2016: The year of possibility
What does good governance look like in the context of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act? Alan Morris looks at what the act means for Welsh public services and how the Good Practice Exchange’s seminar can help.
Wales is beginning to demonstrate its ability as a nation to work with what it’s got in a far more creative and sustainable way. Transition Towns, Fair trade, organ donation and the Well-being of the Future Generations Act are just a few examples. We are beginning to figure what works for us as a nation, and often it isn’t what we have done before. Change, creativity and new ways of working also call for us to review our approaches to decision making, governance and assurance.
The WFG Act sets the bar high in its ambitious aspirations and, if those aspirations are to be delivered, there is a need for us all to fundamentally change the way we do business. The Act will transform the way we make decisions and will require us to consider the implications of those decisions on future generations. This means re-thinking our approach to governance.
Public services have finite resources. The word resources is often taken to mean money and when people talk about limited or diminishing resources what they mean is ‘less cash’. But the WFG Act asks us to think about resources much more broadly, including:
- staff, including their skills, experiences and motivation;
- buildings, plant and equipment;
- knowledge and information;
- the environment and ecosystems;
- community resources, including families, volunteers and local organisations; and
- less tangible ‘social capital’ such as good will and reputation.
But it’s in our gift to make the most of the way we work with all of these resources. The WFG Act gives us the ability to use these resources in a far more creative and sustainable way. And one of the keys to unlocking these resources is changing behaviour.
If we in the public services continue to look at things from the same perspective, then we run the risk of continuing to deliver the same outcomes. The Act provides an opportunity to look at things differently, do things differently and deliver better outcomes.
The WFG Act places a duty, and a challenge, on public audit too. We must understand and embrace the challenges and seize the opportunities the Act offers if we are to play our part in improving public services for the people of Wales.
The Wales Audit Office is currently considering the encouragingly high level of response by public bodies to the Auditor General’s recent consultation on how he should reshape his audit approach in response to the WFG Act. The Auditor General will be holding an event in the autumn, in conjunction with the Future Generations Commissioner, to share his views on what the results of the consultation mean for his audit approach. Both the AGW and the FG Commissioner will also take the opportunity to set out how they intend to work together. More details of that event will follow in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, we are already beginning to work in different ways. For example, we are holding a shared learning seminar that will provide an opportunity for public bodies to explore the implications of the WFG Act, in terms of decision making behaviours and governance. The seminar will involve key decision makers from the 44 public bodies who come under the act in a very practical day on 6th July in Cardiff and 14 July in North Wales. We are working in collaboration with the WLGA, Welsh NHS Confederation, FG Commissioner’s Office, Centre for Public Scrutiny and the Welsh Government to hold an event that is different from, but also builds upon, the well-established shared learning seminars run by the Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Team.
The seminar will give delegates the opportunity to share and learn from each other in a, safe workshop environment. Instead of providing expert speakers or presenting case studies, the focus will be on enabling participants to share each other’s experience and expertise. We will ask them to work through what decision making behaviours might help and what might hinder, as they seek to maximise their contribution to the well-being goals by applying the sustainable development principle. We will also ensure that we capture ideas, suggestions and examples on the day and share this information widely online.
In years to come, wouldn’t it be great to look back at the year 2016 as the year when Wales took another important step along its journey to be an even more sustainable, joined up country. A key factor will be decision making that seeks to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, by taking account of the sustainable development principle.
The WFG Act is ambitious and raises high expectations. However, our football team has shown us that if we combine our talents in a team effort with effective leadership – we can perform beyond expectations. As Chris Coleman said after the game against Russia, geographically we may be a small nation, but if you judge us on our passion I think you could say we were a continent…’
We also intend to use social media to encourage discussion and awareness within the WFG Act community before, during and after the conference from across Wales. The hashtag for use in connection with any tweets sent is #WAOGov
There will be a series of blogs from the seminar partners over the next few weeks. Please get involved and share your ideas and views on developing effective governance for the future public services in Wales.