We recently ran a survey of our internal DH Citizen Space users. Citizen Space is the digital tool that DH and a number of other local and central Government Departments use to run their consultations.
Overall, our survey results were positive with staff reporting they had found the tool relatively easy to use and access. The survey did flag some internal issues eg. visibility of the tool in the Department, minor technical issues etc, which we’re planning to address through better promotion of Citizen Space and training, but on the whole our internal user experience seemed to be good.
However, there was one area where internal users did seem to be experiencing problems, and ironically it wasn’t with the tool itself. Many of our survey respondents seemed to be struggling with the analysis of their consultation responses, with some teams even questioning the usefulness of the data they were amassing from their digital consultations.
Some common mistakes
To help us get to the bottom of what was going on, we contacted some of our respondents and met with some consultation teams to talk about how they design, run and analyse the responses from their digital consultations. We found some common mistakes:
- Not thinking ‘digital first’ – not designing consultations with a digital audience and digital responses in mind. Eg. writing consultations for print and then trying to shoehorn them into a digital tool
- Not identifying what ‘real’ success means for a consultation before launching it or not putting in place the metrics needed to measure for success. Eg. not setting benchmarks, not measuring qualitative data or not identifying key target audiences and how to reach them.
- Not thinking about the type and/or amount of data that will be returned and planning resources and tools accordingly. Eg. asking lots of free-text questions and then drowning in responses
As a team, we are trying to address many of these issues by improving the way the Department approaches and designs its digital consultations. The next iteration of our Digital policymaking toolkit, which will combine a new set of Policy Standards with our digital tools, techniques and advice for policymakers, should help. Alongside other work our team is doing to build up digital capability in the department and to produce analytical tools for data mining and sentiment analysis that will help teams with free-text analysis.
But, some of this could be addressed by a simple top tips guide on how to create effective digital consultations using Citizen Space and highlighting what functionality exists within the tool to help make responses easier to analyse. So, here’s my quick stab at writing one. I don’t profess to be a Citizen Space expert, so I’m only writing about the bits I know about. But I do hope you find this post useful and perhaps other more advanced users of Citizen Space can highlight any gems that I’ve missed.
Please note, this is not a technical guide on how to use or build a consultation in Citizen Space, you can find one of those in the Citizen Space User Guide and further guides and user forums on the Citizen Space Knowledge Base website.
Is Citizen Space the right digital tool for my consultation?
The following tasks should be mandatory for running any consultation, but they are particularly useful for helping you to decide the most appropriate digital tool/s or method/s of consulting. Citizen Space may not be the answer for every consultation. You should (in no particular order):
- have a consultation strategy – write a consultation strategy, this should set out: where you are now, where you want to get to and how are you going to get there
- have clear objectives for your consultation - set SMART objectives for your consultation. What does success look like?
- know who your audience is - As part of your stakeholder mapping, also map your online audience to gain insights that will be useful to running your consultation eg. identify key influencers and stakeholders you can work with, audience demographics like age, gender, language etc.
- know what digital channels your audience uses - audience and stakeholder/influencer mapping can also help you identify the best place/s to hold or signpost people to your consultation online eg. Citizen Space, stakeholder websites, forums etc, and the best format/s to run your consultation in eg. Citizen Space, short survey, crowdsourcing, easy read, welsh, mobile/tablet versions etc.
- know how your audience feel about the topic/subject matter - do some social media monitoring or other research to understand your baseline position and the language being used to talk about your topic/subject matter. Listen to what is currently being said, sentiment analysis and keyword identification may be particularly useful.
- know what you want to say to your audience and how you want to say it - identify your key messages/questions, appropriate tone, formal consultation, informal consultation, call to action, call for evidence, via partnerships, how long for etc.
- have agreed evaluation criteria - what is success?, KPIs, targets, performance metrics, evaluation plan (inputs, outputs, outcomes etc.), plan for reporting results
Once you have all the above, you should know whether a Citizen Space consultation is the best way to reach your audience online, or you may choose to use a combination of methods and channels. See our Digital policymaking toolkit for advice on social media listening and digital influencer mapping or contact the DH Digital team.
Starting a consultation on Citizen Space
If you do decide that Citizen Space is the best tool for running part or all of your DH consultation, please contact the DH Digital team and we’ll arrange access for you.
- Think digital first - factor digital into your consultation from the beginning and write it with a digital audience and digital responses in mind. This will help to keep questions short and simple and result in a more logical workflow through the consultation. Trying to shoehorn a lengthy and complex consultation written for a print audience into a digital format will be time consuming and result in a poor user experience and poor response rates.
- Make sure you ask the right questions and in the right way - Think about the questions you are asking and the type of responses you are likely to get back. Will the answers meet your expectations and resources eg. if you have a small team of analysts you may want to keep free-text questions to a minimum, these will take much longer to process. Can you offer respondents choices to choose from or limit questions to 'yes' or 'no' answers instead?
- Think about how you want to process the data that comes back - Citizen Space can help you to filter or tag your results in a number of ways, but most of this needs to be thought about in advance and set up when you build your consultation in Citizen Space. It is not something you can set up retrospectively eg. once you have all the responses. See the Managing and interpreting responses section of Citizen Space’s Knowledge Base for more information. The following specific links may also help:
Additional help with Citizen Space
In addition to the guides and user forums on the Citizen Space Knowledge Base website, Delib (the company behind Citizen Space) also have a blog which contains guidance on running consultations and hints and tips for using Citizen Space
Ben Fowkes from Delib has also written a blog for Cabinet Office, containing advice and guidance on how to produce effective digital consultations and tips for analysing their results.
The Government Digital Service (GDS) has also written a blog about how to get the best possible user journey between GOV.UK and a Citizen Space consultation.
Delib also offer a paid-for support service for building and running effective consultations, and have previously helped some DH teams to run large, high-profile consultations using Citizen Space. Delib have written a blog about the work they did with DH on the Tobacco packaging consultation.
Please contact the DH Digital team for more information about this service and whether your needs can be met in-house.