So far in the round-up of human comms we’ve looked at digital content that the organisation has shaped itself. But it doesn’t have to be digital to be human.

More than 20 people were killed in the Manchester Arena bomb earlier this year.

Manchester as a city rallied and there was an outpouring of pride and determination.

Leading all that was the public sector across the city with police, paramedics, hospital staff, fire and the Mayor’s office.

In the very front line in all this were the paramedics and the hospital staff.

In the weeks after the bombing, the Press attention turned from the immediate impact to the stories of survival and recovery. Requests for interviews were made. But not all requests for granted.

Careful handling by Salford Royal hospital’s comms team led to a set of interviews and pictures with the local newspaper the Manchester Evening News. You can see the full story here.

Human comms is not just what you create but also what the Press can create with you.

Be more human. Like the A&S staff of Salford Royal.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?


Ozma Iqbal

Ozma Iqbal

I’m Ozma, DWP’s Diversity and Inclusion Gender Lead. My role is to support Mayank Prakash – our Chief Digital and Information Officer and DWP’s Gender Champion – on all things gender-related.

It’s been a really busy year for us. Last month I organised the first DWP Gender Diversity conference; its aim was to make a tangible difference to the gender balance in DWP.

Most inclusive employer

As the largest government employer of women, DWP is committed to bringing about real change. Mayank has signed us up to the Business in the Community gender campaign, and is ensuring that we work closely with other Civil Service departments as well as private industry so that we can learn from others.

By bringing together senior leaders at our Gender Diversity conference, and getting their commitment to make a difference and orchestrate change, we can move towards our goal of becoming the UK’s most inclusive employer.

The theme for the day was ‘changing perceptions and culture in order to achieve gender parity in DWP’. But, we’re not only focusing on gender, we’re also considering intersectionality, because it’s important that we are representative of the general population and the people we are building services for.

I don’t think it’s as clear cut as male or female, straight or gay, black or white etc. We also need to consider people’s advantages and disadvantages that make up who they are.

Sharing experience

Sue Griffin, chair of DWP’s Women in Technology group opened the event together with Mark Janes, DWP HR. Sue said:

“We’re here to commit to making a difference and give people the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”

In her role Sue champions opportunities for females in a male-dominated environment, particularly young females and encourages more women into technology and digital roles.

A range of speakers gave presentations about how we can change perceptions.

Kylie Havelock from the Ministry of Justice gave an insightful presentation on this and how being more attuned to people’s advantages and disadvantages can help us to be inclusive. For example I’m able-bodied, mentally well and have a good job; but I’m also female, from an ethnic minority and a working class family. So it’s important to consider each and every individual and their characteristics, look at bias and listen across differences.

Kylie Havlock

Kylie Havelock

Loraine Martins, director of diversity and inclusion at Network Rail spoke about authentic leadership, telling us we should have the courage to be authentic. We all notice difference; the challenge is how we manage that difference and allow people to be themselves. Mayank asked:

“If you’re not feeling comfortable, are you able to be yourself?”

He wants us working in teams that are conscious of the people around them and aware of giving people a good experience. After all, we spend the majority of our life working, so it’s important to make the environment enjoyable.

Attendees at the gender diversity event

Attendees at the gender diversity event

“I can be me”

Shelley Hardman, shortlisted for the Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion award for championing LGBTI inclusion, spoke passionately about the importance of raising awareness of the issues minority groups can face. Shelley is a great example of one of our female role models here in DWP, somebody willing to speak up and share their personal stories to make a difference to others. Talking about the shortlisting, Shelley said:

“It was a huge achievement if you consider that only 35 nominations were shortlisted over the seven categories, out of 166 nominations and over 400,000 civil servants.”

Value driven

We are value driven in DWP. Our values underpin our commitment to putting customers first, and focus not only on what we deliver but how we do it. Respecting people is one of our main values; this means treating people with respect and welcoming diversity to recognise individual needs. So I’m proud to be part of the team that encourages us all to think about whether our behaviour is fully inclusive.

A difference in perspective helps to anchor decisions and underlines the need to encourage people who are different from the norm to join us. By changing perceptions we’ll make cultural changes that give everyone a fair chance to shine and be the best they can be. And by doing this we’ll naturally evolve to a normal that includes gender parity.

As we fast approach the New Year I’d like to wish you all a prosperous and happy 2018. May it be a year where we can all make a difference to those around us and have the courage to be authentic and really embrace who we are.

