Category Archives: e-participation

Digital inclusion and the future of e-participation

On the 25th and 26th of February 2015, Communities 2.0 hosted a conference about Digital Inclusion and Participation Cymru went along to find out more.

Here are our thoughts about the significance and role of digital inclusion for the future of participation in Wales.

It is quite astonishing to think about how far technology has come in such a short amount of time. I’m sure many of us remember our first computer (probably like me, a clunky Windows ‘95 affair), or even our first brick – perhaps a Nokia 32:10 mobile phone. It’s strange to think of just how much we can now do from a basic smart mobile at a fraction of the cost.

(Check out the photo below and see how many of these take you back!)

Communities 2.0 Digital Inclusion

Technology like this has irrevocably changed the landscape in which we live our day to day lives. But as the digital world races ahead, it is easy to get left behind.

For most of us whose lifestyles and workplaces are increasingly digitalised, it is perhaps difficult to appreciate the kind of hurdles we would face if we did not have the resources and skillset needed to be autonomous in the digital world.

As society becomes more and more digital, the divide that exists between those who are digitally included and digitally excluded begins to present a real problem and has implications across all levels, even economically and democratically.

It is this division that fell under scrutiny across the two days of the communities 2.0 conference.

It was estimated in 2015 by the Money Advice Service that over 500,000 adults remain digitally excluded in Wales (approximately 1 in 6 of us). The association that exists between digital exclusion and poverty along with other vulnerable groups of people indicates that digital inclusion is a social justice issue, and it is not difficult to see how digital exclusion can compound a state of powerlessness.

From a business perspective, the increasingly digitalised global marketplace means that digitally switched on organisations have a much greater opportunity to source cheaper materials, broaden their reach with customers, simplify working processes and cut down on working hours. All of this makes it much more difficult for businesses that are not utilising the web to survive.

A lack of digital know-how not only limits employment opportunities, but even makes it problematic to access benefits such as a job seeker’s allowance

Maintaining human relationships – something as simple as keeping in touch – can become increasingly difficult if you are amongst the digitally excluded. Furthermore, as more and more public services make the move to online services, you are much less likely to hear about news and information on things which might affect you.

From this point of view, to be digitally excluded is to not only be isolated and disenabled, but also fundamentally disempowered. So, what can we do to help put an end to digital exclusion?

Well, there is no simple answer. Whilst the Welsh government is taking positive steps to increase the focus of digital literacy in Wales, it is encouraging that independent organisations like #techmums also exist to help break down those barriers and increase the confidence of digital users. As ever, there is always fantastic ongoing work being undertaken by volunteers across the nation to help empower those who need it.

The efforts of these groups and people really did highlight that it is important to bear in mind, whether in work or in our personal lives, that we share a responsibility to share our power and ensure nobody gets left behind.

It is easy to think about technology in terms of what it gives us – whether it is the tools to find the answers we need, the opportunity to advertise our business or find employment, the ability to simplify our daily lives, provide us with entertainment or new things to learn – even something as simple as the ability to keep in touch with the ones we love. Perhaps it is time to think about technology from another point of view, and see if it helps us to give something back.


Update: Regional Participation Networks

Free Tools

We held regional participation network events this month in Rhyl, Newport and Carmarthen. At the network events we explored several free online tools that can be used for engagement. A wide variety of organisations attended and shared a lot of interesting ideas.

Here is the list of websites and tools that we discussed:

Socrative – quiz tool

Read-Able – readability checker – create info-graphics

Infogram – create info-graphics

Powtoon – create animated cartoons

Pixabay – free stock photos

Morguefile – more free stock photos

Phrase it! – add speech bubbles to images

Pixlr – free online image editor

Mailchimp – create newsletters for your mailing lists

Twtpoll – polls and surveys for Twitter

Tagboard – search for topics/hashtags on Twitter – Twitter search

Eventbrite – organise bookable events

Survey Monkey – design surveys and questionnaires

Magisto – movie clip editor

Google Charity Apps

Doodle – organise meetings with others

KeePass – Encrypted password safe (open-source downloadable software) – GNU Image Manipulation Programme (open-source downloadable photo editor)

Skitch – Photos & drawings in Evernote (downloadable software)

Geospike – Travel diary using GPS

We will be holding regional network events again in May where local Community Voice projects across Wales will be sharing their work. If you would like to be involved please contact us for more information.

