Talk London - London
London (United Kingdom)
Talk London - often referred to as City Hall's online community - is a civic engagement platform launched by the Mayor of London in 2012. It was rebuilt/relaunched guided by user-centred design principles in 2021 with the specific aim of reaching a more diverse and representative membership.
Talk London exists to engage with Londoners and bring their voices into City Hall to help policy teams make better policies and programmes. Our external facing mission and vision is to empower Londoners to shape a better London, now and for future generations. With a tag line of “Your city, your say! Let’s make London better together!”
Londoners can register to become members on Talk London and take part in engagement activities. We ask for demographic details upon registration, such as age, sex, borough, month and year of birth, housing tenure, ethnicity, and work status. This helps us understand who we are hearing from, and who we aren’t.
To help City Hall policy teams engage with Londoners, we run surveys, discussions and idea generation activities. We provide background information and extra context to allow our members to get involved in an informed way. The platform provides a space for Londoners to share their views and ideas on various issues that affect their daily lives.
We also occasionally invite members to join in user testing opportunities, for instance to help test a new app or service. This may result in real-life interactions.
A goal we think about daily and which informs everything we do and how we do it, is how we can continue to grow and to diversify the audience. Our target audience includes all Londoners and we aim to make our audience as diverse as possible to make it reflective of the London population.
While we don’t have the ability to make the membership completely representative (as it is an open community), we aim to achieve a reflective audience for each activity we undertake, through effective targeting and segmentation.
Talk London seeks to engage Londoners in City Hall policy and programme making, so that policy teams can make better policies and programmes, and Londoners are empowered to have a meaningful impact on the decisions that affect their daily lives.
The Talk London team provide a service to City Hall policy teams, which is made up of three components: the digital platform, the substantial Talk London membership, and the expertise to run and promote digital engagement campaigns.
Every activity we run on Talk London needs to have an impact. By this, we mean that every engagement project needs to have a demonstrable impact from Londoners taking part – this is not a tick box exercise.
Ways we involve citizens:
Engagement happens through engagement campaigns on the site. These vary from statutory consultations on specific strategies, to idea generation activities to improve the high street, for example.
The Talk London team create a bespoke engagement approach, including background content and context, to allow our members to get involved in an informed way, and can include a combination of surveys, discussions and idea generation activities.
The membership can also be used to recruit participants for user testing opportunities.
There are two levels of membership, including mini-profiles, who can only up vote, care/heart and down vote, and full members, who can take surveys and add comments and ideas.
Segmentation and diversification:
As all full profile Talk London members are required to sign up with a number of demographic details, the Talk London team are able to understand which segments of society are responding and which segments we need to hear more from.
Once a campaign is launched, all follow-up promotion targets underrepresented segments. We do this through email promotion, using City Hall’s marketing networks, or through targeted paid promotion.
While we don’t have the ability to make the membership completely representative (as it is an open community), we aim to achieve a reflective audience for each campaign we undertake, through effective targeting and segmentation.
The site was relaunched in 2021. In the lead up to this, we undertook a discovery process to make the site more appealing to our underrepresented members. Since relaunch, 31% of new members have been from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background vs 22% for the two years prior to launch, – the target is 40%. In the same time period, 18% of total new members were aged between 16 and 24 at the time of registration, vs 11% prior to relaunch– the target is 13%. For outer Londoners it’s 55% now vs 47% previously – the target is 60%.
The Talk London team has planned further work to increase engagement from underrepresented audiences, including translations functionality, lighter touch engagement actions and a website optimization project.
Transparency & accountability:
Another aspect that makes Talk London user-centric is its commitment to transparency and accountability. The platform provides regular updates on how citizen feedback is being used to inform policy decisions, giving residents a clear understanding of how their contributions make a difference.
The Talk London team is also in the process of introducing more personalisation features to the site. In the profile section, members can currently see the individual activities they have taken part in; however, planned features include a personalised “your impact” component, showing members what they have taken part in and explaining the impact that this activity has had.