You can find out more about what’s happening in DWP Digital by subscribing to this blog and following us on Twitter @DWPDigital. Visit our DWP Digital Careers website and have a look at our LinkedIn page.



Original source – DWP Digital

On 30th November we hosted our sixth annual conference – Digital Evolution: Social Change. There were around 200 people there – many of our partners in the Online Centres Network as well as many of our national partners. I wanted to share my opening speech from the event, I hope you like it:

Rather unconventionally I want to start by saying thank you! Thank you to everyone for all of the hard work you’ve been doing this year, particularly our Network Partners and my team who are amazing and who have had an incredible year so far.

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 13.35.49

Last year I showed the trailer from I, Daniel Blake. Now, Ken Loach has made it free on YouTube, so if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s no excuse. The reason why I showed that trailer was because we know people like Daniel Blake are real. This is not fiction – it’s fact. We meet Daniel Blakes every time we’re in an Online Centre and many of you meet your own Daniel Blakes every day as you work in those tough communities, our poorest communities, where people are finding it hard to find work, to tackle the welfare system, to get on. The thing that I love about the work that we all do is that we don’t just give people digital skills, we give them confidence, resilience and we give them hope.

In February this year, we celebrated 2 million learners and I met two people that I want to tell you about. Marita who won the Learning for Health Award has an amazing story. She was actually someone that we featured when we reached one million learners when she had undiagnosed fibromyalgia and she had used her new internet skills to get diagnosed and get treatment. But, between the one million and two million marks, her teenage daughter Chance was diagnosed with spine cancer and Marita said if they hadn’t had the internet, they would have felt in the dark. It was amazing that she and her daughter can actually use Marita’s new skills, to use the internet for health, to actually feel like there was light at the end of the tunnel. Thankfully, Chance is now in remission.

The other person that I want to mention is Margaret. She was the winner in the Learning for Life category. She’d been struggling with alcoholism her whole life but luckily for her, she was able to get support from Blenheim REAL down in South London and they helped her to focus on something else, to focus on something new – learning on Learn My Way. The reason I’m singling out Margaret is because of my own personal experience in meeting her. When I gave her that award and shook her hand, she wouldn’t let go. She just kept saying “Thank you so much. My family are so proud of me. My family are so proud of me. They’ve never been proud of me before.”

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 13.37.19.png

At Good Things, we have developed five underpinning principles for the work that we do and I hope that they resonate with you. The first and most important principle is that ‘we are committed to helping people improve their lives’.

Often when I talk to people about a ‘Network’ they think it’s a map with some dots on it. They think it’s bricks and mortar. But that’s not the point, it’s really about the people in the network. It’s about the people making that change and having that impact. It’s about us all working together to achieve social change. So our second principle is: ‘We lead a movement for social change’. Please do take a look at the video below to see for yourself the impact of the Online Centres Network.

Our third principle is: ‘We use digital technology to make change happen’ – of course we do! But the important thing here is that the work we do, the impact we all have – with people – is powered by digital. It’s digital in our back office as well, digital to provide you with those additional services, products and content, that really help you to turbocharge what you do. It’s digital to help us to unite, share and organise.

And it’s digital that supports your blended approach to supporting people to develop that digital understanding and personal confidence using Learn My Way. Today, we’re officially launching the new logo for Learn My Way. We’ve done this through working with you – with users. It’s like the conference it’s an ‘evolution’, not a ‘revolution’.

Our fourth principle is: ‘We do what works’. It seems so simple but it’s one of the ones I’m most proud of. We do what works and we’re tenacious. We keep on going. We deliver.

We also advocate and are advisors for government and other partners. We’re not buffeted by the world around us.

We’re also tenacious about piloting and testing and going back to the first principle, working with the people to make sure that we’re not doing anything that we don’t need to do. Because we’ve got to do the right thing.

We always do what we say we’ll do. An absolutely underpinning part of our behaviours is that we have integrity and every single one of the team would say that too. We always do what we say we’ll do.

Our last principle is that ‘we’re ambitious about the scale of our impact’. I’m ambitious and the older I get the more ambitious I get because I realise my time is running out and I want to use every minute of every day to have as much impact as possible in the world. I know my team and many of you feel the same way because the work we do is so important. It’s not just about helping one Margaret, one Marita or your equivalent of a Daniel Blake. It’s about helping tens, hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of people like Margaret, and Marita, and Daniel Blake, and now by working together we’ve actually surpassed 2.3 million people that we’ve helped so far since 2010.

