Crispin Butteriss, Bang the Table speaking on "Bang the Table- Local government experience with public consultation" as part of the proceedings from the Public Sphere event on Government 2.0, hosted by Senator Kate Lundy on the 22nd June 2009.
The slides for this talk are available at:
The rest of the videos from the day are linked from the schedule at:
All slides are available at:
Thank you. I woke up with a bit of a bronchial thing this morning so hopefully I will make it through without my voice disappearing in the next fifteen minutes. I just wanted to quickly provide a little bit of background. I don't come from an ICT background at all. My career was in NSW public sector and public policy whole of government and community engagement process. I came to web 2.0 from the point of view of how we use these tools as another way for me to engage communities I am talking to through face to face processes. So when I look at these tools I am looking at this from a process point of you. Will this provide a good opportunity for interactive collaboration for those types of communities we are used to working with? So when people, we have a software engineer and when he talks about Java and things like that I think he is talking about a warm place for a holiday.
The company, Bang the Table, in thirty seconds is a company that works with local, state and some federal governments, or national governments rather, on how to use with web 2.0 technologies to engage and we have a software platform. The only thing I am going to say today about that is the main tool we use is community forums, so I am going to provide some lessons on how those community forums are being used and the sorts of things we have learnt in the last eighteen months we have been operating.
Okay. What I wanted to do rather than talk about, I am used to giving presentations all the time about our platform that are basically pictures and obviously that's not the purpose of today. So what I wanted to talk about is the process we go through with clients instead. Because of my background in community engagement, when I take off my Bang the Table hat and out on my voluntary sector hat I am a coordinator for the international association for public participation and there is a very robust and rigorous process that people that work in community engagement like to take their clients through when they are thinking about having conversations with their community. And the first question that you have to ask, and the ladder is the metaphor, is how much power you are willing to hand over to your community to influence this decision. And the reason it is a ladder is because a seminal paper that was written back in the sixties by a woman by the name of Cherie Arnstein and its basically related to the various types of community engagement you could undertake to the steps on a ladder. It was written in the sixties so it is very much about political empowerment, it looked at the whole process of handing over power and the notion was at the time that information process was the bottom rung of the ladder and a full community empowerment process was the top rung of the ladder. We don't look at things quite the same way anymore, but, never-the-less, the IOPT spectrum; it looks like a ladder turned on its side. So the left hand side is information that would be things like if I am working for someone that is building a bridge, by the time you have gone through the approval process and you're about to start constructing the bridge you no longer want to have a collaborative conversation about whether the bridge should be built. What you want to do is provide people with really good quality information about the fact that three lanes of the road are going to be closed leading up to the bridge this week so you should avoid that way of getting to work- the sort of things that really annoy people if you don't provide good quality, up-to-date, regular information. At the other end of the scale is empower and that would be things like government grants programs where you are handing over a fifty thousand dollars to a local community organisation and saying go forth and manage this and you are actually giving local people complete autonomy, but within boundaries, for how they spend their money affectively.
Now. Why is this relevant? Because as with all of the tools that we have used in traditional community engagement that are face to face, the tools are only affective if you understand that context and you apply them really sensitively and emphatically. If I apply the wrong tool in the wrong situation I send a message to my community that is potentially a lie and it is going to lead to problems with the people that we work with. So if I am using our standard platform of community forum, if someone is running an information only process I don't recommend they use a community forum because you are using an implicit message that there is an opportunity to get involved in a conversation and therefore there is an opportunity to affect change with this project and that is not always the case and you have to honest and upfront about that in the first place otherwise you get yourself in to trouble later on.
This is a screen dump of a PDF document that is on our website that I did to help some of our clients. It's an A4 document so I have just captured the top part of the screen but basically what I have done is gone through and identified a whole bunch of different web tools and they are not necessarily web 2.0 tools, they are just web technologies and looked at where they fit against the IBT Spectrum. So the spectrum runs across the top and it gives you goals of each of the processes and down the left hand column are each of the tools so that’s a resource that's out there.
