Is ‘common sense’ more useful than ‘process and the rule book’ for taking well managed risks?

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

The Good Practice Exchange held a pilot seminar on how you manage risks around organisation change, service transformation and innovation. In this post, Chris Bolton looks at what people use to help them make decisions about risk.

This is the second in a series of posts following a pilot session we ran on well managed risk taking. An explanation of our approach to the session is in the first post, ‘Context is Everything’.

What is helpful when we make decisions?

There are many factors that influence how we make decisions. Some are highly logical, rational, and based upon extensive evidence and information; whilst others might be driven by ‘gut feeling’ and emotion.

We wanted to see if there was anything in particular that influenced how people thought about decision making in relation to the two risk management frameworks and the three scenarios we presented to them. The thinking that shaped the questions we posed people is explained below.

In each case people were asked to move the white ball on the triangle to a position that bests reflected their thinking – the closer it is to one statement, the more important it was to them (in the context of the risk management framework and scenario they were thinking about).  An example of one of the triangles we used is below

A triangle where people moved a point to show whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

  • The question ‘what would be helpful to decisions?’ is quite straightforward.
  • The choices for each apex on the triangle are all things which should be positive and helpful when making decisions.
    – Clear process and rules,
    – Common sense, and
    – Freedom to act.
  • There was no right or wrong in where people moved the white ball to on the triangle.
  • Their choice was literally to identify a place where they felt most comfortable (in the context of the Framework and Scenario we were discussing).

What does the data tell us?

Graphic 1 shows the distribution of the 218 dots in the triangle. Each one of these dots was placed in response to the question; ‘what would help you make decisions, and within the context of the two frameworks and three scenarios.

In Graphic 2, we have highlighted what look like 4 distinct clusters of dots.

2 triangles where people indicated whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

In Graphic 2, the 4 areas highlighted appear to indicate:

  • Top centre – a preference for clear process and rules (in favour of other options, including common sense)
  • Bottom centre – a preference for using common sense in combination with having the freedom to act (rather than clear process and rules)
  • Middle centre – using all three options (in balance)
  • Right bottom – a preference to have freedom to act, with limited rules, process or common sense (superficially this could be interpreted as reckless approach to risk management – which highlights that the data does require some further examination and understanding)

Examination of the data, using a number of different perspectives follows:

2 triangles where people indicated whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

Observations & Questions: What would help making decisions?

  • Graphic 3. For the Safe to Fail Framework, common sense and freedom to act are preferred (quite strongly) to rules and process
  • Graphic 4. For the Failure Not an Option Framework, there is a more dispersed pattern. There is a grouping towards process and rules, but many dots are scattered elsewhere.
  • Question 1. Do some people prefer to not use process and rules, even when failure is not an option?
  • Question 2. Does a preference for process and rules (compliance) reduce the need for common sense?
  • Question 3. Does a pressurised environment (failure is not an option) lead to greater indecision and variability in  how people approach decision making (a more scattered pattern of dots)?

2 triangles where people indicated whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

Observations & Questions: What would help making decisions?

  • Graphic 5. For the scenario about a Complaints Handing process the dots are scattered around the triangle approximately matching the overall distribution for all frameworks and all scenarios.
  • Clusters are seen with a preference towards clear rules and process, and another towards a preference towards common sense and freedom to act.
  • Graphic 6. For a scenario linked to tackling obesity, the overall pattern has formed with a preference towards common sense and freedom to act, with few dots close to the process and rules apex.

For clarification, the Complains Handling scenario was about an organisation improving its internal complaints handing process. It was a big challenge, focused in internal processes. Tackling obesity was about a society wide challenge involving multiple partners, citizens and stakeholders.

  • Question 1. Does distribution of dots for the obesity scenario reflect the context? It is a complex situation with many unknowns. There are not clear rules on how to achieve success so, would people prefer to make decisions based upon common sense and the freedom to act (rather than what might appear to be arbitrary rules)?
  • Question 2. Do the dots close to the Freedom to Act apex, distant from both Clear rules and process and Common sense raise any concerns? Is making decision without rules or common sense something that should be avoided?

Common sense the rule book and decision making

Similar to what we described in the first post, the context in which people approach risk management has an influence upon how they make decisions about managing that risk.

