Customer story: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK

Land Management Conversations
'screenshot of 'Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK
'screenshot of 'Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK

A digital engagement overhaul

Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is a huge UK government department, with a vast array of legislative responsibilities spanning agriculture, climate change, waste, recycling and more. So when it comes to engaging with stakeholders and the public, they’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

Defra chose Dialogue as part of a move to overhaul their consultation and engagement activity.

Previously, they had been consulting and asking for feedback via email, which was clunky and inefficient. They bought Citizen Space, Delib’s flagship consultation tool, at the same time, which modernised the way they ran formal consultations.

There are restrictions in the type of engagement that formal consultation provides, however, and they recognised the need for a tool that was less constrained by official consultation processes. Defra have a huge range of stakeholders who have important views on the direction a policy should take before it’s been written into draft stage, or indeed what new legislation could and should be introduced surrounding a certain issue.

Open discussion

Dialogue is a discursive digital tool that allows public bodies to facilitate thoughtful, constructive discussion with citizens and stakeholders on complex issues. Organisations around the world have used it to crowdsource ideas and comments on a huge range of topics, or ‘challenges’. Contributors can rate others’ ideas out of five stars and leave comments, with the most popular ideas shown at the top of the page. Moderators or site admins can add ideas or respond to users as well, meaning that the conversation is an open, multi-directional forum rather than ‘top-down’ engagement. It provided Defra with an innovative and effective way to tap into stakeholders’ views in an open and transparent environment.

Water abstraction reform

Defra ran a challenge on ‘Water Abstraction Reform and Water Company Discharge’: that is, the extraction of water by various companies including water and sewerage providers (abstraction) and the percentage of that water that is returned to rivers and waterways (discharge). The relationship between the two is important as water discharge can account for a significant percentage of water levels in rivers or aquifers in some cases. It’s a complex issue and Defra understood that it needed better regulation, but wanted to capture stakeholder views on how exactly they should proceed.

They opened the challenge following a public consultation that they’d run on the topic on Citizen Space the previous year. The results of the consultation were highly informative; however, they noticed that a lot of people responded that they felt unqualified to comment on how specifically Defra should introduce reform.

Conversation beyond consultation

Dialogue was a way to delve deeper into the specifics and lead a conversation in a way that elicited informed responses. They posted several areas for discussion as ‘ideas’ and invited comments on each. Then, when responses had been submitted, they posted another idea which was a summary of the comments received, so interested parties didn’t need to click through and read every individual thread.

It was an ideal way to gather further intelligence to supplement their consultation responses. All respondents’ feedback was collated and was used in the development of their final policy.

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