It’s fair to say that both Virginia and I spent a lot of time discussing the way our workshop would run, and could quite easily have come up with enough stuff for an all day session, so drilling it down to an hour long workshop was quite challenging.
We decided that the focus of the workshops should be around the principle of participation in scrutiny, and to share some of our experiences with the audience. We also felt it was very important for people to get a chance to share ideas with each other during the workshop. We agreed that our workshops should be seen as a starting point, and that this blog would be a good way of filling in the gaps, so here goes…
So what did we do on the day?
Virginia and I initially gave the context what the Assembly does to scrutinise, and what exactly it is we scrutinise. One of the National Assembly’s main functions is to scrutinise the work of the Welsh Government, scrutinising legislation they are proposing, policies they have set and money spent. We talked about how the National Assembly as an organisation has prioritised broadening participation in scrutiny. To ‘engage with the people of Wales’ is one of our corporate priorities, and ‘increased engagement of people in Wales with the work of the Assembly, including young people’ is a corporate priority. So everyone who works at the National Assembly knows how important and fundamental this is in our day to day work.
The we went on to talk about the ways in which we scrutinise, including formal Committee evidence sessions, debates in the Chamber at the Senedd, and briefly touched upon more creative ways in which we get people to contribute, such as inviting people to use twitter hash tags for questioning, producing video packages, holding events, web-chats, online surveys and the like. One thing that cross cuts any type of consultation work we do when scrutinising is planning, and we shared some of the key considerations for scrutiny at the Assembly with the audience.
You can see the presentation we used on the day here.
After this presentation we split into 5 different focus groups. Three groups were asked to consider benefits of increased participation in scrutiny, and two were asked to consider potential barriers of increased participation in scrutiny. Lots of interesting ideas came from these discussions, which can be seen here.
At the end of the workshop we asked people to give us one thing they would do differently as a result of this workshop. Some commitments included;
“Will be seeking wider buy-in within Council and to “borrow” resources from other teams more often”
“People’s voice – go into the community to hear their views.”
“Give feedback to participants”
So what next? We have all shared good practice. We know a bit more about what others are doing to encourage participation in scrutiny, and we have a list of benefits, barriers, ideas of how things can be done in the future, and even commitments from people to do things differently.
Using the #scrutiny13 I received two responses when asking what participants wanted to blog to assist with;
- Adjusting methods
- Who to engage and how to identify ‘publics’
Adjusting methods is something I touched upon briefly in the presentation. What we have found is that different audiences prefer different methods, and different subject matters lend themselves better to different methods. Tailoring your approach is essential. I manage a team which does not work exclusively with one type of audience, so it is essential that we seek advice and guidance from those who do. In a lot of cases this expertise exists within local authorities, or with representative organisations and groups. They are an excellent starting point to test your ideas of engagement method, and to also pilot things like surveys to make sure the language used are appropriate, and that the questions we are asking are relevant.
These initial discussions make us aware of issues we need to consider when planning this work, which have included things like;
- Engagement with gypsy travellers; are likely to have low levels of literacy, so any method used mustn’t rely on participants having to do prior reading
- Consulting on sensitive subject matters; means you may want to use vignettes during focus groups (where you create a scenario and ask people to comment hypothetically rather than asking them to refer to personal circumstances which they may not be comfortable in doing)
- Engagement with small to medium enterprises; they probably won’t have much time at their disposal which means getting them to travel to an event at a designated time can be difficult.
I strongly advocate this as part of the planning process. Once you have set your objectives and identified who you want to involve in scrutiny, speak with people who work with the audience on a daily basis top learn from their experiences and point you in the right direction.
How you identify ‘publics’ depends greatly on the subject matter of your scrutiny project. In the Assembly’s context, we identify who are being affected by current policy/spending/legislation, and split those groups into two piles; those who we expect to hear from, and those we don’t. The later is who we focus our efforts on, especially if they are less able to do so. Depending on the groups you have identified you may need to use a variety of methods.
The reality of the matter is that you need resource to attract more people to participate in scrutiny; people, expertise and facilities, but maybe not as much as you’d think.
You may want to start by looking at the tasks those who support scrutiny work in you organisations undertake, review them, and look to see if there are some tasks that could be replaced by others that can result in broader public involvement in your scrutiny project.
I have included a PDF version of our engagement toolkit in this blog. This is the first time we have published it outside the organisation, which originated as an online resource for staff, which is still being used today, and is continuously updated on a weekly basis (we will periodically update the PDF version as well). The methods in the toolkit vary greatly, some are very resource heavy, some are not (for example, Web-Chats cost next to nothing, and take little time to set up once accounts have been created).
It is important to note that this is what works for us. Some of the methods included may not be appropriate or realistic for your organisation/project, but I’d encourage you nevertheless to look through it and see what could work for you.