Last week we headed up to Leeds to sponsor and participate in Leeds GovJam. In short, GovJam takes place across the globe for two days each year. Working around a common theme, small teams meet at multiple locations, working for 48 hours on building innovative approaches and solutions towards challenges faced by the public sector.

In order to best explain how it works (and what we built), have a read of dxw digital’s developer/designer, Agz Deberney’s post below:

GovJam 2018

Day 1: Choosing our service

It all started on the first day, Tuesday late afternoon. Everyone gathered in one room at the ODI Leeds offices, ready to start the Jam and waiting for the ‘Secret Theme’ to be revealed.

A quick warm-up exercise to help us understand that ‘All ideas are great, there are no limits’ was to describe as many ways as possible how one can squeeze a lemon. This opened up our minds (at least it’s what I’ve realised) to discover an enormous amount of possibilities, and was a prelude to the GovJam “Secret Theme” reveal.

After discovering the “Secret Theme” (a sound which consisted of a machinery/spring-like noise, audience-type laughter and a couple of other indescribable sounds(!)), we started to brainstorm ideas based on what we thought it could be.

We wrote down ideas and associated interpretations on post-it notes and put them together into larger contextual groups that formed topics. It was interesting to experience the process when a topic is being collectively formed from something quite abstract.

Team Access

Our team, that we later called ‘AccessLeeds’, was formulated around ‘Events & Experience’.

The next stage was to think together in teams around problems associated with the chosen topic. The conversations helped in creating an outline of possible services related to discussed issues. After talking through different problems we decided to explore further the challenges people face going out and attending public events when they have various accessibility needs. We realized that quite often places and event venues are not suited well enough to accommodate various needs of users. Public places lack not only step-free access or accessible toilets and changing rooms, but also sign language interpreters, guides for visual impairment or simply a quieter place to enjoy an event experience by users that don’t feel comfortable with high noise levels and crowded spaces. In many instances, it’s not always easy to find out if a venue provides facilities and services that meet user needs.

Day 2: Listen to users, build a prototype, iterate. 

On day two, we got out and about talking to potential users to learn about their experiences and problems they face attending events.We spoke to 17 users and collated notes from the interviews. Based on that we drafted User Personas that would help in defining the problem and service focus. We ended up with a problem statement:

Each of us then spent a few minutes sketching out ideas on how would we approach solving the problem and how we could create a user-facing service that would help meet their needs.

When it came to ‘Show NOT tell’ time, the teams came up with fun and creative ways of presenting by:

  • storytelling through user personas,
  • involving the audience in role-playing as user personas experiencing the service, ‘immersive presentation’,
  • building a story scene from LEGO bricks and figures to walk through the service
  • showing the service as a scene in a gym set up and acting out user roles playing their stories
  • reflecting the user actions and narrative when using a service prototype

The audience’s feedback and questions were then fed into the prototype we were building.

Day 3: Second iteration and refining the prototype. Testing with users

Our team went out to watch the users using the prototype and came back with insights that got us iterating even more!

The last day was completed with ‘show not tells’ from all of the teams.

 

You can read more about what the other teams got up to by following Leeds GovJam on Twitter, or by visiting The Leeds GovJam website (photos and more information will be uploaded here shortly).

What we learnt:

  • Turn abstract ideas into specific ideas and themes
  • Less talking, more doing
  • Get out and talk to users!
  • Prototype, test, iterate, iterate, iterate
  • Fail fast
  • Get out and test prototypes with users
  • ‘Show no tell’; get your audience to role-play as a user experiencing the service
  • User Interviews -> User Personas -> User Journey -> Sketch prototype (by using paper, lego or whatever you have to hand that works for you)
  • Use Service Design Thinking methods and tools and turn them into Service Design Doing
  • Make it fun. Collaborate!

All in all, a great experience working at pace, being agile, collaborating and designing potential services for real people.

Original source – dxw

Hi Team,

In keeping with learning and development on Fridays, Irene Friend from Resonate Training  will be coming in to hold a half day ‘storytelling workshop’ on a Friday in July.

‘You are 22 times more likely to remember a story than a fact…’

Irene will help us to combine some of the technical, physical and vocal techniques that can be used to enhance story for both the audience and the teller. This will directly help those involved in fortnightly show & tell sessions strengthen presence, voice and confident engagement.

