Contents this month
Summertime and the living is... damp, and reflective
The great advantage of a lousy summer is no call for a barbecue,
that generator of false jollity, insipid echo of our Neolithic
ancestry and abuser of decent food. Holidays, though: now you’re
talking. As Herodotus said (you can tell I’ve done my research) “If
a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself
a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable
without knowing it.” Amazing how little changes over the
Part of the stability that holidays bring is the re-centring
on what really matters. The last year has been hectic for Dialogue
by Design: great growth, many new projects and products, and
arguably the danger of being distracted from core values and
No apology here, therefore, for a short re-statement of what
we are doing and why we are doing it.
First and most important of all: we believe passionately that
the current and future health of our democracy rests on the proper
involvement of people in the decisions that affect them. This
underpins everything we do and explains why we are committed
to organisations such as Involve and to projects such as the
Hansard Society’s Parliament for the Future. Yes, Dialogue
by Design is a business - and we are a business that campaigns for the best possible processes in engagement and participation.
Secondly, we believe in the importance of design as a principle
as well as a process. Public consultation has for too long relied
on generic processes - surveys, questionnaires, focus groups,
and now all sorts of out-of-the-box software - that purport
to meet the public need for involvement.
The weakness of all these is that they focus on methods rather
than needs. At Dialogue by Design our absolute starting point
is design: who needs to be involved and what do they need to
be able to do. Only when these are clear do we begin to think
about methods - and we never prescribe generic solutions
to specific situations any more than a good doctor prescribes
over-the-counter medicines to individuals with specific illnesses.
Thirdly, we believe in deliberation, not just out-and-back consultation.
Wherever possible we use face-to-face meetings as well as web-
or paper-based methods: because not even the best software is
a substitute for sitting down and talking to people. It may be
less efficient, in business terms, than packaging everyone’s
opinions into a database - but human beings are more than
data repositories and we should treat them with proper respect.
Finally, we know that getting consultation right is never easy.
So we form working alliances with our clients, combining a real
understanding of their needs with our experience and the repertoire
of methods available to us. It means investing time to build
old-fashioned things like mutual trust and confidence.
These four things - the link between proper involvement
and a healthy democracy, the importance of design and meeting
specific needs, remembering the human dimension, and the mix
of old values and modern methods - are what make Dialogue
by Design different and make me proud of the company and the
work we do.
All very well being ‘values driven’, you may say - but
what about the bottom line? Well, I reckon growing fifty per
cent a year speaks for itself. Sound values make for a sound
And for good holidays. Enjoy yours.