This year we’ve taken that ambition and that scale a little bit further by going to work in countries in other places around the world. In July, Emily and Michael went to Kenya to launch a new pilot working with libraries across Kenya to see if Learn My Way and the Digital Champion model can work for people across Kenya. Already we know that two people who have used Learn My Way in one of those libraries have now gone on to get jobs that they wouldn’t have got before. And we’re evaluating our work to see how digital inclusion can drive social inclusion and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

And the very big news is that in 2017 we set up a subsidiary organisation in Australia, we’ve set up a new office in Sydney. We have a $25m contract with the Australian Government ($20m of that is for grants, and it’s over 3-years) – to help older people thrive in a digital world. Then we have Jess, our new Director running things over there, and Jess is with us here today. In Australia, we have already set up a movement for social change with over 650 Network Partners joining us since August. Yes, we are ambitious about the scale of our impact.

I asked my team recently if they knew the story of JF Kennedy going to NASA and talking to the man he met sweeping the corridor. He asked him what he does and he said: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” I asked my team what their equivalent is and they said: “I’m helping to create a world where everyone benefits from digital” – “I’m helping at least 3 million socially excluded people improve their lives through digital” – “I’m working not only in digital inclusion but in social inclusion or both at the same time.” They also said – “I’m helping empower and enable people all across the world” and one colleague said, “I’m helping to make the world more equal”. We can be ambitious about the scale of our impact when we all share the passion and commitment to improving people’s lives.

So that’s our strategy: We’re committed to helping people improve their lives; We lead a movement of social change, and that means everyone, not just us and our network partners, anybody that we work with and anywhere in the world; We use digital technology to underpin our work and to make change happen; We do works; and, We’re ambitious about the scale of our impact.

And it’s only by working together that we can make good things happen.

If you’d like to watch my full conference speech, you can do so here.

Original source – Helen Milner

30 days of human comms: #26 Lochaber & Skye Police talk to someone at risk of domestic abuse

A while back a colleague ran a campaign against domestic violence that stays with me. 

They researched how best they could reach women in particular who are at risk and the men – and it is often men – who are the perpetrators.

Their research showed that beer mats were a way of reaching people.

I remembered this when I saw these tweets from Lochaber & Skye Police to someone who was following their account. They are written as a letter and they’re written in a thread.

And then a second tweet.

And a final tweet.

A deeply personal message written in plain English. It’s so beautiful it’s poetry.

Be more human. Like Lochaber & Skye Police.


Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

Minister for Government Resilience and Efficiency, Caroline Nokes

I am delighted to introduce the next chapter in ‘A GDS Story’. It has certainly been an eventful year for the organisation.

At the start of 2017, GDS launched the Government Transformation Strategy and moved to a new home in Aldgate.

These events gave the organisation a clearer purpose and renewed energy, and it was a great time to come in as the new minister for GDS.  

I am absolutely committed to driving the digital agenda forward, not only to maintain the UK’s status as the world’s leading e-government, but because the work that happens here improves people’s lives.

I’ve been privileged to share in the celebrations and achievements of the past year. GOV.UK turned 5 and received its 4 billionth visit, Government as a Platform reached over 100 adopters across central government services and, to give civil servants the skills and experience they need to deliver services in a modern government, the Digital Academy expanded to become the GDS Academy.

When speaking to small business, to civil society and indeed to my own constituents, I’ve been delighted to hear about the positive comments about GOV.UK. I want our platforms to be accessible, easy to use and effective, and we are achieving that at the same time as receiving favourable international comparisons.

Great progress was made to improve the culture and collaboration within the organisation. As a result, GDS was named as one of the Top 100 Best Employers for Race by Business in the Community.

Do read the month-by-month achievements of the past year on the GDS blog and in the 2017 chapter of ‘A GDS Story’.

At the year end, it is important to strike a balance between reflection and action. My priorities are that the right people with the right skills are in the right place. To take advantage of the opportunities that data gives us to deliver the best policies and services, and finally to help this country to prosper by securing our technology, data and networks.

Below, colleagues across GDS share the work they are most proud of and what they look forward to delivering in 2018.  

