This week I was asked to write a blog on ‘Open Up’, the Digital Democracy Commission report – a great opportunity as the newbie here at Delib to learn about what is being proposed to improve digital technology in Parliament and how digital could help increase public engagement.
I found the report informative and relevant, not only for Parliament, but for citizens as well. It’s full of interesting video snippets and infographics on topics ranging from how Parliament works to what students are saying about political engagement with today’s youth.
Delib are big supporters of digital democracy – engaging both citizens and government. We were pretty excited to provide the Commission’s online survey, via Citizen Space, which helped them to engage with people on both sides of the government fence for the report. The Commission also held events and meetings, connecting with a wide range of people across the UK online and face to face.
What does it say?
There are 34 recommendations outlined in the Digital Democracy Commission report. The Summary condenses these in five key targets.
The first target is for the House of Commons to ensure that everyone can understand what it does by 2020. To me, that seems like a big ask but a good ask – something that needs to happen. Voting in the UK has decreased from 80% in the 1980s to 65% in 2010. The fact is, people won’t vote if they think their vote won’t matter. In order to believe that their vote does make a difference, citizens need to understand how things work, that government is relevant to them and that their voice will be heard. There is some stark demographic content within the report about who is likely to vote – this information identifies the citizens Parliament needs to focus on to drive engagement.
The second target is for Parliament to be fully interactive and digital by 2020, giving the public a way to get involved by asking ministers questions and also contribute to the law making process. This would be a great way for citizens to engage in relevant dialogue with MPs. A win all around that supports engagement by demonstrating to the public that their voice is wanted and heard.
Creating a new forum for public participation in the debating function in Westminster Hall is the recommendation of the third target. If the pilot is successful this could be rolled out to debates in the main House of Commons chamber. Giving people the opportunity to ask questions created some impact with the #AskPickles (the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) twitter session, which resulted in a law being changed.
The fourth target to secure online voting as an option for all voters by 2020 presents valid technical challenges; so far Estonia is the only country in the world to have permanent national online voting. However, with the right specialists working within the UK government the Commission is confident this can be achieved.
The final target is based around open data; it is proposed that by 2016 all published information and broadcast footage produced by Parliament should be freely available online in formats suitable for re-use. This includes the (edited) verbatim report, Hansard. Great concept, but it’s not enough just to have the information available. There is still the barrier of Parliamentary language – if comms aren’t written in plain English, getting people reading the actual content will be a tough nut to crack.
Making tomorrow’s democracy work
A key thing to all of this is how do you communicate these changes to the public and gain their buy-in? As we say at Delib – it takes two to do the democracy tango. Interaction between government and citizens needs to be improved for everyone to benefit.
As someone who supports more transparency in government, I am all for Parliament using digital technology to be more efficient and changing some of the age old traditions to get with the times. Not easy but necessary. If Parliament lags behind the digital world, the youth of today (otherwise known as the leaders of tomorrow) are going to be less and less engaged. And for citizens to get involved they need relevant discussion and confidence that their voice will be heard.
Over the past couple of months we’ve been focusing our development efforts on improving our hosting and associated product environment via an appropriately titled ‘production infrastructure sprint’.
Although this doesn’t sound as exciting as adding features to our products, it’s a vital part of Delib’s service to our customers, as it helps to ensure that we continue to meet our uptime and performance commitments. Here’s a little overview of what we’ve been up to.
What we’ve been doing
Up until recently we hosted all our customer instances on large multi-tenancy servers. ‘Multi-tenancy’ means that several Delib customer sites run side-by-side on the same machines, although all their data is stored in separate databases. These servers live in secure data centres, physically located in the same territory as the customers they serve. The data centres are responsible for providing Internet connectivity for the production servers.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been moving customers slowly and carefully in batches from our current hosting providers to new providers who can better meet our service and uptime requirements.
