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Families on The Couch:
hearing from New Zealand families

          Stephen Blyth
   Manager, Community Relations


 Prese...
The comments listed here represent a very small
                                                                          ...
What I’ll cover today
    Why the Couch was set-up
•
    How the Couch works
•
    How are we going?
•
    Critical succes...
The Couch set up a year ago, almost exactly, as a
means of hearing directly from members of
families.

The role of the Fam...
For those not online, it was stressed that
                                                      The Couch would supplemen...
A tender process was run to select a developer for
the website.

Core requirements were:
-ease of administration, includin...
Lets go, lets follow in the foot steps of a new
member.




                                                  7
Who here has visited the website? Is a member?
Has completed a poll?

The Couch open to any New Zealand resident.

A requi...
Every 6-8 weeks we notify run polls asking
members about some aspect of family life.

Polls are a combination of closed-en...
After completion of a poll, or longer research
focused questionnaires, we publish a results
report.

The report is a very ...
Before I walk through the website, I want to talk
                                                            about how th...
I’m going to run through the statistics, but in
                                                      doing so don’t want ...
Good spread of members, broadly proportionate
                                              to NZ population. We do have m...
Up to mid-April 2007 we’ve run nine polls and two
                                                                   quest...
Members have made comments through polls and
                                                                       by ema...
Having set out how the website works and
                                                    progress to date, I want to g...
2. Critical success factors: Making use of
what we gather

As I pointed out earlier, we report back to
members. Generally ...
3. Critical success factors: communication

The Commission has committed budget and staff
time to promoting the Couch to t...
-   ’
.




            19
Effective promotion contd


3. Presence at events, shows, conferences.
Between the International Cultural and Pasifika
Fes...
We are not standing still and have plans to build
                                                                        ...
We are very happy to share our experiences.
                                                                 Please get in...
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Families on The Couch

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Presentation for: GOVIS 2007 Innovation in ICT Conference, Wellington, New Zealand, 9-11 May 2007.

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Transcript of "Families on The Couch"

