Tag Archives: technology

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.

Georgina

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

Easel.ly – 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

https://twitter.com/search-home – 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)

http://www.gimp.org/ – 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)

mindtoolsDescription:
Learn more than 100 management, business and personal productivity skills from the MindTools.com 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)

Description:
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

Description:
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

October regional participation networks: Accessible information and technology

Should we endeavour to achieve optimum results or should we simply try our best?

We’ve just held the Regional Network Events and the theme this time round was ‘Accessible information and technology’.

BookWe started each session with an ice-breaker exercise to introduce the theme, half of the participants were given a ‘jargon card’ and the other half given an ‘easy-read card’. Each card contained just one word and the aim of the game was to walk around the room and find the person with the word card which had the same meaning as yours. For example if you had a jargon card which said ‘participate’ then you would be partnered with the person who had an easy-read card saying ‘take part’ and then introduce each other. Other examples of words we used in this icebreaker were endeavour (try), discontinued (finished) and collaborate (work together). We took some of these words from the Plain English Campaign website.

This icebreaker worked well to get people chatting to each other and the feedback we had was positive. No one had used this icebreaker before but some participants had previously played Buzzword Bingo at jargon-heavy meetings.

In South East Wales the event was held in Ystrad Mynach. Barod CIC gave a presentation which outlined why it is important to provide clear information in an accessible format. They introduced the group to the services that Barod provide such as translating documents into Easy Read and/or Everyday English,  they also offer training packages to organisations with the aim to train staff to produce easy-read documents. All of Barod’s work is checked and proofread by people with learning disabilities. Sam from Learning Disability Wales also gave an introduction to the Clear and Easy Guide which is a comprehensive guide for organisations who want to make their information more accessible. The guide comes with an interactive DVD and is free for the voluntary and public sectors (limited to one per organisation). Contact Learning Disability Wales for more information.

In South West Wales we held the event in Felinfoel, Llanelli. Andrew Hubbard from the pilot Citizen Panel for Social Services and the Swansea Association of Independent Living focussed his session on Accessible Technology, making participants aware of how screen-reader software works for visually impaired people. Andrew ran a group exercise which explored a range of different scenarios that disabled people face when accessing everyday information such as job vacancies, bus/train times and advertisements. The exercise was then followed up by a group discussion. Barod CIC were also kind enough to give an introduction to the Clear & Easy guide again (for the second day in a row!)

person reading

After a short break, our training and development officer Siobhan demonstrated a tried and tested participative technique that we’ve used before and has always been very successful – the Hot Air Balloon from Dynamix’s book Spice it Up! This exercise encouraged participants to think about the way their own organisations provided information and how they could make it more accessible. Participants had to think of what was holding them back, who needed to be ‘on board’ and what was needed in order to really ‘make it fly’.

Funding and time constraints were often mentioned as something which was holding them back. One participant came up with the idea that a universal culture change was needed for more accessible information to be regularly available.

We then broke up into small groups to hear from participants about work that they are undertaking, good practice they have encountered or issues they are having. We heard about work happening in TPAS Cymru who are holding an event coming up in November on Public Engagement. We also heard that Communities First Cluster in Barry are holding IT drop-in sessions and delivering basic IT training on how to use the internet. There is also some excellent work being done by South Wales Police who have been doing engagement work with young people – finding out what they think of their local neighbourhood and which areas they feel safe or unsafe in. Carmarthenshire County Council have recently held a budget consultation and used a budget simulator which sounds like a great way to get people involved in budgeting.