Through these updates the Talk London team tries to create a continuous engagement loop on Talk London, so that we are taking people along the journey, making sure they have a stake in the process and feel heard – and that we learn from their input, so our policies and programs respond to their needs. This approach really showed its value during the pandemic recovery programme, where members took part again and again.
Case study – involving Londoners in conversations about the pandemic:
From the very start of the pandemic, we worked to ensure that Londoners were able to influence and participate fully in London’s recovery.
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 members also helped the Recovery Team refine, revise and rename some of their missions, as outlined in our member update: https://www.london.gov.uk/talk-london/how-your-feedback-has-started-shape-londons-road-recovery
Our first survey on “Life in lockdown” (April 2020) had over 7,000 survey responses, over a thousand discussion comments, and video diary submissions. Londoners generously shared their stories and articulated the problems and sometimes desperate situations. This brought to life the impact of COVID-19 on our citizens and made it possible to bring their voices early into the policy making process.
This type of sustained engagement has created a highly engaged and active cohort of Londoners in our recovery programme – which kicked off in August 2020. 40% of members who got involved in the first two stages of our work on Recovery got involved again in the discussions about recovery missions. And 36% of people who took part in our Reimagine campaign (March 2021), had taken part a year earlier in our initial survey about how they had been affected in the early stages of the pandemic.
Since our online community was launched in July 2012, our members have helped inform numerous plans and policies. This includes most of City Hall’s statutory consultations, City Hall’s work on recovery from the pandemic, and most recently the work of the Rewilding Taskforce and the Mayor’s response to the government’s call for evidence on short-term lettings.
As part of making sure that there is a demonstrable reason for Londoners to take part in engagement campaigns, one condition of the commissioning process with the policy teams is that every engagement project needs to have an impact.
For this reason, we provide regular updates on how feedback is being used to inform policy decisions. This makes us accountable to our members and Londoners and gives them an understanding of how their contributions are making a difference.
You can find an overview of the latest updates and impact here: https://www.london.gov.uk/talk-london/updates-and-impact
Impact on policy teams
To ensure that Londoners’ participation on Talk London is meaningful and has impact, the Talk London team works closely with City Hall’s policy teams. Together we look for opportunities during the policy making process where Londoners’ voices can make a difference.
Throughout the summer of 2022, Talk London worked with City Hall’s Environment Policy team and hosted a discussion and a survey on rewilding London.
We asked Londoners for their views on and ideas for rewilding the capital and shared these with the London Rewilding Taskforce. They then published a report with recommendations in early Spring 2023. It included the Talk London survey results, which amongst other things showed that 92% of respondents felt that rewilding was important. 76% wanted to see more unmanaged spaces rewilded and 71% wanted more woodland and spaces for wildlife. Members felt very worried about insects and birds disappearing (76%) and varieties of animals declining (69%).
The Mayor has now announced further funding for 22 projects to rewild London through the second round of his Rewild London Fund. These projects include:
Reintroducing beavers into Ealing
Boosting bee numbers in Thamesmead
Supporting bat habitats in Barnes
Altogether the projects will enable 166 hectares to be rewilded in London. This is equivalent to five St James’ parks.
Here's what the Rewilding Taskforce said about Londoners’ contributions on Talk London:
“Thank you for participating in the discussion and survey. We are pleased to see that Talk London members are generally supportive of rewilding and had a deep understanding of concepts and its potential benefits. It was particularly great to see so many ideas of how rewilding could be brought to life in London.”
Impact on Londoners:
The Talk London team recently ran a survey with its members to better understand their expectations in terms of impact. Our research showed that Londoners were very keen to see recognition from policy teams onsite, find out more about what other Londoners have said and learn how City Hall has used their feedback.
Here are some of the comments we received in the free text of our survey:
"Thank you for consulting us because it really does help to feel part of the wider community."
"Thank you for your hard work. I believe you are doing something very good for London by considering various views from people of different backgrounds."
"Your service can really have an impact on people's lives, by providing a connection with authorities to work on improving the city together for the betterment of society."
"I've really enjoyed participating for the past few years. I think the way the team operates the site with courtesy, knowledge and genuine enthusiasm holds it together as a community rather than as just another web forum. Thanks."
