Consultation is something the public sector does a lot of. It’s an important link between those that formulate public policy and those that live with its effects.
Yet effective online consultation is something that remains a challenge to do well. That’s something that Dave Briggs and I have discussed before and he has picked up on in a recent blog post.
Along similar lines, something really interesting’s going on with the current consultation on Birmingham’s Big City Plan – a regeneration consultation for Birmingham.
The official plan is available on Birmingham City Council‘s consultation site here.
It’s a big, beefy document with plenty of long, heavy-going, jargon-rich paragraphs. You can post comments on the document, but beyond stakeholders with a lot of time on their hands, I can’t see the “man on the street” engaging with this document.
There’s also an official consultation site at bigcityplan.birmingham.gov.uk/. This features the usual routes for feedback from consultations – email, post and the aforementioned online portal.
But what makes this interesting is the creation of bigcitytalk.org.uk by members of Birmingham’s social media community.
This site breaks down the large, inpenetrable document into bite-sized chunks, translated into plain English.
Professor Parkinson was subsequently commissioned to ‘Vision the Masterplan’ to set the framework for the Big City Plan. His report recommended that careful thought be given to the best way to fund and deliver change in the city centre. He recommended that the Big City Plan should address five drivers of competitiveness.
becomes the more easily understood
We asked Professor Michael Parkinson to write a report on how Birmingham could achieve its aims. He recommended that we should create a plan for the city centre — and that it should look at five things in particular.
The site then allows people to leave comments on each chunk of the document. It also aggregates tagged content from other social media sites using the soup.io tumbleblog functionality.
What the Birmingham team have done is to create a great example of how public sector organisations need to change the way they consult online.
A combination of writing plain English content and using technology to help people engage and feedback in whatever way they’re most comfortable with doing can make online consultations much more effective.
Let’s hope the team behind bigcitytalk.org.uk share more about the results of this approach and that people working on public sector consultations pick up some of the approaches that are being used.
(and a quick look at the source shows the site is powered up by WordPress – another great example of the versatility of this open source CMS)