Monthly Archives: August 2013

We are passionate about not re-inventing the wheel

One of the four pillars of the Good Practice Exchange’s philosophy is that we don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel. If we came across an approach or project which has achieved reasonable success in the public, private or third sector from anywhere in the world, we want to promote it. We think it’s quite likely other organisations will have a similar problem.

We feel passionately about this. For instance, an organisation might have already done some serious leg work on pulling together a business case to change their approach to a service. Our view is that there will be at least some lessons learnt from the project team, which we think should be shared widely to benefit other organisations. Knowing what things to look out for, avoid, do more, do less of and manage differently is bound to be of benefit in terms of both time and money for other organisations who are or will be in a similar position.

Imagine further, what if the business case approach was of such a similar nature to what an organisation was intending to pull together that it saves hundreds of staff days? Doesn’t it make complete sense for us to promote the business case?

[On behalf of the Good Practice Team, I need to be quite clear; we are not saying this is THE approach to take, but that this is AN approach you could consider taking. The same thing goes for when we talk about good practice case studies as opposed to Best Practice. We think that Best Practice suggests that we are saying that this is THE approach, whereas, in reality what we are saying this is AN approach. In essence, we don’t advocate a one size fits all approach].

A good example of a business case which we have promoted is the Agile Working Business Case from Monmouthshire County Council (as part of our Agile Working Shared Learning Seminar). The Council have implemented their agile working well over two years ago now. We feel the Council is in a great position to share all the things that worked well, what didn’t worked so well and what they would do differently if they had their time over again.

Sian Hayward of Monmouthshire County Council is a great advocate of sharing her learning from the Agile Working project. She has had visits/telephone conversations from almost every local authority in Wales as well many other organisations, and you can hear her discuss this in the above video. We think this is an effective way for organisations to learn, adapt the business case and take it forward at a greater pace as they are not starting with a blank sheet of paper.

Another example of not re-inventing the wheel is that of a Welsh Social Enterprise called Indycube. This company has successfully set up a series of WiFi enabled offices in Wales where individuals or companies can hire a desk for £10 a day. What about the idea of organisations working with Indycube in setting up a site in their organisation? Listen to what the owner Mark Hooper has to say about the idea and different approaches taken by current organisations using the different locations.

So, if after reading this blog you know of an approach or project which other public services would benefit from, why not drop us a line? We’d really like to hear from you, as we are about sharing the experience…and the results.


Safe to Fail

I’ve been following Chris Bolton’s What’s the PONT blog since before I started working at the Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Exchange. Chris has a gift for titles, so when he blogs about Trojan Mice I tend to pay attention.

Trojan Mice are essentially small projects that are safe to fail. One of the main principles of the Good Practice Exchange is that we don’t reinvent the wheel, so there’s no sense in me outlining the whole theory again when Chris’ blogs do a great job here and here.

Last week I looked after the Weekly Blog Club, and with one of Chris’ latest blogs in mind I decided to try and collate the week’s posts a little differently. It struck me that looking after Weekly Blog Club is a great way to try something a little different to what I normally might do.

During the week I went to the Geek Speak event on useful apps. While I was there I got talking to Russell Todd, who works with the Communities First Advice and Support team at Wales Council for Voluntary Action and we talked about Pinterest.

Russell mentioned how he found Andrew Coulson’s boards great, and in turn I suggested following Marilyn Booth on Pinterest, as she pins some great stuff on community engagement.

I’d never used Pinterest before, but I thought that even if I never used it again, I would at least have a better understanding of the platform when I speak to public service organisations about the relevance of social media to their work.

So then this truly was a safe to fail project. It was a success (at least in terms of feedback and time saved, although it took me a bit of time to find how to embed boards, which it turns out is ridiculously easy). The next step is for me to think about how this fits into what we do, and how it can be taken forward. There’s no sense in just adding another social media tool to our arsenal without thinking further about how we’d use it – we need to be strategic and ensure that the tail is not wagging the dog.

We also need to think about how we can add value to the world of Pinterest – there’s no sense in us duplicating what people like Andrew and Marilyn are already doing, especially as I don’t think we could improve on their great work.

I’ve put together a board based on our Energy Management Seminar that shows how it could be useful in collating information from our work. But as a social tool, we also need to think clearly about how we use it to engage and learn from others.

This brings me back to the importance of pushing the boat out whenever we can. A clear message from the Wales Audit Office’s External Stakeholders Seminar was the importance of innovation within public services. There were some great exchanges taking place on Twitter, including below where the Auditor General for Wales outlines how the Wales Audit Office will support that in our work.

Twitter conversation / Trafodaeth ar Twitter


Why managing energy is not just for the ‘energy person’

This is a guest blog post from Geraint Norman, National Assets Working Group.

