  1. Make consultations even more informative
    One thing that struck me, even during my first week in Australia, was how genuinely informative our customers there make some of their formal consultations. The WA Health cancer care consultation, for example, which was showcased during our first Australian user group in Perth, uses infographics and a user-friendly layout throughout the consultation – so taking part is a real opportunity for respondents to learn about the issues as well as to give their feedback.
  2. Become more familiar with APIs and what they can do
    Our New Zealand customers have been some of the first to embrace full use of our Citizen Space API: an incredibly useful and flexible tool but one that’s not always well-known or well-understood. However, I found it possible to walk into meetings in Australia and New Zealand and for there to be an assumed understanding about APIs and their potential – demonstrating a level of technical awareness that’s great to see.
  3. Develop more of a culture of ‘doing first’
    In New Zealand in particular, I was struck by government employees’ appetite to ‘get stuck in’ and make things happen. That’s not to say there was no planning or strategy, which obviously are hugely valuable too. But I think sometimes in the UK we can err on the side of cautious preparation a little too much, and could do with ‘just launching in’ sometimes. The civil servants I met in Wellington were also incredibly pragmatic in their approach, often working on an iterative basis: ‘doing’ first and then quickly working out how to make improvements.
  4. Keep taking privacy and data security seriously
    I found lots of organisations in Australia are pretty stringent on protocol – which certainly has its benefits when it comes to security. In my training sessions there, people were already very aware of things like good practice for strong passwords – and instinctively tended towards general ‘safety-first’ behaviour, even if it was less convenient or not strictly necessary. This is no bad thing.
  5. Sometimes, being a bit more direct is a good thing
    One of the things I noticed whilst walking around Wellington were posters focusing on the conversation about improving the New Zealand family violence law: a campaign closely linked to a consultation which was recently run on their Citizen Space instance. The Australian government also led the way with the implementation of plain tobacco packaging, again taking a very direct tone and outreach strategy on the issue. Whilst the UK tendency might be towards more circumspect communications (perhaps to avoid being accused of taking a particular position), I certainly think there are times when a pretty bold, direct approach is a helpful way to drive public participation.

One of the key benefits of working for an international company like Delib with offices and customers around the world is that we can each learn new techniques or insights into how different countries operate their online involvement work. Often, we’ll look at our Citizen Space aggregator and find that two departments on opposite sides of the worlds are consulting on a similar issue. Things like this can provide fantastic opportunities to link up and share best practice, ideas and lessons learnt. Hopefully, that will only accelerate improvements to online interactions between citizens and government right around the world.

Introducing ENTSO-E: Delib’s first mainland European customer

ENTSO-E is the European Network of Transmission System Operators. They’re based in Brussels and also happen to be our first mainland European customer to use Citizen Space.

I hadn’t really gained an appreciation of the scale the organisation works at and the varied geographical levels they need to consult on until I recently spent a couple of days in Brussels running my first European training session. Representing a total of 41 electricity transmission system operators (TSOs) from 34 countries across Europe, ENTSO-E is tasked with implementing the long-term transition from national oriented electricity markets and technical systems towards an integrated European view.

Due to the technical nature of ENTSO-E tasks, their consultations have been primarily oriented towards close stakeholders since they were created in 2009. However, as ENTSO-E is growing and gaining experience, they aim to use Citizen Space as a part of their strategy to open up their activities beyond this historical group. They want to provider an easier way for other groups such as environmental or citizen organisations, and for European citizens, to directly comment on their activities.

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 12.35.33
The organisation had an existing consultation process but it was fragmented across different systems and there was plenty of room for improvement. They chose Citizen Space to bring all of their consultation activity into one easy-to-manage system.

Previously, ENTSO-E had been using a cumbersome approach of SharePoint coupled with an Excel spreadsheet. As well as being difficult to administer, this process also often resulted in stakeholders sending an email through with their consultation response – making the submissions difficult to analyse. By adopting Citizen Space, they can now create, promote and analyse consultations all in the same system. This massively reduces the administration overhead and simplifies the work involved in running these large scale consultations. It also means users get the benefit of a far more intuitive, attractive way to submit their response, and all submissions feed into a single, centralised data set.

ENTSO-E also have the challenge of needing to consult on large documents. Citizen Space helps meet this need, as large documents can be broken down per-chapter and added into Citizen Space via the tool’s document reader. The opportunity for consultees to leave a free-text response enables them to comment on existing proposals alongside suggesting alternatives, creating an informed response.

The organisation will primarily be looking to use their Citizen Space instance to consult on all stages of the drafting process of major work products, which have significant impact on pan-European energy transmission.

