Our experience so far- crowdsourcing for policy making
Though it has been in place for a little while, we’ve only just started introducing policy teams to the idea generation platform Scottish Government is using called Dialogue. Dialogue is on demand software created by Delib, a small social venture focussed on creating tools that make it easy for governments to involve citizens in decision making.
Why this matters
The Digital Engagement team is in the business of normalising the use of digital platforms in Scottish Government so that we can work better together with citizens. Using an idea generation platform like Dialogue can help policy makers gather insights that might otherwise be missed, tap into collective wisdom and creativity, give citizens an alternative to formal consultations and to ultimately increase the credibility and democratic legitimacy of policy making.
We’ve been dropping Dialogue into nearly all of the digital engagement consultations we’ve had with policy teams (and there have been many consultations) and the first teams to use Dialogue were Open Data closely followed by colleagues in Fisheries. These are our first two case studies and between them the contexts, motivations and experiences were quite different giving us valuable learning for future engagement activity using Dialogue. Below is a detailed breakdown and comparison of the Open Data and Fisheries experiences using Dialogue from beginning to end and including feedback from policy teams.
Dialogue use cases
Open Data: https://ideas.scotland.gov.uk/Open%20Data
Following consultation and strategy creation, Scottish Government’s Open Data team committed to putting together guidance for Scottish public sector bodies with which they can start making their own open data plans. It is hoped part of this guidance will include the types of data people would like opened and made available online, what they might use the data for and in which formats people want to see open data – it is these 3 questions the Open Data team posed to citizens on Dialogue. So 3 broad questions that citizens were asked to freely contribute thoughts and ideas about.
This team decided to open a Dialogue session as a way to gather representations and objections (part of an obligatory 28 day post consultation period to gather arguments against a policy proposal) on a proposal to create a ‘kill licence’ and carcass tagging regime for salmon. Despite the team knowing there is a lot of frustration around the proposal in fishing communities, they wanted to use Dialogue to allow interested parties to detail why they disagree and, through sharing knowledge and expertise, what better approaches might be.
Planning and promotion
Because the questions citizens were being prompted to ask were broad and few, content planning was lightweight with focus on the introductory paragraphs being clear about the purpose of using contributing and the value exchange. This Dialogue was set to run longer than usual at 5 weeks. It was promoted on Twitter via Digital Engagement Team’s account and the personal accounts of the team as Open Data does not have their own dedicated social media channels. We used #opendata and targeted outreach to known open data interest groups and active individuals in Scotland.
Fisheries wanted to lead with some issues that came from feedback they had following a previous consultation exercise around the policy proposal. Because of the heated discussions already happening in fishing communities about the proposal, the policy team decided to create content with a group for checks and balances to make sure the content was clear, straightforward and had little chance of being misinterpreted. Putting the content together took quite a long time but in the end we had a series of specific questions with which to open the Dialogue. So when people came in to take part in the conversation, they saw a pre-populated content area where they could respond right away. Promotion of Fisheries Dialogue was only through a 1,000+ person email list of previously engaged people and was set to run for 1 week.
Response from citizens
Though the announcement and promotion of the Open Data Dialogue got a lot of attention on Twitter, it didn’t translate into an increase in idea contributions. It seems the interest in government’s open *approach* to asking the questions could have been a motivation for the social sharing of the Open Data Dialogue link as opposed to enthusiasm for making contributions. There was no active participation in the discussion from the policy side.
Number of ideas submitted: 18
Number of comments over all ideas: 8
Number of participants: 9
Responses to seeded ideas and the creation of new ideas started coming in a couple hours after Fisheries sent out their targeted email announcement. Take up snowballed over the week the Dialogue was open. There were 4 people from the policy team active in the discussion.
Number of ideas submitted: 64 (6 seeded by Scottish Government)
Number of comments over all ideas: 341
Number of participants: 128 (4 Scottish Government)
The team surveyed nearly 30 stakeholders and colleagues on their thoughts about Dialogue and why they did or did not take part in the discussion. Main points were:
Overall, those who used the app found it easy to use. There were recommendations to improve the user interface which may make the app more appealing to the wider public who may not be comfortable with such a basic interface.
The main reasons for not signing up to the app were lack of time and the uncertainty of the benefit of using the app, suggesting that some people may have chosen not to use the app simply because it was something new and unknown.
The general consensus was that the discussion question was too wide and a more specific question with a narrower focus may have encouraged more discussion. Some comments also suggested that those less familiar with the concept of open data were less likely to join in.
Further improvements could be made to the marketing of the discussion.
Feedback from Fisheries came from staff about their experience. Main points were:
There was some duplication of ideas with people opening new idea boxes rather than responding to the 6 ideas seeded by Scottish Government. A certain amount of that was expected but perhaps tagging wasn’t used quickly enough or in the right way.
Resource intensive but moderation was kept to a minimum.
Future users would need to be alive to the demand for specific answers to questions.
General view that one week was probably enough for us but not for the stakeholders who suggested the approach was very welcome but could have been done earlier and for a longer period of time.
Though we only have these two case studies to date there are some really useful things here that will inform how we brief colleagues and help them plan to use Dialogue in the future.
Try to be as specific as possible with what you are asking without appearing to limit or hijack what should be a fluid discussion. This can help people quickly get their head around the issues and formulate specific responses or suggestions and have better discussions with each other and government as discussion host.
Consider promotion and value exchange. If you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one, so consider targeting promotion around existing communities or other digital activities (for example a hashtag) that are relevant to the audiences you are trying to reach. Get in touch with partner agencies to find out if you can leverage their communities through a guest post on their blog or writing something for their email newsletter. And consider the value exchange! What is the incentive for someone to share their thoughts with you? What are you doing with the information you are given and how will you evidence you have listened? People need to have some certainty that their input will be at the very least considered, and if not implemented, then an explanation should be given instead.
Community management. Fisheries did a bit of engagement, provocation and responding to certain issues but the discussion wasn’t managed as a community and it may not have been possible to because of the policy environment. Consider how you might respond, community manage- or not- the open discussion you are hosting because it can be tricky with live policy issues.
Limiting the time in which people have to respond seems to have given Fisheries a sense of urgency and could have been a factor in the level of response.
Don’t make assumptions about whether or not your audience will engage. You might be surprised…
We’re teeing up our next Dialogue with colleagues in Social Security and the way they are structuring their Dialogues is really interesting. Watch this space…