  1. 1. Families on The Couch: hearing from New Zealand families Stephen Blyth Manager, Community Relations Presented at: GOVIS 2007 Innovation in ICT Conference, Wellington, 9-11 May 2007 1
  2. 2. The comments listed here represent a very small fraction of the rich feedback provided by Couch Christmas is a great time to spend with members. whanau. The delight on the children's faces tell These comments were received in response to us that it is an important time for them. Every our summer holiday poll: we simply asked if thing we do on this day focuses on what the people had other comments. What impresses me children want to do whether it be a meal is how honest people are about their circumstances. This is powerful information to together or a barbeque at the beach. influence policy and decision-makes. North Shore Christmas is a stressful time As a general observation, Couch members are sharing incredibly openly and freely. Not only (emotionally, physically and that, people are at times writing at length, with financially) despite trying to streamline people regularly writing entries of over 500 it each year. It is something to be words. endured rather than enjoyed!! This brings with it a weighty responsibility to both Christchurch respect the different viewpoints, and to make good use of what we’re told. This is in fact common to any public consultation or community engagement exercise, online or off. As a sole parent family struggling with invalidity or poverty this is the seventh year of struggle On the Couch we’ve been successful in creating with circumstances imposed so our efforts have an environment where people are willing to share their experiences, views and ideas. We have a been focussed on healing grief and pain by substantial membership, just over 3,000 people finding manageable creative positive wishes and at the time of this presentation, who are active. actions for better tomorrows What I want to talk about today is what are the Porirua critical successful factors for running an online community engagement website. Based on how things are working, the critical success factors relate to: - how we’ve established a relationship with members? - what do we do with the information we collect? - how we promote the website? I’ll also talk about the design, customer service, and development capability. But first, I want to set out why The Couch was set-up, how it works and how are we doing. 2
  3. 3. What I’ll cover today Why the Couch was set-up • How the Couch works • How are we going? • Critical success factors • Building trust o Using what we gather o Effective promotion o The rest o Where to from here • Q&A • 3
  4. 4. The Couch set up a year ago, almost exactly, as a means of hearing directly from members of families. The role of the Families Commission is to advocate for the interests of New Zealand families. The Commission promotes the interests of all families and promotes a better understanding of family issues and needs amongst government agencies and the wider community. We need to know what issues are facing families. This is done in a variety of ways: consultation on specific policy areas; eyes and ears on the ground through a team of community advisors; Commissioner links with organisations and community leaders. In undertaking these activities, the Commission is meeting its legislative obligation to maintain mechanisms (for example, by appointing advisory committees or forming consultation forums) to ensure that there are at all times readily accessible to it the views a of Maori as tangata whenua b of the Pacific Islands peoples of New Zealand c of other ethnic and cultural groups in New Zealand d of groups that represent families, or 1 or more kinds of family members, and of groups that have a particular interest in families. The core idea behind The Couch is directly hearing from family members - unmediated by the caring professions or spokespeople. What we want is diversity of views. The results of polls and longer questionnaires were seen as being very useful to help the Commission: - develop position papers, research documents, identify areas for new work - plan public education activities - use to influence public opinion, government and other agencies. At the same time The Couch is a fresh approach to public participation which ideally will stimulate active citizenship. As a by-product of involvement we can envisage our members being more willing to participate in democracy. We also want to share what we’ve learnt and learn from others, so 4 online participation in New Zealand is effective.
  5. 5. For those not online, it was stressed that The Couch would supplement face-to-face consultation. Efforts to reach so-called hard to reach groups would be made, including targeted recruitment. The Couch was not set up for research New languages of politics will have to be surveys. The Commission knew it would be very difficult getting a fully representative admitted into the representative arena, including sample of New Zealanders to join up. This is those based on experience and storytelling as inevitable when membership is self- well as analysis and ideological polemicising. selecting. So we cannot extrapolate the There can be no room for the downgrading of results to the total NZ population. vernacular or emotive expression if we are really Instead of conducting research surveys the to take seriously the authentic testimonies of core purpose of the Couch is to run polls to diverse experience as part of the policy process. capture member opinions and experiences. Stephen Coleman & John Gøtze, The poll results are from a knowledgeable