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.

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