Why we’re changing our hosting infrastructure
The reasons for migrating to new hosting providers are threefold:
1. Improvements in availability
In the UK, we are moving all our hosting to Rackspace, the market leader in cloud hosting, which offers a 100% uptime guarantee. Since our uptime is necessarily bounded by that of our upstream providers, it’s important to use the best that we can get. We are researching the best providers in other territories, to ensure that we continue to meet and exceed our commitments for all our customers.
We use a server monitoring service that notifies our account managers and developers by text message whenever a customer’s instance is unavailable for any reason (even if it’s in the middle of the night) so we’re all keen to ensure that these improvements pay off as soon as possible!
2. More hosting options for customers
After migration, every Citizen Space and Budget Simulator instance will live on its own virtual machine. This allows us to offer different hosting packages for different usage patterns: we can now tailor the system specification (RAM, disk space, number of processors) to the requirements of the customer. Furthermore, large spikes in one customer’s traffic can no longer adversely affect the response times of other customers’ sites.
Dialogue App instances will continue to run on a multi-tenancy setup by default. However, customers with heavy usage requirements (eg large, heavily-publicised national dialogues), will have the option to host their Dialogue App instance on its own machine.
3. Consistent configurations and automation
As our number of customers grows, our developers have been spending more and more time engaged in administrative tasks such as rolling out new instances and upgrading existing customers. While this is vital to the business and to our customers, developers would much prefer to spend their time developing new features and fixing bugs in the products.
At the same time as moving customers to the new hosting infrastructure, we’ve been improving our suite of developer tools so that more of the day-to-day tasks can be done without developer intervention.
For our customers, this means that planned maintenance should soon be able to take place, as far as possible, outside working hours. It also means that developers will have more time to spend on improving our products, resulting in a better user experience for our customers and end users.
Find out more
If you are interested in finding out more about the improvements we are making please feel free to get in touch with either Louise or Rowena.
It’s been a beautiful sunny week, but that hasn’t stopped our customers from working hard at creating some fantastic consultations. From SoundCloud embeds to using EventBrite for events, our customers have been using Citizen Space in collaboration with lots of other tools this week. Here are just five of the consultations which have caught our eye:
The Scottish Government has used a Sound Cloud embed to record the full consultation in audio format. This is the first time we’ve seen used Sound Cloud used in collaboration with a consultation and we think it’s a great way of consulting with people who may struggle with reading large documents.
If you’re running public events alongside your consultation, it can be helpful to ask respondents to register using a tool like Eventbrite. This helps in gauging how to staff an event by giving an idea of the number of attendees expected, plus it keeps people more committed to the event by providing them with a ticket.
The BBC Trust is consulting on its Music Radio Consultation. The consultation is running for three months, and invites BBC radio listeners to express their views on the different stations. The BBC Trust is using custom question headers to match the survey questions with its corporate branding colours.
Defra’s combination of fact-banks and images are helping to seek views on regulations as part of the scheme. By using fact-banks to present the scheme administration details, respondents can view or hide information as and when needed.
That’s your lot for this week. Tell us if you have a consultation to shout about, it’s our favourite thing to do!
Policy officers are regularly on the move in central government. This presents a challenge for effective consultation, as their knowledge and skills travel with them. In order to begin sharing the skills for great consultations, Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) piloted their first workshop on ‘consultation procedures and principles’ with colleagues. What can other central government departments learn from running a session like this?
1) Establish your processes before the session and stick to them
Often, consultation processes can be improved ‘on the fly’, which is great for group input, but it can be confusing to have frameworks and guidelines ‘designed by committee’. A good idea is to have the current procedures used by your department fully documented and readily available. It’s useful to have a consultation lead, who can advise on queries and help clarify any uncertainties. As an example, during the Defra session, the current processes were included as handouts.
2) Don’t be afraid to use examples
Looking back at examples of what has gone well and badly can help colleagues learn how to consult effectively. During the session, one attendee cited an example of running a consultation for four weeks over the summer period – this was pulled before the House of Lords as it was felt four weeks wasn’t a long enough consultation period for the particular issue. Sharing this kind of information about potential hurdles could save colleagues from spending time and effort repeating mistakes.
