Tag Archives: uk

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.

A few take home pointers from GovCamp 2013

GovCamp is an annual gathering of people who work within digital areas of government. GovCamp 2013 was just one day this year (as opposed to the usual two), but this didn’t hamper the buzzing atmosphere and high enthusiasm of the attendees. In a slightly different style to my review of GovCamp 2012 I’m taking an outcomes stance, identifying five key trends since 2012 and five challenges for the next year. These are by no means exhaustive but will hopefully capture some of the GovCamp goodness.

UK GovCamp 2013

Five examples of some continuing trends from last year

1) The continued move towards self service models
Self service (people using digital methods to find government and council information) isn’t a new idea, but the transition towards it and the conversations prompted by it present some interesting possibilities. By ensuring that end users can easily access the information needed is a key focus of the GOV.UK site. Age UK was also widely cited at GovCamp as a nice example of an organisation presenting users with varied and useful content.

2) Recognising the importance of digital inclusion and acting on it
Linked to point 1 is recognising the importance of ‘assisted digital’ (as mentioned in The Government Digital Strategy) which is becoming increasingly pertinent within the Digital by Default agenda. Charities and government organisations are working to improve digital literacy across the UK (as covered in our recent blog post on this topic) and this will continue to be an important consideration. Related to this will be ensuring that innovation takes place both within and outside of the digital realm in order for government to have the widest reach.

3) Utilising data available and opening this up for public use
The continued open data movement and use of data at the local level has opened the door to some exciting citizen-centric digital initiatives. Ranging from reporting fly-tipping online to gaining real-time police data, the possibilities seem endless. Some councils, like the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, have even launched apps to help people report community health and safety issues.

4) Working with young and up and coming digital talent
Getting digital on the agenda and on the minds of young people is increasingly important. At Delib, we’ve in past hosted young hackers for the day who managed to build a real-time bus app in a day. Organisations like Apps for Good are working to help young people see a future in digital careers. Young talent can bring a breath of fresh air to government digital initiatives, and it will be increasingly important to include them.

5) Continuing to recognise the importance of conversations and not broadcasts
It’s become clear that social media is about conversations with individuals and community groups and not broadcasting to the masses. Social media, used well can be a powerful tool for engagement as well as educating people about how government works.

Five continued challenges for 2013-14

1) The role of digital teams to enable and lead other departments
We need to escape the ‘I’m not technical, go ask X’ mentality and instead create strong digital teams that can assist and influence staff and other teams across government organisations.

2) Being able to show real value in digital under the Digital by Default agenda
Linked to the role of strong digital teams is the opportunity to evaluate digital as a tool for adding value. Measuring the ROI of digital initiatives, online engagement and social media usage is of critical importance. A fellow GovCamper said it best, that it’s about ‘being able to turn tweets into pounds’.

3) Ensuring digital has a social side and is customer focused
The key question we must ask when moving services online is ‘where is the customer?’ or as one attendee put it, we must ‘socialise the operation rather than operationalise the social’. People mustn’t go from a friendly voice on the phone to a cold and impersonal website. One GovCamper spoke about how user-centric the GOV.UK site is, and how refreshing this is. Let’s hope this drive continues.

4) Recognising and utilising existing communication channels
Whilst digital is exciting and by nature produces a wealth of new ways of working, we must remember that existing communication channels do exist, and still work. The old way is not always a bad way, and unnecessarily reinventing the wheel can be costly, both in time and money. This will be increasingly important with regards to my previous point about working with young talent who may not understand that existing practice is based on years of sound experience.

5) The opportunity for a change of thinking around deliverance
Deliverance around digital projects has traditionally focused on ‘what will I get?’ and ‘when will I get it?’. In a discussion around Agile development methods, the question around being able to measure deliverance against user testing was posed. One attendee pointed out that ‘currently you either deliver on time or you deliver all of the functionality – you can’t do both’. Government digital teams must improve on this in order to gain the best of all worlds.

Delib GovCampers (from L to R): Ben Fowkes, Rowena Farr and Karl Orsborn

GovCamp 2013 was awesome – just as I expected it to be! I’m already looking forward to next year, and being able to look back on how far we’ve come from now.


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!

Social Media in the Public Sector: Who’s Using it and How?

A couple of interesting stories caught my eye today relating to the use of social media in the public sector, which I thought I’d share:

How Local Authorities in England Are Using Social Media

Dean Spurrell from Ashford Borough Council has shared some interesting insight into how local authorities in England are using social media. In terms of uptake, 96% of the 78 local authorities he surveyed are currently using social media with the remaining few who aren’t planning to do so next year.

Although these are promising statistics, he argues there’s room for improvement in how the local authorities are actually using their social media accounts. Although the majority (two thirds) use it for a mix of one-way and two-way communications, 15% of local authorities were only using it for one-way communications and thus weren’t using their social media presence to fully engage with citizens.

It should come as no surprise that the most popular social media platforms used by the local authorities are Twitter (97.5%) and Facebook (93.2%) but it’s interesting to see that a majority are using YouTube (62.7%) and nearly half are on Flickr (47.5%). It will be interesting to see how many local authorities choose to expand their social media strategies to accommodate the recent exponential growth of Pinterest.

Read the post on the British Politics and Policy at LSE blog.

23 Examples of Good Social Media in the Public Sector

Over on Governing People, Dan Slee has put together 23 examples of where the public sector are using social media effectively. The majority of the examples are from the UK, including how Birmingham City Council are streaming their council meetings whilst encouraging comments and feedback on Twitter through the #bcclive hashtag.

The post also highlights some interesting examples of how new social media platforms are being utilised by the public sector in the US. The US Army has its own page on the new social network Pinterest which is now the third most popular social network in the US.

The team behind it have clearly done their research into what gets shared by users (the majority of whom are female) by providing a board for patriotic food items, DIY decor and women in the US army.

Another interesting example is how the new Facebook Timeline is being used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). They’ve structured it so that you can view footage from from the relevant year by selecting it on the timeline with the page including content dating back to NASA’s opening in 1958.

Learn more about all 23 examples on Governing People.

Got any other interesting stories or articles to share?