All that remains for me to say is, enjoy the Christmas break and I very much look forward to the year ahead.

Kevin Cunnington, Director General, GDS

I’m very proud of the work we have done to make GDS a more diverse organisation and more representative of the society as a whole. All interview panels at GDS now have a Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) representative and BAME recruits represent 20% of people currently joining GDS.

Our key priorities for 2018 include delivering on the Government Transformation Strategy, supporting departments to ensure a successful exit from the European Union, strengthening digital, data and technology capability across government and the continued uptake of our Government as a Platform components.

Angela Collins-Rees, Senior User Researcher

Angela Collins-Rees

I’m​ really proud to be working ​in a team that is changing the way service teams think about accessibility.

​Off the back of our discovery user research, we spent 2017 raising awareness and writing guidance, to help teams design, build and implement accessible services.

In 2018, we hope to improve our guidance and focus on ​developing teams’ confidence and skills through a series of accessibility-focused learning opportunities.

Ashley Stephens, Programme Director, Government as a Platform

Reaching 100 adopters was a significant milestone for Government as a Platform and has seen us help departments and agencies across the UK meet the needs of their users.

We’re looking forward to onboarding more services in 2018, as well as extending our Pay and Notify platforms to local government.

Sam Dub, Product Manager

Sam Dub

The thing I’m most proud of this year has been my team’s work to help people who come to GOV.UK to do complex and sometimes life-changing tasks. Tasks like starting a business, getting a divorce or learning to drive.

As a team, we designed, tested, iterated and built a simple way to guide users through these tasks step by step.

Our work on ’Learn to drive a car: step by step’ is now in public beta, with ‘Get a divorce: step by step’ and ‘End a civil partnership: step by step’ coming soon.

We’re hoping to roll out this end-to-end service approach to many more areas of government in 2018.

Annette Sweeney, Head of the GDS Academy

I’m pleased the Digital Academy has now moved to GDS and we’re working, through discovery, on what the Digital, Data and Technology offer will look like in the future.

I’m looking forward to delivering a wider curriculum across government in 2018, and expanding the Academy further in the regions.

Pea Tyczynska, Junior Technologist

Pea Tyczynska

“I am particularly proud that we have made progress in gathering and opening up the data about the details of procurement processes and results in 2017.

Next year, I am really looking forward to further expanding on that work, and possibly sharing our knowledge and solutions with other countries.”

Léonie Watson, Senior Accessibility Engineer

When we started work on the GOV.UK beta in 2011, we included ‘Put users first’, and ‘Do the hard work so users don’t have to’, in our core design principles. Six years later, those principles have been adopted far and wide, and the web is a better place because of it.

Don’t forget to read the 2017 chapter in ‘A GDS Story’. Follow GDS on Twitter, and sign up for email alerts.

Original source – Government Digital Service

I’m Dan Tanham, a Deputy Director at DWP Digital. Two weeks ago I had the privilege of hosting our #HackTheNorth event in Manchester.

Dan Tanham hosted the hack

The aim of the hack was to come up with solutions to help address the unemployment challenges in the city. And although we didn’t expect to completely solve the problem, I think everyone who was there would agree that some fantastic ideas were generated that have the potential to make a real impact.

Check out our Twitter moment to watch the action unfold social media style.

Setting the scene

The event started on Thursday afternoon with quick-fire presentations from Manchester Digital’s Katie Gallagher, some of DWP’s data science colleagues and Joe Drumgoole from MongoDB – the event’s lead sponsor. Joe explained the pitch process, saying, “The most important thing is to learn something, have fun and try to do some good.”

Tim Haworth from DWP Work Services did a great job setting the scene of the unemployment situation in Manchester. He was keen that everyone in the room understood the barriers to employment including skills gaps, transport, criminal records and lack of experience. We also had the opportunity to hear from John, one of our claimants who we’d recently helped into work.

On to the questions…

The question and answer session gave attendees the chance to pose their questions to our speakers. And this was when the room really came to life!

Almost all of the questions (and there were many!) were directed at our Work Services colleagues and demonstrated the audience’s real interest and concern for the cause.

After a bit of networking and time digesting what we’d all heard, it was time for the pitches. And just like the questions, I didn’t think they’d ever stop coming.

Ideas spanned a huge range of innovations from the gamification of job applications to using data visualisation to display jobs suited to people with different health conditions.