The three focuses of this interactive workshop will be the disciplines of voice, physicality and storytelling structure.

As a team we’ll discover how to combine these to enhance a story from brand, pitch, product to presentation. These skills have the added bonus to increase communication, listening and empathy.

If you’re interested, please drop me a slack and I can finalise a date.

Thanks,
Farrah

Original source – dxw

You might remember that we shared a post in November announcing the start of a new project, funded by Power To Change, to help communities protect Assets of Community Value.

So we’re pleased to announce the (quiet) beta launch of our latest little site, Keep It In The Community, which we hope will become an England-wide register of Assets of Community Value (ACVs).

Improving legislation

The Localism Act 2011 was introduced with a great hope. Its provision for giving groups the right to bid on buildings or land that contribute to community life would allow the protection these assets, potentially taking them into direct community control should they come up for sale.

Sadly, as currently implemented, the law hasn’t yet delivered on that promise.

In Scotland, the legislation comes with an actual right to buy, but in England, that’s not the case, and with developers finding ways around the legislation more often than not, often the best the Act can bring about is the delay of an inevitable change of control. For the moment we’re not expecting the legislation to be given any more teeth.

With Keep It In The Community we intend to at least help support a greater takeup of registration by local communities.

Keep It In The Community Logo

In yet another project built on the flexible FixMyStreet Platform, Keep It In The Community has three main roles:

1. We’re gathering together existing asset listings from the 300+ English councils who hold them, to provide a single synchronised and complete record of all listed and nominated ACVs.

2. We’re providing a straightforward route for established community groups to nominate new ACVs in their community.

3. We’ll allow community members to provide more details, photographs, and useful anecdotes about each registered asset, beyond that required by the legal listing process.

Plans for the summer

So far we have data from around 20 local authorities on the live service, with another 50 or so due to be added over the next few weeks. The remaining councils will be added over the summer. All the data is drawn directly from each local authority and as new assets are nominated or their status changes we’ll update their status on Keep It In The Community.

Keep It In The Community Screen Shot

Whilst we complete final testing we’re restricting the ability of community groups to nominate assets, but hope to fully switch that on shortly, once more of the existing assets are displayed on the site.

The initial process for connecting each council listing is fairly low tech, relying on the scraping of a commonly formatted spreadsheet hosted on each council website.

So for the moment. there will still be a fair amount of manual tweaking to keep things in sync. This is one of those important elements that will be fine to manage when the service is starting out, but may start to creak further down the line if it becomes well used – a classic ‘known known’ issue we’ll need to keep on top of.

Over the summer we’ll be working with a representative set of community groups to extend the features of Keep It In The Community to improve how to submit assets for nomination, and how best to celebrate the listed assets by adding all sorts of local detail and background.

Have a look and let us know what you think so far.

In addition to the initial grant from Power To Change, this project has been implemented with the support of the Plunkett Foundation and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Original source – mySociety

‘Internet of Public Service jobs’ is a weekly list of vacancies related to product management, user experience, data and design in…you guessed it…the ‘internet of public service’ curated by @jukesie every Sunday.

[01] Head of Digital Tools
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
London
£50,006 to £59,377
Closing date: 01/07/2018

[02] Open Data Lead
Office for National Statistics
Newport
£35,200 — £40,249
Closing date: 24/06/2018

[03] Executive Director — Technology Policy and Innovation
Information Commissioners Office
Wilmslow
£95,000 — £136,000
Closing date: 25/06/2018

[04] Digital Product Manager
National Trust
Swindon
£39,732
Closing date: 24/06/2018

[05] Digital Transformation Project Manager
Education Authority
Armagh
£33,437 — £36,379
Closing date: 19/06/2018

[06] Service Designer
Citizens Advice
London
£35,000— £40,000
Closing date: ?

