Progressing digital democracy and engagement in Scottish Government
Digital Engagement Team strategy refresh
It’s coming up to a year since I started working in the Digital Engagement (DE) team at Scottish Government. The DE team is embedded in the wider Communications division and helmed by myself, Ellie Snape, and the wonderful Jen Swan. We offer support and guidance to policy professionals to use digital tools to engage people in decision making and policy creation. We manage the online consultation hub and crowdsourcing platform for Scottish Government.
Democracy is at the heart of what we do. Building trust and strengthening democracy has never been so important. We believe transparency and accountability are a core part of this. We work in the wider context of Scotland’s international role in the Open Government Partnership and achieving the national outcome of openness. Scotland has a reputation as a leader in public participation. We want to continue to be recognised as an innovative and progressive nation.
Since 2015 when Scottish Government digitised its consultation process, the team have helped deliver over 600 consultations and a variety of public engagement activities. In the early days the team were responsible for building consultations to Citizen Space for policy colleagues. However in 2020 the DE team devolved building consultations to the teams running them. This freed up the team to work more strategically across the organisation. We still provide support and advice to colleagues and make sure each consultation meets our digital accessibility standards. But we spend a lot less time focused on only consultations.
The new strategy
Having created the space for innovation, it was possible for the team to develop a new strategy. I was lucky enough to come into the team at the right time to work on this. We spent time workshopping with senior leaders to look at what was going well, the challenges we faced, and where we wanted to get to. We came up with our overall strategic goal:
“To enable Scottish Government to involve people using digital technology.”
We broke this down into 4 specific objectives to work towards:
- Build an engagement culture and narrative, acknowledging and incorporating work already taking place and aligning with relevant policies and national outcomes
- Ensure colleagues have the right tools and knowledge, so that they can perform their role effectively
- Ensure colleagues have the right support and advice, so that we can be there to help meet ambitions and deal with uncertainty
- Build a network of engagement ambassadors, to promote engagement across different teams and encourage peer-to-peer learning and support
Knowing our objectives, we were able to get creative with ideas for how to achieve these. The team tried to approach long-standing challenges in new ways. We wanted to be ambitious about what the future could look like. To put this into practice, we developed a roadmap of projects which would take us toward achieving iterations of our objectives. Using the collaborative tool Miro to create the roadmap and track work meant we could visualise our progress. We also borrowed from agile theory to introduce activity sprints; spending short periods of time focusing on one or two projects to achieve a minimum viable product.
This approach means we can progress towards objectives without getting overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done. It allows us to see results in a short time frame and pivot to new priorities. All of this ensures our strategy doesn’t sit on a shelf gathering dust, but is a live document we are constantly progressing.
Since we put the strategy in place, the DE team have been working towards the first iteration of our objectives. This means ensuring our existing tools and guidance are up to scratch, our offer to colleagues is clear, and our community of practice is active and growing. Now we’re looking to the next iteration – bringing more colleagues on board as co-creators and turning our focus to improvement and innovation.
Alongside this work the team are linked in to wider developments in participation across Scottish Government. We’re currently supporting the progression of work on Citizens’ Assemblies as outlined in the 2021-22 Programme for Government. We bring a focus on digital engagement and communication, and are thinking hard about how digital tools can support this new programme of work.
We know that Scotland has a vibrant community of engagement professionals, and that Scottish Government colleagues have been delivering some great participation work. We want this blog to be a place where the work of Scottish Government and other organisations can be showcased. It is a place to demonstrate the breadth of good work taking place and so we can inspire each other to try new tools, methods and approaches, and improve engagement and participation as a community. We believe this will help to ensure we have an accountable and transparent society and democracy.
Get in touch
Watch this space and follow us on Twitter @ScotGovEngage as we continue to build and share. If you’re working on participation and engagement in Scotland and have a great example to showcase or want to shout about your work, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch on Twitter or pop a message on the consultation hub contact form.