– Sarah

Photo credit: Pixabay

Mobile apps that could be useful for your engagement work

This blog post is going to look at some mobile and tablet apps that could be useful for anyone working in the field citizen engagement or participation.

Mind Tools (iTunes and Android)

Learn more than 100 management, business and personal productivity skills from the toolkit. Build useful skills whenever you have a spare moment.

Skill types include leadership, team management, strategy, problem solving, decision-making, project management, time management and personal productivity, stress management, communication, creativity and career development.

This app is basically a list of tools such as starbursting, SWOT Analysis, mapping and loads more and this is a useful quick reference guide to have at your fingertips.

participationcompassParticipation Compass (iTunes and Android)

The app helps you:
– Browse and choose between dozens of engagement methods covering face-to-face and digital approaches
– Find a method tailored to your situation and your participants’ needs
– Explore case studies of participation in action from around the world
– Browse resource and practical guidance of how to do this work on the ground
– Keep up to date with relevant RSS feeds
– Browse expert organisations in facilitation, e-democracy, open government, involvement, digital democracy and related fields.

In keeping with the ethos of the site, users are invited to contribute their own experiences and knowledge to any one of the aforementioned sections. In doing so, you can also be considered for Expert directory.

The app has been developed by UK participation specialists Involve, and the German Foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung.

This app is very good, but it required me to sync to the database every time I opened it before it worked properly (using Android). There are loads of participatory methods and case studies packed into this app, as well as a library of publications and resources. It includes a useful planning tool to filter relevant methods and information depending on what type of project you’re doing and there is also a links section called “experts” and we were pleased to see that Participation Cymru are listed in this section!  Like the Participation Compass website, this app is constantly updated which is probably a likely reason for needing to sync each time it opened.

Contexts of Participation (Android)contextofparticipation

Contexts of Participation is a conceptual tool to help you consider the complex contexts that affect participation in everyday life. In particular, it helps the user to think more critically about the barriers and enablers to participation. The tool provides a map to the person in their wider contexts, with participation as both being the output of a person and a means for change. By turning the wheels and considering the ways different factors interact, you can provoke new ways of thinking about the relationship between people, participation and social structures.

This is a critical thinking tool by Rayya Guhl & Dr Ian Marsh and the app was developed by Canterbury Christ Church University and is designed to be very easy to use.  You can find out more about this tool here or download the app to have it at your fingertips!

I also came across some interesting apps when searching through the app store and many weren’t available in the UK, or were available to download but weren’t in English.

There were some innovative examples of apps in Europe such as Colab, a Portuguese social network connected to Facebook that lets citizens highlight problems in their areas, propose solutions and evaluate existing services using their smartphones. There is also FlashPoll, a German app which aims to provide a platform towards a better involvement of citizens in municipal decision-making processes through location based polling.

This post is specifically related to tools for participation and engagement, however apps can also be used by organisations to engage with their customers or service users, or simply provide people with up-to-date information that is just one tap away on your smartphone. For example:

-a bilingual app called Choose Well Wales | Dewis Doeth Cymru for choosewellcitizens in Wales that serves as a guide to choosing the right NHS service. It also includes useful self-care information and provides access to the NHS Direct Wales website. (iTunes and Android)

– the UK Food Standards Agency have an app that lets you search for the hygiene ratings of food establishments. (iTunes and Android)

Please comment with any suggestions of mobile apps you know of that could help anyone working in the field citizen engagement or participation, or if your organisation has an app that you’d like to share.

All of the apps in this post are free to download.

–          Sarah

E-participation and storytelling

Participation is such a big concept, the scale of it is so big it’s almost frightening! It encompasses so much from traditional approaches to involving people and communities in person, to engaging with online communities such as social media.

