Your city, your say — digital citizen engagement and London’s recovery: Talk London

From bringing to life the problems and issues of everyday Londoners and crowd-sourcing ideas, to raising awareness of initiatives and gaining buy in for new projects, City Hall’s Talk London team talks through improvements to citizen engagement and how it plays an important role in the creation of City Hall’s policies and programmes.

Talk London is City Hall’s online community and citizen engagement platform, currently numbering nearly 60 thousand members. The platform is set up to run surveys and host discussions and has recently been used to talk to Londoners about the impact COVID-19 and the lockdown on their lives.

Engagement during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis

Using insights from the City Hall’s policy teams, the Talk London team crafted a survey and a number of discussions aligned to key areas of interest, including the impact on mental health, support for workers and businesses, parenting during the lockdown and support for renters.

Thanks to Talk London members sharing their thoughts and experiences, City Hall was able to get early insight into the key issues and focus on what most urgently needed to be done. Our first engagement on the lockdown had over 7,000 survey responses and 1,000 discussion comments. Londoners generously sharing their stories and articulating the problems and sometimes desperate situations brought to life the impact of COVID-19 on Londoners and made it possible to bring their voices early into the policy making process.

A continuous engagement loop: Engagement on the recovery

Talk London allows City Hall to have an ongoing conversation with Londoners. We started by engaging Londoners on the problems they have been facing and, while the crisis is far from over, we are now starting to have a conversation about what should happen next. A discussion on a London Recovery Board asked Londoners if its proposed aims were the right ones and what was missing. This initial conversation has led to a discussion of the Recovery Boards missions, with more than 1,000 comments over a three week period and 500 of those in the first week.

City Hall is putting engagement and insight at the heart of the recovery process, involving them in the ongoing discussions and inviting Londoners to imagine a London which is fairer, greener and more resilient than it was before.

While our recovery activity is pan-London, we are able to segment our Talk London audience both demographically and by borough. In certain circumstance and where our activity aligns, we may be able to help London councils and agencies. If you are looking for insight and/or engagement and would like to promote your content through Talk London, please do get in touch with the team.

Growing a diverse membership

Talk London is an important consultation platform, but by far the most valuable component is the audience. One of our main objectives is to make the Talk London membership as reflective of the London population as possible. We’ve been actively working towards that goal, trying to recruit our underrepresented audiences, so that we can engage all sections of society.

Some of the initiatives included running a digital safeguarding project that allowed us to safely lower the registration age to 16. We’ve also tested a new homepage and rolled out a version of it, after seeing results of an uplift of 135% on new registrations. We’ve also looked into a number of member acquisition channels and tactics, with 80% of new members last year finding us through our proactive outreach activities.

Building Talk London 3.0

Whilst we’ve been trying new initiatives to gain new members, we’ve also been working on a project to make the Talk London website more welcoming, transparent and easier to use for Londoners, as well as more useful for City Hall staff. To kick this off we’ve spoken with our City Hall colleagues to understand their needs, as well as reaching out to our underrepresented groups. We’re currently working with a digital design agency to redesign the website, with three key “focus areas”.

A focus on transparency

The first focus area looks at how we can make City Hall’s processes more transparent, so we’re introducing the timeline shown below to help make the policy design process easier to follow and make the engagement contribution more obvious.

Prototype of the new timeline feature

We’ve also added a place to present the background data and insights behind an issue like a series of discussions or the anonymised data from Talk London member surveys. This allows participants to understand the context of the engagement activity and the information that has helped shape a policy.

The COVID-19 recovery work will also benefit from a new “ideas generation” functionality, which will allow Londoners to contribute ideas to help solve a problem. You can see a screenshot of the prototype below.

Prototype of the new “ideas generation” function

Reducing the barriers to participation

The second focus area looked at the registration process, trying to reduce or remove some of the barriers that go with registration. We will be introducing mini profiles, so people can sign up to “follow” an issue, “upvote” or “like” other members comments and receive emails on new Talk London activity. Members won’t have to sign up with full profiles, until they want to take part in a survey or a discussion. This is one way we’re making it easier for Londoners to get involved, to whatever level they want.

Creating a seamless user journey

Our last focus area looked at how to best to integrate Talk London with London.gov, so that the user journeys make more sense and Talk London is better signposted within London.gov. This is a vital part of our organic member acquisition for Talk London and our main aims are to increase acquisition, make it easier for Londoners to find Talk London and reinforce credibility through showcasing the kind of thoughtful and constructive comments that Talk Londoners contribute to discussions and consultations.

Testing this with Talk London members and non-members

While all of these are great ideas, we’ve got a rigorous testing plan, with both very engaged and less engaged Talk London members, as well as non-members from our hard to reach audiences. Although, we’ve done a lot of research already and all of the new features seem like great ideas, thinking something is a good idea and it being a useful feature doesn’t always pan out.

We’ve had our first round of user testing on the prototype. Much of the feedback and learnings were positive. Users really liked the timeline and felt the site was easy to navigate and use.

However, there was feedback around the (lack of) colours on the site so we’re looking at this again. We’d introduced the idea of member levels, as an extra level of recognition for our members. When shown what this would look like on the prototype and given the option of picking the most appropriate naming of member levels, they didn’t see the benefit to this idea, so we’ve taken this out.

As well as running closed user testing sessions and a survey, we’re running an open discussion on Talk London, consulting members on the new designs. We’ll be posting updates and new questions, depending on the need. If you’d like to see some of the feedback from the Talk London members, you can see the discussion here.

We’re going to be building the new Talk London platform and making the code open source, so that other organisations can replicate the Talk London functionality. If you’d like more information, do get in touch with the team..

While engagement is already high on City Hall’s agenda, with a new and more welcoming Talk London site, we hope to include more Londoners in the discussions on COVID-19 and beyond.

@MayorofLondon CDO & Smart London Board putting data & technology at the heart of making London an even better place to live, work and visit