The broad conclusions from this test indicate that in a ‘safe to fail’ context, people would find it more helpful to use a combination of common sense and freedom to act to make their decisions, in preference to clear rules and a process. If the challenge they were facing was a situation where failure was not an option, there was a shift towards using clear rules and process, but not a wholesale move. Many people still edged towards wanting freedom to act and using common sense.

The scenario about tackling obesity might help to explain this as it described a complex situation with many unknowns. The desire to have freedom to act and use common sense appears to be more helpful than following clear rules and guidance (which may be arbitrary given the unknown nature of the challenges).

These findings raise a number of questions. Many organisational project and risk management approaches are built upon a clear process and rules. If the organisation places a high value on compliance with the process and rules, there is likely to be a conflict with the desire of many people to use a combination of common sense and freedom to act to make their decisions about risk management (rather than rules and process).

So is common sense more useful that the rule book? Based on this limited analysis, of a small set of data which focused upon people using a safe to fail approach, the answer seems to be yes.  But it does deserve some further examination and wider discussion.

Finally. As mentioned earlier, this is an experiment for us and an example of us ‘working out loud, doing things in the open’. There is still a lot more we would like to do with this data. We are certain that we haven’t got things right and would appreciate any comments and feedback on what we have tried here. If anyone would like to have a look at the dataset and help expand our understanding, please get in touch, we would very much like to talk.

This post is linked to others that look at:

  • Post 1. Context is everything. This is a brief description of what we did in the session and some observations on how people think they would respond to failure in the context of different risk management approaches.
  • Post 3. Does service user involvement in decision making lead to better decisions? This tested the technology we used and pushed our understanding to the limits.

Releasing Open Data

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

How can organisations release Open Data? Dyfrig Williams looks at the process of making the data behind the Wales Audit Office’s Local Government Financial Statements report freely available, and shares the dataset at the bottom of this post.

I’ve previously blogged on how the Wales Audit Office is looking to challenge our existing use of data and technology as part of the Cutting Edge Audit project. My role on the project has been to look at how we acquire data.

How does Open Data fit into acquiring data?

The below diagram shows the rationale behind my work. For me, we need to share the data that we have in order to develop our relationships with our client bodies so that we can gather data effectively. Part of this is about “being the change that you want to see.” Auditors are sometimes seen as being risk averse, but in the Good Practice Exchange we’ve seen that when we work differently, we enable others to do the same. A number of local authorities have reported back to us about how they’ve been able to challenge the limitations of the websites that they’re able to visit and the social media that they can access because of how we share knowledge. By making data openly available, we can demonstrate that there is little risk, as long as the process is well managed.

A cycle illustrating that by open data results from how we share data and how it feeds into acquiring data

As I mentioned in my original post, finding an appropriate dataset was more challenging than I thought that it might be. As we often don’t have the right to share the data that we collect from clients during our audits. However after a bit of research, we found the data behind the Local Government Financial Statements report, which is a report on local government bodies’ accounts. This was safe data to release because it’s already available on each council’s website as part of their accounts, but we are the only organisation that collates this data. The data within the report is analysed on a national basis, but by releasing the dataset we can enable councils and other interested stakeholders to look at the data on a county by county basis and to compare and contrast their accounts against others. The data is used by the Wales Audit Office to support local audit work and for general benchmarking. The report itself looks at the quality of accounts, and is based on the data that’s released before amendments – we don’t keep track of prior-period adjustments.

How did we go about making this data open?

Our starting point was a spreadsheet that we use internally that contains the datasets dating back to 2008-09. We were a bit disappointed to learn that the requirements for local authorities to provide this data in this structure has now changed, so there won’t be comparable data available next year. However, this dataset served as a good test for a future approach. In the longer term it would be worth us looking at how we could make continuous data available in order to reduce the burden of reporting requirements. Lucy Knight from Devon County Council has a really useful example that we can draw on in her lunchtime lecture for the Open Data Institute on Making open data happen in local government

We used Hendrik Grothuis’s post on making data open and the Open Data Institute’s Consumers Checklist as rough guides for the process. Our first step in cleaning up the data was to look at which data was ours to share, and which data was already available from other sources. We decided to remove the data that was already made available through StatsWales to avoid duplication, but should you want to think about using this dataset with some of the ones that we used internally, these may provide a good starting point:

We then used CSV Lint to check whether the file was readable. We were pleased to discover that we had a valid file, but we also found ways that we could improve it. We turned the dataset around so that the data items go horizontally and the years go vertically. We also created a null value to indicate where the data was unavailable. A quick Google search was enough for us to discover how to note empty cells.

