The delivery of digital consultations within government is something which has been under much discussion recently. Ade Adewunmi, Digital Strategy Advisor invites you to take part in an online discussion around what consultation means and how we could make it better, for both those inside and outside government.
The relationship between digital engagement and policy-making has been debated for some time now. Government’s online consultations have also come under review. Institute for Government have run a few events (details can be found here and here) exploring this link as part of their Making Policy Better series.
The recently published Civil Service Reform (CSR) plan, which states that open-policy making will become the default, followed by the Cabinet Office’s Consultation principles have sharpened the focus on government consultations.
At GDS, our interest is primarily on the delivery of effective online consultations. We first considered the issue back in May of last year. Since then, we’ve been involved in the delivery of a few online consultations including a Public Reading Stage consultation. We’ve also reviewed a sample of government consultations, trying to spot commonalities and trends to get a better sense of how they are conducted in practice. Our aim is to:
- agree sustainable practices that result in better online consultations and;
- highlight some of the digital tools and platforms for delivery
So what are we proposing? Firstly, we need to be clear about what we mean by the term “online consultation”, and what it looks like in practice. That’s because what government means and what potential respondents understand by “consultation” are not always the same thing. Also because the term isn’t always used in a consistent way there’s potential for mismatched expectations and frustration. This was the subject of a thoughtful blog post by Demsoc. So, phase 1 will comprise an online discussion focused on building a clear picture of what online consultations look like today; the good, the bad and the ugly.
In phase 2, we’ll move onto the more exciting discussion of delivering better consultations. Both phases will be conducted online so that as many people as possible can get involved. We will be working closely with Demsoc on this as part of their recently launched project on consultations in an Open Policy future. The project will be kicking off in early September and we’ll be releasing details closer to the time.
If we’re going to get this right, we need your help. We want to hear from those in government who are involved in policy-making, digital communication, frontline service delivery, coordinating consultations and anyone whose service area has been impacted by a recent consultation. If you don’t work in government but have relevant experience in this area and would like to be part of the conversations then we’d like to hear from you too. Either way, please get in touch.
Image credit: @resultsjunkie on Flickr.com
Comment by Nick Norton posted on
As a UK citizen subject to this mechanism during a Local Plan process where the LPA is using iNovem consultation software (and others are using Objective Software's equivalent) to sift through 18,000 responses, some online, some hand-written, some a collective response from residents' associations, some from individuals, and telling the community each document represents only a single contribution and the search algorithms are not for consultation or public scrutiny, I do not feel on-line consultation is worth the electronic paper its written on. It's just a nod by un-elected professional policy makers to a process forced on them by central government where once all the data is collected and searched using their pet search terms that proves they were right all along, they'll archive the database, ignore the sweated opinions of citizens and make the decisions they were always going to make. Come out into the real world of deployed consultation software.
Comment by simonfj posted on
Just one note, and it's to do with the use of old and new media. We know that on one hand we have programmes like "the big questions". We have QandA in Australia. The old broadcast box is usually the place most older people start. And there's embryonic development of feedback from broadcast to online (and rarely the other way). Thought you might like this illustration. https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/how-can-communication-technology-encourage-civility
So it's a natural, as this convergence evolves, we will see some formalization between a programme's various questions and the online/social media spaces, which can support each thread.
It's pretty easy to spot that the govspace is trying to reinvent what the BBC and the UK Open Uni (in your country) have been doing since the web was invented (and before). Although you're focussing on deliverin/sharin the development of a policy, whereas they focus on deliverin/sharing an education.
The thing I'm trying to understand is that while all these gov/edu departments only want to engage with a community of interest to "get a job done" or "deliver a service" who is responsible for the communities after all the government departments have finished with them?
BTW. You might like to join this group of policy makers. An EU perspective. http://lnkd.in/_DPh7p
Comment by Finding your digital stakeholders (and why you should bother to) | Government Digital Service posted on
[...] more enquiries and requests for help from departments. One of the ways we’ve responded has beenthe launch of a ‘consultation on consultations’ exercise aimed [...]
Comment by Vis Viva posted on
The move into collecting data from more and more sources has, in our experience, led to a decline in the quality of that data; someone completing a poll on Facebook may respond differently, and give questions more consideration, if they were sat around a table being formally consulted. Obvious, maybe.
