The City of Edinburgh Council wanted to expand and improve their methods of getting public input. Building on some traditional engagement efforts, they were especially keen to encourage participation beyond 'the usual suspects'.
In 2014, the Council had consulted the public on its budget plans. They presented people with a comprehensive overview of Council finances and asked how they might adjust spending levels across services. This sort of detailed survey did garner some useful input – but the feedback was limited in scope. The Council wanted to hear more about how people would like services to change.
The Council had tried other approaches in the past to accomplish this: inviting the public to email in suggestions, or setting up large plastic boards on which Council staff could write ideas. But they found that feedback from these response mechanisms was 'not too useful'. So they went looking for a different method.
Dialogue is a structured, open platform for people to submit, refine and rate ideas.
There were several reasons for Edinburgh choosing Dialogue. As an online tool, it offers huge scalability and accessibility: any number of people could participate. But it also has a clear process for people to get involved – allowing for more structured, useful feedback than a vague and generic request to 'email us your thoughts'.
Moreover, Dialogue users can run any number of challenges on the platform, meaning Edinburgh were able to use it as one of several response mechanisms on any exercise they liked – providing significantly more value than just a one-off project.
Finally, the Council were already using another of our products (Citizen Space) and so were confident in the quality of help and support they would get with Dialogue.
Since adopting Dialogue, Edinburgh have run multiple challenges on the platform. The first was around budget and spending – where they asked citizens specifically for suggestions on increasing Council revenues. They received hundreds of ideas and comments, from a range of perspectives – on issues from transport to schools to littering.
Edinburgh have also used Dialogue to ask people about allotments, about volunteering, about local priorities by area – and they've also opened a dedicated Dialogue about the City Vision for 2050.
Invariably, the Council use Dialogue alongside other methods of consultation and engagement, allowing for diverse kinds of input and from diverse groups of people. This also helps them understand the strengths of different platforms. For instance, they appreciate that Dialogue appeals to both 'in-depth' contributors – those with time and inclination to research topics at length – and those for whom it's easier to get involved by quickly leaving a rating on a couple of ideas. ('That’s where Dialogue works for me – the voting, for example, lets those '30-second' people get involved.')
Dialogue is, in Edinburgh's experience, 'often a useful sounding board, to get a response to ideas that are already out there and see how people respond'. They've also found that the feedback received via Dialogue 'can be 'rounder' than just blanket support or opposition'.
Each Dialogue is set up and run by staff within the Council, giving the organisation a direct feel for the conversations as they unfold. Insights from the challenges are also fed back into the decision-making process, along with other instructive information like survey results and focus group findings – all helping the Council to better engage with and understand Edinburgh's citizens.
I can see how Dialogue could work for any kind of organisation. And the philosophy of it fits into what we’re wanting to do: when we're running a consultation, our aim is that any citizen is able to engage with it.David Porteous, Senior Business Intelligence Officer, The City of Edinburgh Council
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