There was so much genuine enthusiasm about solving Manchester’s unemployment challenges; I knew from this point on that we were going to witness some fantastic ideas.

Coding commences

When I arrived at the venue on Friday morning, I was amazed to see that many teams were already there putting their ideas into action.  The buzz in the room was contagious and continued throughout the day, as teams worked together using their digital skills to address the challenge.

I was so impressed with the energy and enthusiasm on display. When speaking to the teams, they said they’d been inspired by the cause and the presentations the previous day.

Ellis, a freelance experience designer who took on a project lead role at the hack, was genuinely surprised by way we work in DWP Digital saying, “As a government department I’d expected DWP to be quite corporate, but the people I’ve met here really want to make a difference to the world.”

The judging

On Friday afternoon it was time for the presentations and judging. Joe and Tim joined me on the judging panel, which also included Vimla Appadoo, one of our services designers at DWP Digital.

Each team took turns to show what they’d managed to build over the course of the day. We got to see live demonstrations which included:

  • an Alexa skill that uses voice recognition to help people search for jobs
  • A Twitter bot built on top of MongoDB to match employer and employee requirements on social media
  • ‘Nicola’ – a messaging bot which makes applying for jobs easier
  • an app that uses data to assess which type of roles and employers are best for people with certain health conditions
  • an app that turned the job hunting journey into a game

The standard of all the presentations was first­-class and the judges were blown away with what the teams had managed to achieve in such a short space of time.  What was very interesting was seeing the amount of overlap between the teams and their complete focus on making things easier for the customer.

It’s cliché to say, but all teams were winners in my eyes. However we had to pick one! And that was UpSkill – a team made up of two software developers, a data scientist and a colleague from a Cheshire Jobcentre. Their app uses data to match people’s skills to the skills required by employers, and has an API to allow people to access resources to boost their skills.

Innovation is the key

At DWP Digital we have a responsibility to our customers to innovate. This hack has helped us generate some brilliant ideas that we can look at taking forward.

It also enabled us to start establishing DWP Digital within the Manchester tech community ahead of our digital hub opening in the city early next year.  I’m originally from Bolton, so it made me proud to witness first-hand the innovation and creativity of some of region’s tech talent.

We’re hoping to continue the success of this hack with further events next year – keep up to date by following us on Twitter @DWPDigital.

Original source – DWP Digital

Associate Research Advisor – Data Science

Permanent: 39 hours per week
Salary: £25,840 – £34,960 per annum, plus benefits
Based in Westminster

The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) is recruiting an Associate Research Advisor, who will work in our Research and Evaluation team. In this role you will work within the Core Research Team to design, conduct and evaluate randomised controlled trials across the public policy spectrum. The role will also work with BIT’s data science team to help apply new statistical methodologies to public policy problems.

For a detailed job description and to apply, please visit Applied.

Applications close on 2 January 2018 at 12pm GMT. 

Associate Research Advisor – Social Capital 

Permanent: 39 hours per week
Salary: £25,840 – £34,960 per annum, plus benefits
Based in Westminster

Our Research and Evaluation team in London is looking for an exceptional candidate to join us as an Associate Research AdvisorIn this role you will work within the Core Research Team to design, conduct and evaluate randomised controlled trials across the public policy spectrum, with a particular focus increasing engagement with government services and volunteering. We are keen to recruit a candidate with a strong background in behavioural science and data analysis.

For a detailed job description and to apply, please visit Applied.

Applications close on 8 January 2018 at 12pm GMT. 

Advisor – BIT: North

Fixed term contract: 39 hours per week
Salary: £33,915 per annum, plus benefits
Based in Manchester

Our BIT North team based in Manchester is looking for an exceptional candidate to join us as an Advisor. The successful applicant will work on a range of projects in a wide range of policy areas including: health and social care integration, increasing physical activity and increasing recycling and reducing fly-tipping. Each of these projects will require the Advisor to find ways in which behavioural insights can be applied to policy problems.

For a detailed job description and to apply, please visit Applied.

Applications close on 15 January 2018 at 12pm GMT. 

Research Assistant – Nesta

Salary: £200 per day (freelance contract)
Based in Westminster

Nesta is recruiting a research assistant to support a Randomised Controlled Trial in secondary schools from mid-Jan 2018 to around late April 2018. The project is a collaboration between Nesta and the Behavioural Insights Team – you will work from BIT’s offices in Westminster but you will be directly employed by Nesta.

