Monthly Archives: July 2017

Leaving the Good Practice Exchange

After four years at the Wales Audit Office, Dyfrig Williams will be leaving the Good Practice Exchange team on 11 August. Below, he blogs about his time with the organisation and where he’s off to next.

A photo of Dyfrig Williams at GovCamp CymruI’ve been interested in public service improvement since starting my career at the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, and this job has felt like getting paid to do my hobby for a lot of the time. I’ve been able to combine my personal interests, where I’ve attended events like GovCamp Cymru and LocalGovCamp, with my professional life where I’ve worked closely with both internal and external stakeholders in order to really interrogate what good public services should look like in the twenty first century.

Working with legends

I joined the team from a public engagement background having worked at Participation Cymru for three years. I’ve never lost the belief that public services work best when people have an opportunity to shape those services that they access. In some senses, it’s been really fascinating seeing how developments in technology have pushed that even further in recent years. Whichever sector or service you’re working in, there’ll usually be someone at an event that you’re going to who will be talking about the implications of digital for your work. And with that comes the inevitable focus on user needs that is the basis of successful digital services.

There are so many things about the job that I love, not least that it’s never failed to challenge me. That challenge has sometimes come as I’ve often been a generalist working with specialists to share their story. It’s sometimes been an intellectual challenge from social media, where this job has helped to connect me to people who are doing great things and are pushing the boundaries of what they do. And sometimes it’s been the supportive challenge of my colleagues, who are a fun and amazing bunch of people to work with. Thanks Beth, Chris and Ena, you’re legends! I’m going to miss your company and lunchtime leftover feasts.

I’m also leaving Wales, which means that I’m leaving behind an exciting time for Welsh public services and the Wales Audit Office. We’re one year in to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, which shapes the long term goals for Wales. As Nikhil Seth of the United Nations said, “what Wales is doing today the world will do tomorrow”. This is challenging and exciting for the Wales Audit Office too, as we grapple with what effective audit of this act looks like looks like.

Research in Practice

We’re also a year into the Social Services and Wellbeing Act, which again puts people at the heart of public service delivery. I worked with the Citizens Panel for Social Services in Wales (which was and continues to be one of the most incredible pieces of work that I’ve been involved in), which fed into the development of the act.

This experience will hopefully stand me in good stead when I begin my new role at Research in Practice as their Learning Event Co-ordinator. Research in Practice support evidence-informed practice with children and families. Here’s their Triangulation Model:

In my current role we occasionally get asked why good practice is a bad traveller (see this post by Chris Bolton for a brilliant riposte), forgetting that we’re implementing changes in tremendously complex environments. I really like how Research in Practice’s theory is grounded in practice and people’s everyday lives, and I’m excited to be a part of that.

I’m also really excited by the wide range of learning opportunities that they offer. One of our core principles at the Good Practice Exchange is that one size doesn’t fit all, so it’s great to see a project that doesn’t focus on training as the answer to all public service needs, as is often the way within the public sector. The way that they approach Change Projects in particular to identify solutions to specific challenges is fascinating.

And on a personal level, I had to cancel my interview last minute after my uncle had a heart attack to support my family. That they re-arranged the interview and gave me another opportunity speaks volumes for how people-centred they are, and I’m really looking forward to repaying them for the opportunity that they’ve given me.

Coming back to Wales

I’ll be coming back to Cardiff for GovCamp Cymru, which is the one day unconference about government and public services in Wales. I hope to catch up with a lot of you who have made my time at the Good Practice Exchange so memorable, and I look forward to catching up properly with my Wales Audit Office colleagues before I go. And thanks very much to you for reading my posts here over the last four years. I’ll continue to post on Medium, and please do stay in touch with me on Twitter so that I can stay up to date with the good things that you’re all doing.

Pob lwc with your work!

Sharing the learning of the Independent Review of the Impact of the Good Practice Exchange of the Wales Audit Office

The Good Practice Exchange has been in existence since late 2010/11. We set out what success would look like in 5 years, and we committed to an independent evaluation of what we were trying to achieve in 2016. So fast forward five years, and up popped the need to undertake an independent review.