At the end of June, I took part in a Good Practice Exchange seminar. This one was on Energy Management. Like Neville Rookes from the Welsh Local Government Association (who has already blogged about this seminar), I helped facilitate a workshop on the day. There were many energy specialists at the seminar, but what was most interesting for me was the need to avoid a ‘bitty’ approach to energy management. Make it a part of everyone’s daily work and you’ll get much further than leaving it to the energy specialists alone.

National Assets Working Group / Gweithgor Asedau Cenedlaethol

I don’t know if all readers will immediately agree with me. In some organisations, energy is the responsibility of the facilities team and doesn’t always capture the interest of senior leadership. But what about the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme? What about saving money in a period of austerity? Making sure energy is managed right across your organisation can lead to some real benefits.

It was great to hear lots of good practice from delegates. There was also lots of sharing of ideas and examples where improved energy management has improved services. I was particularly interested in three ideas that we discussed during the seminar.

  1. Include energy management in staff performance reviews. Sounds a little scary, but could be an effective way to make sure each department keeps on top of energy use. It’s also a way of demonstrating good management skills; staff and budget management. Directors can also hold their managers to account if they are specifically made responsible for this aspect of making savings.
  2. Get senior leaders interested in energy efficiency. Not always easy I know, but making it a key objective for your organisation gives you a good amount of leverage to get things done. Renia Kotynia from Wrexham County Borough Council had some good examples of how to get senior leadership involved.
  3. Try and make saving energy fun. Yes, it should be part of your strategy and yes it should be carefully monitored and managed – but it should also involve your colleagues. During the seminar, I heard about coloured sticker systems, blackouts and asking staff their opinions on new energy projects. These could be good ways to make sure that everyone thinks about saving energy as they go about their daily work, not just the energy manager.

So, what am I and the National Assets Working Group going to take forward from this seminar? Well firstly as a Group we need to communicate the outputs from the seminar across the sectors. We then need to keep energy management on the agenda and consider the need for future events.  As a Group we will also be supporting the Wales Audit Office in its future shared learning seminars. I look forward to seeing some of you there.

Bilingual facilitation – how can we be better?


National Eisteddfod of Wales / Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru

Last week Mike Palmer (who focuses on Sustainable Development for the Wales Audit Office) and I ran a workshop for the Public Engagement Working Group in the Eisteddfod in Denbigh. We ran a workshop where we looked at putting the National Principles for Public Engagement in Wales into practice.

Both Mike and I really enjoyed the workshop, which enabled us to share knowledge and to collate information on how we think the Welsh Government may want to involve people in their national conversation on the Future Generations Bill.

Afterwards both Mike and myself sat down and reflected on what went well and what we would change in future.

As I was working in a Welsh as a first language environment, I relished the opportunity to present in Welsh. You can see the original Prezi here, or you can see the presentation on which it is based on Participation Cymru’s website. This was a mistake, as I should have made slides bilingual. The first language of some participants was English, and whilst I translated my information as I went, having it readily available would have made the process much easier.

But it was the wider issues around bilingual facilitation and community cohesion that struck both Mike and I. As a Welsh speaker I have always been keen to make sure that people have an opportunity to contribute in Welsh, so I’ve set up separate groups as part of events I’ve been running. Whilst this has enabled people to take part in the language of their choice, it’s also meant that people who speak different languages don’t get to hear the perspectives of the other group. Of course we can get groups to feedback to each other, but how do we cross-pollinate ideas so that people truly develop ideas together?

If we do bring these groups together, how do we ensure that English speakers aren’t frustrated because they don’t understand Welsh, and that Welsh speakers aren’t frustrated because they’re forced to participate in English?

I’m very aware that this blog poses more questions than answers, so I’ve been googling my socks off and I’ve also tweeted various practitioners. Edward Andersson from Involve offered me some great ideas. We had a discussion around how Participatory Appraisal could help with this as the techniques are visual and are not reliant on language. Edward suggested checking out Oxfam UK’s Poverty Programme, which has produced a great guide called Have You Been PA’d? on this.

Mike and I also spoke about the issue of translation. Whilst we did our best to avoid jargon, some terms we defined at the start were public service specific (such as engagement and participation). What we realised was that some terms that were perhaps unclear were muddied even further by being directly translated into terms that are rarely used by Welsh speakers in their day to day lives (ymgysylltu and cyfranogi). If the citizen is truly at the centre of services, we need to ensure that we use terms that people understand. Edward made a great point here as well – that the translation shows the artificial nature of the initial word.

The Welsh Government has attempted to change this, where it’s changed the name of the Sustainable Development Bill to the Future Generations Bill. The name change is aimed at making sure that people have a better understanding of what the bill aims to achieve (making sure the decisions we make now don’t adversely affect people in the future), but many have been concerned that sustainable development, a term which is recognised internationally, has been ditched and is being watered down. Can we go down the same path with citizen engagement?

Psychologically and sociologically, it can’t be good to separate from each other based on language. The scale of the challenge is such that no doubt I’ll revisit this in the future, and I’m sure to blog again on this. I’ll post any further resources I find below, and if you know of any useful guides please feel free to do the same.

