Last week, some of the Delib team headed to Bangor, Northern Ireland to host the second UK Delib User Group of 2018. Held in the very beautiful Bangor Town Hall, home of Ards and North Down Borough Council, it was a chance to get some of our Irish and Northern Irish customers together to chat about the work they’re doing around consultation.

Our Account Manager Natalie kicked off the day with some introductions and to express how grateful we were for the amazing location before we heard from Emma Penney from the Government of Northern Ireland.

Emma started with a really cool video from Erik Qualman on the power of social media and how different demographics interact with each other through social media platforms. At the Government of Northern Ireland they’ve been looking at the best ways to reach all different sections of society in policy design, from young people to grandparents. A show of hands in the room illustrated that we’re all using technology and phones every day: Emma hopes to harness this for pre-engagement and consultation, putting policy in front of people on social media to encourage participation.

“Digital affords us the opportunity to reach people at a granular level with very little spend” – Emma told us of how they created a Citizen Engagement infographic and posted it on social media, capturing people at this level and helping them engage with content relevant to them. She advised on the importance of planning out how you will reach people with communications/engagement teams early on and how it doesn’t have to be complex but simply encourage people to get involved with the content you present to them. If you put content in front of the right people in language they understand, they will come back to you and give you insights; you don’t need to coerce people.

Emma suggested that best practice should be developed and that teams should work together to ensure they are consciously involving and focusing on digital where engagement is concerned. She was pleased that with Citizen Space’s accessibility options as it can be used by potentially hard to reach audiences.

After Emma we heard from Gareth Lavery from Police Service of Northern Ireland about their public consultation, which will help to shape the future of policing in Northern Ireland. They are using a priority simulator to give the public a chance to suggest where they think policing should go. In Northern Ireland, police relations with the public can be hard and people often don’t see the full range of issues the police tackle. With more of a focus on serious crimes and a decrease in policing staff, PSNI want to educate the public through their Priority Simulator. The tool helps to show the complexity the police service is facing but in an easy-to-understand way. Using an animation to explain the situation to the public gave context to the consultation from the start, and a document was given out at public meetings for the smaller percentage of people who aren’t online. There was also a version of the document aimed at young people, and PSNI went into schools to engage with teenagers.

The tool puts people in control of police resources and allows them to play District Commander for their local area, giving 100 points across 6 overarching areas and showing the consequences of each choice made, highlighting the struggle of wanting to do everything but not having the resources. Gareth spoke of how well it works to engage people and said that some people were spending up to 45 minutes deliberating over their choices. By pushing it out on social media, they received over 1,300 responses in just 10 days, an amazing achievement in public engagement. The responses were rolling in at such a rate that Gareth’s wife told him he was only allowed to check it once per evening! Gareth gave a shout-out to our very own Account Manager Katherine Rooney who was helping to make changes to the tool right up until 10 minutes before going live. Nice one, Rooney.

People were interested in how the team convinced their organisation to adopt the tool and Gareth said that, for the responses they have received, it was a comparatively small initial spend. Ger Ryan who was attending (and presenting) from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council praised PSNI for the fact that they are using consultation as a tool for education as well as to get people’s views, and mentioned that the National Transport Authority in Dublin are using a physical game to gather people’s views on changing bus routes in the city. Getting people involved with decision-making in such an interactive way can be vital to educating people as well as to get their views.

Next up it was Ger’s turn to present. He works in the planning department for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (DLR) and assured us all from the start that he mostly works on colouring in maps! He used Citizen Space for the first time on DLR’s Local Area Plan and, due to the complex nature of it, wanted to ensure it was available to people early so that they could make informed submissions.

Documents were embedded in the overview page of their consultation to give people the relevant information ahead of completing it. Fact banks throughout helped to provide further information without distracting people or taking them away from the consultation, and a chapter-based approach meant that people could choose what they answered and give views on the areas that were most relevant to them. Moving away the submission of responses via email or hard copy meant less manual data entry for the team and saved time, while the ability to analyse the data in Citizen made it easier to work with and to use for measuring outcomes.

The team are now putting together a report with the results of the consultation to feed into the next stage Draft Plan. Ger said that Citizen Space provided a great way of engaging with internal and external stakeholders and that generally what the public said aligned with the challenges being faced and provided good evidence for planning decisions. DLR wanted their consultation and the reporting on it to be digestible for people in its entirety – a consumable narrative – rather than piles of paper and complex words.

He shared some lessons the team learned through using Citizen Space for their consultation. He advised against using a catch-all question early on because it encourages people to leave all their thoughts straight away and not engage throughout the rest of the consultation. Making consultations more intuitive and giving some thought beforehand to the questions you ask can lead to a much richer quality of responses.

Ger’s presentation provided a segue into an open discussion about planning consultations and the best practice around them, a valuable chance for people to share their ideas and ways of consulting with each other. After the open discussion, lunch and an introduction from one of our newer Account Managers, Jessie, we had a Q&A session. One of our developers, Alan, came along and was able to answer technical questions about how to get the most out of Citizen Space in terms of accessibility, question types, and we also talked about how to build good consultations. It was further suggested that looking through existing consultations on the Aggregator can be really helpful to see what other people are doing and get ideas. We also have our digital consultation playbook which can guide you through how to produce high quality online consultations.

We ended the day with an update from our Delivery Director Louise who laid out some of the future developments we have up our sleeves at the moment, such as the sixth Practical Democracy Project that will be held in Dublin on October 24th. A write-up of the last event can be read here and we’re really looking forward to taking it to Ireland. Come along if you can!

Louise also talked about how we’re constantly trying to make sure our products are improving to keep making democracy better. Dialogue has just seen a major upgrade, making it much more intuitive and easy for anyone to use, and we are always striving towards the next big update. Watch this space!

As ever, thanks to all who came along and added value to a great day. Our next UK User Group will be taking place in Leicester on October 11th.