Thanks for sharing your working out in the open Rob, its really helpful.
Thanks for sharing your working out in the open Rob, its really helpful.
Thanks for sharing your working out in the open Rob, its really helpful.
Why aren’t we co-producing public services? In this post, Dyfrig Williams looks at how public services can move from a deficit based model of involvement to an asset based model.
By the time this blogpost goes live I’ll have left the Wales Audit Office, which is a bit gutting as the Good Practice Exchange seminar on How different methods of engagement can help involve the citizen in public service delivery is right up my street. I spent three years working at Participation Cymru, during which co-production emerged in Wales as a way of making public services more responsive, accountable and effective. If you’re unsure about the concept, this post by Noreen Blanluet is a great overview. I then joined the Wales Audit Office and spent four years working here, where co-production has continued to be a hot topic. So we’ve now spent the best part of a decade talking about how we can co-produce services with citizens. So why isn’t it actually happening?
In the Good Practice Exchange, we consistently talk about how we need to focus on outcomes. We’ve come across so many organisations that are so pre-occupied with process that they don’t question whether services are actually meeting their end goals anymore. I think we’ve all heard people say that ‘This is the way we’ve always done things’.
The problem is that consultation has become the default involvement process for public services. It’s easier for us as organisations to identify our issues and then get citizens to rubber stamp the ideas. The problem is that this results in services that meet organisational needs instead of building on citizen’s assets. This table from Nurture Development shows how a deficit based approach like traditional public sector consultation compares to an asset based approach like co-production.
Budget Calculators are good examples of deficit based approaches, where people are given the option of allocating money towards services that they feel should take priority. This might help people to understand the difficulty that organisations face in allocating finance towards specific systems, but it’s not real consultation. They have no real voice in shaping what these services look like or how the organisation is configured, and so it very seldom results in actual change. It pits people and services against each other, and it’s about as empowering as asking people which arm they’d like to have chopped off.
At the heart of both the Social Services and Wellbeing Act and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is involvement and prevention. These tie-in together really neatly. A quick look at Nurture Development’s table shows that a preventative approach isn’t possible with a reactive and deficit based model. We have to involve citizens earlier in the process so that they can help to shape and deliver services, instead of expecting them to comment on the plans of public services. If we want people to co-produce services, then we have to genuinely share power with them – we’re unlikely to get the critical mass that’s needed if we hold the reins of power too tightly ourselves. Why should people co-produce a service that was formally delivered by the public sector? We have to ask ‘What’s in it for me?’ and think about how co-production can really add value from a citizen or community perspective.
It’s fascinating to see what can really happen when we genuinely share power. In Better Reykjavik, politicians were told in no uncertain terms that their platitudes would no longer be accepted, and over 40% of the electorate participated in the initiative. It’s well worth watching the incredibly inspiring video below. Are there aspects of this approach that we can adapt to meet our needs?
We all need to start thinking about how we can all better share power as public services and what real co-production looks like. If we can do that, then we’re much more likely to deliver services that meet the requirements of Welsh legislation. Most importantly though, it means that we deliver better public services that improve people’s lives.
Recently, I’ve been working with the Chartered Institute of Housing to share learning from their Frontline Futures work with wider public services. This led to me being invited to moderate a Fishbowl discussion to share stories about solutions and innovations at the Housing Festival, which was being held in the Depot in Cardiff.
Good question. I had to undertake a bit of research beforehand to get my head around what it was I was being asked to do. Essentially, it’s a chance to discuss a topic in a loosely structured format.
A number of chairs surround a smaller group of chairs. A few participants are selected to fill the fishbowl, while the rest of the group sit on the chairs outside the fishbowl. The moderator introduces the topic and the participants start discussing it. The audience outside the fishbowl listen in on the discussion and can take part by sitting in an empty chair in the middle, and then one of the speakers in the middle must make their way to the chairs on the outside.