[07] Head of User Research
dxw
London
£75,000
Closing date: 29/06/2018

[08] Digital Communications Manager
The Electoral Commission
London
£46,442
Closing date: 24/06/2018

[09] Senior Product Manager — Voice + AI
BBC
Glasgow
No salary details
Closing date: 17/06/2018

[10] User Researcher
Health and Safety Executive
Bootle
£37,022 — £43,675
Closing date: 27/06/2018


Internet of Public Service Jobs: 10/06/2018 was originally published in Product for the People on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original source – Product for the People

hate social media.jpg

How are you feeling about social media these days? Cambridge Analytica, Fake news, dwindling organic reach? Here’s what some of your peers think right now…

by Darren Caveney

This year I have been delivering my new Supercharged Social Media workshop around the UK and for in-house communications teams. Over 300 people have taken part so far and it’s been a rare chance to gain an insight into where social media is working (and not working) right now across public sector communications. Although I host the workshops I’ve learned an awful lot in the process.

I begin each session by asking attendees to name their favourite and least favourite social media platforms. It’s a great way to get everyone in the room chatting and sharing. And it reveals fascinating real trends taking place right now about our preferences in social media platforms, both professional and personal. And they are shifting for sure.

It also sparks some venting in the room, and let’s face it we do all love a good vent from time to time.

I thought it would be fun to share some of my favourite, true and entertaining quotes from these workshop introductions…

Pinterest – it’s evil

Snapchat – I gave it an hour and then gave up

I have cut right back on social media this year – I only use four (4) social platforms each day now

LinkedIn – it’s full of people trying to sell to me

Oh I love LinkedIn – every single job I have ever got was via LinkedIn

I am still unable to tweet from my work phone (sigh)

Having managed a day of abuse on social at work the last thing I want to do is go on social media at night

My manager told me that we MUST be on Pinterest. We knew it wouldn’t work for us and so it proved. I have hated it ever since

I hate Snapchat. And I hate the risks it poses to young people

I can’t stand Instagram. Why do so many people like so many s*#t pictures?

Twitter. It’s really just people showing off

Oh LinkedIn is sooooo boring

I can’t stand Facebook now – it’s full of moaners

I don’t want to know what people have had for breakfast

LinkedIn is full of golfers…

Facebook – they have really disappointed me with their practices

I hate all social media. It’s the work of the devil

Facebook, Twitter, all of them – full of fake news and idiots

Pinterest really annoys me. What’s the point?

Facebook have lied to us too many times – how can we trust them?

LinkedIn? It’s an abomination (that was my favourite)

 

So what does this all mean…

Is it OK to dislike something but still use it for work benefits? Abso-blooming-lutely. I couldn’t stand the local daily newspaper covering a council area I was head of comms for. I thought it was awful. But did I ‘use it’ if there was a benefit? Of course.

We know that we can spend too much time and money on social media if there isn’t a sound insight-led comms plan sat behind it. We know that vanity metrics and video views are to be taken with a pretty big pinch of salt.

At the same time we know that if a large-scale emergency breaks on our patch then it will be on Twitter in under a minute. The media get a huge slug of their content from Twitter and other channels now. And we know that social media can deliver benefits and opportunities which other channels can’t get near to.

What’s clear is that after 10 years plus of social media in our work the honeymoon is long over and we are beginning to put it in its rightful place in our channel mix. And that has to be a good thing.

Social media has changed the way in which we work as communicators. I still feel it’s largely a force for good. It can be genuinely influencial and it punches above its true weight at times.

But it absolutely needs a plan behind it.

So it’s ok for us to hate certain platforms.

In fact it’s healthy and ensures we are objective in our work.

If you would like me to deliver Supercharged Social Media in house for your team drop me a message at darrencaveney@gmail.com

And if it helps you here is my free to down essential comms planning guide featuring an office wall poster and step-by-step guide.

Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd

image via Tullio Saba

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

Previously

This is the second episode of a mini-series of blogs looking at the origins of the UK government’s digital reform programme since 2010.

Part 1 briefly set out the backstory – the focus on understanding the needs of service users (including redesigning services around “life episodes“) and the associated cross-government enabling platforms in place as early as 2003.

It’s important to understand these earlier approaches, including what worked and what didn’t. After all government, a bit like any large organisation, has the memory of a goldfish. It often ends up doing the same thing time and again, each time claiming it’s breaking new ground whilst often retreading the well-worn footprints of those who went before. No wonder politicians and public alike get cynical about the role of technology in improving public services.

