20 comments

  1. David Newman

    You are right that the people and processes are more important than the technology. That was one of the main conclusions of our research into consultation and e-consultation across the island of Ireland. The biggest cultural problem is that of transferring knowledge against status barriers: getting President Sarkozy to humbly learn from a 13 year old who has grown up with the Internet, or a Transport Minister to learn from a mother taking her children to school across a busy street. If people in government think of consultation as an opportunity to learn from more knowledgeable folk (as we tried in http://huwy.eu/), then at least that barrier can be overcome.

    I like the tell, inspire, review and feedback cycle in the slides. It fits in with a mediation model of consultation based on how mediators get political opponents in Northern Ireland to agree on issues to solve, generate lots of alternatives, and find consensus (http://www.e-consultation.org/guide/index.php/Technology_matching_for_E-consultation). Start early, asking people what their needs and issues are, rather than leaving consultation until a plan has already been made.

    As for the choice of technology, it comes down to 2 things: 1) how happy are particular citizens or stakeholder groups with using particular technologies, and 2) how can the knowledge that emerges from the process be represented in a form that is useful to those involved in policy decisions or implementation. I ventured to produce flow charts for that, indicating which 2006 technologies might be useful at different stages of consultation (http://www.e-consultation.org/guide/index.php/Technology_classification).

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    • Neil Williams

      Thanks for the useful thoughts and links. Agree absolutely that consultation shouldn’t be the first opportunity for people to get involved. The consultation document should reflect existing customer insight from ongoing/always-on/ambient engagement – and thereby have a ready-made, interested and engaged audience familiar with the debate when it lands.

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  2. Paul Johnston

    I think this looks pretty good, but would make two main comments. First, you say very little about the transparency issue. The process of government policy-making is at least 95% hidden. At a minimum we should surely work towards a situation where the citizen can easily find a relatively up-to-date statement of where a policy issue is and what has recently happened in relation to it. Maybe we need to find some clever way to co-produce that to avoid costs (a Policypedia wiki that is largely citizen written but in a sufficiently controlled way to make it reliable), but something more than what we have is needed. However, such a thing would only scratch the surface. We really do need to think about open up the policy process, so that the process is not almost entirely hidden apart from brief moments in the sunlight of consultation. Second, it is easy to think that what the government mainly needs is input and in some ways that is true, but in many ways it is not! The government is overwhelmed with input – the problem is that it is all contradictory. So it is often more about negotiation and balancing different interests and concerns than finding a solution. When we talk about crowdsourcing policy we need to be careful because the policy issue is usually not something that has a solution so that the more people who look, the better the chance of finding. Is the problem with the Middle East that not enough people have spent long enough looking for an answer? As you partly suggest, what we need to do in relation to the policy process is not just encourage and enable more input, but find better ways of aggregating input and getting a clearer sense of people’s real preferences in the face of complex and difficult trade-offs. It’s not just a matter of tell us your great idea or what you would like to see happen regardless of what others think or the implications and consequences of your wish.

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    • Neil Williams

      That’s well put.

      On your second point, opportunities to work towards a consensus on government policy are pretty rare, I’d say. Think it’s about setting the expectations up front – that officials and ministers will have to make a decision not all participants will like – but want to hear all views to help us make the best decision they can. Clarity about the ‘contract’ between participants is key here.

      On your first point – much vigorous nodding from me. This is in tune with conversations I’ve been party to with the alpha team about how to present govt policy info in a more user-centric way. Less static text, more reverse chronology and real time updates. Less sure this can be citizen-written – although scope perhaps for a ‘talk’ page to feed back, query unclear wording and make the connections to related stuff.

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    • Bill

      I’m largely in agreement with most of what you’ve said my only concern is that we have to be wary of the “Those that shout loudest get their way” philosophy. That starts us down a slippery slope when opening up Government so that the “public” can have an input. This could lay the way open for “pressure groups” to take over and we end up with a UK version of the Tea Party which in my opinion is a rather dangerous route to take. More transparency is the way to go initially so when policies are proposed it can be shown that it is clear if a political philosophy is behind it rather than the best interests of the nation. Take the NHS reforms as an example.

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  3. Phillip Davis

    Great site.
    Using a DWP terminal and get a message stating the site is not compatible with the browser on my machine!

    Gives one a great deal of confidence when a Government site cannot be used on a civil service machine.

    Does not bode well and I wonder whether it will even be widely usable. I have even greater concerns as I use an Apple Mac and have had problems with poorly designed and incompatible web sites in the past.

    I can but hope it will be compatible with Safari.

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    • Chris Tyler

      With Firefox you should be able to see everything except the presentations. Not much consolation there, but a small step forward from IE6 – and it would have been good to be advised that by the Department.

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    • Bill

      Unfortunately the DWP use a rather antiquated browser, i.e. Internet Explorer 6. They do this because they had their internal, content management Web site which doesn’t display properly in modern browsers. I believe that there are some issues with the resource management software as well. In both cases they are locked in to expensive propriety software and cannot afford to have it brought up-to-date. That’s probably because they are also locked in to a restrictive, out-sourced IT contract which makes it difficult, to say the least, to get anything altered without having very, and I mean very, deep pockets!

