Contents this month
CitizenBase - because engagement has to work both ways
Dialogue by Design launched into a world obsessed by customer
relationship management, or CRM. Whoever mastered the art of staying
in touch with previous customers and building relationships with
new ones would, it was said, dominate their market. A whole industry
had sprung up around software designed to help salespeople target
and track their 'prospects'.
The challenge for us was rather different. For a start, we were
not trying to sell anything to the people being consulted; in
fact, it was exactly the opposite. In a sense, we were buying
from them: buying their time, their knowledge, their opinions,
their expertise. So we needed a way to stay in touch that would
meet their needs as well as ours.
We also found the whole ethos of CRM uncomfortable in the context
of public and stakeholder engagement - perhaps summed up
in the reduction of people to mere selling prospects. We knew
that, from a purely practical point of view, the cheapest thing
to do would be to buy a simple CRM system and tweak it to meet
our needs. But we felt that it would still be infected by the
underlying treatment of people as commodities to be used and
cast aside when they were no longer useful. Implicitly, we needed
a system that was more respectful of the people being consulted,
that would allow them to control how they took part and that
asked for their permission throughout the process.
So we set out to develop our own citizen engagement system from
the ground up, based on our experience of engaging with the hopes
and fears of real people who need and want to be involved in
the decisions that affect their lives.
Eight years later and we have the answer - CitizenBase - and
it is so much more than just another database system. It does
all the usual things you would expect, such as holding personal
details securely, and a range of things that no conventional
system ever would.
For example, it enables us to ensure people receive information,
such as newsletters, invitations to events, or notifications
of new consultation processes, that we know will be of specific
interest to them - because they have told us what those interests
Similarly, it means that when we need to tap into their opinions,
we don't waste their time by asking questions that are irrelevant
to them - because we can make sure that what we ask is
relevant to where they live or fits with the categories of stakeholder
to which they belong.
Perhaps this is the single greatest strength of CitizenBase:
it will reduce dramatically the number of citizens who are irritated
by receiving irrelevant information or consultation approaches.
And this, in turn, should increase the numbers who are willing
and happy to respond constructively to the approaches they do
We will be launching CitizenBase formally in September and giving more details about how it works in next month's newsletter.