The pioneering UK work of the late 1990s and early 2000s created a good base to build on. It developed a promising cross-government policy delivery infrastructure based on open standards, open interfaces and shared components. Important (and often painful) lessons were learned during this journey to de-silo government and rebuild services around outcomes rather than institutions and existing transactions.

The wellsprings

In this second blog, I’m setting out a few ideas about how we can best evaluate the 3 main wellsprings that underpinned digital reform from 2010 onwards. In particular, how we can objectively assess how much impact they’ve had on the UK’s efforts to make our public services and public sector more effective – for both those who use and those who deliver our public services.

This should put us in a good place for the following parts of the story, in which I’ll explore the 3 main wellsprings in more detail:

  • Better for Less (2009) – which helped develop the policies of open data, innovate / leverage / commoditise, disaggregation, spend controls, open standards, SME-focus, service-oriented / micro-services architecture, cloud first / buy before build, etc.
  • Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution (2010) – which helped accelerate the website convergence onto GOV.UK already underway as part of Directgov, and which set out ambitious plans to open up government through the more widespread adoption of APIs (application programming interfaces – interfaces to provide access to government systems)
  • The House of Commons Public Account Select Committee’s (PASC) report into Government IT (2011) – which supported the move towards opening up the market, re-skilling the civil service and the increased use of SMEs

All 3 of these have played an important role in helping re-energise attempts to modernise and improve public services.

Separating “transformation” from lipstick on pigs

The phrase “digital transformation” has been bandied about so much it’s become increasingly meaningless and tarnished, part of a modern day group-think Grammelot as likely to provoke tired disdain and hollow, cynical laughter as excitement. This is partly because it’s often become just another lazy way of repackaging the simplistic and decades-old dogma that technology will help drive

… service organisations, including those in the public sector, towards profound transformations in the design of their production processes and structures.” [1].

Any assessment of whether beneficial transformation has taken place only makes sense if we can set aside the Kool-Aid of “digital” hype and define objectively what, if any, progress has been made behind the smokescreen of self-promotional tweeting. I intend to try using the definitions below to help evaluate where we are on the spectrum of change: from genuinely improving public service outcomes – true transformation of the kind much promised but unfortunately seldom delivered – to the more mainstream, and more usual, areas of automation, optimisation or re-engineering.

transformation table.png
Distinguishing “transformation” from other technology-enabled initiatives [2]

Transformation is a world away from simply polishing the way things are currently done (the “lipstick on pigs” approach – the tired web- and form-based service design ethos of the past few decades, stuck Groundhog Day-like inside the broken silos and reference frames of existing organisational services). Improving our public services relies on the ability to step back and rethink and redesign current public policy by focusing relentlessly and selflessly on improved outcomes, with a profoundly beneficial and positive impact on people and their experience of delivering or receiving public services.

Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 08.21.06.png
The ever popular analogy of “Lipstick on a pig” – an image I shamelessly recycled from my earlier slides in my 2008 talk “Reinventing government for the internet age

I’m hoping these definitions will help us better assess the contribution the 3 wellsprings have made, to identify which of their ideas have had most profound and meaningful impact since 2010, and to consider how best to improve public services given where we are now.

In my next blog in this mini-series I’ll begin to work my way through each of the 3 wellsprings in turn – the ideas they injected into public service reform and how well understood and implemented they have been. In the final blog that follows these next pieces, I’ll review the impacts and outcomes they’ve had – where I think they’ve helped, and where they haven’t.

Next up …

Right, that’s enough scene-setting and backstory – next up, time to explore the first of our 3 wellsprings: “Better for Less”. Coming this way as soon as I find the time between the day job(s) and other articles and blogs.


[1] “Introduction: Exploiting IT” in “Public Administration – Towards the Information Polity?” Bellamy, C., and Taylor, J.A., Public AdministrationVol. 72 March 1994. pp.1-13.