So as with all things good practice, we (Bethan Smith and Ena Lloyd) would like to share the learning… 

What we do (fast forward to the next paragraph, if you know this bit)

GPX teamIn case you’re not familiar with our work, we promote improvement across public services in Wales through better knowledge exchange and shared learning. In our first year we were a team of two (Chris Bolton and Ena Lloyd), so we began with a modest programme, learning and reviewing as we went along.  We then expanded to a team of 4, with Dyfrig Williams and Bethan Smith (who took over from the very talented Tanwen) joining the team.  This meant we could now deliver a full programme of 20 events per year. As well as our programme of events, we provide support to various public service organisations in the form of a digital footprint (providing video content, blogging, social media etc. at their events), our Good Practice blog, Twitter, Pinterest and video content.

Independent Evaluation

The evaluation was undertaken by Professor Merali, from the Centre for Systems Studies at Hull University Business School. The review involved collecting data from:

  • Semi-structured interviews and conversations to capture narratives across a range of stakeholders inside and outside the Wales Audit Office
  • Attending Good Practice Exchange events
  • Reviewing the feedback from participants at our events
  • Reviewing responses of Chief Executives who participated in the recent Wales Audit Office Stakeholder Survey about all things related to the Good Practice Exchange

Views were captured from individuals from across public services, as well as a random mix of internal and external colleagues that had either attended, presented at, or shaped our events.

The review focused on three different areas:

  • Stakeholder perceptions about our role and our relationship with more mainstream audit functions
  • The value that we deliver through our information role and our support for learning and innovation
  • The way in which we achieve outcomes, and the implications that this has for sustainability and innovation

So what were the key messages?

Internal perceptions and relationships

blog picSupporting improvement was cited as one of the purposes of audit by all of the Wales Audit Office staff who were interviewed. The Good Practice Exchange was seen as a discrete part of the Wales Audit Office with a role that is related to, but distinct from the mainstream audit function.

Those in mainstream audit function felt that the Good Practice Exchange has a well-established presence in the Wales Audit Office; “…it seems to have always been there”.

While our role is perceived as being primarily an outward facing one, the Good Practice Exchange staff are proactive in developing connections and relationships with colleagues across the audit function.

External perceptions and relationships

The fact that Good Practice Exchange is an arm of the Wales Audit Office was highly valued by all the stakeholders who were interviewed, and there was a unanimous agreement that the Wales Audit Office “brand”;

  • Vested the Good Practice Exchange with authority, vouching for its impartiality and trustworthiness, and
  • “Gave credence” to speakers, information and ideas presented at Good Practice Exchange events.

Our support for learning and innovation is delivered in two ways; the event programme and the cumulative activity of Good Practice Exchange staff before, during and after events. This builds resources and capability to enable individuals to explore and exploit ideas for innovation and improvement.

“.. there is the thunderclap before the event… and a tide swell after each event whereby it builds on itself – information cascades through past and current attendees…”

We have developed a network of collaborators, contributors and “clients”, which has been key to our success. The analysis of stakeholder narratives showed that our success has been derived from our ability to incrementally generate, sustain and leverage networks and social, relational and reputational capital.

“… it is about individuals that are within that team- that drive, that energy, that thinking, that enthusiasm, that kind of passion for change and different thinking…and to be honest nobody is ever coming along and saying ‘this thing you are doing is wrong ‘. They are saying ‘have you seen there are different ways to do this and there are lots of opportunities out there, and you can pick any of them that you like.’ Nobody has ever said ‘that is wrong’…you can read into that and take from it whatever you wish. And I like that.  One size fits all is for me a disaster”

Conclusion

The report concluded that;

  • The Good Practice Exchange works well in its current form as a lean and agile unit of the Wales Audit Office
  • The Wales Audit Office brand is essential for our authority and credentials for impartiality and trustworthiness
  • Our events and activities are well-received and it is recognised as being an effective catalyst for change and improvement
  • Our modest size and our network mode of operation enable us to be agile and responsive
  • Our digital footprint and use of social media is effective in maintaining currency with its followers and collaborators
  • Over our lifetime of activity and engagement with diverse stakeholder constituencies we have accumulated a valuable and extensive network embodying social, relational and reputational capital

Going forward, our capabilities, resource base, reputation and positioning within the Wales Audit Office make the Good Practice Exchange well suited to support the Welsh public sector’s transition to models of service delivery that are aligned with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

Next steps

As a team, we are really pleased with the outcome of the report. We encourage openness and transparency and felt it was important to share the outcome both with internal colleagues and our external networks. The report has helped us to focus on the areas that are working well, and what we need to work harder on to improve.

