Citizen Space is a software that allows the Scottish Government to post consultation questions online to encourage citizen participation and engagement, improving citizen-government interaction. It also allows citizens to post new topics and respond, having their voices heard.
Problems and Purpose
The Scottish government was in search of new democratic methods that would greatly benefit the government and its people. Citizen Space was seen as a means of providing the public with an opportunity to have their say on government proposals and policies. Also, it would allow the government to identify key findings about public opinion and concern so they can address these issues using appropriate measures. The Scottish Government believed it could use this tool to direct and administer a series of consultations with very high response rates by using a simple and highly accessible system" (Citizen Space, 2014).
Additionally, to improve the relation between the government and the public it is vital for the government to listen to their citizens. The most formal way the government does this is via consultation. Thus, Citizen Space is a powerful, online consultation tool which ensures that the public are aware of the wide range of issues discussed in government and that the government is informed about the people's views on various issues and subjects. The Citizen Space is an effort to make the Scottish Government consultations easier to access and much simpler to use because it would "facilitate better communication between the people and government" (Gillies, 2015).
Background History and Context
The Scottish Government introduced this new online platform as there was a "growing need to increase the efficiency of the consultation system" (Garthwaite, 2015). The Scottish people's voices were still not being heard enough as the previous platform only allowed approximately 100 consultations on variety of subjects annually. Thus, it was necessary to improve the system by developing a new platform and allowing more people to take part in discussions and consultation. Therefore, Citizen Space was a programme "designed to improve the accessibility and transparency of consultations in the country" (Garthwaite, 2015).
Previous forms of online participation kept the public informed about government decisions and plans however, did not allow the public to provide their views and opinions regarding certain issues. Thus, Citizen Space acts as a hub for all upcoming, active and closed consultations in an area where people can have their say on current issues and access an archive of previous consultations" (Garthwaite, 2015). It can be argued that Citizen Space is a system whereby the public are able to enjoy online participation and engagement, remain informed and have their voices heard.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Citizen Space was developed by a digital democracy company Delib. The consultation tool was chosen and initiated by Christian Storstein, Digital Engagement Manager at the Scottish Government and his Digital Engagement Team. Whilst launching this online platform, they considered ways in which they would be able to enhance digital democracy and political participation using inventive methods. The Digital Engagement Team and Delib ensured that the "system was one both employees and users could get behind" as there was no use in having a tool that the employees or the public could not use. Thus, if the consultation tool will help the Scottish government engage with the citizens across Scotland, it is vital for those working in the Scottish government to know how to use this system and its benefits. Therefore, sessions were arranged to help the staff develop an understanding of why such a system is being used and how to get the most out of it (Garthwaite, 2015).
Financing for the use of Citizen Space comes from the Scottish Government as it is part of the government's plan to ensure that citizens are engaging with the government and participating in local politics. Also, when policy and proposals have high levels of support which is evident in the comment section, the Scottish Government review the cases or issues and set the funding and budget accordingly. For example, Citizen Space was used to find out public views on how best to develop a distinctive Scottish approach to future employability support. Thus, individuals responded stating that the Scottish Government needs to provide a fairer employability support system protecting the disabled people and those at risk of long-term unemployment. The responses provided by the public allowed the Scottish Government to identify that the Scottish Approach to employability should "provide a flexible, tailored, 'whole person' approach, be designed and delivered in partnership, and drive towards real jobs" (The Scottish Government, 2015).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
This programme is an online consultation tool, thus it does not follow the method of participant selection as all members of the public are able to participate, engage and put forward their views and ideas. Though there is no clear evidence on who actually participates, responses are often provided by individuals and organizations in Scotland.
It follows the democratic principle of freedom and equality as all comments are taken into consideration by the Scottish Government. The views and comments provided play an important role in policy and decision making.
Such tool is put in place by the Scottish Government so that all members of the public are able to remain aware of the different issues in government and provide their views on that particular subject. The Scottish Government uses this software to direct the people towards political process, encouraging them to participate and engage as equal members of the public.
Methods and Tools Used
This case uses online consultation, which has the goal of including the wider public in legislative proccesses by making policy and legislation more accessible and considering the insights and ideas of those who are affected by the legislation . Such a tool increases transparency in government processes and have an element of civic education for the members of the public who participate.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Know how people participated or what public interaction looked like? Help us complete this section!
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Citizen Space was very effective as the Scottish Government was able to achieve very high response rates. This is apparent as "in total, 23,569 responses were submitted through Citizen Space (compared with 725 that were submitted via email or post)" (Citizen Space, 2014). This may be because of its easy to use and highly accessible nature that many people find it comfortable to use and provide their consultation. Using Citizen Space, the Scottish Government could "rapidly analyse large numbers of consultation responses in a meaningful way" (Delib, 2014). Over 700 consultations were made using Citizen Space and it is argued to be a success because of the very high usage by the public. As Christian Storstein, Digital Engagement Manager, stated, "we wanted to make the process of responding to the consultation as simple as possible – simple for users to express their views, and simple for us to redact, analyse and publish those responses... We were very happy with the outcome" (Citizen Space, 2014). This suggests that the Scottish Government and the Digital Engagement Team were able to achieve their aims that they considered when introducing such platform.