As a Welsh public sector organisation, we are required to make the data available bilingually, so we sent it to the translators to make sure that we got each technical term exactly right.

Publishing the data

When it came to publishing the data, we decided to publish it as part of this post on the Good Practice Exchange blog. It would be a very lonely looking dataset on an Open Data platform at the moment, but the hope is that we can identify other datasets that we can release going forward. We looked at potential platforms that could be used, including open source options like CKAN and DKAN (both of which would integrate with our Drupal Content Management System), as well as cloud based platforms like Socrata. As an organisation we’re moving to the cloud when it makes sense, but there may be things that we could learn from Audit Scotland’s Innovation Zone, which has been set up to allow their staff to test new software and platforms in a lightly regulated space. This gives staff the opportunity to test new ways of working.

As per our recent webinar on Open Standards, we’ve chosen to publish the data in CSV instead of a proprietary format like Excel. This means that it can be used by a wide variety of software, and hopefully as wide a variety of people as possible.

It’s now up to us to ensure that this data is discoverable by tagging it effectively, and we will also publicise the dataset through the networks that we’ve built through our prior work on Open Data. Our next challenge is to track how the data is used, so if you do use the dataset, we’d love to have your feedback about the format and what you used it for.

Learning from the Welsh Government

The Welsh Government were a great help throughout my work on the Cutting Edge Audit project. They shared learning from their approaches, and we also attended meetings together to learn more about Cardiff and Monmouthshire Councils’ approaches. It was fascinating to hear that the Welsh Government’s own staff use StatsWales to share and gather data as it’s open and transparent. This is something for us to think about in our own journey forward – how we can make data more accessible for both internal and external stakeholders.

We ended up using the Welsh Government’s approach to Metadata as a template for our own work. Metadata is a set of data that describes and gives information about other data, and it’s really important because it gives context around the data that is being shared. You can find the metadata at the bottom of this post alongside a link to the data itself.


Your feedback on our approach here is really important. As this is an initial test of how we might make data open and shareable, your feedback will be used to shape how this might progress. As an organisation, we’re very keen to look at how we can make better use of data to help public services improve, and also to walk the talk in terms of our own digital practice. The Auditor General for Wales talks about enabling innovation through well managed risks before every one of our shared learning events. We’re looking to share our own learning so that people can learn from our experiences, be they good or bad. We always say that there’s no point reinventing the wheel. By working openly and transparently, we hope that organisations can build on what we’re doing so that they can share data as effectively as possible in order to improve the services that they provide.

Dataset: Local Government Financial Statements


Title Data from Local Government Financial Statements 2008-09 to 2015-16
Last update 01/04/2017
Next update No longer updated.
Publishing organisation Wales Audit Office
Source Local Government Financial Statements 2008-09 to 2015-16
Contact email
Lowest level of geographical disaggregation Local authorities
Geographical coverage Local authorities
Languages covered English and Welsh
Data licensing You may use and re-use this data free of charge in any format or medium, under the terms of the Open Government License – see


Well managed risks: Context is everything

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

The Good Practice Exchange held a pilot seminar on how you manage risks around organisation change, service transformation and innovation. In this post, Chris Bolton looks at what the data tells us about how public services frame failure.

This is the first of a series blog posts that share some of the learning from our pilot seminar about Well Managed Risks. Here are the slides that we used on the day.

The first three blog posts are structured as following:

  • Post 1. Context is everything.
    This is a brief description of what we did in the session and some observations on how people think they would respond to failure in the context of different risk management approaches.
  • Post 2. Is common sense more useful than the rule book?
    This reviews the data we collected around how people use different approaches when they are making decisions about risk, and
  • Post 3. Does service user involvement in decision making lead to better decisions?
    This tested the technology we used and pushed our understanding to the limits.