[2] I adapted this a while back from an original breakdown set out in “Reinventing Government in the Information Age”. Heeks, R (editor). Routledge, 1999. These updated definitions also appeared in Computer Weekly in Escaping waterfall government and the myth of ‘digital transformation’ in my article co-authored with Cassian Young

Original source – new tech observations from a UK perspective (ntouk)

[Summary: The Information Commissioner’s Office has upheld an appeal against continued redaction of key financial information about the Javelin Park Incinerator Public Private Partnership (PPP) project in Gloucestershire]

The Story So Far

I’ve written before about controversy over the contract for Javelin Park, a waste incinerator project worth at least £0.5bn and being constructed just outside Stroud as part of a 25-year Public Private Partnership deal. There’s a short history at the bottom of this article, which breaks off in 2015 when the Information Commissioners’ Office last ruled against Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) and told them to release an unredacted copy of the PPP contract. GCC appealed that decision, but were finally told by the Information Tribunal in 2017 to publish the contract: which they did. Sort of. Because in the papers released, we found out about a 2015 renegotiation that had taken place, meaning that we still don’t know how much local taxpayers are on the hook for, nor how the charging model affects potential recycling rates, or incentives to burn plastics.

In June last year, through FOI, I got a heavily redacted copy of a report considering the value for money of this renegotiated contract, but blacking out all the key figures. This week the Information Commissioner upheld my appeal against the redactions, ruling that GCC have 35 days to provide un-redacted information. They may still make their own appeal against this, but the ICO decision makes very clear that the reasoning from the 2017 Information Tribunal ruling holds firm when it comes to the public interest in knowing salient details of original and renegotiated contracts.

The Story Right Now

For the last two weeks, Gloucestershire resident Sid Saunders has been on hunger strike outside the county’s Shire Hall to call for the release of the full revised contract between Gloucestershire County Council and Urbaser Balfour Beatty. This is, to my knowledge, unprecedented. It demonstrates the strength of feeling over the project, and the crucial importance of transparency around contracts in securing public accountability.

GCC are already weeks overdue responding to the most recent FOI/EIR request for the latest contract text, and continue to stonewall requests for even basic details, repeating discredited soundbites about potential savings that rely on outdated assumptions about comparisons and high waste flows.

On Wednesday, Sid and other local activists staged a dignified silent protest at the meeting of GCC Cabinet, where public and councillor questions on an air quality agenda item had unconstitutionally been excluded.

Tomorrow we’ll be heading to Gloucester in support of Sid’s continued campaign for information, and for action to bring accountability to this mega-project.

It’s against this backdrop that I wanted to draw out some of the key elements of the ICO’s decision notice, and observations on GCC responses to FOI and EIR requests.

Unpacking the decision notice

The decision notice has not yet been published on the ICO website, but I’ve posted a copy here and will update the link once the ICO version is online.

The delays can’t stay

It is notable that every request for information relating to Javelin Park has been met with very delayed replies, exceeding the statutory limits set down in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and the stricter Environmental Information Regulations (EIR).

The decision notice states that the “council failed to comply with the requirements of Regulation 5(2) and Regulation 14(2)” which set strict time limits on the provision of information, and the grounds for which an authority can take extra time to respond.

Yet, we’re seeing in the latest requests, that GCC suggest that they will need until the end of June (which falls, curiously, just days after the next full meeting of the County Council) to work out what they can release. I suspect consistent breaches of the regulations on timeliness are not likely to be looked on favourably by the ICO in any future appeals.

The information tribunal principles stand

The Commissioners decision notice draws heavily on the earlier Information Tribunal ruling that noted that, whilst there are commercial interests of the Authority, and UBB at play, there are significant public interests in transparency, and:

“In the end it is the electorate which must hold the Council as a whole to account and the electorate are more able to do that properly if relevant information is available to all”

The decision note makes clear that the reasoning applies to revisions to the contract:

Even with the disclosures ordered by the Tribunal from the contract the Commissioner considers that it is impossible for the public to be fully aware of the overall value for money of the project in the long term if it is unable to analyse the full figures regarding costs and price estimates which the council was working from at the time of the revised project plan.

going on to say:

The report therefore provides more current, relevant figures which the council used to evaluate and inform its decisions regarding the contract and it will presumably be used as a basis for its future negotiations over pricing and costs. Currently these figures are not publicly available, and therefore the public as a whole cannot create an overall picture as to whether the EfW development provides value for money under the revised agreement.

As the World Bank PPP Disclosure Framework makes clear, amendment and revisions to a contract are as important as the contract itself, and should be proactively published. Not laboriously dragged out of an authority through repeated trips to information tribunals.

