On the face of it, you could say it’s a simple case of government doing something a bit whizzier and more user-friendly than publishing thousands of PDFs on hundreds of websites for people to find, comprehend and comment on by email. And it was tempting to build that whizzy something, pooling the best current practice from forward-thinking departments (like mine) as a baseline to push things further.
But scratch the surface and you quickly find yourself dealing with big issues around democracy, the delicate balance of trust between citizens and the state, the complexities of our constitution, and the culture of the civil service.
You find yourself touching on every opportunity for citizens, businesses and organisations to interface with any part of the state online, be it to give feedback, ask a question, seek help, present an argument, influence thinking or help solve a problem. And – most importantly of all – you touch on the capability and capacity of the state to process all this user feedback, to analyse, respond and interact.
A chunky quote, but there’s still more good stuff on the original post – go take a look.
Steph followed up with his own post, which again is worth reading in full, though here’s a useful list he provides of things to do to get engagement right:
1. treat people with respect: if you spend time contributing constructively, that should be worth a proper acknowledgement, at least
2. treat different people differently: there’s not a ‘general public’ who have views on policy: there are service users, their relatives, people who work in public services, people who lobby about them, people who have oddly expert experience or niche specialisms. Consultation should be layered, asking people to give feedback on different aspects of the same thing, based on how much they know and care
3. combine customer and citizen roles: boost participation and improve public services by asking people for ideas when it’s relevant, connecting a public service experience with feedback on the policy behind it
It’s great to have some proper thinking done on this subject, though as Neil and Steph themselves have said, this is a start rather than the finish.
Some interesting bits came out of yesterday’s digital engagement workshop that we ran in Peterborough yesterday, and once I get my head together I’ll post them up here.