Tag Archives: online engagement

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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 16.02.26

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.

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 

Citizen Space in 2012

We continually update and improve our Citizen Space consultation software, issuing (nearly) monthly releases. This year we’ve added a load of new features and enhancements that our current and future customers will benefit from.

Here’s a round-up of the really big and shiny new features we’ve implemented in 2012:

Private consultations
You can now make a consultation private so it does not show up on the public consultation hub or in search results. This is particularly beneficial if you want to run internal consultations, such as staff surveys. You can learn more by reading this article about private consultations.

Respondent mailing lists
Respondents may opt-in to a mailing list once they have completed a survey. This can be enabled on a per-consultation basis to ensure that it is only used on relevant consultations.

The text above the email opt-in option may be edited by the administrator to ensure that respondents will know how their email address will be used. Learn more by reading this article about keeping in touch with your respondents.

Citizen Space mailing list settingsThe mailing list can be used with email marketing packages such as MailChimp. It is also possible to view the number of email signups at any stage of the consultation on the dashboard without downloading the list.

Graphical PDF summary reports
A PDF summary report can be created from all online surveys to help you track the progress of an open consultation or to provide a summary report of the outcomes of a closed consultation. The report features charts which provide a graphical representation of the data.

For questions where respondents can select only one answer, such as radio buttons or a drop down, a pie chart is displayed:

Example of Automated Pie ChartsFor questions where respondents can select more than one answer, such as checkboxes, a bar chart is displayed:

Example of automated Bar charts

API (Application Programming Interface)
We developed an API to enable Citizen Space to allow third-party developers to bring citizen space content (consultations and search results) into their own websites. Please read more in this article about our Citizen Space API.

We’ve also made dozens of improvements to Citizen Space, including:

  • Overall improved user experience with visual and text enhancements
  • Editable static pages (Cookie Policy, Privacy Policy, Terms of Use etc.)
  • A progress indicator on each page of our surveys
  • The ability to export filtered responses
  • Notification emails when a new consultation is set up
  • JSON support to API search results and the consultation aggregator, which benefits developers by offering an additional format when integrating results from Citizen Space into other websites or apps
  • …we could go on and on!

We’ve got super exciting features in the pipeline! Here is just a taster of some of the features in store for 2013:

Online survey answer mapping
Answer mapping allows respondents to give their views by placing markers in a grid on a map in order to indicate where they would like housing, shops, parks, etc. This could be used for a wide range of small or large scale planning consultations.

Camden pioneers new map question type

We are currently developing this feature with Camden Council and will pioneer this with a small number of further customers in early 2013 before making it available to all.

Publishing of consultation responses
For consultations, it’s appropriate to publish who responded and the responses received. Response publishing is being pioneered with the Scottish Government, who used it for the Scottish Referendum consultation. This will be an especially useful feature for a planning team.

Add dates to consultations for events / activities
We are currently working on a system that allows dates to be added to consultations for events or activities. For example, details of public meetings can be added to a consultation and citizens will be able to add these events to calendar apps on their computer or mobile device. This feature is being pioneered with Wyong Shire Council.

Gantt chart to show consultation timings
When scheduling consultations, it can be useful to see what other consultations are scheduled around the same time. To aid this we’ve developed a Gantt chart view of consultations, which is also being pioneered with Wyong Shire Council.

Gantt chart feature in Citizen Space

We’re looking for one further customer to pioneer this feature at the start of 2013, and then we aim to release this to all customers in the first part of 2013.

If you would like to be a part of our pioneering program, please email us at info@delib.net.

Usability improvements
We will continually improve the style and ease of use of Citizen Space.

You can learn more about the features of Citizen Space by taking the product tour, viewing client case studies and reading the latest release announcement.

Evidence of Digital Democracy in Universities

Back in June I posted some ideas on how universities could embrace digital democracy. I argued that crowdsourcing dialogues and online consultations should be utilised to engage with students in order to improve levels of student satisfaction.

Some interesting Twitter discussions on the issue occurred recently from @ed_andersson, @NCCPE, @TimJHughes, @ben_fowkes and @Davidrowen which prompted me to find some practical examples of universities using digital democracy:

Student Union E-Petitions

University Student Unions are a democracy of sorts,with views of students represented by elected student union officers, yet there is little evidence of any democratic participation by students beyond voting in the elections.

University of Sheffield Student Union are one of the few to be trying to encouraging student activism and engagement beyond this by encouraging students to submit and sign online petitions. Any petition with 50 signatures will be added to the Student Union Council agenda and at 1,000 signatures the petition will become a referendum.

Digital democracy is ideal for politically engaging students as research has shown that whilst only 10% have acted politically offline, 30% of 15-24 year olds have engaged in an online political activity [1] (Thanks to @TimJHughes for sourcing the stats).

The Union also has a ‘You Said, We Did’ page showing what action was taken as a result of their engagement. This is a feature we implement as part of our Citizen Space and Dialogue App products, as informing stakeholders of changes as a result from an engagement activity helps to convey the benefits of public consultation.

Fruni – Promoting “Free Range” Universities

Hats off to @Davidrowen for pointing out this example. Fruni is a social enterprise from a former Bristol University student (@TomCorfield) that encourages students to sample the most inspirational lecturers in the university.

