Project name: Glasglow Community Choices

Part of a bigger story

Glasgow is a big city in central Scotland with around 600.000 inhabitants which, as of 2021, has started using the Consul Democracy platform, initially for what it calls 'citizen consultations' using the Collaborative Legislation module.

The work in Glasgow sits in the context of two National strategies: a national Digital strategy and a commitment to Community Empowerment This work developed because in 2017 COSLA and Scottish Government reached an innovative agreement where Councils agreed to spend 1% of their budget using participatory Budgeting. . COSLA is the organisation which represents all 32 Local Authorities in Scotland and is responsible for promiting and developing consul democracy in Scotland’s councils. More on this in the Use Case about the Region Scotland.

Consul democracy supports two key points in the National Digital Strategy in Scotland. The first is reducing the number of digital tools and finding common tools to use across Scotland's public administrations. Consul Democracy is one of those tools, currently in use in more than twenty Scottish municipalities.

The second key point of the strategy aspires to be a so-called Digital Ethical Nation, meaning that digital tools used by public administrations should be open, transparent, user-centrist and non-exploitative. John Munro of COSLA says that here 'it helps that Consul Democracy is open source, that there is a non-profit foundation behind it and that Consul democracy provides a tool which makes it easy for councils to use it for projects so that finances and decision-making is transparent. That means it is a very good fit with the National Digital Strategy.'

From Road Safety to Black Lives Matter

In Glasgow the platform is currently being used for three Collaborative Legislation (CL) processes.

The first one is to help structure Glasgow's conversation around Black Lives Matter and the work by the city's Slavery Commission in the context of the city's history with slave trade. 'A lot of streets in Glasgow,' says Munro, 'bear names that refer to people who were active in slave trade for example, and there are monuments of people that made money of it. Together with the commission and a professor an eminent Black Lives Matter university professor, we made the decision that Consul could be useful here.'

The Debate and Proposal section are active, then a draft phase takes place inside the council administration before being published for another round of comments. Ultimately, the goal of the Black Lives Matter citizen consultation is, ultimately, to draft a policy or strategy on how the council should approach its slavery history.

Another CL that's underway is one on road safety, which helps to develop a policy called the Road Safety Strategy on active travel and safe transport in the city.

Moderation and OpenAI

There are some sensitivities when it comes to conversations about racism and BLM, says Munro. 'The council was quite concerned about the content of the online conversations, how you moderate them and keep them in a good tone.'

For this reason, Munroe and his team implemented moderation and content filtering in the background using Open AI. 'We plugged that into Consul. It gave us the reassurance that it would pick out anything disturbing or toxic.'

In the end, it didn't turn out to be necessary, given the respectful tone in the online discussions, but it's an interesting piece of development that might be interesting for other Consul Democracy users too.

One account for everything government

In general, the participation in the Community Choices consultations in Glasgow remains modest. Hundreds of people have joined the BLM consultation, over a thousand contributed to the conversation on road safety.

An innovation developed in Scotland, including Glasgow, is fascinating: COSLA created an interface using Saml to allow people to login to any Consul Democracy-based platform with their official government user account, called This means that with the same account with which Scottish citizens pay council tax, pay for school meals and log into council sites, they also log into any of the Consul Democracy sites.

This has created an interesting issue. Munro says: 'The people doing citizen participation are saying: it's too hard, it's a barrier to participation, it excludes those hard to reach people. But the digital strategists are saying: it's a good idea because you can verify people, you can use their location information to better target participation, and create rules about which activities they are allowed to participate in, as well as gather useful demographic information.'

Drawing in migrant communities

In Scotland, there is work being done to include different communities in the consultation or PB processes. This is necessary, says Munro, 'because we discovered quite clearly that a 'come and get it'-attitude doesn't get you the involvement of the people that you want there.'

An example is the North Ayrshire council, which did its first, multi-district PB exercise in 2022. They found that people were quite reluctant to engage online and preferred offline methods. So the citizen engagement team started helping people to use the digital platform, carrying out launch events and teaching them how to submit proposals. In 2023 out of the 301 proposals submitted for one of their PB budgets, only three proposals were submitted on paper.

That's been quite successful given that certain groups that have never been digital before have been successfully putting in proposals for the budget, and getting quite some proposals, debates and chat around the proposals too. Another milestone was the proposals they received from the Ukrainian and Syrian communities.

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