How can the experience of online consultations, as run by central government, be improved?
This was the broad question that Demsoc and Snook were tasked with exploring as part of a six-week discovery phase project for the Government Digital Service. GDS were clear that they wanted the focus to be on platforms – although you can never separate platforms and process entirely.
The two organisations brought different expertise and research skills to the project: Demsoc sharing insight around consultations and policy making, and leading upon desk-research and expert interviews; with Snook using their significant experience in user research. Working together, we explored existing global best practice around consultations, and carried out user research in the UK with those creating and responding to consultations.
This work enabled us to make six recommendations in total. Three of these were suggested short term recommendations, involving tweaks to the existing GOV.UK offering, such as removing abbreviations, building in an ability to view or download all questions before commencing a response, and altering how consultation documents are presented.
Three of the recommendations look to the future – exploring how consultation processes and tools can fit more with the broader suite of processes and tools often referred to as ‘open policy making’. Thinking of the range of different interactions between citizen and civil servant (or indeed citizen and citizen, or civil servant and civil servant) that different tools enable, we recommend GDS develop an open core infrastructure for consultation and engagement which is responsible for the common features of consultation, such as record-keeping and feedback, and alongside this release specifications for core tools for the types of interaction they wish to see – such as idea generation, surveys, and line by line commenting – thereby stimulating the existing and active civic tech sector, and catalysing the uptake of new consultation methods in the UK.
The report in full is below, and our detailed recommendations are found from page 73 onwards.
We’d love to hear any comments you have on this work, so please share below the line, or drop an email to Michelle.