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    • Bill

      I think there is some confusion over the issue of compatibility. The main problems usually relate to the use of JavaScript and things called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) files. The former are used to create whizzy things that are intended to impress and hopefully enhance the user experience, the latter are there to format the pages and have a consistent style throughout the site. They also remove the need to format every single part of each page individually. Unfortunately although HTML is largely recognised by all browsers, old and new versions, it’s not the same with JavaScript and CSS files. It’s only the recent versions that have a fairly consistent approach to the standard elements of these two Web technologies. However the older your browser the more chance that they will have issues understanding the code and incompatibility problems occur.

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  4. Alan Law

    I agree with the previous comments. How can I comment on something that the government has not equipped me to see.

    I see that there are proposed developments to improve access by the digitisation of services, e.g. online JSA applications, that more of what we do will be electronic instead of paper. Perhaps the dreadful LMUs will disappear. They seem to some up our systems and procedures – all held together with elastic!

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  5. Will

    I like this approach to consultations – plain English, engage at different speeds, go to the people rather than expect them to come to you. You’ve shown this works.

    The App Store idea’s great too. Heads of Digital could club together and create this now. What’s stopping you?

    I’ve a couple of concerns and I’m sure you’ve heard them before.

    You need to show this real listening as opposed to Andrew Lansley style listening. Ministers and key policy people need to play a much more active role in any consultation – like actually reading evidence that’s presented to them, taking part in online discussions, having an open mind rather than treating the consultation as window dressing.

    Second, how to deal with the deluge of posts you’re going to get if you open this up. I wonder whether @tellgov will become the haven of ranters and trolls rather any meaningful discussion. I remember Derek Powasek comment from years ago – post quality on his message board when he hid the sign up in a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory… you know the rest.

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    • Neil Williams

      You’re right about the App Store being doable now. There are tried and tested approaches , case studies to back them up, teams who can give the policy-side view of how it felt for them – this could be built tomorrow. I feel slightly reticent to push for it given the flux we are in, but will think on it and discuss with digital engagement bods around govt.

      On Andrew Lansley, worth reading Stephen Hale’s post: http://hale.dh.gov.uk/2011/05/25/the-mechanics-of-listening/
      …a thorough digital treatment (I take the point that the impact remains to be seen).

      On @tellgov, yes. Not the best idea in this deck ;)
      But a stake in the ground re thinking bigger, making feedback to govt more user-centric and convenient.

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    • Steph Gray

      Tellgov is a bit of fun really. I know what you mean about the trolls, but I think there’s an opportunity to use short tweets as a bit of a pressure valve. Of course the feedback is likely to be overwhelmingly negative – people complain more than they praise, it’s human nature. But on a large enough scale, and with the right tools (text analysis, sparklines etc) you could start to turn the kind of complaints and problems people bump into in everyday life into a realtime stream of feedback for politicians and policymakers which highlights trends the Westminster village is often a little way behind (diesel prices, immigration, impact of cuts at the coalface, for example)

      Someone pointed me to this visualisation earlier in the week, which I think highlights the kind of potential short, one-way feedback can have:

      http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/05/03/us/20110503-osama-response.html

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    • Simon Dickson

      Don’t read too much into the @tellgov idea. Having been given licence to go crazy, it would have been rude not to deliver at least one crazy idea alongside the good, sensible stuff.

      So of course it’s sketchy and ill thought out; it’s a pre-alpha concept after all. But I do think there’s something interesting in the notion of capturing the mass of comment and reaction which ordinary people are already tweeting (etc) anyway, and doing something meaningful with it. Otherwise it’s just going to waste. I think we can do better than that.

      Is a Twitter-based service necessarily the solution? No, of course not. But Twitter is here now, already, with a substantial user base and an API ready and waiting. You could build it right now, if you wanted to, and at minimal cost.

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  6. Colin

    To me it makes sense to have both one single website that brings together all the info – but also multiple websites to cover the single niches. Perhaps savings can be made in the hosting / security by centralising all sites onto a single location.

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  7. Mick Phythian

    Has it been discussed with any ‘real’ citizens or is it a proposition floating in geekland? That wasn’t clear to me.

    Mick http://greatemancipator.com

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  8. James Evans

    A couple of comments:

    + if this is genuinely service driven take care not to repeat the mistake of post offices/banks etc who cut back on physical infrastructure in favour of virtual service: the community backlash has harmed a number of brands around the world, and they are now re-entering those communities
    + even in advanced economies, there are significant numbers of people with linguistic, financial, educational and cultural characteristics that mean they could be further alienated in the transition to virtual service. In many cases I should have thought virtualisation (of dialogue, transaction and involvement) should be an addition to, not a replacement of, traditional forums of communication
    + disintermediation is a 1990′s term for those who lose their jobs through the introduction of the ‘efficiencies’ brought about by technologies – disintermediation is one of your and Fox’s promises to government.

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