The full job description can be downloaded here. Candidates should send their CV to Fionnuala O’Reilly (fionnuala.oreilly@bi.team) and complete this short survey.

Applications close on 8 December 2017 at 12pm GMT. 

Head of Growth (Founding Team) – Promptable

Salary: £TBC, plus benefits
Based in Westminster

BI Ventures is expanding and looking for excellent candidates to drive one of its flagship products: Promptable. Find out more, including full job descriptions and how to apply.

Applications close on 10 December 2017 at midnight GMT. 

The Behavioural Insights Team is committed to a policy of Equal Employment Opportunity and is determined to ensure that no applicant or employee receives less favourable treatment on the grounds of gender, age, disability, religion, belief, sexual orientation, marital status, or race, or is disadvantaged by conditions or requirements which cannot be shown to be justifiable.

Original source – Behavioural Insights Team

You’d be surprised at just how little of the land is built on in the UK.

Just two per cent is concreted over  which leaves a lot of greenspaces. In towns that’s parks and gardens. Out of town, that’s farms and countryside.

There’s a massive split between town and country. Neither side really understands the other. I grew up on the edge of Stafford and live in the Black Country. My Dad was a countryman at heard from Cumbria. Do I know what makes farmers tick? Not at all.

Less than one per cent of the UK population is employed in agriculture so there aren’t many of them, either.

This is why the @farmersoftheuk Twitter works so well.

The account presents a new farmer every week. They’ll tweet through their day and they’ll talk about their job and their challenges.

This week? A turkey farmer. It is December.

Other weeks have seen other farmers and the account works best when you see the people mixed with shots of the farm. People, after all, connect with people.

The approach means that you can connect with people for a time and start to understand them better. And if all else fails a shot of dogs floating through your timeline has to work. well

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

We have recently been supporting the Housing Minister, Alok Sharma, and the Department for Communities and Local Government as they travel around the country to listen to the experiences, concerns and ideas of social housing residents – all to inform the development of policies which could improve our housing market.

We have been thinking really hard about how activities can:

  • Provide a space for participants to say the things they want, and need, to say;
  • Ensure everyone is given the opportunity to communicate their feelings in a manner they feel is most comfortable; and,
  • Encourage people to come up with creative solutions and suggestions.

This does not simply mean printing off and re-using a ‘standard’ workshop (if a ‘standard’ workshop even exists). It’s all about adapting materials – which isn’t easy. I recently experienced a great example of adaptation when I took part in the BBC’s The Fix, hosted by Matthew Taylor and Cat Drew. In leading the workshops, Cat, previously of Policy Lab and now at Uscreates, had to convert a very visual design process for a radio audience, providing alternative cues. Have a listen to how she does it here.

My experience on The Fix raised an important challenge: do our methods and tools work for everyone?  If we truly value diversity, how can we champion it in our approach?  

Introverts and extroverts

Last year I was lucky enough to lead a team of young people on an International Citizen Service expedition in Tanzania. I had some great thinkers in my team – with a range of styles.  Throughout the expedition I clutched a wonderful book called Quiet by Susan Cain.  Quiet was my sacred text, explaining the power of the introverted mind.  It helped me develop ways to engage with my team and get views from those whose ‘energy comes from within’. I learnt, for example, to help people find safe spaces for thinking – and not to force people to take a view before they’ve had a chance to develop one fully.

Applying design techniques to policy is an action-orientated job – but that does not mean that it is solely a place for highly energetic talkers.  All too often it feels like the workshop is the domain of the extrovert.  Curiosity is not a characteristic solely held by those who ask loud questions.  We need to design workspaces which capitalise on inquisitive minds of those who may not feel ready to ‘jump-in’ with a view.

We’ve been introducing conscious quietness in some of our Policy Lab sessions. After all, the civil servants we work with have a great diversity of style: Emma Charles in One Team Gov has written a nice blog on a Civil Service introvert experience here. Designing for everyone can mean encouraging participants to develop their thoughts individually before coming together for, often more thought-through, discussions. We also did this in the workshops with social housing residents, starting by asking attendees to first write or sketch their thoughts (individually, or with their neighbour’s help).  It has been really powerful to hear some people stand up and speak at the end, proudly telling us that they would not normally have felt comfortable speaking their views in open forum – but feel empowered to do so.