Prices come from markets, not from secrets

A consistent theme in the GCCs case for keeping heavy redactions in the contract is that disclosure of information might affect the price they get for selling electricity generated at the plant. However, the decision notice puts the point succinctly:

Whilst she [the Commissioner] also accepts that if these figures are published third parties might take account of them during negotiations, the main issue will be the market value of electricity at the time that negotiations are taking place.

As I recall from first year economics lectures (or perhaps even GCSE business studies…): markets function better with more perfect information. The energy market is competitive, and there is no reason to think that selective secrecy will distort the market or secure the authority a better deal.

(It is worth noting that the same reasoning, hiding information to ‘get a better deal’ seems to be driving the non-disclosure of details of the £53m of land the authority plan to dispose of – again raising major questions about exactly whose interests are being served by a culture of secrecy?).

Not everything is open

The ICO decision notice is nuanced. It does find some areas where, with the commercial interest of the private party invoked, public interest is not strong enough to lead to disclosure. The Commissioner states:

These include issues such as interest and debt rates and operating costs of UBB which do not directly affect the overall value for money to the public, but which are commercially sensitive to UBB.

This makes some sense. As this decision notice relates to a consultants report on Value for Money, rather than the contract with the public authority, it is possible for there to be figures that do not warrant wider disclosure. However, following the precedent set by the Information Tribunal, the same reasoning would only apply to parts of a contract if they had been agreed in advance to be commercially confidential. As Judge Shanks found, only a limited part of the agreement between UBB and GCC was covered by such terms. Any redactions GCC now want to apply to a revised agreement should start only from consulting contract Schedule 23 on agreed commercial confidential information.

Where next?

GCC have either 28 days to appeal the decision notice, or 35 days to provide the requested information. The document in question is only a 29 page report, with a small number of redactions to remove, so it certainly should not take that long.

Last time GCC appealed to a Tribunal in the case of the 2013 Javelin Park Contract they spent upwards of £400,000 of taxpayers money on lawyers*, only to be told to release the majority of the text. Given the ICO Decision Notice makes clear it is relying on the reasoning of the Tribunal, a new appeal to the tribunal would seem unlikely to succeed.

However, we do now have to wait and see what GCC do, and whether we’ll get to know what the renegotiated contract prices were in 2015. Of course, this doesn’t tell us whether or not there has been further renegotiation, and for that we have to continue to push for proactive transparency and a clear open contracting policy at GCC that will make transparency the norm, rather than something committed local citizens have to fight for through self-sacrificing direct action.

*Based on public spending data payments from Residential Waste Project to Eversheds.

Original source – Tim Davies

This is the fifth blog in our Behavioural Government series, which explores how behavioural insights can be used to improve how government itself works.

Thomas Hobbes, in one of the first modern treatises on government, recognised that, in groups, advisers are ‘not moved by their own sense, but by the eloquence of another, or for fear of displeasing some that have spoken, or the whole by contradiction’.

Three hundred and fifty years later, many studies have confirmed Hobbes’ observation: individuals are very sensitive to the behaviour of other group members. One consequence of this is that groups often end up agreeing with whatever most members thought originally.

Worryingly, there is much evidence that this ‘fear of displeasing’ narrows perspectives and weakens decisions. This is a problem for government because almost all policy making involves discussions within and between groups.

Two main factors drive this ‘group reinforcement’.

First, people may hear many others expressing an opposing view and think their personal opinion may be wrong. Perhaps other people have better information and good reasons for thinking differently? This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the effects of this informational influence” can be so strong that people end up conforming to majority opinions which are obviously wrong.

A second cause of this type of conformity is when people don’t feel free to give their opinion because of social pressure. They may feel that others, particularly leaders, will disapprove if they speak up, and they will be less liked, influential and rewarded in future.

So, even if the group, and eventually the policy, would benefit from their knowledge, the best personal strategy is to not challenge the accepted view. This was seen as one of the reasons why the problems with the Affordable Care Act website were not fed upwards to President Obama, for example.

Government officials may be particularly exposed to these social pressures. This is because they are more likely to occur in homogeneous groups, which have been common in government organisations (although this is changing); and because bureaucratic institutions are often formal and hierarchical, which inhibits confrontation and dissent.