One of the major consultations which ENTSO-E will be conducting each year is the European Ten Year Development Plan (TYNDP). This document lists and prioritizes which new high voltage electricity lines (over head or submarine) are needed between European countries to allow renewable electricity to flow across Europe at a minimum cost for consumers. It is a key element of the European decarbonisation strategy. The 2015 consultation on the 2016 plan was recently opened for consultation, running an online survey as well as promoting associated consultation events.

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As part of the consultation process, ENTSO-E are also asking respondents for feedback on their new approach at the end of their first consultations. This helps to ensure that their whole consultation process is being continually improved upon.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 12.40.30We welcome ENTSO-E to the Citizen Space family and look forward to seeing how they chose to use Citizen Space.

Turning a detailed document into a beautiful online survey

We know how it is. Someone has lovingly created a multi-page document, stuffed to the brim with tasty images, maps, tables, graphs and paragraphs of well-researched contextual information. The document looks great, it probably even smells great, and now you need to somehow translate that opus into an online consultation so you can ask your respondents questions about it – where to start?

It can be done, let’s scenario it out:

The easy way that’s not so ideal for respondents

I need people to answer questions on my document, so I’ve attached it as a PDF to the overview page of my consultation and the questions about it are in the online survey

OK, this is fine I guess as you’re consulting online (presumably as well as offering people the option to respond in other ways too *nudge nudge*) and you’re giving people all the information they need. However this method means that they have to keep toggling back and forth between your survey questions and the document itself, as well as having to dig around for the page of the document that’s relevant to the questions.

It may be worth asking: Is this the most accessible the survey could be? Do your respondents really need to read the whole document upfront to respond?

The next level up

I’ve attached the whole document as a PDF to the overview page of my consultation, but I’ve also broken the document down into chapters and embedded these as PDFs throughout my survey, with the corresponding questions beneath.”

Nice work! Not only is the document provided in full for those who wish to download it to have a good read, but it’s also been broken down into manageable sections right above the relevant questions. Nobody has their time wasted, barriers to entry are reduced and proper contextual information is given throughout the survey to gather quality answers to your questions. The final win is that your document looks exactly as it did when it lived in your ‘Documents’ folder.

How do I achieve this?

Use the PDF document embedder to add the sections of your document to the intro of each page in the survey, you can then build in corresponding questions below the information as you would normally.

Going the extra mile

“I’ve taken the information and content from my document and embedded it directly within the online survey instead of having standalone documents for respondents to scroll through.”

You’re on a roll! Maximising the publishing tools available can really turn your document into an easy-to-read online survey without the need for standalone documents to scroll through. This is very clear and makes it as easy as possible for your respondents to give you their views.

How to do it:

A picture highlighting the "Additional Information" answer component options in the online survey settings

Additional text and fact banks

These can be chosen as answer components and allow you to add contextual information, guidance, images, videos, tables, and PDFs within question sections and it helps you to layer answer components. If you ever think to yourself “it’d be great if I could add an image in to this question” or “I could really do with adding in more of an explanation here (within the question area)” then this is the component for you. If you’re planning to copy and paste from an existing Word document, then make sure to use the paste from Word button.

Fact banks are collapsible, which is what differentiates them from the additional text option. This offers your respondent a choice on viewing this extra information, e.g. if they are an expert in the policy area they may not need any more context, whereas others might.

Animated Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) demonstrating how a fact bank is collapsible

A whole world of rich content is now available so you can make your questions and pages as engaging and immersive as possible.

Image depicting the different forms of rich media and answer component that can be incorporated into a question to aid the respondent
Image taken from http://www.businessinteriors.co.uk

 

By using the tools above you’ll be well on your way to a beautiful online survey which does justice to all the hard work put in crafting the contextual information and the questions. Importantly, you’ve put time and effort into creating something interesting and easy to complete for your audience, which we hope will result in quality responses. For more detailed instructions on any of the above elements, have a gander at this useful support article on the topic.

That’s all for now folks, until next time!

 


 

Eric – secondee from the Civil Service Fast Stream

A people’s plan to fight cancer

We’re always excited to see the public bodies we work with here at Delib taking steps to engage people in more and more interesting ways, and to share examples of when they do it really well.

This week will see the end of a consultation by the Western Australia Department of Health on the future of cancer control in the state. It’s really well-designed, interesting and informative – exactly the kind of thing we like to see our customers doing!

The consultation opens with a video introduction from the state’s Chief Health Officer, Tarun Weeramanthri, presenting the project’s key goals – to get some genuine public input into the Department’s report on cancer, and for that input to be based on people’s own interpretation of the data and assessment of the choices that need to be made.