Make it easy to take part:

Thanks to live drawer, Zuhura Plummer for this sketch of a process

Adaptability is vital in workshops: both in the design and planning, and also in real time.  We know that words like ‘co-design’, ‘action-oriented’ and ‘end user’ can inadvertently exclude people. So when we test, we make sure there are different ways to demonstrate a concept and different ways to feed back. Last month we were out testing ideas with members of the public (see Sanjan’s ‘Prototyping for the Private Rental Sector‘). Whilst some participants understood when shown a picture, others valued hearing an idea explained, or having the opportunity to write their thoughts as we went through.

What does this mean?

It feels we have three top tips for ensuring workshops are more inclusive and more productive:

  1. Know your participants: Start by designing with a clear idea of who your participants are, challenging biases and ‘groupthink’. Workshops can have hidden biases towards the style of facilitator or those invited to attend. Ensure the physical space supports all attendees, making adaptations for specific needs – such as those who are partially sighted or less mobile.
  2. Embrace variety: Build trust, and create spaces for different styles, by providing opportunity to contribute in different ways. This does not only mean spoken contributions. Incorporate time for individual work to stimulate divergent thought whilst reducing workshop fatigue and over-stimulation in larger groups.
  3. Reflect: All the while, reflect on what worked well and improve the next time. Practise an iterative approach in the very way you construct the design process.

Our tips aren’t meant to be prescriptive so I’d like to turn this discussion over to the blog-o-sphere and ask a question of you.  What works here?  What is the next practice on engaging different styles in the design process?  Write to us, write to me, tweet us, post a comment.  We may not respond quickly, but I really hope the response will be thought-through.

Original source – Policy Lab

The latest installation of our Alaveteli software, OPRAmachine, is an interesting new use of the platform. Rather than covering a whole country, as most of the other Alaveteli installations around the world do, it services just a single US state.

OPRAmachine, which launched in October, allows citizens to request information from state and local governmental agencies in New Jersey, under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

We asked Gavin Rozzi, the local journalist who has built and runs OPRAmachine, about the site and its impacts so far:

Why did you decide to set up OPRAmachine?

I developed an interest in New Jersey’s Freedom of Information law in the course of my work as an independent journalist. I created OPRAmachine because there is a void in our state for a statewide Freedom of Information portal.

Historically, New Jersey has gained a reputation as a state with excessive spending on state and local government, along with an enduring “culture” of political corruption, as defined by The New York Times.

I have found that in all too many cases, a lack of transparency and compliance with OPRA disclosure requirements has gone hand in hand with instances of government mismanagement and corruption at the state and local level, some of which have been publicised over the years.

While working in my capacity as an independent journalist, I began making extensive use of the OPRA law in order to study the activities of local governments in New Jersey. I became very familiar with the process and the how the law is effective at bringing about vitally needed transparency through the right it gives citizens to obtain public records.

Why is the site a state-wide implementation rather than a country-wide one?

In New Jersey, we have a separate state Freedom of Information law that applies to state and local governmental agencies, the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The law broadly defines a ‘government record’ and allows citizens to request quite a bit from public bodies.

On a federal level, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) only applies to federal agencies, so it isn’t the law we’re looking to use.

We chose to only focus on New Jersey and not the rest of the United States because I felt that a state level website would have the largest chance to make a positive impact, especially in a state like New Jersey that has over 565 municipalities and a very large state government.

Additionally, because of how fragmented New Jersey’s local governments are, before OPRAmachine there was no single statewide web application that allowed citizens to make requests to every single municipality in the state. Like the site’s users, I live, work and attend university in New Jersey, so that’s why I chose to focus on the state rather than going nationwide, as this is where I felt that I could have the biggest impact given my resources.

I already operate an independent news website that focuses on Ocean County, New Jersey where I currently reside, so for me launching an Alaveteli site was a natural progression. We are planning a follow-up site for federal FOIA requests at FOIA.me; development on that effort remains ongoing.

What made you choose to use Alaveteli software for your platform?

I chose Alaveteli to power OPRAmachine because it offered the most robust set of tools that we needed to power our platform. I have found it to be an excellent platform and it fits all of the needs for our project. The moderation system allows us to get an idea of how the site is progressing, as well as identify potential issues that require our attention. We have found the support of the developers and Alaveteli community to be an excellent resource in navigating some of the challenges associated with deploying the code base to its current production environment.

