E-consultation design

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The E-Consultation Design

Consultation Themes

The Wheel wanted to use four themes in their report to the Task Force on Active Citizenship (see Figure 8.3.2). The site, therefore, was also structured along the four themes:

  1. Who is an active citizen?
  2. What should the role of the state be in active citizenship?
  3. How can The Wheel facilitate active citizenship?
  4. Reflect on the terms of reference.
No Registration Required

Earlier experience from the Waterways Ireland consultation showed that registration can confuse some participants, so no registration was required. The cost of that is deleting spam every day or two from the site. This was later confirmed by usability tests run on the site in the offices of The Wheel.

The collective 'blog'

The active citizenship site, http://wheel.e-consultation.org/wiki/index.php/Consultation, was built as a collective blog. Weblogs ('blogs' for short) are usually used as public on-line diaries. A blog was used because both the research team and Wheel team agreed to collect, but not discuss, stories through the online forums.

Web site Design

Refining the web site

The research team spent some time developing draft pages for this site. Their aim was make it easy for people to understand the point of the e-consultation. It was about active citizenship and they were to submit their stories or experiences of active citizenship.

Also, the research team spent a lot of time getting the words and images right for the explanations on the site. There were many iterations of writing, first within the team, between Letterkenny and Belfast, and then making corrections (to the spelling, grammar and sense) noted by staff at the Wheel.

The end result of all that work was a site that reads much better than the Waterways Ireland web site. You don’t need to be an experienced consultation respondent to follow it.

The e-consultation process

Individuals add entries to their blog, that others can read. The removal of a registration process meant that anyone could post to, and read, a blog. The benefit is that more people can contribute and view comments.

Blog entries were not all typed and submitted. Contributors could post to a blog in various ways. This was to make it easier for anyone to submit a story.

Wordpress Blog Software

The online blog system was run using Wordpress software. Ashish Italiya modified the Wordpress software to accept various forms of submissions: by an online form, e-mail, SMS text messages from a mobile ‘phone, and through voice mail.

Contributing via other technologies

Two mobile phones were connected to USB ports on a PC, which was located at Queen’s University Belfast. One phone had a Northern Ireland number and the other a Republic of Ireland phone - both countries have different telecommunications systems.

  • Software on the QUB PC picked up text messages sent to the mobile phones
  • The messae was converted to a text file and uploaded automatically to the blog. Click here for an example.

People could also telephone a number and leave a message on voice mail. The process is as follows:

  • The Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) voice mail system recieves the call.
  • The QUB systems stored the voice message as a '.wav' file
  • The '.wav' file is e-mailed the file to the research team
  • Recepient system automatically converts the '.wav' file to an '.mp3' file
  • '.mp3' file is automatically uploaded to the blog

The end result allowed people to click on a link and listen to the message - Click here for an example. So even illiterate people could tell their stories.

Contributions to the four themed blogs can be read online at http://wheel.e-consultation.org/wiki/index.php/Consultation.