Bowling Together: Online Public Engagement in and diverse cross section of New Zealand Policy Deliberation (2001) families. The results we’re getting show there is a very wide cross section of family members: extended family, couples, solo mums, people in same sex relationships. This Commission is accessing very rich qualitative data that powerfully portrays the real experiences of families. We are arguing, along the lines that Professor Stephen Coleman and John Gozte do, that it is critical for genuine voices of families to be heard in the policy process. The responses are valid even if they are not run according to social scientific methodology. We are not ignoring the question of representativeness. Indeed we are looking into selecting a cross-section of members that is demographically representative of the New Zealand population for specific subjects. 5
  6. 6. A tender process was run to select a developer for the website. Core requirements were: -ease of administration, including automated poll and report generation, bulk email capability -membership anonymity -usable design The Commission wanted to minimise ongoing maintenance costs, and reduce bottlenecks so quick turn around for publishing polls and reports. Boost New Media were selected. They are experienced in user centred design, and have a portfolio of multi-media work for ACC, Learning Media, education clients. Agreement reached giving Boost the right to re- sell the core code so they invested a lot of time and effort in the development phase. They continue to be involved doing maintenance and periodic upgrades. The database and website is a custom built application. For those that are technically minded, the application runs on Ruby on Rails, is database agnostic (eg works with MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server), and is open source. It is important to acknowledge the critical role the Commission’s Communications team played in ensuring the look ‘n feel meets the needs of the audience. Communications staff were involved from the very beginning. A purely technical team would have been unlikely to come up with such a usable design. 6
  7. 7. Lets go, lets follow in the foot steps of a new member. 7
  8. 8. Who here has visited the website? Is a member? Has completed a poll? The Couch open to any New Zealand resident. A requirement of membership is completion of a form collecting demographic information. Members are required to accept Terms of Use. Privacy is very important - we commit to not using email addresses for any purpose but communicating about the Couch. And all poll responses are anonymous - the name and email address are stripped from responses. 8
  9. 9. Every 6-8 weeks we notify run polls asking members about some aspect of family life. Polls are a combination of closed-ended and open-ended questions. The length of polls varies. The longest was about 18 questions. Shortest one is coming up: just one question. We want people to be able to complete them in one sitting - aiming for no longer than ten minutes. An email alert is sent to members, and reminders to those that have not completed a poll also. 9
  10. 10. After completion of a poll, or longer research focused questionnaires, we publish a results report. The report is a very important part of the feedback process. It is available to members, and to any visitor. We provide members with their responses to questions. Reports are a combination of graphs and freeform text. Currently reports are laid out on a single page. Length varies - we’re getting much deeper information than originally intended so format needs to be tweaked to reflect how we are actually using the website. 10
  11. 11. Before I walk through the website, I want to talk about how the website is run. There are two levels to this: -Governance -Day-to-day operations How we run it The Family Knowledge Base steering committee comprises both senior management and Commissioners. They set budget, determine Governance Steering Committee - policy, poll and report policies, approve polls and reports, and monitor progress. Email round robins are used in-between approval, monitor progress meetings. Operations Internal team with survey design, analysis On the operational side: and communications expertise -Internal team: membership from policy and research, communications and Couch Project Officer administration. Role is to design and test questions for polls, analysing results, prepare Project Manager reports and disseminate findings. Marketing, promotions support -Project Officer, full-time - Rebecca Whiting in this role. Help desk for members, uploading polls and reports, technical management, coordinating and cajoling other staff; promotional activities; and other related administration. -Project Manager, currently part of broader Community relations manager role. Reporting, planning, budgeting, strategy, and support for Project Officer. I see role as being a advocate for member interests. -Marketing and promotions activity shared by Communications team members. Press releases, materials, presence at events, booking advertising. In total this amounts to about 1.5 FTEs. The Couch sits within the Communications and Community Relations team (not an IT department) which means the emphasis is on our the relationship with the people who use the website. We are committed to meeting principles within the Commission’s community engagement charter, just as we are with any face-to-face consultation. 11
