Posts Tagged ‘Case Study’

Social Media and Democracy (and One Really Interesting Example)
Friday, July 22nd, 2011

In a recent article entitled “Are Facebook, Twitter Fostering Civic Engagement?”, Emily Badger provides a useful narrative of the debate on whether social media strengthens or weakens democracy. To narrow her scope, she focuses on the impact in countries that are already considered democratic, like Canada and the U.S.

Those who suggest that social media hinders democracy often point to a phenomena that has been termed “slacktivism” (“slacker” + “activism”). This results in minimal, “feel good” measures of support for an issue/ cause for the purpose of personal satisfaction and social capital. (more…)

A short history of crowdsourcing
Friday, June 24th, 2011

You’ve probably heard of “crowdsourcing” – a way for organizations to solve tough challenges by tapping-into the knowledge of their broad communities.While social media and web technologies provide governments, businesses and other organizations with tools to crowdsource more rapidly and collaboratively, crowdsourcing itself isn’t new.

In a great blog, DesignCrowd researched some of the most well known examples of crowdsourcing.  They think the first case could date all the way back to 1714 in England.  And, of all the examples they describe, it’s this one – the invention of the Marine Pocket Clock – that I find the most interesting.  Here’s the story.

1714: The Longitude Prize

In 1714, sailors in the British navy had a problem.  The motion of a ship through the waves meant that traditional clocks with a pendulum couldn’t keep accurate time, which they needed to for navigation purposes.  If they didn’t know where they were, captains and their unlucky crews could sail right into reefs or other dangers.

The Admiralty couldn’t find a solution so, in perhaps the first example of crowdsourcing, they issued a challenge to the public.  For a prize of £20,000 (US $4.7 million in today’s money), everyday citizens were asked for their solutions to this tough problem.

And it worked!  The winning response was received from a Mr. John Harrison, the son of a carpenter.

What does this tell us?

I really like this story because it shows some of the fundamental principles behind crowdsourcing:

  1. People outside an organization are willing to help solve a problem
  2. Organizations don’t have all the answers… sometimes they need to leverage the knowledge of people outside
  3. Even the most technical and seemingly impossible problems can be solved, and from the most unlikely sources

While the term “crowdsourcing” is new, the idea that organizations can look outside for help has a long and interesting history.

– Ellis Westwood –

Note: My thanks to DesignCrowd for the original blog that inspired this one.

How we can all practice engagement to make what we do better
Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Throughout our busy project season here at Ascentum, I’ve also been working on the capstone report for my MPA degree. Through my research, I’ve learned about a wide range of policies and practices that government departments and agencies have adopted to help them build the organizational capacity needed to effectively integrate public involvement at the federal level.

However, in this blog I want to focus more on public and stakeholder involvement occurring at more local and personal levels. The reason is simple: we often see public involvement as a large-scale process that is managed at the higher levels of government. However, it can also be a sustained effort coming citizens themselves, who can use it to their own benefit to improve their everyday work and activities.

One interesting example relates to what Sophia Parker, an associate with the U.K. think tank Demos, calls “service design.” This approach provides real value for public services because it is about “understanding services from people’s perspective that actually then helps you work out how you might improve that service, how you might innovate around it.”

In a recent podcast, Ms. Parker talks about a teacher she met through her research. In collaboration with his students, the teacher developed a questionnaire that is conducted on a monthly basis to engage students with questions that truly matter to them, like “did you find the lesson boring?” and “did the teacher mark your homework on time?” Although some teachers had reasonable apprehension over the use of this survey, Ms. Parker notes that “it’s starting to generate some really powerful data… And he’s using it in a very open way; he’s not just keeping it to himself and using it to punish people. He actually gives it out to his staff and it helps them prioritize how to allocate resources, how to use their time properly and so on.” And since the questionnaire is conducted regularly, it is considered to be “part of the service instead of an additional set of activities.” You can listen to the entire podcast at

Among many things, this case shows that citizens shouldn’t think of public involvement in an entirely passive manner (i.e. “when will I be consulted on this issue/policy/program?”). If we focus on the goal of improvement, then public involvement isn’t just about being consulted; it’s also about doing consulting – at different levels and in different ways – to make a real impact on our everyday lives.