3) Lay all of your tools on the table
Many departments have lots of ‘tools in their toolbox’, ranging from software applications to the personal skills of the team. Look at what you have at your disposal and combine these to produce the most effective consultation. A mixture of both on and offline tools can help you to reach a wider audience. During the session, it was decided that events such as ministerial road shows are part of your consultation toolkit and with the right planning can lead to great results.
4) Get a facilitator to help run the workshop and continually improve it
When you are close to an issue, it can sometimes be hard to run the session from an objective point of view. Getting an external company in can help you to present the bigger picture. Having run a variety of consultation training sessions, one of the most useful things is getting objective feedback and coming back with ideas for additions or tweaks to improve the day.
5) Ensure the next steps are clear
Once the session has finished, it’s important to ensure colleagues know where they can access help from then on. Get all your guidance, tips and tricks in one place – your organisation’s intranet is a good one. Then you need to let everyone know where it is and how to use it.
As policies increasingly span multiple departments, it would be great to see an increased sharing of best practice and acknowledgement of learnings and failures in consultation across government. In an ideal world, amassing a small army of consultation champions (perhaps as one part of a related role – social researcher, analyst, policy or digital lead?) who represent the key teams in their department and could then be linked up pan-governmentally to share ideas and best practice would be fantastic.
With that in mind, we’re putting together Citizen Space user group meetings so that our users can share best practice and stories amongst one another – if you’d like to know more about any coming up, please ask your friendly Delib account manager!
This throws something a little different into the consultation mix. Is it an approach that could be useful for others to learn from?
The exercise’s full title is ‘on proposals for long-term capital investment in science and research’. BIS are running the official consultation using Citizen Space (our online consultation tool) and it currently runs to 12 questions. Clearly, this is a fairly involved and complex discussion.
The challenge of complex consultations
As anyone who has consulted on a matter of expert interest will know, it’s not easy to engage a wider audience so they can make an informed response. The BIS consultation is faced with exactly this issue: they’ve endeavored to make the consultation document accessible and readable but it is, by nature, inevitably pretty technical. This could be where the Guardian live debate comes in: a more in-person exchange, chaired by an expert panel, potentially giving users another way into the material.
This example of combining a comprehensive online survey with a live debate highlights the importance of broadening out the conversation around and beyond the consultation itself. Although running a successful live discussion as part of a broader engagement exercise can have challenges of its own (there are several useful blogs on engaging your audience with live discussions), in the context of this BIS consultation there are some key benefits.
Some benefits of pre-consultation discussion
Using multiple channels in the same medium can grow the number of respondents. As the consultation is being conducted online, it’s smart to reach out to other sizeable online audiences (e.g. the Guardian online readership).
Timing is important (broadly). The consultation itself is already open so attendees can review the questions at hand before taking part in the discussion.
Timing is important (specifically). The Guardian are backing this with a live discussion over the lunchtime period (12-2pm) which will allow a broader range of attendees to take part.
Build momentum. In this case, BIS are successfully providing information in advance. For example, The Guardian are providing a series of blogs around the issues prior to the event.
We think that more citizens, better informed and more able to participate in decision-making, can only be a good thing. We hope that this effort from BIS and the Guardian science blog network really does get more people involved in this consultation and connect with the decision-making process.
Examining how software can compliment, aid and add value to existing processes is a keen interest of mine. Our customers often ask how Citizen Space can be used to aid their workflow, or can be set-up in such a way to help manage approval processes. It may sound a little geeky, but I love hearing about when Citizen Space has made an organisations’ life a little easier.
We are regularly asked how other organisations choose to adopt Citizen Space internally and, broadly speaking, there are two methods of adoption – the centralised model or a de-centralised way of working.
How Citizen Space can be used to compliment a de-centralised method of working
The whole idea of this method is that policy teams are closer to the issues being consulted on. They can analyse and use information garnered through consultation to help inform the policies they are currently working on. In short, respondents’ answers will come through to those who really know the issues at hand.