The second process we go through then is establishing process objectives. When we first started this business we weren’t really sure what to expect in terms of community involvement in some of the conversations that our clients wanted to have and it was clear that a lot of people were leaping on the web band wagon and just it's another tool and another strategy for getting out there and having conversations with people. But because it was all new to them and it still is very very new to them because all of our clients are local government, and, as Reem said, it's a slow process of bringing them along on a journey. They weren't clear on what there outcomes were from each of these projects and that was really apparent. So did they want to hear from everybody in the local area? Did they want to hear from ten thousand people- is that a reasonable sample of the population? Or do they want to hear from two hundred people who are directly affected by the project? Do they only want to hear from people in the fifteen to twenty five, Anglo Saxon male population cohort? Whatever, those sorts of questions weren't being rigorously interrogated and the usefulness of that is that sometimes it reveals that web tools are completely inappropriate as the tool for having the conversation with the community that you want to talk to. I moved to Melbourne late last year and I increasingly get asked questions about using web 2.0 for talking to multicultural communities and it’s not a simple question to answer. There are lots of things you can do if you have the will, the money and the time and those sorts of things, but if you are principally consulting with new Sudanese migrants about something then I am never going to recommend to a client that they use the web. But if I am consulting with Sudanese migrants and I want to leave them with a skill set because they are in a new country and give them access to new technology and use it as a capacity building process then you can build using these kinds of tools around a whole program.
Okay, so the questions are: who do we want to hear from; how many people do we want to hear from; where do we want them to live- that’s always critical for the types of things we work on. What sort of social demographic are we trying to attract and how active do we want people to be once we have their attention? That last question is really critical. It has been pointed out already that most people who come to sites are voyeurs. They are browsers, they are there just to have a bit of a look and then they go away. And we monitor those stat's obviously, and of one hundred people who come to a site, between one and twenty depending on how hot an issue is and how important it is and how engaged people are with the issue- only between one and twenty will sign up to join in a conversation. On average around about seven percent of people will actually join the conversation and provide value, add content to a conversation. Most people are there to have a look, get a sense of things and then move on.
Okay, right. So it is only once you have gone through those processes that you choose the tools and I am only going to talk about two tools today. So I am going to talk mostly about our forums, but I wanted to make a couple of points about micro blogs and social networking as well while I am here.
Forums, alright. Okay. So this is a sample of a few of the forums that we have run and the reason I have put this up is just to give you a sense of the scale difference. This doesn't capture the really big ones because the really big ones make the really little ones infinitely small and irrelevant on the picture. But you are talking about things that go from getting one comment to things that get two and half a thousand comments, depending upon how important they are in the local community. So they are not on the kind of scale that, you know, Barrack Obama achieves with open for question and those sorts of things and nor would we want them to be because that would be completely overwhelming.
A few of the things that we have learnt. Okay. Because we mostly use forums, and because my background is in policy development and this community engagement process, the thing that was most interesting to me is: what's the quality of the conversation that takes place and a couple of the things really stand out for me. The first is that it is very high quality, generally. Generally most of the data, the qualitative data that comes off a forum is very high quality and therefore it’s very useful for public policy formulation.
The second point is the ability for people to agree or disagree with peoples comments is really important because for people who don't want to make their own comment or aren't comfortable with their own language skills, it gives them another point of entry.
The third point is that, I have already made the point about voyeurs. I am going to rush through this now then.
Okay. The fourth point is that it is the questions that are the most visceral, that are the most concrete are the things that attract peoples attention. So if you are trying to consult somebody on a strategic plan, you won't have a lot of luck, but if you want to consult people about the key impacts of that strategic plan and you actually pull those impacts out and make those the subjects they're the things people will get involved in.
And the fifth point I have got here is about voyeurs. The other thing of course is that you need to have reporting attached to all of this stuff. There is absolutely no point doing it, from a public policy administration point of view you need to be able to pull this data off and then put it in to some sort of qualitative analysis tool and work out what to do with it.
Okay micro blogs. Obviously the most famous micro blog going around today is twitter, and we are all using it today, and I’ve been guilty of using it as well. Point on twitter- I think twitter, when it is used and applied in things like the Victorian bushfire circumstance and what's happening in Iran at the moment and what happened in India a little while ago with the bombing over there- it's a fantastic use of it as a tool. As a tool for the kind of community engagement that I do, it's not particularly useful it’s mostly from a client point of view, mostly about information out. It's useful for information style projects. So if you have a whole bunch of people that want to sign up for something and they want to receive notification about the fact that you have been digging up the main road and you have accidentally gone through a water pipeline, then that's useful information, but as a conversation point, a hundred and forty characters isn't enough to have a decent quality conversation.
Social Networking. Obviously Facebook and Myspace are the big things at the moment. We have a Facebook page- everybody has to have a Facebook page these days but the reason to have it is so that you have an identity out there, a brand identity as an organisation and as a portal for people to get information from you. It's again not a particularly useful place for a conversation. Mostly because you can't take the information off once it is one there and therefore from a public administration point of view you can't, it's not fi-wire-able, you can't grab it and use it in some sensible way.
And I think that's all I’ve got time for. So I won’t tell my little story about my three headed dog. There you go. Thank you.
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