Thanks in advance for your help!


PS I know that Participation Cymru are available should Welsh organisations need any assistance around engagement – I’m going to approach them for help on this very topic!

What Public Service Leaders can learn from ‘The Boss’ (aka Bruce Springsteen)

I’m sure several people reading this blog will possibly have raised eyebrows having read the title and are asking “What has Bruce Springsteen got to do with Public Service Leaders?”

Recently, Bruce returned to Cardiff Millennium Stadium as he said he would, in his previous concert at the Stadium five years ago. So for starters, you could say he delivers on his promises. Moreover, I see him as a great leader, with great leadership traits, which he clearly demonstrated whilst carrying out his job.

For instance, he clearly recognises the importance of engaging with his audience (read service users), and he does this in a couple of different ways.

He has built a section in his concert whereby he asks the audience which songs they would they like him to sing. This part of his concert has become legendary now, as audiences bring hand written catchy headlines on cardboard, by the hundreds. He spends time reading them, and a camera is located behind him to enable the tens of thousands in the audience can see what he is seeing. He will then choose a selection of cardboard messages and sing a few of the songs and display the relevant message too. He keeps the rest of the messages and displays many of them at future concerts. Great audience satisfaction and a great story to tell friends afterwards. I see that as great involvement and customer experience.

During the various sections of the concert, Springsteen invites audience members to sing and dance on stage with band members. Also Bruce and various band members join audiences at the front and side of the stage and to sing with them. I’m not saying this is unique to Springsteen, as other artists do similar approaches. What I would say, he displays a real human touch.

Whilst he is clearly the leader of the band (read organisation), he publicly acknowledges the efforts of his team members and the undoubted contribution they make on behalf of the band. He spotlights them constantly throughout the concert. He does this by encouraging individual band members to take centre stage and highlight their skills and expertise. He creates a working environment where his team members enjoy themselves so much, that it’s difficult to decide who is having the better time, the band or the audience. This is an excellent example of staff engagement.

Springsteen has to think strategically before every gig because of the different needs of his audience. The set list is planned meticulously so that each section of his varied fan base feel satisfied at the end of the gig. Whether you’re a fan of his early material, his acoustic efforts or his biggest hits, there’s something for everyone at his gigs.

In terms of value for money, there is never a warm up act at a Springsteen concert, there isn’t time! One of the other unique aspects of a Bruce Springsteen concert, is you will see hundreds of audience members set the timer on their watches or mobile phone the minute he strikes the first chord and then stop at the final chord. He is on stage for at least twice the average length of time of most artists. Following every concert, besides thousands of views being shared on social media, radio phones etc. there is always the massive debate as to the exact length of time he was on stage. You can’t ever buy that kind of publicity.

So in summary, The Boss consults, engages, involves, tailors service delivery, works strategically and has high customer satisfaction. Good traits of any Public Sector Leader I would suggest.

Finally, I would suggest an appropriate nickname.


Learning to Share – how working together can help the public sector

7. WLGA Blog ImageGuest post by Neville Rookes, Welsh Local Government Association

I recently worked with the Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office to help run a seminar on Energy Management. I work for the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and the seminar covered a wide range of topics that seem to appeal to most local authorities. There was something for everyone. So I wanted to share what I learned from the seminar and why these lessons matter for local government – and of course what the WLGA’s next steps will be.

Why did the WLGA choose to work in collaboration with the Wales Audit Office and Good Practice Wales for this seminar?  It opened up a whole new avenue for developing policy, because it helped me recognise that other sectors have different approaches to energy management which can be adapted to suit local government needs. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, since local government could take inspiration from many other sectors.

And why did we choose energy management as a subject to collaborate on? We’re helping to run a series of seminars on asset management and we kicked off this series with energy. We recognise that assets are an area where we need to be smarter in keeping on top of what we have already and how we can use this more efficiently and effectively. This isn’t about investing in massive capital projects; it’s about adapting or retrofitting systems / technologies so that we can better manage and reduce consumption – and the costs of service delivery.

These seminars have a relaxed atmosphere which makes delegates comfortable in contributing in workshops and working with people they don’t normally engage with. We received some positive feedback about the sharing and learning sections of the workshops, where delegates discussed what they’re working on and struggling with. I now get this ‘cross-sector thing’ – we are all encountering similar issues, so let’s learn from each other.

So, what are my next steps following this seminar?

As a facilitator  for one of the workshop I didn’t get the opportunity to participate in the others on the day so I will  be revisiting the WAO website and to see what  good practice I can glean from these. Through this seminar I can see how we can learn from other public bodies and I will spread the message. But it also occurs to me that within our own organisations there are people and departments we can learn from and I will ensure that I seek out these links and share them.

Within a day or so of being involved in the seminar  our finance director asked me if I was aware of any contacts on projects involving LED lighting – thanks to the seminar I had a couple of names to give him straight away!

– Neville