Using Citizen Space in a de-centralised manner in practice, essentially involves rolling out the system across the whole organisation. This means utilising the systems’ robust user structure to set-up site admins (normally one or two) who take control of the overall set-up and ‘lead’ on the app. Department admins can then ‘advocate’ and check consultation quality standards within their team, whilst working with individual admins to run consultations. The following features can be used to help manage such a method of working in practice:
Trial our pioneer features such as response publishing and events to build in robust processes around consultation. Events can be used in order to show a proposed calendar of up and coming consultations and let respondents know about all what’s happening in their area. Response publishing allows for completely transparent engagement, by enabling you to publish responses (with consent).
How Citizen Space can be used to compliment a centralised method of working
Set up one or two site admins who have control over all consultations. This approach helps ensure there is an organisational overview of all consultation activity.
All consultations are built by one or two individuals within a small team who know the system the best, the aim here is to maintain a consistent quality approach.
Calendars can be closely managed, reducing the risk of survey fatigue to the public. Consultations can be created and templated by this central team before being copied across between departments using our newly released survey cloning feature.
Reporting on outcomes can be fully standardised and sent for action within the appropriate team.
Transport for London build their Citizen Space consultations within a core team and these are signed off by two key users who have established a consultation centre of excellence. Rochdale Borough Council also centrally manage their Citizen Space instance within their research team, meaning their analysis experts are part of the survey build, as well as assessing the consultation outcomes.
Choosing which method works for you, or indeed benefiting from both models of working, will of course depend on how your organisation is structured and what suits the skills within it. There certainly isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach here and many of our customers benefit from a mixture of both methods, adapting these as their use of Citizen Space evolves. Our aim is for all of our customers to become ‘consultation centres of excellence’, so if you would like to discuss these methods of working or other ways we can help you, please contact your account manager as we’d love to chat.
Forestry Commission England has successfully used its Dialogue App to consult with stakeholders on a diverse range of topics. Here we look at the discussion held about Friston Forest to gather ideas and comments about the way bike trails are accommodated within the forest. Here are some top tips from the Friston team’s experience;
Keep the information online and in one place
Before using Dialogue App, Forestry Commission England would promote consultations via a poster and email address, with drop-in sessions being held for any significant consultations. Being able to move this process online has enabled Forestry Commission England to create a single information source which can be boxed off and heralded as a primarily web-based activity. Furthermore, the discussion – including most importantly the key outcomes- can be accessed and referenced by any stakeholder, as and when needed.
Establish a process and promote it
In terms of promotion, stakeholders were directed to a single overview page on Forestry Commission England’s main site, with all key content for the discussion and the consultation process held on this page; http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fristonforest. Additional promotional materials, including posters and press service, were provided for key stakeholders to review prior to being published, ensuring they were consulted on the key text before going to print. Once up and running, the Friston Forest discussion team continually reviewed how the Dialogue App was being promoted, often considering what more they could be doing to further involvement.
To ensure the full consultation process was clear from the outset for key internal staff, the project team created a timeline for the discussions in the form of a Gantt chart. By running a discussion for a set 5 week period, key promotional activity and staff involvement could be planned for in advance.
Take moderation seriously
Moderation is a key part of any successful Dialogue App discussion. With clear content and expectations given to users from the beginning, the Friston Forest team only needed to act 3-4 times on inappropriate comments. In total, 43 ideas and 213 comments were contributed from 71 individual user accounts. In order to anticipate a higher volume of ideas flowing through, 5 of the team took it in turns to be the key moderator on the Dialogue App for a week each – all moderating under a consistent name on behalf of Forestry Commission England. Update meetings on a weekly basis gave moderators the chance to hand over to each other, ensuring they were moderating consistently.
Think about your outcomes and then shout about what you’ve achieved
As an organisation responsible for multiple sites and infrastructure across the country, Forestry Commission England are hoping to continue using their Dialogue App as a key consultation tool to help decide how to sustainably manage other sites. Key outcomes from these discussions can then be added to the discussion overview page to ensure stakeholders have a hub for discussion outcomes and feedback.
