Monday, June 12, 2017

Smart Cities Need Smart Consultations

Future Glasgow. Smart City Bristol. Digital Birmingham. Pilot smart city projects are growing exponentially across the UK – and we’re barely keeping pace with the rest of the world (In 2014 India announced a plan to build 100 smart cities). However, while big data and small technology is enabling us to design our infrastructure to be more efficient, responsive, and environmentally friendly, it’s unclear as to whether we’re able to envision the social impact of these changes.

In many cases, Smart City planning is informed by the latest methodology in service design. Traditional methods of “let’s plan it and then ask what people think” have been replaced by human-centred design methodology and co-creation approaches. End-users are involved throughout the process. Nesta’s “Rethinking Smart Cities from the Ground Up” emphasises the need for collaborative technology and a focus on human behaviour. owever, these

In this sense, Smart Cities should be more people-centred than any other kind of urban planning previously undertaken.

However, while citizens may be involved in the design of a project, that doesn’t mean that there is a common understanding – or even any understanding – of what some of the overall impacts of Smart Cities and SMACT (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud, Internet of Things) technologies might be in terms of quality of life and citizen well-being.

Those implementing and affected by traditional infrastructure and public policy projects are well-versed in communicating the balance of impacts of a project and asking for public feedback. Changes to health services, noise impacts from new roads, or threats to ancient woodland – while they can be complex – are familiar topics for people to digest and offer opinions on. In many ways, the whole idea of Smart Cities is to make all of these things better. If technology is enabling everything to be quieter, cleaner, and safer then what could the negative impacts be?

Nobody really knows the answer to that question, but we can take some guesses at what important considerations could be:

These potential impacts are relatively intangible, and difficult to imagine, but we need to make more of a concerted effort to start doing that. While there are some sophisticated solutions (such as creating an interactive AI simulations for people to experience), it’s unlikely that these are going to be within the budget of a local authority any time soon.

There is a challenge for organisations passionate about embedding local voice within policy decisions and infrastructure development to shape the future of Smart City consultations. How might we best help city-dwellers understand how their lives could change in the next 10 or 15 years and articulate their opinions on that? How might we design creative, open engagement and consultation solutions which enable frank discussions around possible impacts? And how can we ensure that these comments and opinions are fed into the Smart City movement to ensure that our future cities are fully human, and not just “smart”?

These are some of the questions we enjoy wrestling with at the OPM Group. Through our work with the FLOURISH project on autonomous vehicles, with the Arts Council England on Envisioning Libraries of the Future and in the health sector with simulation of future events we’ve become ever more interested in considering how to engage members of the public in possible futures. We believe that evolving Smart Cities is the next crucial area for effective engagement and consultation.

If you’re interested in joining these discussions – get in touch! Drop an email to Lucy Farrow

Friday, May 12, 2017

Bake My Day!

I recently discovered a new facilitation tool. Bread making. When in doubt, if you’ve got a tricky subject matter, or disparate group of people, bake a loaf.

As part of Marmalade 2017, Arts at the Old Fire Station, Camerados, and Mayday Trust hosted a workshop called Bread and Butter Services. This workshop intended to explore the value of relationships in addressing problems caused by isolation and loneliness. There were about 45 participants; a mixture of organisations providing services for homeless people, service commissioners, and people with lived experiences of homelessness and times of crisis.

You can watch a film about the whole day here.

OPM Group’s “Dialogue by Design” team supported the design of the event, and facilitated the day. Aside from the endless supply of fantastic(ally awful) puns that come with bread baking as a workshop activity, there are a host of reasons why it really works. Here are my top 5:

1) It gives people something to do other than talk to each other. This may seem an odd thing to say when often successful workshops are built on the quality of the conversations that take place. However, sitting across a table from someone else, aware that you need to reach some sort of outcome by a certain time of the day, can produce a very forced conversation. This is especially true when working with a group of people who may find it difficult to interact with each other. Giving people an activity to do together takes the pressure off and allows people to interact more naturally. The conversations that need to happen can still happen, but in a much more relaxed way.

2) It builds trust. Providing an activity that has nothing to do with the subject matter of the workshop encourages people to see each other as people – not as their job titles. Power dynamics and tensions in the room quickly diffuse as people come together over a simple, fun activity, in which everyone can easily participate. As a result, conversations become more human, more honest, and more productive.

3) It introduces a little chaos. Not everyone is comfortable with highly formal, organised processes. While other elements of the day were more standard design-workshop style activities, the bread-making ensured there was always an element of unpredictability running throughout. This was reassuring for those for whom a workshop or conference-style environment was new and intimidating, and conversely was stimulating for those who may have been dreading the standard flip-chart and post-it-note workshop routine.