It’s currently being trialled at the University of Bristol and looks set to (hopefully) expand to other universities, provided they can gain the digital signatures of 100 students, staff and alumni. As it requires some form of activism to implement, it could also help promote a culture amongst students that encourages them to be more politically involved in their university.

Implementing Fruni on campus would not only enrich and broaden the university experience for the student, it could also encourage lecturers to improve their lectures by learning from those who the students have deemed “inspirational”.

Crowdfunding University Research

Innovocracy is a new initiative which facilitates crowdfunding of research projects at universities. The idea makes sense given that research budgets at universities have been slashed in recent years.

Whilst in beta, it’s currently supporting the crowdfunding of research projects from four American universities. You can view the the projects awaiting crowdfunding from the University of Rochester, Cornell University, Rochester Institute of Technology and Clarkson University.

Final Thoughts

One thing I’ve noticed whilst doing my research is that a growing number of universities provide courses on digital democracy (e.g. Tufts University, University of Washington – thanks to @NCCPE for finding these) but very little is being done to implement these techniques to engage students and the wider community.

Hopefully, by highlighting some interesting case studies and the supporting arguments promoting it, we can see some progression towards implenting digital democracy in our universities in the years to come 🙂


1. Gibson, R. K. et al. (2005) ‘Online Participation in the UK: Testing a ‘Contextualised’ Model of Internet Effects’, The British Journal of Politics & International Relations, pp.573-574

Thames Tunnel consultation enters its latest phase

Thames Water have recent launched the next stage in their Thames Tunnel online consultation. The two new surveys are running once again on Delib’s WordPress and Quick Consult-powered site.

The latest phase of the consultation is based on some of the key feedback from the second phase that ran from 4 November 2011 to 10 February 2012 (view the summary report from Phase 2). Specifically, the consultation aims to gain feedback from Londoners on proposed amendments to the plan in four specific sites: Barn Elms, Putney Embankment, Victoria Embankment and Albert Embankment.

In adding this phase, Thames Water are actively listening to and utilising the feedback from stakeholders who have participated in the consultation’s previous phases.

The consultation has again made use of the ‘Fact Bank’ feature in Quick Consult which has been used to embed a PDF outlining proposed amendments. This helps respondents to understand the specific nature of the consultation before submitting a response.

Screenshot of question on Barn Elms with a PDF embedded using the Fact Bank feature

Amendments are proposed for these 4 sites in new ‘Supplementary site information papers’ created in response to comments about the sites.

The latest phase of the online consultation is open until 5pm on 4 July 2012. If you live in London, click on the link to have your say!

How the public sector can use Pinterest

Pinterest is currently one of the most talked about social networks. It’s a virtual pinboard where users post images and videos that are found online that now has over 12 million users (source).

Here’s some ideas on how the public sector can use Pinterest:

Idea #1: Infographics

Infographics are great at sharing data in a user-friendly and aethetically pleasing way. Pinterest is a good platform to share infographics because of its emphasis on visuals.

There are a number of uses for infographics, such as graphing numeric or financial data or creating ‘word clouds’ from popular tags from an online consultation or keywords from a Twitter hashtag. We’ve also taken a hand at producing a number of infographics ourselves, such as our Government as a Platform infographic.

Making infographics now needs little to no technical knowledge with the rise of free infographic generators such as Visual.ly or the ‘word cloud’ generator Wordle. Although there are couple of things to bear in mind when creating infographics:

  • Obey the laws of statistics. Although online tools have simplified creating infographics this has meant many infographics have irrelevant or misinterpreted data, especially when trying to make causal inferences from multiple variables.

Rau Creativity posts a visual summary of the potential dangers:

  • Remember aesthetics. As Pinterest is driven primary by images (unlike Twitter), your infographic must have significant visual appeal to increase the likelihood of it being repinned (shared). One of the most commonly shared facts about the demographic of Pinterest users is that the majority are women. Whilst this is true, its worth noting that the majority of UK users of the site are male, emphasising the importance of ‘gender-neutral’ content (source).

Idea #2: Promotion of Engagement Activities and Campaigns

Since both pictures and videos can be ‘pinned’ on Pinterest, this makes it an effective way to publicise any visual content. This could be useful for public sector organisations who frequently run campaigns, such as the NHS. Currently, the Cumbria Partnership NHS Trust have a pinboard for its poster campaigns.

Pinterest could also be used to introduce and publicise an online engagement activity. For example, when the UK government used our Dialogue App to crowdsource ideas for future legislation, a series of videos were made by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in order to introduce the ‘Your Freedom’ dialogue and as the discussion moved on to its next stage.

As well as trying to promote using official channels, adding a Pinterest button to websites can encourage the ‘pinning’ of content. You should also try and optimise your site in order to facilitate ‘pinning’ through the use of ‘pinworthy’ visual content on each page.

Idea #3: “Crowdpinning”

Another nifty feature of Pinterest is allowing users to contribute to a specific board. The possibilities are effectively endless here but ultimately the ‘crowdpinning’ feature can effectively facilitate two-way communication and engagement with citizens and stakeholders. Although, it should be noted that the majority of engagement will be through ‘repins’ and ‘likes’ as only 0.5% of time on the site is spent commenting (source).

If you’ve got any more ideas on how Pinterest can be used by the public sector feel free to comment.