Share what you’ve learnt with colleagues running the next discussion
Working across two discussions enabled this lead to share key learnings for both teams. Both discussions had, for example, two key milestones – one in the middle and one at the end, with natural highs and lows in activity. Another key learning was to involve the policy officer (who would be in charge of implementing the decision) in the community moderation; this gives them the chance to comment and feed back directly on users’ ideas and comments in a manner which acknowledges them, and also identifies how they will be acted upon.
This morning the Delib team, in partnership with the Democratic Society had the pleasure of welcoming a number of local individuals to Delib HQ for a unique opportunity to discuss democracy in Bristol, share past projects and explore the potential for future partnership working.
While the group were able to ask questions and link to their experience, key attendees shared overviews of their background, favourite projects and goals for the future landscape of democracy in Bristol.
The group then discussed some of the key trends and challenges seen in the city over the last 18 months or so, with the view of identifying where networks could be bridged and new projects devised. Some key trends emerged from our discussions today;
Increasingly innovative engagement projects have been happening for years and successes should be shared
Sammy Payne from Knowle West Media Centre told us about the recent ‘Cardboard Living Room’ art exhibition, which explored innovative ways of collecting and representing data. The exhibit saw 100s of residents having fun engaging with local issues by interacting with 3D cardboard furniture connected to computers which logged their responses to survey questions. Paul Hassan from Ujima radio spoke about a recent project challenging local youth volunteers from Ujima to work in partnership with Bristol University and local politicians to curate a radio program. The project required volunteers to brush up on their knowledge of local politics and follow the mayoral election train whilst engaging their preconceptions and views around voting.
Citizens are no longer just consumers, they are also producers
With the rise of crowdfunding and pledge sites, it is perhaps more possible than ever to take an existing partnership or community group and realistically garner funding to get that project off the ground without any Government involvement. In Bristol for example, partly thanks to the site Spacehive, Bristol will be showcasing their first ‘park and slide‘ through the use of a giant waterslide through the center of town.
Cities like Bristol have the opportunity to strive ahead in their own right
As European Green Capital of the year 2015, Bristol is at the forefront of European activity. Bristol City Council who were also in attendance, recently worked in partnership with Bristol’s mayor George Ferguson to run the citys’ first ideas lab through their Dialogue App. If you would like to find out more, we’ve just published this awesome guide on how to run an effective Ideas Lab.
There is an opportunity to bridge networks, the challenge just remains how
There are still some key challenges to address, namely how each of these projects can be effectively linked up via the bridging of networks. It is also worth considering how such a varied skills base can be more effectively utilised collectively perhaps via the use of a skills bank for example. The opportunities available in the next few years have only just begun, needless to say these are exciting times ahead.
Many thanks to the Democratic Society for coming all the way from their native Brighton to attend and present at the event and for Ben, Lorna and Jayne for organising.
A few months ago we started a trend (admittedly not as popular as the #nomakeupselfie, but a trend nonetheless) in which, each Friday we’d list all of the excellent consultations that had made us do a little dance in the office. Now, it’s fair to say that we then got a bit busy and forgot that we’d started this trend, but we just remembered about it so…it’s back!
Kicking us off for spring are these three barnstorming consultations.
1. With some rather lovely images and maps is Transport for London and its consultation on Improving Elephant and Castle. The images used are not just there for effect, but tell the respondents something about the consultation they are about to complete – they add to the overall understanding of the proposals.
Pro tip: Make sure your image is useful for your respondents – does adding an image of a wine glass in a consultation about alcohol really add to the understanding of the topic?
2. The Delib UK office is in Bristol – a beautiful city, made more so by the amount of water flowing in and around it. Sadly, in the past few months that water has not been flowing in such a controlled manner, and we’re sure you have seen the media images on the recent flooding and damage in the Somerset levels and on the south coast.
Bristol City Council is running a consultation on its flooding strategy, which will by no means be the only one of its kind, but it’s a good one. They’ve made excellent use of a video and embedded documents to provide more information on an important topic.