  12. 12. I’m going to run through the statistics, but in doing so don’t want to de-emphasise the importance of the data we receive because it is not really a numbers game. We are collecting we useful information that is supporting the Commission’s work. Members, so far Steady growth over the year. Reached 3,000 members in April. Total at 20 April 2007: 3,000 Substantially more women online than men, which reflects the predominance of females as Gender: primary caregivers and nurturers of family life. Female 79% Male 21% Ethnicity broadly same proportion as New Zealand population. Under represented in under 24 age Ethnicity: group and over 65 years. NZ European 75% Maori 10% Samoan 2% Cook Is Maori 1% Chinese 1% Indian 1% Other 16% Age: Under 24 years 2% 25-34 years 23% 35-44 years 41% 45-54 years 23% 55-64 years 8% Over 65 years 2% 12
  13. 13. Good spread of members, broadly proportionate to NZ population. We do have members in all areas, even though summary statistics show 0% in some cases. Wellington membership is higher than its share of the New Zealand population. Anyone here from Tasman or Marlborough, I can Members, so far give you a stack of promotional material, and might organise a promotional visit soon. Geographic location: Northland 3% Wellington 22% Auckland 32% West Coast 1% Waikato 7% Canterbury 13% Bay of Plenty 7% Otago 4% Gisborne 1% Southland 2% Hawke’s Bay 2% Tasman 0% Taranaki 2% Nelson 1% Manawatu-Wanganui 4% Marlborough 0% 13
  14. 14. Up to mid-April 2007 we’ve run nine polls and two questionnaires. At the time of our birthday celebration we counted up: 7,865 responses from members to date. The membership is very active. So far: 81% of members have completed a poll Polls and questionnaires About 37% have completed one poll in the last two months Poll 1: Parenting Education I just checked the latest poll and after just one week 385 responses were received on “How are Poll 2: Home and away poll we going?” Questionnaire 1: Childcare needs for school children Poll 3; Managing the family budget Poll 4: Families and alcohol Questionnaire 2: Disability and family life Poll 5: Attitudes to family violence Poll 6: Summer holidays Poll 7: Ageing and families - how does it affect you? Poll 8: Support for couples Poll 9: How are we going? One year on The Couch 14
  15. 15. Members have made comments through polls and by email. The lastest poll which will feed into enhancements to the way we operate the website will be a source of valuable feedback. Very personal touch - lots of Christmas wishes. There are both positive comments, brickbats, and Some member feedback critiques of some of question design. As you can see, members want to keep us Great - keep up the good work honest. They are demanding that we make good use of the information, and stay neutral. Keep going in your present manner. We are very happy to receive this feedback as our Feedback about how the polls/questionnaires either directly or members are holding us accountable. As with any indirectly affect support, services and policy for families in NZ engagement process, they want to see some benefit come out of their involvement. This information is particularly important to helping us To be notified of policy changes (Govt) that have occurred as a with how we communicate effectively. result of the information provided by Couchers. Debates about controversial issues, e.g. the propsed repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act Please continue to ensure questions are not worded to get a prior agenda. If I felt this was so the site would immediately loose credibility. 15
  16. 16. Having set out how the website works and progress to date, I want to give my point of view on why we’re in this situation. I’ll refer to three main critical success factors, and a few subsidiary ones. 1. Critical success factors: building trust Critical success factors What I think is going on is that we have established a relationship with members with a 1. Building trust high levels of trust. It’s only because of this that I can understand the openness and honesty with 2. Making use of what we gather which members are giving feedback. 3. Effective promotion I think there are many contributing factors to 4. The rest: trust, not all of which are related to the website. o Usabilty These include: -Relative newness of Commission – because the o Customer service Commission was only established on 1 July 2004 people don’t have unpleasant past experiences o Sound platform and responsive web developers with our organisation -Role of Commission as advocate for families – we seen as being neutral or independent -Committment to reporting back and privacy: we report back on all polls, and typically within about a month; we have not and will not use member email addresses other than for the purpose they were collectedt -Making use of results – more later -Respect for diversity… we reflect different ethnicities, values, backgrounds on the website. -Language – friendly, casual tone… really reaching out to our target audience -Look ‘n feel – inviting and ‘fun’ -Responsiveness to help-desk inquiries, questions, comments, criticism. The relationship with our members is very precious – our job is to protect. Without it, there is no Couch, it’s just a shell. 16