How well known is the right to information in New Jersey?

New Jersey’s current freedom of information law, the Open Public Records Act, was adopted in 2002. OPRA replaced our state’s previous Right to Know law that was found to be fairly ineffective. There is definitely a small but active community of individuals who utilise the law to gather information on the operations of local government in New Jersey. Occasionally, cases become well-known, such as where an individual is seeking police dashcam videos or controversial documents. But outside of journalists, public officials, and those engaged with public affairs, many citizens of the state are unaware how extensive their rights are under the OPRA law, and I am hopeful that OPRAmachine will help people learn more.

How do you plan to promote OPRAmachine and get more people using it?

We will largely be relying on online content and word of mouth to promote the site. Since its launch in October, we have steadily increased our user base each week. We are also in talks with some of our supporters about possibly having an in-person event in the future to promote the site, as well as to educate citizens about their right to make requests under the OPRA law.

What lasting impact do you hope the site will achieve?

I hope that the site helps to make state and local government more transparent, in addition to educating both citizens and public officials about how the Open Public Records Act works. I also hope that the site will contribute to democracy by allowing anybody interested in the activities of the New Jersey government to browse and request public records that otherwise might not have been available online.

Secondly, I hope that the site changes the culture of government in New Jersey to have more of a tendency towards openness and transparency, as the public records provided through Alaveteli-powered sites are essential to maintaining functional democracies and civic engagement for the 21st century.

What are your future plans for OPRAmachine?

They include marketing the site to New Jersey residents who might be able to benefit either from making a request or reading information that has been requested by other users of the site. Our database of public authorities currently includes all 565 municipal governments within the state along with county government agencies covering all 21 counties within the state of New Jersey.

Also on the horizon are targeted campaigns of requests for specific types of records. Some of our users have expressed interest in campaigning for certain types of records, such as police internal affairs summary reports, salary and pension data and other types of frequently requested records.

We have also added many New Jersey state agencies to OPRAmachine; however we have been encountering resistance, particularly from the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, which has been refusing to answer any requests emailed through the site. The AG is trying to force requesters to make use of their clunky, proprietary web interface to submit OPRA requests, which does not provide the same document sharing or time tracking features that the Alaveteli software that powers our site. The requesters and site administration are currently evaluating our legal position, and we may need to pursue legal action to ensure that requests sent from OPRAmachine are adequately answered. This will likely be something that will take months or years to resolve conclusively.

What has been the most interesting response to a request received on OPRAmachine so far?

Some authorities are attempting to require requestors to fill out a paper form. Typically after the requestor replies and says that the email sent via OPRAmachine is sufficient, the authority complied. Another interesting situation has arisen with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. They are currently refusing all requests sent via our Alaveteli installation, and instead directing users to their proprietary online request form. We have filed a petition with the attorney general to change the regulations that they are trying to use as basis to deny the requests and will be sharing more on that in the future.

One other thing to note is that we have spoken to some employees of the government agencies listed on OPRAmachine, and some have even said that they have found all of the public information on the site to be useful for conducting their own research and checking up on how neighboring jurisdictions are performing, an unintended but positive usage of our platform, showing how Freedom of Information platforms can provide value to all stakeholders, not just requestors.

What advice would you give to other people around the world who would like to set up an FOI platform?

I would encourage anybody to be knowledgeable of the legal issues surrounding your country’s Freedom of Information laws and how changes in legal precedent can affect the types of information that can be obtained using Freedom of Information. Those considering operating an FOI platform should be prepared to advocate for the legal rights of your users, as well as looking for opportunities to work collaboratively with public bodies when possible.

Secondly, I think it is absolutely essential to know who your userbase is and to be responsive to their needs. A strong userbase and trustworthy volunteers are essential to ensure that these types of transparency initiatives can scale to meet increasing demand. To that end, recruiting a team of users and volunteers that are passionate about your project will go a long way.

Many thanks to Gavin for taking the time to answer our questions. We’re really pleased to see the impacts of the site already, and look forward to following the team’s progress in making New Jersey a more transparent and less corrupt place.

We’ll particularly be following along via the OPRAmachine blog, which already contains great resources such this video explainer of how records custodians can use the site (see below), and this animation on how OPRAmachine works (see above). Hopefully these resources will also be useful to the wider Alaveteli community!

Original source – mySociety