3. Many people want to have their say on healthcare provision in their area. Stockport CCG is giving residents in Greater Manchester their chance to do this by combining with Healthier Together to consult on community-based care. It’s a great example of real engagement on healthcare.
Pro tip: If you run a consultation in partnership with another organisation you can add a custom logo to it. We’ve written an article on how to do this.
We’ll have even more to share with you by the end of this week, but if you have any suggestions or you have created a consultation you would like to tell us about then please get in touch.
For this next installment in our Digital Heroes series we have called upon the joint powers of Anne Tansley Thomas, Chris Williams and Cressida McLauglin – otherwise known as Norfolk County Council’s consultation dream team. We’ve worked with Norfolk for 3 years and are constantly impressed by the enthusiasm and innovation they bring to engaging with citizens in the area. Their interesting consultations are an almost endless source of blog material, so we thought we’d give them their very own post. Let’s hear from the team on who they are and what they do…
1. What’s your name and where are you from?
Anne – My name is Anne Tansley Thomas and, although originally from Suffolk, I have found myself now living in the Norfolk Broads, working in Norwich.
Chris – My name is Chris Williams. I grew up in Bognor Regis – as the mural at the train station used to say – ‘where the sun always shines’.
Cressy – My name is Cressida McLaughlin and, while originally from London, I’ve lived in Norwich for the last 13 years after doing my degree at UEA and then failing to go home again.
2. What do you do for a living?
Anne – I’m a Senior Consultation and Involvement Officer for Norfolk County Council.
Chris – Senior Consultation and Involvement Officer at Norfolk County Council.
Cressy –My day job is Information and Business Support Officer for the Consultation and Community Relations team (not a mouthful at all!).
3. Favourite band and/or artist?
Anne – This changes on an almost daily basis so I hate to commit, but this week I am mostly listening to Caravan, Cecile McLorin, Salvant, Max Raabe & the Palast Orchester and The End.
Chris –That is too hard! I’m instead going to tell you what I’ve been listening to this week – which would be the latest offerings from John Mayer (some great blues guitar and a cool cover of ‘Call Me The Breeze’), Jake Bugg (very enjoyable, but not as good as his debut) and the Arctic Monkeys (best album of 2013).
Cressy – I love all kinds of music and am always finding new favourites, but at the moment I love Daughter, Paper Aeroplanes and Lissie
4. Android or iPhone?
Anne – White iPhone with Siri switched to the Australian accent
Chris – The iPhone is definitely better – isn’t that a fact rather than an opinion?
Cressy – iPhone without a doubt! I’ve never even tried an android phone, but why would I want to when the iPhone is so amazing?
5. PC or Mac?
Anne – Either/neither – I’m more interested in people and building communities and I’m happy to use all the resources available to do that.
Chris – iPad – hardly use my PC at home and never used a Mac.
Cressy – Mac. I’ve bought into the whole Apple thing and, certainly at home, would never go back to a PC. I love all things Apple, and their products are slowly taking over our house. I do lots of writing on my Mac at home and love it for its ease and simplicity and how quick it is (and the lit keyboard, which is so pretty – though I’m sure is actually supposed to be useful!)
6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
Anne – Habitual thinker
Chris – I love the sound of being a maverick thinker, but whilst I have a creative side, I definitely also have my habits. You would have to ask my wife which are the bad ones though.
Cressy – In some respects I’m a creature of habit, and like to have certain things exactly the way I’ve planned. I’m quite organised and tidy, and so have to have my working space just right, but I’m also creative and use my imagination a lot, so hopefully I’m not too set in my ways.
7. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
Anne – As I live in a thatched cottage this is a very sensitive question. In fact it has made me feel extremely anxious and I can’t answer it without first double-checking my insurance policy…
Chris – I’m going to assume that my wife saves Huey, our border terrier pup, whilst I go and get my Martin guitar.