Many existing examples of group reinforcement concern foreign policy decisions. For example, the Chilcot Inquiry into the UK’s deployment of military force in Iraq found repeated evidence that policy proposals were not challenged sufficiently (or at all) as they emerged.

It can be tricky to find real world policy examples of these effects, since it is rare that group discussions by policy makers are both recorded and made public. One clear exception is the discussions by members of central bank committees, which are increasingly a matter of public record.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee includes five internal members, who are career central bankers, and four external expert members. The Committee sets the short-term interest rate; if a member disagrees with the majority view, they can cast a dissenting vote.

Interestingly, an analysis of 1997-2008 voting shows that the rate at which internal members dissent increases as they go through their three-year term, from 5.5% to 13.5%. In contrast, the dissent rate of the external members starts high and does not change over time.

Figure 1: Rate of dissent by internal members of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, by year of tenure (adapted from Berk & Beirut, 2010).

One explanation is that internal members are more susceptible to majority influence as they start out on the committee. This could be because of informational effects (in a new setting, they are more open to others’ judgments to inform theirs) or social pressures (the existing norms of a hierarchical institution bias them towards conformity). A caveat: other explanations for the data are possible as well.

Group dynamics can influence policy decisions in various and unexpected ways (see box). What is clear, though, is that they are core to how policy actually gets made. That is why they are a major focus of our upcoming Behavioural Government report, out in July.

Groups create issues you may not expect

Majority influence in groups can lead to issues that may not be obvious. For example, studies show that:

Groups focus on what most people already know. The more group members that possess a piece of information, the more influence it has on the group decision – regardless of its actual quality or importance. This has been called the “common knowledge effect”.

Discussion can make groups’ views more extreme. When people express opinions in line with the majority, then collectively those views get reinforced and become stronger and more extreme.

Initial contributions can strongly sway group opinion. When people take cues from each other, then speaking first – or getting to set the agenda and provide supporting papers – can have a big impact on the outcome of the discussion. The decisions of the first contributors, even if they are marginal calls, can create domino effects whereby subsequent speakers fall into line (either through informational influence or social pressures).

Original source – Behavioural Insights Team

I recently visited our colleagues at Good Things Foundation Australia in Sydney, where you might know that we’ve also established a new network called Be Connected. Everyone over there is so enthusiastic about digital and social inclusion and part of the reason for that is seeing and hearing about our impact in the UK – and our latest annual report provides a great overview of the past 12 months.

It’s been a good year for Good Things Foundation

The title says it all – another year and another truckful of incredible achievements. From supporting 320,000 excluded people to improve their lives through digital, helping 7,700 people to learn English language skills through the English My Way programme, to training 5,888 Digital Champion volunteers, the list goes on and we really couldn’t have achieved it without our extensive list of partners big and small and, of course, the Online Centres Network.

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The 5,000-strong ‘big club’ continues to go from strength-to-strength and I just want to thank you for all your amazing work over the past year. You are a true inspiration to me, to the team, and to our Be Connected network in Australia, and you are important pillars of support to the people in your communities.

I’m so proud of this organisation and all of our amazing staff. I’m looking forward to continuing our work together over the next year and achieving even more great things.

Our annual report has much more in it, do have a read. It’s at https://annualreview.goodthingsfoundation.org/#its-been-a-good-year

Original source – Helen Milner

Of all the interventions that have come to the fore since the behavioural revolution in government, perhaps the most prominent has been the use of social norms to encourage behaviours. Whether it’s encouraging people to pay their taxes on time, getting doctors to reduce their antibiotic prescriptions or boosting classroom attendance, these norms are now in use around the world, from London to Guatemala. 

Increasingly, social norms are seen as boring but effective, and that we don’t even need to bother testing their use any more. That’s a dangerous conclusion to make when not all the evidence is in. 

That’s why we’re running a Symposium on Social Norms in Public Administration in the Journal of Behavioural Public Administration. We want to see well designed field experiments that test social norms – messages like “9 out of 10 people pay their tax on time”, both in fields where that’s already been done, and in novel ones. We especially welcome papers from current public servants (although papers from academics are very welcome), and papers which report non-significant (i.e. null) results.

To get started, all you need to do is send us a short (50-100 word) abstract by the end of June.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s clear out those file drawers!

Original source – Behavioural Insights Team

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