There are of course huge caveats around the information presented here. It is very much work in progress, based upon an experiment we carried out in a shared learning seminar. We are grateful to everyone who took part for doing so willingly and allowing us to share the data (everything here is from people who ticked the box saying it was ok). This is very much ‘working out loud, and in the open for us’. If we’ve got anything wrong, please let us know. If you could do it in a supportive way, that would be far more helpful to us that a public flogging. Thank you.

Context is important

This session was developed to try and share knowledge around well managed risk taking. The Auditor General has been saying for some time that he wants to see public services taking well managed risks. You can look at this video where he talks about the importance of trying new things and learning from failure if they don’t work.

There is a however a gap between what the Auditor General has been saying and practice across public services. Nobody is suggesting taking un-necessary risks with services provided to vulnerable people or being reckless with public money, but there is probably some scope to move from the status quo.

Changing our approach

In the spirit of well managed risk taking we decided to do something different with this event. Usually we would have arranged something where people share practice and knowledge that others could learn from, as presentations or workshops. Around this structure we would facilitate conversations and introductions where people can develop relationships to continue their peer to peer knowledge exchange.

Whist this approach is effective, we decided to test an approach which was far more immersive and allowed people to think about situations and how they would respond to them. This scenario type work has been used in other situations, but we wanted to extend it by using a process that allowed people to record their thoughts and opinions in a way that could be analysed and fed back to them rapidly. The idea was that they could see how their attitudes to risk and decision making fit with those around them, and the context they are sitting in. This level of understanding might then support different behaviours and attitudes to well managed risk taking.

How the approach works

Very briefly, we did the following:

  1. Explained an approach to risk taking (Framework 1) to the group. These were adapted from existing approaches and chosen to be at opposite ends of what you might be likely to see in public services.
  2. Presented a scenario of a significant challenge facing public services.
  3. Asked people to discuss the scenario then, individually record their responses to a series of questions about; decision making, benefits/impact and attitudes to failure.
  4. This process was repeated for three scenarios and then in the context of the second approach to risk management (Framework 2).
  5. The approach is summarised in the graphic below.
  6. We used SenseMaker as the tool for people to record their thoughts, analyse their responses, and provide some live feedback. We’ve been working with The Cynefin Centre at Bangor University to get a better understanding of how this approach might be useful for our work.

A diagram explaining the structure of the seminar,where we gathered data from scenarios where different risk frameworks were used

An example of what we asked people to do

In response to Frameworks 1 and 2 and each of the 3 scenarios, we posed people the following question: ‘Transparent reporting of any failure will…’

The options in responding were two extremes; people get fired or people get promoted.

They were asked to move a marker along a sliding scale to a point which they thought reflected the position of the organisation, in response to the risk management frame work they had been presented.

A scale which people used to see whether reporting failure would get them fired or promoted

What the data told us

We collected a total of 218 separate responses to the question.

The graphic below presents a roughly normal distribution between the two options, which is what you might expect.

When you analyse this information to look at how people responded in the context of the two different frameworks things look different with two distinct patterns forming. Graphic 2 with responses in the context of Framework 1 closer towards the left hand side (people get fired) and pale blue responses (Framework 2), closer to the right hand side (people get promoted).

Framework 1 was, Failure is Not an Option. An approach that assumes all risks can be fully understood, assessed, categorised, documented and managed.

Framework 2 was, Safe to Fail. This approach rooted in the Complex Domain of the Cynefin Framework which proposed a number of small, time limited, low resource tests / pilots / experiments. Their objective is to probe what is happening and gain a better understanding before any decisions are made about what to do next.

Graphs 1 and 2, which are bell curves on whether people get fired or promoted

Further analysis emphasised this split in the data. Graphic 3 illustrates the distribution in the context of Framework 1 (Failure is not an option), with the mean closer the left hand side. Graphic 4 illustrates a distinct shift towards the right hand side and the ‘people get promoted’ label.

2 bell curve graphs on whether people get fired or promoted

So does this tell us anything?

The data suggests that how something is described or framed will influence how people respond to reporting of failure.

In the context of Framework 1 (Failure is not an option) people are more likely to think that reporting of failure will get people fired.

In the context of Framework 2 (Safe to fail) people are more likely to think that reporting of failure will get people promoted.

