Practical Democracy Project session 8

As usual, this post is an edited version of my tweets from the event. My asides are in blockquotes. Most links are to Twitter presences.

Good afternoon Twitter. I’m at the Practical Democracy Project number 8, in Glasgow’s Tron Theatre. It’s organised by Delib, and has hashtag ‪#PracticalDemocracyProject. I hope to live-tweet so long as my laptop’s battery holds out.

Ben Fowkes is opening ‪#PracticalDemocracyProject number 8. The programme is

  1. An introduction to Delib’s work
  2. Niamh Webster (Scottish Government)
  3. Ali Stoddart (Scottish Parliament)
  4. Vilte Vaitkute (Media Co-op) 
  5. panel session.

Lunch is in there somewhere. There will be a round-up of the event emailed to participants. (I’ll share it how I can.)

Introduction to Delib’s work

Ben explains Delib, and the ‪#PracticalDemocracyProject. It is a programme on practical knowledge for democracy that has been going for a while. The difference between this programme is that Delib doesn’t want just academics talking at each other, but to be practical.

Delib was founded in 2001 in Bristol, to satirise politics, via [This website seems to have died.] There was a flash game MP in a blender to give catharsis. Also Get to the right Jack Straw.

[I thought I tweeted more of what Ben said but apparently I didn’t.]


Niamh started by saying that she works for the Scottish Government, focusing on its Open Government Partnership (OGP) work, and used to work for @DemsocScotland. Scotland joined the OGP in 2016. She will talk about partnership between government and people today.

She was invited to talk with Obama, because Scotland is doing good things in open government. She focuses on involving people today. The partnership forces collaboration, even though this may not be comfortable.

The Scottish Government just published Scotland’s Open Government Action Plan. One of the big challenges was working to help government colleagues be more comfortable with open government.

There was a co-creation process to create the action plan, including discussions to distil what is possible. A learning document is about to be published.

The challenges were

  • language and complexity: there was initially too much jargon, so the team had to change events and do things differently
  • [They needed] many partners to have impact: people asking them to do things about local government when this was a national government project. Hence they brought in COSLA etc…
  • behaviour and culture change: this is about internals of government. One consideration is how much can be shared. She has developed a programme to work on this.

Sorry, I didn’t hear the title of this programme.

The main lesson is consideration of who you need to involve.

Methods must evolve, and include the changing roles of citizen. Key points are

  • language and terminology
  • co-production and partnership working
  • involving those right across the system
  • open government is a reform program: culture and behaviour change.

She has lots to share, so is open to questions. The first question is about language and terminology. Did going down to ‘school level’ come up? Is this worthwhile? Naimh responds ‘Absolutely. We need better education about this.’


Ali works for the CEU, part of the Scottish Parliament. CEU works on improvement and innovation. Improvement involves engagement planning, feedback, evaluation, focus groups and survey.

Ahhh, slow down Ali, I can’t keep up!]

Innovation is based on Discovery (using Citizen Space] and Debate. CEU will work on Decision using dialog tools on co-production of laws. For example, CEU is asking young people, parents and health professionals via different spaces what should be improved about mental health provision.

He fairly slags the traditional ‘fill out a form in Word, then attach it to an email’ route. CEU did a comparison of traditional digital v innovative digital routes to getting input. Guess which won, was more popular, and would be more used!

CEU is also working on citizens’ juries, e.g. on land management, climate change etc.

Was this the bit that Oliver Escobar worked on, I wonder.

CEU is also trying to get to seldom heard groups, e.g. young women

Here’s a photo of CEU’s working environment:

CEU is also doing pop-up democracy, e.g. around 20mph bill, by going to places where drivers are. Challenges include: more engagement leading to higher workload; attitudes to formal and informal evidence; buy-in from across the Parliament; data analysis to ensure engagement has impact. (e.g. how to analyse input on mental health); [lack of] time and resources to learn new skills in a busy orgorganisation; changing priorities and enquiries (because Bills pop up suddenly)!

Question: is CEU exploring collaborative tools? Ali certainly wants to. He mentions that Your Priorities can avoid need for transcription of video and audio input


Vilte Vaitkute is showing a short film made by Media Co-op called ‪#StrongMan. Its message is that violence against women must stop, that violence is a sign of weakness. [I learnt that the hard way years ago. No, I won’t give details online.]

Vilte says that Media Co-op works by co-production with people. For this film, they worked with 67 people. She loves participatory projects, because passing power to people to make their own film, results in great things, including honesty!

Vilte is now showing an example of a youth-made film that shows importance of understanding. It’s called Going on to happy, and is about being fostered/in care. [Bruce bites his tongue to stop tears.]

But it’s not just about young people; their oldest ‘star’ is 93.

The subject of the next film is a programme called TFC. It shows the experiences of two young folk and their carers. It was shown at the Haelo Film Festival; one of the young people got an award.

Vilte is now showing a film made by older folk about exercise: Stay Mobile Stay Connected. It shows there are many ways of participation, e.g. older folk reached out via social media. Hence Vilte shows one of the resulting animations.

Older people films were picked up by mainstream media. The next film shows an older person’s positive attitude to the film-making project.

Panel session

The first question was about the changing roles of citizen.

[I was still trying to eat lunch, so I didn’t keep up.]

There is an abundance of small groups in Glasgow.

The next question was for Ali, and was about how to gather data and measure impact. He says you get a big spreadsheet that needs to be analysed. The data-gathering questions need to meaningful to participants.

Concerning deliberative work, the most important thing is the outputs. Hence they use sentiment and content analysis. He avoids getting nerdy about Grounded Research.

Another challenge is that Parliament work takes time, so there may be a problem about people staying engaged. There is a participation network to obtain external input.

The next question for Ali is about how people perceive the initiatives presented. Ali replies that first thing is ‘do people even know about it?’. Hansard etc do some auditing of CEU work. But it’s about impact.

The next question is ‘how do we ensure we hear from those that are not already heard?’ Ali responds about use of random selection to get many folk – it works. The Parliament is also looking such methods.

Another speaker [sorry, I didn’t get her name] adds that there are shy folk, so you need to be sensitive about this. It’s data about anger, frustration etc that should be used. The big problem is how long policy-making takes. Vilte adds that it is difficult, but you can look for who is already working with unheard groups.

The next question is about how projects engage conflict resolution to allow conversations that need to be heard. ‪Ali says he understandsconsultation fatigue. You can’t just block input with swearwords because there may be good points.

The next question is about what practical steps are being taken to get ordinary folk in, not just C-suite folk. Ali says that CEU tries try to get lived experience right in front of committees. One way is doing panels to get folk in and engaged.

Naimh says there is work to get this in front of ministers.


The vent now finishing, but we can keep in touch via Twitter etc, says Ben. Thanks speakers!

Bysie-bye Twitter!


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