We are always keen to hear feedback from colleagues, both internal and external, and over the coming months we’ll be working on our evaluation processes to make sure we fully take into account the comments we receive post events. After all, public services in Wales are changing and evolving and we need to ensure we do the same to meet the changing needs.

So watch this space for next phase of the Good Practice Exchange. And most importantly, if you have attended any of our seminars or webinars, thank you for your time, contribution and feedback, good and bad, as that’s what shaped us.

Trivallis: Changing culture within the frontline

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

In the third of a series of posts on the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Frontline Futures Programme, Dyfrig Williams spoke with Jonathan Tumelty of Trivallis to find out how they are empowering their staff to lead service changes.

At our recent event on improving digital leadership and ownership, Chris Bolton shared a slide that showed the vast number of business fads that had been implemented within organisations in recent years. It’s probably not surprising that some staff aren’t jumping for joy at the prospect of digital transformation being the latest change process that’s being implemented at their organisation. So how can organisations go about changing the way that they do business?

Richard Pascale's chart of (many) business fads, with Digital Transformation manually added

At Tai 2017, I spoke with Jonathan Tumelty about how Trivallis have enabled frontline teams to lead their service change.

What did Trivallis do?

Trivallis found that their teams were working in silos as they were grouped by job roles. Each area of responsibility would be informed by others, but this structure almost encouraged clashes and ended up with fraught relationships between different areas of the business. They decided to align their systems geographically based on the patches that they work in, but this was easier said than done as attempts in the past hadn’t worked.

Although Trivallis knew what their end goal looked like, they decided to hand control over how a geographical structure might work to staff by holding a series of meetings to shape the change. It started off as quite a light touch process through involving managers, then they had individual conversations with key influencers who were working on the frontline. Staff were given ownership and control of the process, and there was clear communication throughout.

What did this look like in practice?

Initially, staff got people together to map their frustrations, which was in turn affecting customer satisfaction. Employees undertook an exercise where they grouped post-it notes together, which fortunately echoed the initial thought process. They developed principles for these new ways of working with staff, with the managers only offering very broad parameters. Pilot teams were set up to test the plans that had been put together by staff, and they then worked to unblock barriers that they faced. In the first few meetings the staff were waiting for directions from Managers, but eventually they began to take control of the exercise themselves. Jonathan described the process like this video from a music festival, where one person starts the discussion, and gradually more and more people get involved. People who weren’t initially keen to take part ended up really wanting to be part of it.

From the staff feedback, Trivallis created virtual teams. Now all frontline services have been split up by areas, and the next phase is to build links between each team. The services are no longer siloed services, but a multi-skilled team working around an area. Jonathan said that this localised approach had been achieved without changing policies or any change in spending – it was all about empowerment and identifying power.

The power bases, including reward; coercive; expert; information; referent; legitimate

To go back to our recent Digital Seminar where we looked at digital leadership and ownership, Kelly Doonan ran a fascinating workshop for us on influencing change. Kelly shared French and Raven’s power bases in her workshop to help people understand where their power lies. It’s fascinating here to see how managers shared their legitimate power, whilst also harnessing frontline staff’s expert power from their delivery experience. It was great to hear from Jonathan about how Trivallis have made the work a success. If you’ve improved your organisation’s work by sharing power, we’d love to hear from you about how the changes that you’ve made have resulted in better public services.

How coaching can support better frontline decision making

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How can coaching help frontline staff to make better decisions? Dyfrig Williams met with Owain Israel from Charter Housing to learn about how they’re helping staff to take ownership of complaints.

Charter Housing's logo: Their name written inside the outline of a house, with "housing people" written underneathHaving blogged about the Frontline Futures programme and the learning that can be drawn from it for frequent users of public services, I was invited to the Chartered Institute of Housing’s TAI event to find out more about how the coaching approaches have resulted in improved public services. I met Owain Israel from Charter Housing to find out how he’s putting the learning from the course into practice.