This might not be surprising when you sit back and rationally read about it in blog post. However as one of the delegates commented, “This has big implications for how we make decisions on our committees and Public Service Boards. If we talk about decsions in the context of failure is not an option people will be worried about the consequences, so will be less likely to be innovative and take risks. The language we choose to use and how we frame things is important”

What’s next?

This post will be followed by two more that look at:

  • Post 2. Is common sense more useful than the rule book? This reviews the data we collected around how people use different approaches when they are making decisions about risk, and
  • Post 3. Does service user involvement in decision making lead to better decisions? This tested the technology we used and pushed our understanding to the limits.

As mentioned earlier, this is an experiment for us and an example of us ‘working out loud, doing things in the open’. There is still a lot more we would like to do with this data. We are certain that we haven’t got things right and would appreciate any comments and feedback on what we have tried here. If anyone would like to have a look at the dataset and help expand our understanding, please get in touch, we would very much like to talk.

Study and purpose: Systems thinking and public services

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

How can Systems Thinking be applied to public services? Dyfrig Williams reflects on what he learnt from reading “The Whitehall Effect.”

Inspired by conversations with Kelly Doonan and the GovCamp Cymru Books Channel on Slack, I’ve recently finished reading John Seddon’s “The Whitehall Effect”. The book is billed as being “an uncompromising account of the way Whitehall has systematically and perversely made public services worse”, so I wasn’t expecting a light and breezy read. He’s also fairly scathing about the role of audit and inspection, so I’m not entirely sure that he’d want to be stuck in a lift with me. Having said that, I’m pretty sure he’d like to have a good conversation with me about it. Here’s what I learnt from the book:


Vanguard's model of better thinking, where measures are derived from purpose, which liberates methodRecently, the Good Practice Exchange held our first team away day in order to give us the space to think about whether we are working as effectively as we could be. There was some discussion about how we measure success, which is something that I’ve thought a fair bit about since my previous role, where funders’ targets led to me counting things that didn’t really indicate service improvement. I ended up measuring things like numbers of subscribers to our newsletter. We were asked to do this because it was an easy thing to measure, which contrasts with the difficult task of evidencing actual service change. Seddon’s point is that such thinking creates a defacto purpose (getting more subscribers) instead of the actual purpose (facilitating improvement). By deriving measures from the customer’s perspective of the organisation’s purpose, we measure things that matter.

Applying this to our work, if we measured success by the number of delegates that attend our events, we might stop doing work on things like Open Standards and focus on popular topics instead, even though we know that their use supports public service integration. Our real measures should be derived from our purpose, which is to help public services to improve and to deliver better services. This means looking at outcomes rather than outputs – we need to continue our evaluation approach where we evidence how our work has led to public service improvement.

Learning from…. studying

John Seddon reflects on the Toyota Production System in the book. He talks about how the tools from the process have been applied as part of a lean methodology to gain savings.

To give you a bit of background, Toyota developed the Andon Cord, which empowers employees to stop production when a defect is found and call for help. This flew in the face of conventional thinking, as people thought this would slow productivity. Which it did initially, before they started producing their products faster, cheaper, and more reliably.

What Seddon counsels against is putting those tools into practice without first understanding the context that people are working in, which is particularly true in complex public service environments. We’ve previously blogged on how the Cynefin Framework can be used to better understand the application of these tools when the relationship between cause and effect is muddy.

So how did Toyota put this into practice? Seddon talks about how Ohno would “draw a chalk circle on the factory floor and tell his managers to stand there and study the system in action, on the ground.” This study phase is something that is rarely given meaningful resources in the public sector, but it’s something that organisations like Ricoh UK are doing through the Gemba Mat and the Government Digital Service is doing by focussing on user needs.

This struck a chord with me, because our team’s founding principles are that one size does not fit all, and that people should look to adapt, not adopt the approaches we share. The study phase then is key to understanding how any learning from the Good Practice Exchange’s work can be put into practice. To revert back to the Toyota example, setting up an Andon Cord won’t improve the quality of cars in and of itself. The thinking behind the cord needs to be put into practice too. The same results can’t be expected without the right mind-set or if the organisation hasn’t taken the appropriate steps to empowering staff.

Where do we go next?

If you’d like a bit more information on the study phase, then Simon Pickthall has written a great post for us on how studying mitigates risk. He’s also previously looked at how Vanguard use normative experiences to encourage buy-in in another excellent post.

