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.

A photo of Anne Tansley Thomas of Norfolk County Council

Anne TT – scrum-master, consultation expert and all round lovely person

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!)

A photo of Cressida McLaughlin at Norfolk County Council

Cressy – soon to be a published novelist

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…


Huey, Chris’ excellently-named border terrier

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.

A photo of Chris from Norfolk County Council demonstrating pie charts at the Norfolk Show

Chris – demonstrating budget pie charts at the Norfolk Show

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.