Cressy – My husband first, although it’s more likely that he would save me! After that it would be my laptop – not because I’m that wedded to my Mac – but because it has my books (and years of photos) on it. In my spare time I write novels and earlier this year was offered representation by an agent, taking me one step closer to my dream of being published. It would be a disaster to lose those and, while I’m always emailing the latest version to myself and have them on memory sticks, I’d want to save my computer too just to be sure!
8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
Anne – I like my food items dry, so please never offer me soup. I could possibly be tempted to dunk a biscotti in an Americano. I have also once dunked a ginger nut in a cup of rosehip tea.
Chris –I’m a biscuit purist – definitely unsullied.
Cressy – Leave unsullied. I always think that dunking will be nice, but then hate the soggy crumbs in the bottom of the tea or coffee. And I’d never think of dunking a bourbon or jammy dodger – anything with cream in should stay well away from hot drinks!
9. Best project you’ve worked on at Norfolk?
Anne – The next one! Anything new or bright or shiny.
Chris – An interesting project to work on was engaging with the local gypsy Roma community to establish their views on education. We had a number of face-to-face meetings and then followed this up with a consultation on Citizen Space for school staff.
I’ve also been involved in a project to get children and young people engaged in decision making.
Cressy – My role includes training and supporting people in other departments to write surveys and promote best practice. We’ve just finished creating an online learning course to help people across Norfolk CC to write better questionnaires and consultations. We commissioned an e-learning provider to help and should be able to start sending this out before Christmas.
10. You’re in the middle of your budget consultations – tell us what you’ve been doing differently?
Anne – Our starting point has been that people need to understand the budget. People need to be fully engaged, and the more we can do to educate people, the better.
We have essentially broken the budget consultation into two phases:
Phase 1 has been Informative – sharing the challenges the council faces.
Phase 2 has been Deliberative – the public making decisions and voicing their thoughts on that information.
We used Budget Simulator during this first phase to share the challenges and decisions we have to make, so that people have then been prepared to answer the full proposals in our Citizen Space consultation.
Chris – We’ve done some face-to-face Participatory Budgeting to increase budget literacy with residents. We set up a stand at the Norfolk Show and had people make pie charts with their thoughts on how much each council department spends.
Only 2 people got it almost right, but it started people talking about and understanding the figures involved.
Cressy – The budget consultation this year has been an opportunity to really test the system and put some cross-departmental processes in place.
Our team is putting the responses from all sources through Citizen Space – then these are analysed by a specialist team in our Policy department.
Chris – This is also the first year that we have set up a hashtag and let people respond via Twitter. Our report at the end of this will be on all responses gathered from Budget Simulator, Citizen Space, phone calls, letters, emails and tweets.
The other changes have been in our processes; we have adopted a Scrum Master (Anne) to manage our budget consultation through as a project
11. Where do you think Norfolk will be in 10 years in terms of public consultation/digital democracy?
Anne – The County Council will be smaller due to the changing nature of our relationship with communities. We are shortly to become the ‘Enabling Communities’ team and this reflects that shift. I think the future involves empowering communities by giving the tools to them and supporting them to further democracy. I think we’ll also see democracy on a bigger scale such as through Participatory Budgeting and the use of mobile technology.
Chris –We’ll see an expansion in digital democracy via different formats and means. For this budget consultation we have videos of our councillors delivering messages, and this kind of mix of media will only increase. I also expect to see more mobile use and gamification, with engagement exercises perhaps becoming shorter and more interactive.
Cressy – I’d agree with both Anne and Chris. The future looks community-based with the County Council providing the support and guidance to empower local people to run their own engagement. I think we’ll see more digital platforms being created and developed in the next 10 years that will play a big part in how we consult.
We’d like to say a big thanks to the team at Norfolk who gave up a lunchbreak and more to speak with us whilst in the depths of a major budget consultation. It’s interesting to see a council using Agile project management processes to progress and manage a budget consultation, as we use the same techniques for our software development. The real life stories that inspire public engagement, such as Chris’ project with the local Roma community, are the things that make our office very happy indeed.