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Sunday, 8 February 2015

76. Three user stories for local democracy

This is my write up of the workshop I ran at the #notwestminster event.  Here is a lovely storify by John Popham if you want to find out what it was all about.  It was quite excellent by the way.

The workshop looked at how the user story technique might help us to redesign democracy around what people need.  User stories are simple statements always written in the same way:

As a... I need to... So I can... 

You can see the set up for the workshop plus some background links over at the event website here.

Our mission, as with all the other workshops, was to come up with three ideas for local democracy that people could take forward and work on.

Three user stories

The three actions from this workshop came as three user stories (I've simplified a little):

1.  As a local resident I need to see council reports in a form I can easily digest so I can understand the decisions that are being made

2.  As a disengaged voter I need to understand why politics should be of interest to me so I can work out whether to vote and who to vote for

3.  As a council policy officer I need to see through the eyes of the public so I can deliver good solutions to the actual problems people face

The process

It's worth saying a little about the process just because the workshop went a little differently to any I've run before - I have been trying to learn a little from the principles of service design and apply those.

  • I brought a lot of cards with me and put some instructions on the back
  • These were then handed out to people at the event who were asked to write their user stories and post them in the ballot box (provided by @72prufrocks - thanks!)
  • By the time we came to the workshop we had collected about 40 cards which turned out be just right for the time we had
  • For the workshop we stood up in a group and, discussing each card in turn, sorted them and stuck them on the wall under one of four headings; 'mmm, not sure what that means'; 'yes, this need is already met'; 'woah, that will need a big change'; and 'yes, definitely one to think about'.
  • We then sorted the ones we had in the last pile between; 'small difference'; 'some difference'; and 'big difference' piles and we were left with 6 cards which we discussed and reduced to three.
  • This all took about 40 minutes.

I think it worked pretty well and group were happy with the final choices - well done guys!

What next?

Well our challenge is to work on these stories and come up with solutions.  At the end of the event everyone had a chance to sign up to working on things they wanted to change so think of this post as just a first step - watch this space and let me know if you want to get involved.

More stories

Here are some other user stories from the event to give you a flavour of the discussions:

As a person living with a loved one in a care home I need to understand the democratic accountability for his care so I can decide how to vote in a way that will make a difference and know who to hold to account when things go wrong
As a resident I need to be more aware of what my local council are doing so I can have more say in how I live in my home
As a student I need to be more aware of what is happening in local government so I can solidify my future
As a regular traveller I need to find ways to connect with the work of the council so I can volunteer and contribute when I have time available
As a fun loving individual I need to feel that I can be myself in meetings, when writing letters etc... so I can express myself freely
As a youth council coordinator I need to reach more young people so I can empower them!
As a broadcast journalist I need to raise awareness of the local council so I can get people more involved in politics



Unknown said...

Hi Dave, you were interested in my explaining more about your point 1) above – trying to present council reports in a better way. I suppose that there are two elements in this – firstly, ensuring that reports themselves are written in a clear and understandable way, and then secondly, having a way to aggregate them and present them clearly online.

I’m going to focus on number 2 (although god knows there’s enough to do on number 1)

As I said I have always quite liked the “policy” pages on gov.uk. Here’s one - https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/sustaining-and-enhancing-trees-forests-and-woodland and here’s another https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/creating-a-fairer-and-more-equal-society

Basically they provide a single point of access for relevant decisions and policies on a given issue. Say you want to find out what the Government is doing on local government transparency. There is a specific policy page on that subject, searchable from the main gov.uk nav, so instead of searching through lots of command papers, some of which may have been superseded, and Government guidance and consultations on the subject, you can get a relatively clear overview.

In the local government context, even more information could go here, as you have clear notification of Cabinet decisions in a way that you don’t really get in Whitehall. A similar page for a local authority could provide an opening gloss to the issue, links to the corporate policy on that issue, any monitoring reports and financial reporting data, any relevant scrutiny reports on that subject, other background papers (background papers and their inaccessibility has always been a bugbear of mine) etc. So if you wanted to know what the council was doing to tackle, say, anti-social behaviour, there would be a policy page on that which would serve up all that information. At the moment, many councils have this information but it tends to be quite static, web 1.0-type stuff which few or no links.

To work properly you’d have to think about how the back end would work. Proper integration with committee CMS tools like modern.gov would be a must. Committee staff would tag individual agenda items/reports with a subject tag and that would be flagged with the owner of the policy page, who would then update that page to reflect that issue. Similarly, others in the organisation could subscribe that tag, so when any updates were made on the council’s website which related to that subject, they’d get an alert.

So not only would this help the public to better understand what the council was doing in a given area, it would help officers too, because it would effectively automatically link people up who were preparing work on the same subject.

It would help members because it would – I hope – reduce significantly the need to prepare complicated, narrative-heavy covering reports for items on that subject, because that information would be there, ready and waiting online. You could even, I suppose, automate the production of reports based on the online information.

Dave Mckenna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Mckenna said...

Thanks Ed - I hadn't seen these before.

Certainly some mileage for this in local government.

They almost feel like they could be facebook pages - certainly scope for social engagement.

I particularly like the fact it supports coordination between officers - perhaps it could also work across partners and different councils - either multi tier or collaborating neighbours or both.

Either way there is certainly the makings of a design challenge here.


Unknown said...

It fits in quite nicely with your local democracy websites, I think.

Dave Mckenna said...

Yes it does! Now why didn't I think of that...

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