Toolkit: Citizen Space


We’re in this together and better engagement between local councils and communities is so important in moving forward. This is especially true in many areas across the UK where the council is working on an ambitious climate emergency plan to reduce carbon emissions across the entire local authority area.

It would be really useful for everyone to know which tools are the most effective for councils and citizens to engage with one another. As we have experienced first-hand, the COVID-19 crisis has moved meetings and conversations online, and this is something that will likely remain part of the communication mix in future. Given the shift online, we will explore over a few blog posts some of the digital tools currently available to help and improve virtual engagement.


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One way to group these tools is to consider the intended level of engagement between the different parties. As the intended audience, the least effort required from you is simply to be on the receiving end of information. The next step up is to become involved in consultations, which can vary in time and effort from participating in relatively informal polling and surveys to providing feedback in more rigorous statutory consultations. Continue up the engagement ladder and you end up co-producing initiatives and shared decision-making.

The topic of this blog is consultation tools. Before jumping in, perhaps it’s worth clarifying that Carbon Copy is not any one of these digital tools; instead, it is a hub for sharing initiatives (and tools) for people to adopt or adapt. It’s intended to be the inspiration for you to pick up one of these tools if it will help move you forward.

Not surprisingly, there are different types of consultation tools depending on the initiative you are working on: place-based types use interactive maps and focus on specific geographic areas;  idea-based types allow participants to respond to set themes or interact with each other’s proposals; collaborative-based types enable participants to suggest new survey answers or questions.

Some great examples include Let’s Talk Newcastle where engagement can vary between polls, surveys, focus groups and ‘topic walls’; Talk London with similar surveys and discussions for consultations and programmes; and Participate Now run by Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Delib’s Citizen Space is used by various local government organisations for running multiple consultations and conducting consultations online. It can make evidence and plans more readable by the general public and through the publication of responses adds a layer of transparency to community feedback that would be absent in offline consultations.

It’s important to note that online consultation tools such as Citizen Space complement traditional methods and are not intended to replace them. Participation online tends to be skewed towards people who are tech savvy and those who have good online access. As always, there is the challenge of going beyond the usual suspects and the digital natives and ensuring inclusive collaboration.

The good news is that online consultations can result in lots of ideas. The bad news is that online consultations can result in lots of ideas. The challenge in asking the questions is how to manage the expectations of those who have shared their ideas. In the hands of local councils, these digital tools can help communicate those expectations and what the council can achieve, but not solve their resource constraints. The real answer lies in asking for more help from local communities to achieve our shared goals.

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