– Tristan Eclarin -

Social media tackling obesity one picture at a time
Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Studies and studies time and again report that we as a society are growing – and it’s not just in numbers I am talking about. A joint study between Statistics Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted between 2007 and 2009 concluded that approximately 1 in every 4 Canadians are obese, compared with nearly 1 in every 3 Americans.

Now I know that life’s stresses can get in the way of eating healthy – but what if I told you that a new social media tool can help make it easier for you?

A recent iPhone application – called MealSnap app and costing $2.99 – allows you to retrieve an instant calorie count just by taking a picture of your chosen food article. It works by matching the picture with a database of some 500,000 food items. Within minutes users receive a message specifying the range of calories for that food category, as well as being provided with other pertinent information such as the proteins, fat, carbs, vitamins etc.

Developed by a fitness social network named DailyBurn, users can then choose to share what they’ve eaten on Twitter or FourSquare. With the support of your peers, the idea is you’ll be held accountable for what you eat and encouraged to choose right.

Furthermore, users are able to keep a record of the food they devour as the pictures get stored into a ‘visual food diary’. As many studies report that people who record what they eat are more likely to lose weight, this method is a whole lot easier than actually taking the time to write down everything you consume.

This being said, naturally this app has its limitations, namely that it can fail to identify food correctly at times and that the calorie count for each food category may be too broad to be useful. However, users are permitted to rate the accuracy of each classification, thus improving the validity of each read-out.

Now I don’t know about you, but if this app is telling me that the salad at the restaurant has more calories than the burger (which you laugh but this is sometimes the case), I will gladly oblige and eat the burger.

– Cassandra Tavares -

Shaw’s Customer Conversations on Data Use. Great, but what about online tools…?
Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Shaw Communications has just launched a great customer consultation to hear their views on internet use and fees.  There are 35 in-person dialogues but, ironically, limited ways to take part online.  We think they can do better.

The situation
In the last few weeks, there’s been an interesting public debate about the internet – how Canadians think their internet services providers (ISPs like Bell or Rogers) should limit or charge them for how they use the web.

This was sparked by a controversial CRTC ruling on so-called “Usage Based Billing”.  If #UBB is something new to you, CBC has a great 2-minute explanation here.

The CRTC’s decision was questioned by some Canadians, and 416,207 of them signed a petition on asking for the decision to be reversed.

Shaw’s response
Shaw, one of Canada’s leading telecom companies, seems to have taken note of the public’s concerns and has launched a consultation with its customers to hear their views on usage and fees.

I think Shaw deserves credit for starting this conversation.  More companies could be engaging their customer to co-create new programs, policies, products or decisions.  Ultimately, the quality and utility – both for Shaw and its customers – will depend on the process design, I think it’s a promising campaign.

Bringing the conversation online
The Shaw conversations are described here.  People can take part in one of 35 in-person dialogues, send Shaw an email, or call a service rep.

For a customer engagement that’s really about how people use the internet, I think these participation streams should be complemented by more online dialogue.  Shaw could be hosting a discussion board or idea forum on its website – similar to what the Government of Canada did for its consultations on the Digital Economy Strategy.  This would foster a broader conversation, and allow people to take part who can’t attend face-to-face events.

It seems to me that more online engagement would better fit a conversation about the internet and how Canadians use it.

What do you think?  Would you take part?  What would you tell Shaw and other participants?

– Ellis Westwood -

Online deliberation – It’s all about the possibilities!
Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

What is it about the online environment that makes it such a good place for engaging citizens?

I think it’s all about the possibilities.

Online dialogues can give citizens the opportunity to voice their individual concerns and ideas, on an equal footing with others, and at almost zero cost. And because it all takes place online, there is the added value of collaboration – whether in real-time or at your own convenience. If I’m participating in the dialogue, I can see what others are saying (who agrees or disagrees with me?), I can work with others to enhance our common ideas, and I can help build the critical mass needed to push action on an issue.

So what can we do to make sure we’re making the most out of these opportunities? Ellis Westwood, one of Ascentum’s senior consultants, forwarded me some research on online deliberation that addresses this question.

In 2009, the EU Commission implemented the European Citizens Consultations in all member states, with the aim of producing a set of social and economic policy recommendations that would have broad support from all EU citizens. One of the methods for engaging citizens was a series of online discussion forums, which helped set the agenda for the rest of the process. Citizens could develop their own proposals and post them online, vote on other participants’ proposals, or write discussion posts.