Collecting data that feeds into a consultation is good, treating all data as equal is not. There seems to be a sliding scale between ease of use and quality of data where the easiest methods of contribution (anonymous polls for example) have the less reliable data and should be treated as a vague guideline at best. So, having said that, what's the point of having easy and open consultations that produce meaningless data?
The easy and open bit should be about finding willing participants in methods that produce more considered results.
Comment by adeadewunmi posted on
Hi. I think the gist of your comment is: it's important to identify the most effective means of engaging with an audience depending on the nature of the topic under discussion and the kind of information you're after. I completely agree and that's what we're hoping to achieve through this exercise.
I believe you've highlighted (at least) two issues: (1) clarity of purpose before conducting any form of engagement and (2) identifying the most appropriate means of engaging with a given audience. When the desired outcomes from an engagement exercise are clear then the tasks of identifying your audience and working out the most appropriate means/method of engaging with them, become a lot easier. There are times when all you're looking to do is to roughly gauge consensus on a subject and a Facebook poll might provide a quick and effective way of doing that. Alternatively when you're seeking detailed responses following a period of discussion and reflection you'd probably opt for a different method. That "different method" might be a round table discussion (as you've described above) or it might be via a digital platform that supports discursive engagement amongst, and with, people who have a lot to contribute but can't or won't attend a face-to-face event.
The question we're trying to answer (in collaboration with others) is: in the latter case, how do we ensure that such engagement is better than it is now. I hope you'll be contributing to the discussion when it starts. Thanks.
Comment by Louise posted on
I am new to digital engagement and have found reading through the messages so far helpful .. where is this online conversation at now please ?
Comment by adeadewunmi posted on
Hi Louise. The conversation is taking place in a number of different places. For example, we've partnered with Demsoc on its Open Policymaking project. There are a lot of contributors to the site so the content is quite wide-ranging. There's something there for everyone with an interest in the various aspects of open policymaking. It's a good place to start. I've also found the Involve blog really interesting. If you do visit the open policymaking project site, it would be good to hear your thoughts on it. I do hope you'll get involved in the discussions :-).
Comment by Upcoming GDS Online Discussion on Online Consultations posted on
[...] The Government Digital Service (GDS), a new team within the UK Cabinet Office whose mission is to transform government digital services, is inviting participation in a conversation about online consultations: I say consultation, you say…? [...]
Comment by I say consultation you say… via Government Digital… « Kind of Digital Exchange posted on
[...] I say consultation you say… via Government Digital…I say consultation, you say…? [...]
Comment by David Chassels posted on
It is very sad to see HMG are yet to become the intelligent customer see brief. Your initiative suggests this is recognised. The Department of Education posted request for help on the solutions exchange see http://dfe2.procurement.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/Page/ViewIdea?ideaid=558&
Comment by John Glover posted on
INOVEM has been providing online consultation software to the UK public sector since 2003. Although we have a few central government clients, most of our clients are in the local authority sector. I think this is due to the fact that local and health authorities have a 'duty to involve' and consult on a wide range of issues and therefore scalability, accessibility and cost-efficiency make e-consultation a no-brainer. Many government departments still consider a PDF download and email link as satisfactory - which is in the era of social media participation is clearly unacceptable.
You are right, proper consultation requires a mix of dialogue methods, on and off-line. Logic-based questionnaires, quick polls, document section commenting and moderated discussion forums are just some of the on-line tools suppliers like INOVEM provide. Recording offline feedback is therefore also important as are tools to analyse and report on both qualitative and quantitative feedback as part of the evidence base.
We notice that most of our clients distinguish between formal consultations (statutory 12 week exercises) and informal consultations (discussion forums, anonymous polls etc) which are used on an ongoing basis to sound out stakeholders about ad-hoc ideas and topics and provide them with a perpetual opportunity to contribute views. Some of these on-line techniques are also used to support pre-consultation activities and internal staff surveys.
Given that there is no one-size-fits-all approach we have tried to develop software and response channels that are configurable. This not only provides more flexibility but also allows organisations to evolve (culturally and operationally) as to how they use on-line tools to engage as part of their consultation activities.
Comment by adeadewunmi posted on
Hi John. Thanks for your comment. You're absolutely right there is no one-size-fits-all approach, that's why I think there's value in our stated aim of identifying and discussing a wide range of tools and platforms which facilitate effective engagement. I'm hoping the other issues you've highlighted will also be discussed in some detail once this exercise kicks off.