The Citizen Space platform ensured that citizens could express their views and concerns. The public's voices were actually heard by the government and considered before making major decisions on controversial subjects and issues and in general. The tool has helped improve the consultation process and public engagement. This is evident in the 'We Asked, You Said, We Did' tab as it provides all public responses, government's action towards the responses and succinct summaries of the different consultations. This tab allows the public to know how their responses have helped shape government policy and decisions and what the government further intends to do after knowing the views of its people.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Though Citizen Space has many advantages and benefits for the Scottish Government and the public, it also has many limitations and restrictions. The nature of this platform is that it is digital and online for people to access however, one must consider the current digital divide which exists in society. It could be argued that not all citizens are aware of such methods and tool thus, many remain unaware and are unable to participate in these new opportunities. Also, although it is an online platform, it does not necessarily mean that everyone can access it. This is because not all citizens have access to the internet at home or may not know how to use the internet. There is a "significant proportion of citizens in advanced industrial democracies... that do not own the relevant equipment and/or have the knowledge and confidence to use electronic media such as the internet" (Smith, 2009: p148). This suggests that some people may not find it comfortable using these new methods and so they prefer to only take part in the traditional forms of participation. Thus, this weakens the purpose of what Citizen Space is supposed to do for the Scottish Government as not everyone is part of the consultation process and often those "already politically interested and knowledgeable" (Smith, 2009: p153) tend to engage more. There may be some citizens that wish to take part in using Citizen Space but feel like they do not have much knowledge about how this tool works.
Also, citizens that have used the Citizen Space tool have overall been pleased with the outcome and satisfied with the process as citizens felt they were more involved in the government's decision making process and they felt much informed and educated on certain issues and policies. The Scottish Government were really pleased with the result of using such tool and hope to "harness these tools more" and "open up policymaking to more people and all that entails" (Fowkes, 2013). As Christian Storstein, Digital Engagement Manager, states, "Digital technology is so powerful in bringing people together that it has set the agenda for citizen participation in many ways and bringing policymaking closer to citizens" (Fowkes, 2013). The features of Citizen Space allowed the Scottish Government to combine their consultations with other websites and blogs.
However, Storstein did state that it would have been better if they had more time to work on it so they could have tweaked the design and included more visual elements (Fowkes, 2013). Using Citizen Space may not always result to change or decisions being made. As some citizens may still feel that they are not being heard and are excluded from such process. It is argued that often "citizens who are attracted to electronic discussion on politics are usually those with an extant political interest" (Smith, 2009: p149) which could also be viewed as a limitation in using such online system.
Furthermore, this innovative method of consultation not only enhances democratic practices but steps in to "facilitate the robust public deliberation that was conspicuously lacking in twentieth-century representative democracies" (Wright, 2012: p3). It provides individuals with new forms of political participation where they are able to engage in politics and feel that their voices are being heard. The Citizen Space platform has allowed the Scottish Government to create more active, engaged citizens and an inclusive public sphere. Also, online consultation platforms allow "large numbers of citizens to be engaged in policy discussions and collective decision-making over a relatively short time period" (Smith, 2009: p146) and individuals are able to participate in the comfort of their own homes without the need to travel to a specific location. Such new innovative online tools may be effective at the present as it allows the public to feel more closer to the government and their MPs. Often, citizens feel alienated from politics and its process, which leads to a lack of trust in government and those in power. Thus, having online consultation tools allow the public to know that they have the ability to influence government decisions and it demonstrates that the government are still in touch with the people they represent. Therefore, such tools encourage individuals to participate and engage in discussions and consultation because they know the government would hear their concerns and use their responses to formulate policy-making. Although, there is political distance as the citizens would be most probably writing from home and the government will be reading their responses from office. The nature of online platforms ensure political closeness thus, citizens feel that they are talking directly to the government (Wright, 2012).
Citizen Space. (2014). The Scottish Government. Available: http://www.citizenspace.com/info/customer_stories/scottish_government/in... accessed 4th April 2016.
Delib.net. (no date). Why Citizen Space. Available: http://www.delib.net/delib_shared_assets/shared_documents/Citizen_Space_.... Last accessed: 4th April 2016
Delib.net. (2014). Scottish Government. Available: http://www.delib.net/delib_shared_assets/shared_documents/Scottish_Gover.... Last accessed 4th April 2016.
Fowkes, B. (2013). Digital Hero – Christian Storstein. Available: http://blog.delib.net/digital-hero-christian-storstein/. Last accessed 4th April 2016.
Garthwaite, E. (2015). Scotland launches Citizen Space consultation platform. Available: http://www.itproportal.com/2015/04/12/scotland-launches-citizen-space-co.... Last accessed 4th April 2016.
OECD (2001). Citizens as Partners: Information, Consultation and Public Participation in Policy-Making. Org. for Economic Cooperation & Development. p56-58.
Smith, G (2009). Democratic Innovations, Designing Institutions for Citizen Participation. Cambridge University Press. p142-161.
Wright, S. (2012). The Participatory Journey in Online Consultations. In: Coleman, S and Shane, P Connecting Democracy. London: MIT Press. p21 - 245.
Interview with a number of citizens who have participated and engaged with the Scottish Government's tool of Citizen Space - to find out if they think the tool is useful and whether its fulfilling its purpose.
Lead Image: Citizen Space/Delib.net https://goo.gl/aRdw3M