Policymaking should be an ongoing conversation between government and stakeholders, not a process where government stops listening when the consultation closes.
That’s the vision behind Innovation Nation: Interactive which we’re taking the wraps off today. In a nutshell, it’s a summary version of the white paper on innovation which DIUS published in the Spring, developed using WordPress with the CommentPress theme to enable readers to post a response at chapter or paragraph level.
In terms of the technology story, it’s amazing how CommentPress transforms a plain vanilla blogging format into such a dynamic tool for analysing a text, and just how easy it is to implement. Inspired by Glyn from Open Rights Group at a TeaCamp a while back, the site was put together in less than a day (though we’ve done less fancy customisation than ORG’s impressive implementation). The project is also one of the first public outings of our sandbox server, designed to be at arm’s length from the corporate site and with greater scope to test innovative tools and approaches online. Finally, we also used the excellent MailBuild email distribution system to help alert key stakeholders and contributors to the initial consultation about the new site via a branded email.
But we hope the bigger story will be the breaking down of the classic consult/deliver dichotomy which we’re challenging policy teams to overcome. We’d love this interactive document to become a place where policymakers, stakeholders and interested citizens come together to help move a policy forward, and we’ll be doing our best to act as a bridge between commenters and the civil servants who are working hard to change things. Don’t underestimate the scale of the cultural challenge here: we’re asking seasoned, busy public servants with a familiar way of working to take extra time and effort to make engagement a continuous process – and to do so in a whole new way. Help us out: take a few minutes to look around, and give them your thoughts.
[…] Gray, the blogging Social Media Manager at DIUS, puts it thus on his site: In terms of the technology story, it’s amazing how CommentPress transforms a plain vanilla […]
[…] There’s been a rash of good e-Government news this week surrounding access to public data and consultations (as well as the odd bad idea – well, can’t win ‘em all I […]
Innovation Nation: Interactive doesn’t work in Firefox3+NoScript – no comments visible and the page runs off under the right edge of the viewport with no horizontal scrollbar. Will an accessible version appear soon?
I love it!
It’s an innovative way of collecting innovative ideas about innovation. Innovation is in the process, content and subject. The implementation is simple but very powerful. Awesome.
One of the interesting things for me is that having read the full pdf report, this was an entirely different experience. Reading the full report was a struggle – scanning through dry platitudes to try to sift out the information. Reading this live document, knowing I had the opportunity to comment directly, I paid much more attention. And I was always interested to see what other people had said, even if I didn’t agree.
Sadly I won’t have time to go through it properly until monday. I can’t believe I’m actually looking forward to reading a government document!
@MJ – Not quite sure how we missed the JS thing – thanks for reporting. Doesn’t look like Commentpress can do a whole lot without the JS libraries, but we can perhaps make a few tweaks to make it degrade a little more gracefully – maybe around the listing of comments by section. Any suggestions/tips gratefully received.
Thanks for stopping by!
@Steph – I’ve not looked at CommentPress to see if it can be rescued and I’m not going to have time for a few weeks even if someone hires our cooperative to do it, but some of these “AJAX” applications have badly flawed anti-web designs that need to go back to the drawing board, which I know would be awkward because you didn’t design it.
Random aside: I just had haveyoursay.communities.gov.uk reject my .coop email address as “invalid”. Stuck in the 1990s? At least you’re ahead of them.
[…] Social Media Manager at DIUS, Steph Gray, comments on the release: “we hope the bigger story will be the breaking down of the classic consult/deliver dichotomy […]
Update of my experience –
While the DIUS commitment to responding to comments started off reasonably well, they seem to have hit a quiet patch. Your comment about the difficulties was quite right Steph – “Don’t underestimate the scale of the cultural challenge here: we’re asking seasoned, busy public servants with a familiar way of working to take extra time and effort to make engagement a continuous process”.
The word “continuous” is the key – like many social media tools, this one faces a point where the interest of the key participants dies off. One way to keep people returning to the site is to give them an option, when they submit a comment, of subscribing to a daily or weekly email summary of new comments. Otherwise it’s too easy to forget about.
A minor technical issue – the “by commenter” page has a small bug when clicking on the DIUS people. Anybody with brackets in their name, e.g. “David Rawlings (DIUS)” comes up as having no comments because the brackets get lost somewhere.
You’re right – to be honest, I think with the holiday season coming up we’ll struggle to get really active dialogue going, but I’ll see what we can do to keep the momentum going with email and meeting updates to the policy team involved and a second email mailshot to contributors. We’ll certainly make sure there’s a final push before the site formally closes in early September.
Thanks for the bug report – there are gremlins to iron out in Commentpress as @MJ has noted above. I’m trying to get them sorted out as the basic software feels like something we and others could use more and more and I’m keen to share it across government if I can.
@Brett – update: the comment-by-user page bug you mentioned has now been fixed. Thanks again for raising it.
[…] Universities and Skills allowing itself some room to innovate. As DIUS social media manager Steph Gray explains, they’ve just published an interactive version of their white paper on innovation (published […]
[…] is shown at the paragraph level in this example; however, CommentPress—which is being applied imaginatively to several public consultations in the UK—allows the user to define a deeper level of […]
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[…] the time, I wrote: Policymaking should be an ongoing conversation between government and stakeholders, not a process […]