Dealing with voids

Before talking to Owain, I had very little idea about the role of surveyors in housing associations, but it was fascinating to learn more about how they improve the quality of housing. Owain’s work has a particular focus on voids, where the surveyor carries out an end of tenancy inspection to check out the property before it becomes void. This gives tenants an opportunity to sort out any issues before they get charged by the housing association.

As part of the old process, the surveyor would ideally go back into a property for a post-inspection after work has been carried out. However, they’re not always told when people will leave. At the Good Practice Exchange, we hear a lot about the process that people work to, without thinking about what the outcome is for people. Owain and his team have questioned every aspect of the process, including whether an inspection can be carried out instead of a void survey. Some contractors have only done work that has been identified in the survey, which means that other work that may be required hasn’t been done. This process has created accountability issues, with tenants occasionally being unhappy with results.

So how are Charter Housing getting to grips with this? One of the things that I really liked from Charter Housing’s work is that they’re looking to make lots of small changes, and also that they’re looking to undertake those changes incrementally. They’ve changed the survey sheet that they use and they’re looking at whether it’s always necessary to undertake a survey where the tenancy is in a reasonable condition. This means that contractors have more freedom to undertake appropriate work.

Taking ownership of complaints

The next step in the streamlining of this process is for surveyors to take more ownership of the complaints they receive. Currently, the Support Services Manager picks up complaints and spends one day a week dealing with them, which isn’t an effective use of their time. Part of the answer is technological, and Charter are giving surveyors the right information systems to get better access to data. They’re now running training sessions on the use of the system in order to upskill everyone.

The second part of this process is the human aspect, which is where the Frontline Futures course has really added value. Owain has been coaching staff so that they feel like they can deal with problems themselves without passing the issues up the hierarchy. These confidence issues fit with Jonathan Haidt’s theory on the elephant, the rider and the path, which Melys shared in the previous post. In this theory, it’s the emotional system that provides the power for the service improvement, not the rational system.

Owain’s been undertaking this coaching through meeting with individuals, where he identifies what support they need and what the blockages are. Owain hasn’t described these sessions as coaching sessions, to staff they are one-to-one meetings. These meetings have helped him to identify why staff are reluctant to make decisions themselves. He’s also used these coaching techniques within team meetings, where staff come to a meeting with a problem. They then reflect on how they’ve dealt with it in the past and looked at how they can resolve it. Surveyors are now speaking more openly about the issues they’re facing, they’re more aware of the appropriateness of their responses and they’re now taking ownership of similar queries and dealing with them themselves.

The Good Practice Exchange has undertaken lots of work in the past on empowering staff, including looking at staff trust, an essential ingredient to empowering staff. We’ve also been looking at how organisations take well managed risks in order to innovate, where we’ve found that safe to fail approaches are often likely to enable staff to deliver better services. I’ve got a book on moving away from command and control on my reading list, and talking to Owain has certainly made me even more interested in how coaching can help staff to move away from a strict focus on process to looking at how outcome focused approaches can result in better public services.

Making use of Open Data

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The Wales Audit Office recently released our first Open Dataset. What happened next? Ben Proctor of Open Data Institute Cardiff talks us through how he made use of the data.

A screenshot of a dynamic map created by Ben Proctor to show levels of Council Tax per head of population in Wales

A screenshot of a dynamic map created by Ben Proctor to show levels of Council Tax per head of population in Wales

Oooo! new data

I was excited to see that the Wales Audit Office had released a set of data as open data. Open data is data that anyone can find access and use and it is the most useful sort of data.

Dyfrig Williams wrote about the process they’d gone through to release this data set (a summary of the audit data from each local authority in Wales for each year). The data is a simple table and you can download it as a CSV file (essentially a file that will work in any spreadsheet programme) here.

But there are problems

I downloaded the file and quickly spotted some problems. These are not errors exactly but just things that are missing or inconsistent and will make some uses of the data a bit harder. But this is not a complaint, because one of the attractive features of open data is that I could resolve these problems. I can do this because the Wales Audit Office have released the data under the Open Government Licence. This tells me I don’t need their permission to do anything with the data and there are no limits to what I can do with it (apart from I have to make it clear where it came from).

