This article has been adapted slightly. It originally appeared on the NI Department of Finance’s website.

By Lewis Crothers, Digital Transformation Service, Northern Ireland Government

A volunteer with disposable gloves delivers groceries to an elderly man wearing a mask

When the pandemic hit, we [the NI Government Digital Transformation Service] received a number of requests from different NI Gov departments who did not have an immediate, digital way to continue their activity in a remote working environment.

Citizen Space is the recommended tool for all NI Government consultations and surveys. It’s GDPR and cyber security compliant and is safe for use across the organisation. It has proved to be an invaluable tool to a wide range of departments and public bodies during the Covid-19 restrictions.

Citizen Space allows admin users to create questions and answer components in a self-service style and they can launch a questionnaire, survey, consultation, online application or form either publicly or privately. The Digital Transformation Service (DTS) were able to design solutions in Citizen Space to address the requirements of a number of business areas and in some cases forms and activities were up and running within as quickly as 24 hours.

Digital success

The last year on Citizen Space has provided a really solid pilot for new digital transformation. The addition of new digital services means that customers get the service that they require – and it’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Front-line staff can manage multiple applications/forms at one time and management teams now have automatically-generated analysis and statistics at their fingertips.

The last year on Citizen Space has provided a really solid pilot for new digital transformation.

Practical use

As a result Citizen Space has been turned in to a temporary forms and application builder for a variety of business areas in order to sustain critical services such as Discretionary Support (DS), Employment Support Allowance (ESA), Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and requests for Maternity Grant applications. This has seen Citizen Space become critical in the first line response to the pandemic. 

Some of the many other uses have included:

  • Applications for online shopping slots for shielders;
  • Forms to check if GP and pharmacy staff in NI required additional resources;
  • Feedback surveys for online and virtual health clinics e.g. pregnancy clinics, eye clinics and diabetes clinics;
  • Driver & Vehicle Agency Taxi and Bus Operators Covid-19 compensation schemes;
  • The Executive Office Travel Agents Covid-19 compensation scheme;
  • Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) Staff Pulse Surveys to gauge how staff were dealing with the pandemic;
  • Application and registration forms for DFE’s Assured Skills Academies programme.

Thankfully the Citizen Space solution was already bought, paid for and managed within the Digital Transformation Service for all NICS members of staff prior to the pandemic.

Citizen Space has become critical in the first line response to the pandemic.

Naturally, there were steps that had to be taken in the background to control the number of forms being added to the system to ensure that there wasn’t a data overload on the server. We have been able to maintain control over forms by speaking with new and current users who wish to add forms or applications to the system and issuing regular updates to all users about the usability and sustainability of the system.

Laurence Donaghy from the Department for the Economy gave some comments on their use of Citizen Space in recent months.

“The Department for the Economy are leading the development of a new Executive Energy Strategy for Northern Ireland. This Strategy will impact on all of our lives, at home and at work, as energy consumers. The Department utilized Citizen Space to enable people to respond online to a policy options consultation for a new Energy Strategy for NI, to capture the views of domestic and business energy consumers, and the energy sector.

Citizen Space enabled us to build our consultation from the ground up. With help from the very experienced Carolyn McCall, we designed our questions so they would be easier for us to analyse, they flowed logically and were user friendly, using both closed and open questions to provide quantitative and qualitative data for our consultation summary report. We can use the suite of tools available to work through our responses in real time and target demographics with low response rates so that we have a more comprehensive and inclusive consultation response.

The Citizen Space team have been excellent in supporting our learning of this digital tool. We have created a team of analysts across our policy areas who can now interrogate the data using many different filters and comparators. This will undoubtedly strengthen our analysis and ensure that the Energy Strategy, when published later this year, has taken account of respondents’ views as well as possible.”

Citizen Space is a citizen engagement platform trusted by government around the world. Government organisations and public bodies use Citizen Space to connect with more citizens, increase engagement and improve processes.

To learn more about what Citizen Space can do for your organisation, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.