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The One Where We Make A Plan

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Our blueprint doesn’t look like this. We don’t even have a ruler.

This week! Our first ‘proper’ board meeting where we discuss The Plan — we’d love your feedback. We’re also chatting open government, pondering party conferences — and we’re joined by a new staff member next week!

😴 Is the UK Government NAPping? 😴

Yesterday we were at the UK Open Government Network’s workshop in Bristol. The network is a group of ‘civil society’ organisations that come together to help open up UK Government. The UK is a member of the international (and sometimes inter-regional or inter-city too) Open Government Partnership — think freedom of information, transparency and participation — and it has a responsibility to work with the network.

The workshop was to discuss ideas for the UK Government’s next National Action Plan, as required under the UK’s membership of the partnership. If you’re a long term reader, you’ll know that that was the thing that was meant to encourage open election results data, last time around. It hasn’t quite happened. The data standard exists, but to write the code to publish it to the web from the systems it’s kept in, the electoral management software people want some money that the Cabinet Office say they don’t have. Stalemate! Now we either need to convince government to pony up the cash or, in the long term, councils need to require publishing in that format when they buy/renew their electoral software. And hopefully there might be some keen councils who will just go ahead and make it happen.

Besides catching up on that, we had some interesting chats about the navigability of government, proper consultations, the need for work on the demand side of open government (do people care?) and some chats on contracting. You can add ideas too! Head to the online workshop here — even if just to check out the quite-interesting-online-discussion-platform they’re using.

💃 You gotta fight for your right to party conference 💃

This week we thought a little bit about party conferences, if that’s not an oxymoron. These might be a good way to reach lots of candidates and potential candidates, who we want to add their details and statements to Who Can I Vote For?. And we want the parties to feel warm and fuzzy about Democracy Club generally. We could give out stickers.

We’ve no experience in party-conference-going, but our pals at LGiU tell us that it’s not too tricky. If you have experience of such events — or you’re already planning to go to some — let us know!

📏 A plan so cunning 📐

This little Trello card has been sitting in our Trello for a while, peering ominously at us:

Plan for making The Plan

We’ve also mentioned thinking about The Plan a couple of times in Fridayblog recently too, but we’ve not outlined much of our thinking. Until now!

We had our first new board meeting on Weds night and they set about our draft proposal with gusto — it seems the perfect point to blog about our thinking so far. Are you sitting comfortably?

For context, we’re spending around £8-10k / month. Our cash in the bank enables us to keep doing what we’re doing, as three staff, for maybe 12-18 months, subject to another payment from the Electoral Commission.

Currently, however, we can’t expand our range of data or apps, test out new volunteering projects for the club or clearly identify what else is needed to help make democracy better. To do these things, we need to grow the team and thus find some new revenue. Most likely, at this point, that revenue will be from grant funding, but we still like to imagine a future of a varied range of revenue sources.

To approach funders for grants, we need to clearly outline what we want to do and what it is going to cost. Our aim is to create a compelling plan or pitch and take it to a range of funders as a kind of ‘fundraising round’. These are likely to include Omidyar Network, Rowntree Trust, Unbound Philanthropy and perhaps central government too.

To start, we wanted to draft something for the board. We began by looking at the four areas that we sometimes divide Democracy Club into: Club, Data, Apps and Labs. We wondered whether we could try to focus on one of those in particular, but figured that given that they all support each other, we probably need to continue to work on them all.

We also pulled together a list of products/ideas we’ve previously mentioned as things we’d like to deliver — but that’s probably too granular to take to a funder.

So the proposal we presented to the board on Wednesday this week looked a little like this (digested for a quick blog read, but do delve into the working documents if you’re interested!):

Phase 1 — Consolidation: creating, maintaining and sustaining excellent elections data for all. This would include data on elections, candidates, polling locations and results, as well as some light improvements to the apps that showcase the data. We costed this at 200k/yr — the existing team, plus some design, user research and user experience assistance. To make the work financially sustainable after a few years of grant funding, we could imagine hiring a business development person to find revenue for the products — another £50k per year.

Phase 2 — Discovery: gaining a full understanding of the barriers to democratic engagement. This would involve a twelve-month project to analyse public and organisational democratic needs — what’s the infrastructure, what are the apps — through focus groups, bringing together everyone in the space, establishing criteria for what can become a project, what success looks like, and so on. This might cost around 50-100k/year for a community organiser and project manager do this work.

Phase 3 — Delivery: new prototypes, datasets and volunteer requests. This would involve testing the hypotheses worked out in phase 2, probably requiring a full new team of developers, designers, managers, user researchers to work on several different projects. Perhaps costing around £250k/yr.

Phase X — Labs: Democracy Club as a funder. This would involve developing our own labs or incubator model dedicated to civic tech. We think our experience in the space could be scaled or leveraged quite cleverly this way. We’d become a sub-grantee for a big funder who’s not as close or doesn’t have the expertise. We’d guess around £500k/yr for this.

The board had some excellent feedback on this draft. They thought it could be more compelling, with more oomph on the first phase about why this stuff matters. They suggested merging phases 2 and 3 — it’s unlikely anyone will fund a research phase on its own, it seems like a bit of a luxury. And they reckoned that we’d be better outlining a list of perhaps five new projects that we want to prototype — and use that to guide our learning. This sounds good.

So we’ll go away and reiterate — and draw up a fancy slide deck. But before we do, we’d also love your feedback, good reader of Fridayblog: your bright ideas, dark critiques, whatever! Get in touch via the usual means, or scribble a comment below.

📅 What’s next? 📅

We’re all in London on Monday! We’ll be welcoming Rose, who’ll help manage all our work around the local elections. Very exciting. More on Rose in next week’s blog. We’ll also be at the Local Elections meetup at Newspeak on Monday. Come along!

A new sprint plan will take place early next week, so now’s the time to look at our Current Sprint and what we’ve potentially lined up for the Next One.

Forward!