4) It doesn’t take over the day. At first, I did think we may have bitten off more bap than we could chew by trying to get to the end of the day with solid workshop outputs AND edible bread products. However, bread baking can really be timed around the other activities, and actually doesn’t take too long. Our participants probably spent a total of an hour on bread-related activities, and the time that was spent doing that was invaluable in terms of ensuring points 1 and 2 above happened early on in the day.

5) You can eat the output of your workshop at the end. Once we had finished for the day we brought in the baked loaves, with some jam and cheese and drinks, and invited everyone to enjoy what they had made together. This provided not just a great metaphor for collaboration and building positive relationships, but also facilitated exactly that.

The event was well received by all participants. Seven subject-specific outcomes were developed during the day, as well as five key behaviours to embrace (for more information see the event report produced by the Arts at Old Fire Station and this blog post from Lankelly Chase)- so the bread was certainly not the only positive product of the event. For more information about Marmalade, please get in touch with Arts at the Old Fire Station – and check out the video wrap up for this year. For information about the process design for the workshop, (bread making and otherwise) contact

Anna McKeon
Dialogue by Design



Monday, October 10, 2016

Care Quality Commission Strategy consultation


Between 25 January and 14 March 2016 the Care Quality Commission (CQC) consulted on its proposed strategy for 2016-2021. The consultation document Shaping the future described CQC’s vision for regulation of the quality of health and adult social care services, and identified six themes that would be central to the delivery of the vision. The strategy proposals built on results from earlier engagement, which took place throughout 2015.

OPM Group was commissioned by CQC to advise on the design of the consultation, complete the analysis of all responses and produce an independent report for another round of consultation on a further draft of the 5 years strategy.

After discussion about their data requirements we also agreed to set up a Client Review site so they could interrogate the data first hand, this was particularly important as the strategy drafting timetable meant that the CQC Strategy team needed to start developing the next draft of the strategy alongside our analysis and reporting period.

What did we do

The consultation process included an online questionnaire as well as a series of consultation events hosted by CQC. A total of 304 people participated in the consultation events, including care providers, strategic partners, national sector organisations, other regulators and members of the public.

The consultation questionnaire consisted of both open and closed questions seeking respondents’ overall opinion on each of the six themes of the proposed strategy.

  1. CQC’s vision for quality regulation
  2. Improving CQC’s use of data and information
  3. Implementing a single shared view of quality
  4. Targeting and tailoring CQC’s inspection activity
  5. Developing a more flexible approach to registration
  6. Developing methods to assess quality for populations and across local areas.
  7. The total number of responses to the consultation was 768. Almost half of the responses were from care providers or professionals; more than 140 responses were from members of the public.

CQC also used other engagement methods to talk with the public, its staff and its external stakeholders, including targeted focus groups, online discussions and internal events. Outputs from these activities were included in the analysis.

We set up straightforward and secure mechanisms to transfer to response data from CQC and OPM Group, clearly documenting the process to ensure all involved could follow the process. We developed a coding framework to analyse the qualitative responses to the consultation, and used descriptive statistics to analyse and present the quantitative responses.

The project manager had weekly telephone calls with the project team at CQC so that we could keep CQC updated with the emerging themes from the analysis, address any issues or questions quickly, and find out about any relevant activities taking place at CQC that could influence the content or numbers of responses.

The report was produced within 4 weeks of the close of the consultation.


Our work fed into the development of the final strategy for 2016 to 2021. We enabled CQC to incorporate all of the feedback into their thinking, despite extremely tight timescales.

Our summary report is published on the CQC website alongside the strategy and their response to the consultation.

Monday, October 10, 2016

North London Waste Authority – Heat and Power Project


The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) is responsible for arranging the disposal, recycling and composting of waste collected by seven North London boroughs. In order to meet future waste management demand and minimise the amount of waste sent to landfill, NLWA proposes building an Energy Recovery Facility to replace the existing plant at Edmonton EcoPark by 2025.

As part of the DCO pre-application stage for the project, NLWA conducted a public consultation on the proposed development to ensure that the community and other interested parties have a chance to understand and provide feedback on the proposals.

OPM Group worked with NLWA to provide robust and transparent consultation and engagement with stakeholders and the public.

What did we do

OPM Group’s role involved providing strategic advice on the approach to community consultation, supporting event and materials design, developing and hosting the consultation response website and conducting analysis and reporting.

We liaised closely with NLWA and its technical consultants to ensure that our consultation outputs allowed the project’s technical team to hear, act upon and respond to the issues raised by respondents.


A summary of responses from the two phases of public consultation was made publicly available, along with NLWA’s response to the issues raised, so that those who participated can see how their comments have informed the next stage of development.

NLWA’s application has now been accepted by the Planning Inspectorate and is awaiting a decision.