If you’d like to see examples of how Welsh public services are putting Systems thinking into practice, Dilwyn Williams of Gwynedd Council shared with us how they’re doing just that, and we also shared how Monmouthshire Council used the FISH approach (Find Individiual Solutions Here) at our Prevention seminar. The below video is a great overview of what they’re doing.

As for me, I’ll be thinking about thinking! I’m going to think about how we apply this study phase to our work, and also relay some of this thinking around measures into our evaluation approaches. As we work to improve public services, it’s important that we walk the talk, and also that our measures really are derived from purpose if we’re going to effectively support organisations in Wales to deliver better public services.

Enabling staff to make better use of data

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

How can we enable Wales Audit Office staff to make better use of data? Dyfrig Williams reflects on learning from our Cutting Edge Health Audit prototype.

A screenshot of our intranet, which shows the latest health news and data

In my work on the Cutting Edge Audit project, I’ve been looking at how we can bring together data from public bodies in a way that’s open to everyone and easy to access so that we can get further insight as auditors. The Health Team at the Wales Audit Office kindly volunteered to work with us so that we could look at what this might mean in practice.

In order to develop the parameters for the work, I developed personas for staff in various roles so that we could be better informed about what work we needed to undertake. This really helped us to identify how research time is used and who is doing that research.

The feedback that I received was that data is difficult to access, so we’ve developed a prototype to bring useful health data and information together in one place.

Testing approaches

Our initial attempt to bring this data together in one place is very much a proof of concept to see how this could be progressed further. Our initial thinking was to try and create a data one-stop shop for each health board, as well as a page for national work that covers the whole of Wales or the UK. When we thought about what a functioning prototype might look like, we decided to use a national site as our test.

We initially decided to use Sharepoint Online because it gave us the opportunity to look at how we could develop our use of the service to make data more accessible internally. Unfortunately whilst this worked as an initial test, we could only make the site available to a selected number of users, as we’re currently testing it with a small user group. We really wanted to share the results throughout the organisation so that staff could think about whether this type of approach would be useful in their work, so we decided to host the information on our intranet (The Hub), which is a Drupal site.

We used feedback from the Performance Support Officer to bring together information feeds in order to save research time. We created widgets from RSS feeds (Really Simple Syndication feeds, which deliver regularly changing web content from news sites, blogs and other online publishers) where available. We also generated our own widget (a small application that can be installed within a web page) for a Twitter feed that we generated from a Good Practice Exchange Twitter list. We embedded these feeds as IFrames within the site.

Making data more user friendly

We wanted to make data easier to understand and use. There was a strong feeling from the staff that I interviewed that knowledge and understanding of data shouldn’t be siloed, so we looked at how we could make data more accessible.

We decided to use Microsoft’s Power BI (a suite of business analytics tools to develop insight) to make health data sets more accessible and easy to understand. This meant that we didn’t have to buy any software, and that we could host the data directly through the Power BI service. We didn’t use any sensitive data for our test so it wasn’t a problem to publish it directly to the web. There was mixed feedback from staff that I interviewed as to whether the site should include private data, so we will need to look at our options again should we choose to go down this route.

The data sets that we used are publicly available and use APIs (Application Programming Interfaces, which access the features or data of an operating system, application, or other web service). This means that the Power BI data tools are linked directly to StatsWales for the data so that there’s no manual downloading of data after its set up. It also means that we’re always using the most current data that’s available.

Where do we go from here?

The use of our prototype has now been developed and extended so that it can be used as a data tool for a Primary Care project in health so that colleagues can use it to analyse data for their own Health Board, so it’s great to know that the work has already been of practical value.

Our use of widgets and APIs mean that the amount of work needed to maintain the current information that the site holds is very limited. However, if we want to develop the data that it holds, we need to think about who might be responsible for its upkeep, should it be seen as valuable.

The next step for us as an organisation is to use the personas that we generated, as well as informal feedback from this work, to look at what an effective data site and service might look like, and how that might be adapted for other parts of the organisation. That will enable us to learn from any mistakes that we’ve made so that we do things differently in the future, and also to build on our successes. And if we can build on that learning, we’ll be well placed to develop our work in order to be the cutting edge audit office that we aspire to be.