In a report written by Martin Karlsson, a doctoral candidate at the Örebro School of Public Affairs in Sweden, all 28 of these online forums were looked at. Since they were all similarly designed, implemented and connected to the broader policy process, Karlsson makes the case for looking deeper, and focusing on what other factors contribute to the success of online deliberation projects. He came up with two general hypotheses…

  1. “The more a forum is characterized by a diversity of opinion the more deliberation will occur between the participants.
  2. “The higher the level of engagement among the participants in a forum, the more deliberation will occur between the participants.”

While it may seem self-evident that diverse opinions and high levels of engagement are critical factors for effective participatory processes, it is easy to ignore them, especially if there is a lot of emphasis on reaching consensus. But your online deliberation project stands to be much more constructive and impactful if you commit to these principles and work them into the process.

– Tristan Eclarin -

A Resolution and a Commitment
Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

It is never too late to make a New Year’s resolution.  We at AmericaSpeaks and Ascentum thought it might be helpful if we proposed a resolution focused on Open Government that federal managers can adopt to start the year off right: Resolve to make a specific, concrete commitment to enhance citizen participation in your agency.

(Note: Ascentum and AmericaSpeaks are partners in offering online public engagement services to agencies in the US Government in support of the White House’s Open Government Directive) (more…)

Hear the Stories, Change the Practice, Change Patient Experiences…
Friday, November 26th, 2010

The best way to improve services is to listen to people’s experiences and their ideas, then use these as inputs for change….

We’re really pleased to be working with The Change Foundation on a new public engagement initiative.

If you’ve never heard of the Foundation before, I’d encourage you to learn more about them.  They are an Ontario think tank whose mission is to improve the health-care experience of individuals and caregivers as they move in, out of, and across the health-care system.  They do great work and are staffed by a dedicated and creative team.

Making the case for public engagement can be hard.  Sometimes, people have trouble seeing the benefits or understanding the need to talk to stakeholders the public directly.  From our perspective, though, it’s the people who use or even deliver programs or services who are best situated to identify problems and potential solutions.

We’re working with The Change Foundation to design new ways to help them engage caregivers and individual patients using social media and other involvement tools or techniques.

The reason we are partnering with them in this effort comes straight from their new strategic plan, and offers one of the clearest and most powerful cases for public engagement I think I’ve ever read:

We’ve set our sights on improving people’s experiences as they move through Ontario’s health-care system. Instead of being shuffled back and forth, people need to be connected to quality care and support wherever they are, clear about whom to turn to and talk to, assured of what comes next.

We will listen to the lived realities of caregivers and their loved ones who need help and health care.  We’ll hear–and heed–what their experience tells us must be done.  We’ll engage with the stewards, stakeholders and users of our health-care system, sharing what we’ve learned on the ground, using evidence, analysis and argument to incite change.

And it won’t come at all if we don’t change the debate, change the practice, change the experience.

The basic message is this.  You can’t make a change unless you understand people’s experiences and their ideas for improvement.

– Ellis Westwood -

Creating a Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada: Assessing the Engagement Process
Friday, October 22nd, 2010

The need for robust methods of evaluating the impact of public involvement on policy and participant outcomes is widely recognized. Unfortunately, the reality is that all too often evaluation receives lip service only – being treated as afterthought and/or being grossly under-resourced. So, when Ascentum’s MPA Co-op Intern Tristan Eclarin pitched the idea of assessing the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s engagement process vis-a-vis the development of a framework to guide a pan-Canadian mental health strategy, we were keen – both  because it is such a compelling public issue and because we collaborated with the Commission on the process.

His case study – Creating a Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada: Assessing the Engagement Process – examines how the design, implementation and results of Regional Stakeholder Dialogues and Public Consultations impacted the Commission’s Framework – Toward Recovery and Well-Being. The paper argues for a comprehensive assessment framework that is carefully tailored to context. To learn, more including his insights about the results of this engagement process, read on……

Building a Mental Health Strategy for Canada – Through Public Participation
Friday, March 12th, 2010

During the first two months of my co-op placement here at Ascentum, I’ve been writing a case study on the development of a pan-Canadian, consensus-based mental health strategy. This is a nation-wide initiative of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), which collaborated with Ascentum to design the in-person regional dialogues and the online consultation process. (more…)