I can fix the problems

These are the things I did to my copy of the data.

I changed the format of the “financial year column” because in the Wales Audit Office file some of these are numbers and some are text.

I added a column of GSS codes. GSS codes are codes that are used to identify local authorities (and other boundaries). Having the GSS code means you don’t have to worry about whether the data says Anglesey Council, or Isle of Anglesey Council or Ynys Môn. And with the GSS code I could add “polygons” for each council. Polygons are basically instructions on how to draw the outline of each council and information about where to put the drawing on a map.

With these changes I was able to draw a series of maps showing the level of council tax per head in each local authority and how this has changed over time.

And given the Wales Audit Office an improved file

And I’ve been able to hand back to the Wales Audit Office a KML file. This is a file suitable for use in mapping software. Anyone who wants to visualise the Wales Audit Office data on a map can just open the KML file and get going.

You can download this mapping file yourself.

Why did I do this?

I’m part of the core team at ODI-Cardiff so I get excited about open data.
It took me a very few minutes.
I’m trying to get better at using a Google service called Fusion Tables and this is a good opportunity to experiment.
I’m actually quite interested in what this data might tell us.

Making savings and planning ahead

In the following blog, the Wales Audit Office’s Local Government Manager Jeremy Blog - JeremyEvans talks about how savings planning plays a vital role in supporting council financial resilience, following the release of the Auditor General for Wales’ report Savings Planning in Councils in Wales.

Effective savings planning is critical for the effective stewardship of public money and the delivery of efficient public services – in other words balancing the books whilst continuing to deliver quality services to the public.

Councils need to have a medium term financial plan, setting out how, at a high level, they will operate within the income that they receive, be that from Welsh Government or other sources such as council tax. This plan needs to look three to five years into the future. We found that all councils have these plans in place.

Making up the shortfalls

Having identified the shortfall in income – the gap between what they have and what they need – councils then need to identify how to bridge that gap over the life of the plan. As you would expect, current year plans will need to be very detailed, whilst those for two or three years away less so.

The better councils are at achieving their savings, the less pressure there is to find one-off funding streams to balance budgets. There is also less pressure on services to continue to drive out unachieved previous year savings at the same time as grappling with making those set for the current year. Not having to use underspends, reserves or other windfalls to balance the budget also means that they can be used in a more thought through way – potentially helping councils to fund initiatives that will bring financial benefits in the future.

What does success look like?

To be successful, savings plans need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. We found that about half of councils have such plans in place.

Being clear how savings will be made is key to transparency. This way everyone understands what needs to happen and any concerns about the impact of the savings can be raised at an early stage.

Accurate savings value and realistic timescales are important. This ensures there is a clear benchmark against which services can be held to account and against which they can assess their progress, spotting any problems early.

As the financial pressures continue to bite, the ability of councils to just make across the board percentage cuts reduces.  Savings need to come from more fundamental changes to the way services are delivered or the way councils operate.  We found that these types of savings take longer to achieve as they are more complex and potentially higher risk.  With these transformational savings, there is a greater need to get the plan right.

Join us for an event

On 8 August, our Good Practice Exchange Team is holding a webinar on Building Financial Resilience in Public Services. The aim of the webinar is to share approaches to building financial resilience (including examples of good practice) and identifying the key barriers and how to overcome them.

The webinar is aimed at members and officers of public services in the following roles:

  • Heads of Service
  • Service/operational Managers for major operational delivery
  • Budget holders
  • Section 151 Officers and Finance Managers
  • Cabinet Members with budget and planning as part of their portfolio.

The webinar will be recorded and will be available on YouTube around 1-2 weeks after the live webinar on 8 August. This allows us to add English and Welsh subtitles.

You can register for the webinar on our website or by contacting a member of the Good Practice Team by email: good.practice@audit.wales.

Why Open Standards lead to better public services

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How can the use of Open Standards lead to improved integration of Information Technology systems and public services? Dyfrig Williams reflects on what he learnt from taking part in the Good Practice Exchange webinar on Open Standards.