  17. 17. 2. Critical success factors: Making use of what we gather As I pointed out earlier, we report back to members. Generally within four weeks. Of course, this is not enough. Members are expecting change to policies and the circumstances of families to improve So what are we doing: 1. Analysis for research reports – eg OSS, parenting education, 2. Submissions – eg Alcohol and young people 3. Dissemination to other government agencies, ngos, eg results of disability questionnaire – presentation to IHC manager, Disability Advisory Council associated with Office of disability issues 4. Public education – one coming up on work life balance, attitudes for family violence 5. Analysing for trends, narrative 6. Summaries produced – published in regular Commission newsletter Talking with people about how the Couch is run and its benefits, eg SSC online participation project There is more we could do, including sharing raw data for analysis by others – a policy will be developed, There is a real onus on making use of what we gather, and communicating with members what we’re doing with results. 17
  18. 18. 3. Critical success factors: communication The Commission has committed budget and staff time to promoting the Couch to target audiences. The Communications and Community Relations take a very professional approach. This something that is not always on tap for websites I’ve worked on in the past. Word of mouth most effective way of attracting new members…. I guess happy members tell others. The ways the Commission pursues promotion includes: 1. Every opportunity Commissioners and staff are meeting with people, they tell them about the Couch. 2. Targeted print and online advertising, eg Tu Mai, Mana, Indian Tribune, Chinese Herald, and TradeMe. We have a modest budget, which in my eyes is large but I’m assured by the communications advisor that it is pretty small. 18
  19. 19. - ’ . 19
  20. 20. Effective promotion contd 3. Presence at events, shows, conferences. Between the International Cultural and Pasifika Festivals in Auckland when we ran the Fun Family Photo promotion, 343 people downloaded their photo and 187 have signed up. 4. Articles in our regular newsletter. 5. Links strategy – getting links on websites. Much more to do on this. 4. Critical success factors: The rest Usable design – user friendly, simple – single purpose. Lots of white space, colour and dare I say it, a sense of fun. This contrasts with some forums or epanels overseas which I have seen which have a very technical interface. You might have noticed use of Ajax as part of commitment to ensuring a good user experience. Effective customer service – Rebecca the Couch’s Project Officer responds quickly, efficiently to emails. We’ve put in place systems to ensure we get back to people quickly. Sound platform and responsive web developers – development and maintenance undertaken by Boost. They are very committed making the website work, very professional and always thinking ahead. Scheduled monthly maintenance is supplemented by periodic enhancements. Some are due by end of July following a first review of the website. 20
  21. 21. We are not standing still and have plans to build on where we’ve got to. Most of what I’m talking about here are still in the ideas stage and under wraps at the moment, so please do not widely broadcast them. 1. Deliberation Where to from here One the areas where online consultation shows the most promise is in fostering deliberation. This about 1. Deliberation - investigating other features such as discussion more than individuals talking in isolation, but engaging in dialogue. Benefits of deliberation include people As the objective of online deliberation is to inform elected representatives, then being made aware of new information the selection of participants need be less preoccupied with representativeness in context and being influenced by and more concerned to recruit a broad range of experience, expertise and peers, and potential for re-framing interests. So, when survivors of domestic violence were enabled to give issues. Discussion forums with good evidence online to the UK Parliament, individual contributions were not facilitation are one area we are evaluated in terms of their capacity to reflect the experiences of all survivors of looking into. The way members are domestic violence, but their ability to reflect their own experience in ways that using The Couch suggest could work. could inform the decisions of legislators. It would meet one of the Stephen Coleman & John Gøtze, Commission’s statutory obligations to Bowling Together: Online Public Engagement in encourage debate. Policy Deliberation (2001) 2. Refined poll structure Based on experience of the first nine 2. Refined poll structure months, being more careful about 3. Feedback loop: quarterly newsletter, policies on sharing data type of poll and objectives. Have agreed on three types of polls: 4. R & D: subset of members consulted on specific topics 1. Quick polls: 3-7 questions, topical issues 2. Exploratory polls: we ask members about issues for them, and ideas for poll topics 3. Research polls: question design to feed into specific areas of work, expectation that results will be analysed and published. 3. Feedback loop Make sure members know what we are doing with information collected. Create a well-designed quarterly newsletter. It would include lists of submissions and reports, and even conference presentations like this. 4. R & D Now that we have an established base, how else can we do things to learn about experiences of families, and meet Commission statutory objectives. 21 One area being investigated is to create a
  22. 22. We are very happy to share our experiences. Please get in touch. I’d like to acknowledge input from my colleague Rebecca Whiting in the preparation of this presentation. Thank you for coming to participate in this Contact session today. www.thecouch.org.nz Stephen Blyth ph available on request email available on request Presentation available on SSC facilitated Online Participation wiki: http://participation.e.govt.nz/index.php/Main_Page 22
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