Screenshot 2015-03-23 16.50.57

This is a great way to start. Having a senior official take ownership of the consultation immediately gives it a personal feel, and helps respondents connect with the organisation. It also clearly spells out to people why they should respond and what their responses will be used for.

That data is presented in an easily accessible and engaging way, using infographics, embedded videos of interviews with cancer experts, and other media.

Screenshot 2015-02-13 17.25.00

It’s great how WA Health have taken the opportunity not just to ask the public’s opinion, but to provide some really interesting content within the consultation – meaning most people will come out of the consultation knowing more than when they went in (at least I did).

The interviews with experts, infographics and external links are all interesting, easy to understand and helpful. The comparison of cancer survival rates between Australia and other OECD countries was particularly interesting (spoiler alert: The UK doesn’t come off well…)

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The survey also focuses the respondents on the choices that the state and everyone in it have to make when confronting an issue like cancer. Questions like whether alcohol or unhealthy food should be made more expensive can trigger immediate responses, often connected to emotions and political alignment. That’s why the consultation does a great job of demonstrating, based on that reducing cancer rates means having to make difficult choices on these issues.

You can check out the consultation here – and we’d thoroughly recommend doing so, even if you’re a long way from Western Australia!

 

 

Delib Product Development Process

Here at Delib we are pretty happy that our products help make it easier for government to engage with citizens in decision making. We work hard to make these apps as good as they can be. Every once in a while we get suggestions from our customers on how we can make things even better.

Do you actually do anything with these suggestions?

The resounding answer to this is yes! When your account manager thanks you for the feedback it’s not just lip service. Your suggestion is included in our product forum where the account managers, developers and MD discuss how we can improve our apps. Product features we can crack on with are then considered for inclusion in upcoming releases.

Why can’t you quickly make changes to the apps if it is obviously a good idea?

Making changes to the apps isn’t something we do on the fly as any change will affect all our users. We investigate, test and discuss suggestions to make sure that an idea which makes a lot of sense on the surface works well in practice. We also look at the change from a customer perspective to make sure it improves user experience.

How long do suggestions take to develop?

We have a nicely structured calendar of two and four week development cycles, plus a bunch of feature-focused product updates each year.

There is no golden rule on how long developments take as each one is different. Development timeframes are entirely dependent on what the change is and making sure that the change works as well as we need it to. The questions we ask ourselves are: Is this good enough? Will this make everyone happy? Is it clear how it works? If the answer to all of these is ‘yes’ then, provided all else is good, we will ship it out.

We work on all three of our applications, so development cycles are also shared between the products – we may be focusing on Citizen Space one month and Dialogue App or Budget Simulator the next.

How do you prioritise these improvements?

The first priority is fixing bugs.  No software is free of defects and we want to keep ours as healthy as possible.  The second one on the list is fixing issues that aren’t bugs but will improve usability for customers. This helps to minimise support requests and let you guys, our lovely customers, get on with using the apps!  The third priority is scheduled items that are customer co-funded. The final developments we look at are improvements we want to invest in to make the product better.

What we call ‘housekeeping’ or upgrading the internal aspects of the software is kept separate to developing new features.  The reason for this is the two are quite different beasts and need to be focused on independently.

What are some examples of developments?

Developments can include:

  • improving the technical architecture of the system (for example, to improve performance)
  • improving user experience / usability of existing features
  • making more of the application’s behaviour customisable by admin users
  • features which add new capabilities to Citizen Space

Sometimes we have to make changes to the underlying infrastructure around our apps and this kind of work also gets built into our development process – a recent example of this was moving Citizen Space sites to a new hosting environment.

How we release new features

To release a new feature we run a formal QA process internally which tests for things like data integrity, cross-browser compatibility and accessibility. We test improvements and new features with our account managers and other staff to make sure we are considering the change from a customer perspective.

While this means that the total time to get features into the hands of customers can occasionally be quite long, it ensures that the quality is high, and we don’t drop nasty surprises on our users.

Who are these people that are beavering away behind the scenes?

We have a team of four developers – Alan, Richard, Tom and Jess (who is currently on maternity leave). They built our applications from scratch and if you ever want to be surprised about how much one person can know, come to our offices and chat to our devs.

We have two QA specialists – Hamish and Stan, who thoroughly check every angle of the development work being done, notice and care about the small things and keep us on the straight and narrow.

Our developer and QA teams also work on the other necessary technical aspects of our business, such as responding to some of the trickier support queries, doing day to day work for customers and all of the system administration and security work that comes as part and parcel of being a software company.

We hope that explains how we do things here and why, and if you’ve ever any questions you can find us on support@delib.net or by going straight to your account manager.