I’m lucky enough to work in a role where I’ve been given lots of freedom to use social media. I know I’m lucky because 53% of respondents to the All Wales Public Services Internet and Social Media Survey said restrictive ICT policies were still a barrier where they worked (full report to be available soon!).

I’ve been lucky to go to a few different courses and events and meet many people who’ve taught me loads about social media, including Louise Brown, who ran a great course for Voices for Change Cymru on online campaigning (and who also has a great blog), and Esther Barrett and Paul Richardson of RSC Cymru, who ran an event for WCVA staff on using social media.

Both sets of training were very practical and gave me ideas about using free tools to engage with people. Esther taught me and fellow staff how to Audacity, which I blogged about using to evaluate our project.

The next time I ran into Esther was at the DS6 Digital Storytelling event in Aberystwyth, where I was based at the time. Esther got into a bit of a discussion at the event about using non-traditional tools like Facebook to tell non-traditional stories. You can see and hear Esther talk more about that in the above video. Her response really got me thinking about how we capture people’s stories to influence public services, especially as more and more people and services are using social media to engage. She ended up running an online conference using Elluminate on this experience, which is fascinating viewing. You can see it here. It covers how people use technology to tell stories in creative ways, right from the Twitter novel that was wholly written in Tweets to the Facebook user who documented the birth of her child. It’s amazing how powerful these narratives are.

Esther and Paul Richardson of RSC Cymru will be helping me to deliver the Introduction to e-participation course that’s part of our current training programme. I’ll feel a bit rude leading the day when I’ve learnt so much from both Esther and Paul, but if you’re attending I hope you find it as useful as I found RSC Cymru’s training!

– Dyfrig

Using Welsh language social media to engage in the public sector

Despite being a fluent Welsh speaker, my confidence in using it in work varies. Despite replying to consultations on behalf of Participation Cymru over the last 2 years, it was only last month that I responded in Welsh for the first time. I speak Welsh everyday, but I don’t encounter the language that’s used in consultations on a day to day basis.

When I was invited to do a presentation at Comms Cymru’s Beyond the Gap symposium on the Welsh language and social media, I was immediately keen – I’ve really enjoyed using social media as part of my role, which has helped to break down the conventional boundaries of an information service which broadcasts information. Social media has enabled me to share ideas, learn from others and network with organisations around the world.

As a Welsh speaker, I’m also keen to be given the opportunity to live my life in Welsh wherever possible. To enable this to happen, organisations need to offer me the chance to engage in the language of my choice. I’m fortunate that I live in Cardiff, where Cardiff Council have a great Welsh Twitter account, that enables me to do just that.

Unfortunately not everyone in Wales has that opportunity. Of the 257 people that completed the Welsh language section of the All Wales public services internet and social media survey, only a third (33%) of respondents said their organisation had Welsh language or bilingual social media streams, whereas 28% were unsure and 39% said they did not.

Interestingly there was mixed feelings about having bilingual streams or separate streams in English and Welsh, both in the survey and at the event, with some people feeling that bilingual streams normalised the use of Welsh, whereas others said they liked to have the option so they could engage in the language of their choice.

The results of the survey showed that one of the most commonly perceived barriers is that organisations do not have enough Welsh speaking staff to run an effective service, with the speed of response being a particular concern when using social media platforms where immediacy is key.

Respondents also felt that it was difficult to get people to engage in Welsh, and it was difficult to make a business case for extra investment in the area when usage is low. However some respondents said that they felt that the reason less Welsh speakers engaged with social media was because Welsh language content was not written in a style they would speak and that messages are simply translated versions of English messages.

I’m currently re-writing my recommendations for the report following the Minister’s decision on Welsh Language Standards, but my recommendations in draft form include that Welsh language social media is mainstreamed into organisations’ work as a communication tool, as opposed to being an add-on, and also that engagement work meets principle 5 of the National Principles for Public Engagement in Wales, which calls for information to be ‘jargon free, appropriate and understandable’. The guidance notes state that ‘information is available in Welsh and English as well as other ethnic minority languages’, and it’s vital that we engage in ways that people want to use, and also that we engage on people’s own terms by using clear language that everyone can understand. Social media is an ideal tool to help us do this, as its informal nature means we can use clear language to better communicate with people, whatever their choice of language.