Our North Wales event was in Llandudno Junction on a windy and rainy day that we’re so familiar with in Wales! We heard from two members of the pilot Citizen Panel for Social Services; Jennie and Beth Lewis. Beth started by telling the group about her life; she is 24 years old and has a learning disability, she lives in her own flat and has a job, she likes cooking and wants to do more things by herself. She can read very well but doesn’t always understand what the words mean so prefers shorter sentences with pictures. Beth and her mum, Jennie showed us lots of examples of information that were sent to her by post.  The participants were set  a task to translate a letter that had been sent to Beth into an easy-read format in small groups (which everyone found very difficult – ironically the letter is actually about a scheme specifically for disabled people, including people with learning disabilities) Beth walked around the room to read and check what people had written.

jennie-bethWe asked the groups to discuss how they would put Jennie and Beth’s thought provoking presentation into practice by thinking about how they could make the information their own organisations’ produce more accessible. There was certainly a lot to think about and some really interesting discussions were taking place. In particular someone said a big barrier is ‘legal speak’ and certain documents or contracts have to use particular wording and a way to overcome this is to put an easy read explanation alongside or underneath a statement, explaining what it says with a picture if necessary.

Overall this round of events were successful with a very interesting theme and all of our guests in the three areas did an excellent job at presenting. We’re very grateful to Barod, Andrew Hubbard and his assistant Bev, Jennie and Beth for helping us with these networks. Thanks to everyone for coming!

Our next round of network events will be held in February 2014, more details can be found on our website here. Booking early is essential as spaces are limited to 20 per event and they do fill up quickly! Don’t miss out!

–          Sarah

Channel Shift: Making the best use of your citizen communication channels

This is Participation Cymru’s first guest blog, which comes from Tanwen Berrington. If you would like to contribute to our blog, please email participationcymru@wcva.org.uk.

Public Sector Customer Services Forum

Towards the end of February, I went along to the somewhat elaborately-titled conference, ‘Multi Channel Customer Contact Strategies & Channel Shift for the Public Sector’, organised by PSCSF. I found myself surrounded by public sector customer service specialists and private sector companies sponsoring the event. Now, I am not an expert in these areas and I imagine many readers won’t be either.

However, I was pleasantly surprised at how the wider concept of public engagement has become a key consideration for both these sectors; public engagement sells nowadays.

There was quite a mix of presentations on the day, including speakers from English and Welsh local authorities and private sector companies specialising in social, online and electronic customer communication (though not enough of the latter to turn the conference into a sales-pitch).

They all focused on multi-channel customer contact and making the best use of these channels. Some focused on the technology available to manage your public engagement and all were interested in providing a better customer service through improved communication and engagement.

For us lay-people, some of the presentations which specialised in customer contact centres might have been a little above our heads. For me, the presentation given by Sarah Barrow from Wokingham Borough Council on selecting appropriate channels of communication and by Leon Stafford from LiveOps on ‘empowering your agents to autonomous engagement’ were particularly interesting.

What did I learn?

  • To my understanding, channel shift is not just a case of shifting your citizens to social and online media; this is, after all, a little dictatorial! It is rather about engaging citizens on the most appropriate channels. This means shifting between different media depending on the nature of the service and the media the citizen is most comfortable using, or uses in their day-to-day lives. So, a customer complaining about a service on Twitter might appreciate an immediate response via a web chat (which of course, conveniently comes with the added bonus of privacy).
  • It’s not necessarily good practice to use your social and online media just to broadcast information. Twitter can be useful for broadcasting traffic updates, for instance, but it is also a cheap and easy way to actually listen to your citizens. Social media and technology can be used as a pre-prepared ‘human sensor network’ (a nice concept used by Professor Dave Snowden) that you can use as a temperature check, to become aware of local issues which are a source of complaint or praise. Why arrange irregular and infrequent consultations when you already have a regular feedback loop?These networks can also be ‘activated’. I was charmed by the example of the network of dog walkers in Wokingham Borough; when a dog is lost, the Council sends text messages to network members, who then turn into a borough-wide search and rescue party (though I must admit, I am a ‘dog person’).

What does this mean?

  • Often, organisations already have many of their engagement channels set up. You don’t necessarily need to re-invent the wheel therefore, just make the best use of what you already have.
  • This can be as simple as actually paying attention to what your citizens are saying!
  • Or managing your channels so your messages are co-ordinated. Citizens will feel they can get in touch by whatever means they feel comfortable with, without getting lost in the system.

– Tanwen Berrington
Working in public sector improvement. These views are my own.

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