Public Services working in partnership for better health and wellbeing

SGBack in November, Sarah Wills, Gofal, delivered a workshop at our event ‘Public services working in partnership for better health and wellbeing’. In this blog, Sarah provides an oversight of who Gofal are, what they do and the positive developments since our event…

About Gofal

Gofal have a simple vision – ‘Good mental health and wellbeing for all’. Gofal work with:

  • People living with serious and enduring mental illness who face the most significant challenges in achieving and maintaining independent lives within communities
  • People experiencing mild to moderate mental health problems that impact on their ability to achieve and maintain healthy fulfilled lives within communities
  • The public, employers, groups, other charities and the media to improve mental health awareness and promote whole population mental health and wellbeing
  • Politicians, Government officials and health and social care professionals to inform and  improve  legislation, policy and practice

Today Gofal support over two-thousand people a year; our recovery model provides a strong evidence based framework to operate within and we are able to clearly evidence the positive difference our services make to people’s lives. Our regular consultation exercises mean that we know exactly what matters to people who use our services and this drives everything we do.  We work in thirteen Local Authorities and five Health Board areas.

We firmly believe that we will achieve more by working with others. We have worked hard to develop strong and constructive relationships locally, regionally and nationally. We work closely with statutory, third and private sector colleagues in pursuit of Gofal’s vision.

My Role

As Head of Service for the Central Region I have responsibility for overseeing the operational and strategic management of services across Cardiff and the Vale, Rhondda Cynon Taff and Merthyr Tydfil.  Part of this has included overseeing the development and running of the Mental Health Dispersed Supported Housing Scheme in the Vale of Glamorgan.  The service was evaluated by Welsh Government after being highlighted as a model of good practice and for its innovative approach as it is a partnership between Gofal, Newydd Housing Association, Cardiff & Vale University Health Board and the Vale of Glamorgan.

The Event

Following the evaluation we were invited to host a workshop at the WAO’s Good Practice Event on Partnership approaches to service delivery for better outcomes in North and South Wales, and were also asked to take part in the plenary panel discussion on partnership working.  We delivered the workshops in North and South Wales in partnership with the Vale of Glamorgan and Newydd.

What’s Happened Since?

The Vale Dispersed Scheme has since expanded to an additional unit, taking it to 7 properties and is likely to grow by a further unit to meet increasing demand.

Following the event I was contacted by the Regional Development Manager for Supported Housing for Betsi Cadwaldr UHB, they were really impressed with the partnership working and successful outcomes achieved on our Mental Health Dispersed Supported Housing Scheme.  They visited in early February and we established a shared ethos and approach to service delivery.  We discussed ways in which our approach could be adopted in North Wales to better meet service user’s needs but also other ways in which the UHB could work with Gofal.

We were also asked to give the presentation to the Blaenau Gwent Independent Living Strategy Forum, with representatives from Supporting People, Social Services and Health.  They were very interested in learning more about our approach and have continued their discussions in relation to how the model could be replicated there.

We have successfully submitted a bid for a replica Dispersed Scheme in Merthyr on the back of our successes in the Vale of Glamorgan, working in partnership with the Community Mental Health Team, Social Services and Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association.  This is in the process of being developed now and is already generating a lot of excitement; especially about the opportunities it offers for step-down from higher level supported housing, more independence and a better quality of life for individuals as well as cost savings to Health and Social Services budgets.

We have also given a presentation to the Supporting People National Advisory Board on the Vale Dispersed Scheme, which has allowed the project and approach to have further exposure at a national policy level.  There was lots of discussion among the members of the board about how we ensure this type of partnership working is embedded at a national policy level.

Plans for the Future

We’ve begun discussions about arranging a trip to North Wales to meet with Betsi Cadwaldr UHB again alongside some of the Local Authority leads to see what can be developed there.

We’ve continued to receive interest from other Local Authorities about the scheme and our approach, for example, Monmouthshire Supporting People have recently contacted us to arrange a visit to the project which will take place in April.

We are continuing to make progress with establishing the new Dispersed Scheme in Merthyr; the first four individuals have been identified and we are just in the process of carrying out joint needs assessments with them as well as working with Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association to identify suitable properties.

Find out more about Gofal via their website.