Digital has been a key theme of our work for some time now. We’ve delivered a range of events on that theme, from our seminar on Information Technology as part of our assets work in 2013, to our latest webinar on Open Standards.

This is the most techy digital themed event that we’ve hosted since our Cloud webinar, but it’s a topic we particularly wanted to give air time to because of how important Open Standards are in the integration of public services. Training and consultancy services the length and breadth of Britain are currently sending marketing material selling all kinds of products and services with the “digital” prefix. Open Standards are key to enabling many of the services that are being sold to integrate with each other and to enable better public services.

During our webinar, I described Open Standards as standards that are developed through a collaborative process for data, document formats and software interoperability. But as Evan Jones pointed out, there is no universal agreed definition of Open Standards – ironically! So for that alone, it’s well worth catching up with the webinar!

So what were my key learning points?

“Do the hard work to make things easy”

Terence Eden of the UK Government Digital Service gave us so much food for thought during the webinar. He followed up this gem with “It’s not about you, it’s about the users.” The opening question from a delegate was around whether it might be difficult to implement Open Standards with their existing technology. Terence’s response immediately got me thinking that Open Standards are an enabler of better public service, rather than an endpoint in and of themselves. We should be thinking about how we can provide the best possible services for the end user, and using proprietary standards that hinder integration certainly don’t help with that. As Terence said, “Open Standards can save lives!”

We’ve done a lot of thinking at the Good Practice Exchange about the complex and complicated environments in which public services are delivered. Our Manager Chris Bolton has written this great post on the problems that come with implementing a one-size fits all solution in a situation that has many variables. The problem with continually going down the proprietary route is that we’re adding layers of complexity in to an already complex environment. It narrows down service options and means that solutions themselves have to be increasingly complex, which can generate further issues and decrease reliability. It’s worth reading how the New Zealand’s Office of the Auditor-General made their information systems open by default, which resulted in a more reliable and robust IT system because of the cleaner configuration without endless permissions and restrictions.

Open Standards aren’t just for IT specialists

The discussions during the webinar weren’t just about Information Technology systems working well together. I mentioned above that Open Standards are an enabler for better public services, and as such knowledge and awareness of them shouldn’t be constricted to IT departments. They help systems to integrate and enable collaboration. The data gathered can be used to plan long term, so it’s clear how they can be really beneficial in enabling organisations to work through some of the ways of working that are identified in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. If we want to gather data for effective planning and to work together to provide better public services, then awareness of Open Standards is important amongst everyone from Public Service Board representatives, to Elected Members, to Capital Project Managers.

The power of procurement

Linked to the above point about Open Standards being important beyond IT, it’s something that staff in procurement roles should consider. Not only do they reduce complexity to enable integration, they also open up procurement opportunities beyond major vendors to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is clearly linked to some of the Wellbeing Outcomes within the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, especially around a Prosperous Wales and a(n economically) resilient Wales.

As Evan Jones pointed out during the webinar, Open Standards also help you help you to take a longer term view of systems, as they will be interoperable with the future you. We also had a good discussion about encouraging vendors to work with Open Standards during the webinar, and as Jess Hoare said, it’s important to remember that it’s us as public services who are procuring services. It’s perhaps easy to forget in these situations that as the procurers, the power during negotiations lies with us. Evan encouraged us all to negotiate with vendors – if they can’t store data in an Open Standard, you should be suspicious about their motives.

Where do we go from here?

Resources from this Open Standards work will be fed into our Digital work in order to prolong its impact and also to give people who are interested in the agenda some food for thought. We’re also thinking about how we can share this work internally as well. I’ve fed my learning from the webinar into the Cutting Edge Audit Office project, and we’re also thinking about how we can share the learning with auditors, because Open Standards have a key role in ensuring that systems and organisations can work together effectively to deliver value for money. Short term thinking here has a big impact in the longer term.

We also have a procurement webinar scheduled as part of this year’s programme, which gives us an opportunity to look again at some of the issues raised here. We’ve come across some interesting practice in our initial scoping work on procurement, particularly how CivTech have taken a different approach to driving innovation in Scotland. We’d love to hear from you if you have further practice that we can highlight. Because after all, our work is only a success if it’s learning from and reflecting the key issues that you’re facing as Welsh public services.

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