– Dyfrig

Weekly Blog Club

When we started blogging back in October, I felt a bit of pressure to make sure that our blog was a success. It was my suggestion that blogging could meet some gaps in our information service (which you can read more about here).

Weekly Blog Club

The things that worried me included that:

  • nobody would read it
  • the blogging voice that I’d developed when I’d started my own blog would not transfer well to the Participation Cymru blog
  • I would be seen as an “expert” in participation, when what I wanted to do was share things I was learning, rather than being authoritative (we work in the field of participation – best practice what we preach!)

One of the things that helped assuage some of my fears has been the Weekly Blog Club, to which we’ve been contributing posts since November. It was founded by a group of people who work in or with the public sector, voluntary groups or communities in the UK in order to encourage blogging.

Contributing bloggers come from a range of backgrounds and organisations from different parts of the UK, which makes for a brilliant mix. Reading these blogs encouraged me and made me realise that a range of voices are effective in different ways, and that if they can talk about their work in an informal voice, then so can I.

Having been contributing for a few months, it felt right that I took the bold leap into running it for a week, which I did last week. This gave me a chance to replenish my karma that I’d used up by getting the club to share my work when I felt like I hadn’t done enough to help out the club myself.

Running the club for a week was a great experience – I read a wide array of blogs in depth, and thought about how we might use our blog more creatively, as submissions ranged from fantastic photos and interesting postcards, to thought-provoking Spotify playlists (here and here).

Plus on my last fear, it’s well worth reading a blog that was submitted by Kenny McDonald that starts off with “For anyone to call themselves an expert is either a bold move or naïve.”

You can listen to an Audioboo of me summarising the submissions below (requested specifically by Louise Brown so she could hear my Welsh accent!) and a full list of the week’s submissions here.

– Dyfrig

Participatory websites – what does good practice look like?

I’ve previously blogged about being invited to be part of a task and finish group to develop a health and wellbeing site for the Welsh citizen, and I attended the follow up meeting on Monday. I was asked to do a short presentation at the meeting on a website that I thought presented information well and was a good model for what the group is looking to do.

Most other attendees looked at sites that were run by Social Services, but because I’m awkward, I chose not to!

Young Flintshire

First off, I asked Twitter. I asked for examples of good websites, as I was initially struggling. Participation Cymru are fortunate enough to have some very bright followers, including Dynamix, who suggested “Any site that has verified it’s text through the Up-Goer Five text editor” (a really useful site than can help you to identify and cut out jargon). Easy Read Health Wales suggested their own website, which is fantastically clear and aims to give people with learning difficulties Easy Read information on health and well-being.

I eventually plumped for the suggestion of CLIConline. I chose one of their regional websites, Young Flintshire, because I felt that the background did not make it as difficult to read for the visually impaired, although no images should be behind text at all.

I chose this website because of its interactive nature, which I feel is vital if the website is going to be responsive and citizen-centred. Right at the top of the website there is a call to action, which asks for young people to get involved in the site. The latest articles, what’s being said and the most viewed are highlighted, which clearly shows that the website is active and current. The poll also gives young people a chance to have their say without impinging on their experience of the site. The features section of the site also enables the organisation to highlight news that it feels people need to know.

I then referred specifically to the Information Index of the website, which would be most similar to the information hub. This section was vivid, and as an example the Education section had a video as an alternative to the text so that people could watch a project in action. It was clear here how important it is that people have the space to comment and have their say, as alongside the throwaway comments about hating school was a comment from a young person who said they were being bullied. This gave the opportunity for the editor to refer them to sources of help, which would simply never have happened if there was no chance for people to feedback.

Before I left I took the opportunity to feed in information from the Citizen’s Panel for Social Services in Wales, including that the information on the site should be based on the Social Model of Disability, not the Medical Model. We feel really lucky to be working with the panel, who are all lovely people and have provided us with so much invaluable knowledge that will feed in to the Social Services improvement agenda in Wales and also improve how we work.

– Dyfrig