The Scottish Government have a dedicated Digital Engagement team. Their role is to identify online tools that the whole government can use to improve public involvement – and then to help 'culturally embed' those good digital platforms and practices across government.
The government runs hundreds of consultations every year. With surveys and questionnaires already well-established, the Digital Engagement team wanted to layer in an idea generation tool to complement and augment the existing consultation activity.
They wanted to, in their own words, 'help policy makers gather insights that might otherwise be missed, tap into collective wisdom and creativity, give citizens an alternative to formal consultations and to ultimately increase the credibility and democratic legitimacy of policy making.'
Dialogue is a powerful platform for opening up challenges to the ideas of the public.
The Digital Engagement team felt that Dialogue's structured, open format provided a new, beneficial way to hear from the public. And, because it comes with no limit on the number of users, they could cost-effectively make it available to all of The Scottish Government's various departments and teams.
The platform's flexibility was also an important factor. For instance, Dialogue was quickly deployed as part of two very different public involvement exercises: one on open data, and one on wild salmon fishing.
The Open Data team had conducted a consultation and developed a strategy around how Scottish public sector bodies might make their own open data plans. They wanted to open up a Dialogue with interest groups and citizens more broadly as they began further developing a guidance resource pack. They asked three broad questions and kept the Dialogue open for several weeks.
By contrast, the Fisheries team used Dialogue to follow up on some (fairly contentious) specific issues that had been identified in a previous policy consultation. Whilst the Dialogue was only open for a week, it quickly generated high levels of engagement, receiving hundreds of comments across more than 60 ideas.
As well as supporting their existing consultation processes, the Digital Engagement team also saw Dialogue as an opportunity to understand and develop best practice in this more open form of online public involvement. For example, immediately after these initial efforts, they published a detailed blog post highlighting some key 'lessons learned' from these early experiences of using Dialogue.
Dialogue has enabled us to expand public participation beyond formal consultation to include lively discussions and exchange of views. We have crowdsourced hundreds of insightful and constructive ideas around some difficult decisions, without the constraints of the traditional consultation process.Chris Connolly, Digital Engagement Manager, The Scottish Government
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