The team has worked hard to better show the impact of our community. But policy making takes time and there are often months between a consultation and the first output. We’ve made a commitment to keep members posted as soon as there is anything new to share. As a result, our latest update email in the new format had an open rate of 57% – a steady increase from our 45% average.
This project started in 2019 and the initial discovery fell into three parts: understanding ambition, understanding user needs and redefining the mission and vision.
As part of understanding City Hall’s appetite for citizen engagement, the project team conducted interviews with around 25 City Hall stakeholders from different functions. Research was conducted looking at other civic innovation platforms and this was used in an “Ambition workshop” with around 25 City Hall stakeholders to understand City Hall’s ambition level in the civic engagement spectrum.
To understand where, how and when Londoners needed or wanted to engage with City Hall, we ran a Talk London member survey, conducted interviews with 6 Talk London members and 9 non-members from underrepresented groups and did some analysis done on the pain points and motivations for engaging.
To find the intersection between how City Hall and Londoners needed and wanted to engage, we presented the analysis as well as some video to City Hall stakeholders in a follow up “Debrief and Vision” workshop, again with around 25 City Hall stakeholders.
This all fed into the process of redefining the mission andvision. We ran a mission and vision workshop with a smaller core team of 5 City Hall stakeholders, renewed mission and vision statements, refreshed our objectives and outlined some guiding principles.
From this process, we had a new mission and vision statement, which we also tested with a diverse group of 10-15 young (under 24 years old) Londoners.
Mission statement: Your city, your say – let’s make London better together!
Vision statement: Empowering Londoners to shape a better London – now and for future generations.
Guiding principles include:
1. Make it easier to get involved
2. Make City Hall more accessible
3. Demonstrate impact, make the design process more transparent
4. Reward users for getting involved and address the reasons for engagement
At that point we were ready to move onto the redesign. Further user research was done with 15 non-members from underrepresented groups to get an understanding of where the experience of the previous site fell short and to answer some practical questions.
This also looked at other comparable sites, specifically Decide Madrid and Participate Melbourne to get some specific comparisons of what users like and dislike about those two sites. The follow up to this was to create behavioural personas, which was less about personalities and more about user needs and level on the engagement ladder.
Problem areas & prototypes:
We then did three design workshops with core Talk London team members, as well as a number of City Hall stakeholders from different teams. We focussed in on the three main aspects to create prototypes, including:
1. Visualising the policy design process
3. Integration with London.gov
We then had two rounds of testing the prototypes, as well as a survey out to Talk London members to get feedback.
The first round of user testing was with 8 members and non-members and the second was with 7 members and non-members, again from underrepresented groups. Research was conducted to understand if the current prototype suggested a web design that will provide a good user experience for Talk London users. A clickable prototype was used to understand whether certain revised design concepts met the needs of users in helping them understand the site’s purpose and perform key tasks. The user testing was complemented by a survey with Talk London members, to get a more quantitative view of feelings towards the new designs. After both rounds of user testing, amends were made to the prototype according to feedback.
As a follow on to the redesign and relaunch process, there have been various updates to the Talk London website and we make sure to inform all our development activity through a combination of user feedback and our north star metrics.
How we involve members in ongoing development:
We ran a development update in late 2022 to add some personalization features to the Talk London site, some of which were initially envisaged in the 2020 redesign. To validate and prioritise these features and find out about any unthought of issues or user needs, we reviewed all unsolicited member feedback we’ve had since launch. We created a member survey exploring personalization and asking what site improvements members wanted and their priorities. We did some fresh user interviews with members from underrepresented segments, which you can see a screenshot of at the bottom of the page. This allowed us to validate some of the features, prioritise which areas to start with, and it also helped us understand how we could use personalization better in our email comms for example.
In terms of using user feedback to measure effectiveness, we’ve got our pre-development user surveys to compare against and we’re building a bank of questions we’ll ask members at appropriate points in our development to evaluate whether the user experience is improving. We’re also putting in place metric review sessions, when we’ve got enough comparable campaign data to benchmark product changes against.