Esko Reinikainen spoke about the importance of iteration in his presentation at the start of the day. We got the opportunity to iterate our Fishbowl by gathering feedback from participants. We started off a bit slowly in the first fishbowl because I wanted to try and ease everyone into the process by focusing on questions. By the end of the first session though, we’d built up a real head of steam and participants were really engaged in challenging what they were hearing and how services could be improved. So the second time around we dashed through the initial discussions and encouraged people to contribute in the centre of the circle. If anyone’s planning on moderating a fishbowl, this meant that everything flowed a bit better and we had more of an opportunity to share good practice.
Esko also mentioned Amy C. Edmondson’s concept of Teaming during this presentation, which starts with helping people to become curious, passionate, and empathic. I referenced another of Edmondson’s concepts, her Spectrum of Reasons for Failure. I think that this is a really handy tool for looking at failure and identifying subsequent action. We spoke about Trust a fair bit during our chats (and I’ve previously written this post about why trust is important to innovation), and I think that her dissection of what warrants blame is a really helpful tool for us as public sector staff. There are of course times where failure is not an option in public services, but too often we apportion blame for failure in inappropriate circumstances.
Ian from The Wallich shared a gut-wrenching story from the stage about how he became homeless. He could have appeared on the radar of any one of a variety of public services (health, social services, housing or the third sector), but it was The Wallich who helped him in his time of need. The complexity of his circumstance means that in this type of situation we should be looking to share lessons about what we can do better, yet too often a fear of blame is a barrier to learning, sharing and innovating within public services.
I shared The Cynefin Framework during the discussions, which we have used at the Good Practice Exchange to help us think about how we share practice. In simple circumstances where we can predict everything that’s going to happen, there is one right way of doing things that we can clearly apply to what we do, for instance in controlled environments like manufacturing. Yet in complex environments in which housing and other public services often operate, there is no one size fits all approach. This is when many of the approaches that Esko spoke about are most appropriate – we need to test, prototype and iterate.
We also need to think about how we can minimise our own organisational complexity so that we reduce our potential pitfalls. Do we need to create more policies for every conceivable circumstance? Can we move from process to productivity in order to empower staff to make better decisions instead? Paul Taylor has written a great post on this, and Owain Israel from Charter Housing gave a really good example of putting this into practice as they’re scaling back their formal surveying work to look at more flexible ways of checking properties. Neil Tamplin pointed out that this was a rare case of someone looking to make themselves obsolete, and Paul has written another good post that’s worth checking out on planned obsolescence as a driver for innovation.
Neil spoke about working out load on the panel, and I haven’t come across anyone in any public service who does this better than him. His Braindumps are a brilliant example of working in the open as they’re incredible roundups of his working week and interesting resources. This is so important because whilst there may not be a one size fits all approach that works for us in complex environments, there’s nothing stopping us from learning from others and adapting what other people are doing. Quite aptly, Neil has already written a great post on the event, and I couldn’t say this better than him:
“If your purpose has something to do with improving the lives of people who need housing then I would argue you are morally obligated to share anything that advances that cause, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.”
Having talked so much about taking risks and learning from failure in this post, I wanted to finish by saying how great it was that the Chartered Institute of Housing took a chance on a different format and a different type of venue. It was certainly very different from a traditional public service event, which certainly provoked a few discussions and gave me a few talking points when meeting new people. Hopefully you all took as much away from the event as I did so that we can all make a practical difference into making people’s lives better.
What can the Wales Audit Office learn from the Netherlands Court of Audit’s approach to innovation? Dyfrig Williams visited The Hague to see how they work and to share the work of the Good Practice Exchange.
In May I had the opportunity to visit the Netherlands Court of Audit to learn more about their Doen project (which means ‘Doing’) and their approach to innovation. Their whole approach stems from learning by doing, which is a fantastic mantra to have. Throughout the visit, staff openly shared their successes and failures from very practical change projects. Their safe to fail space mindset is key for providing the space for that learning and improvement.
The month before I had shared the work of the Good Practice Exchange with Mark Smolenaars and Sanne Kouwenhoven from the Netherlands Court of Audit in Cardiff. Myself, Steve Lisle (who is leading on the Cutting Edge Audit project) and Mike Usher (our Sector Lead for Health and Central Government, and who also leads our Investigative Studies work) were fortunate enough to be invited to the Netherlands to share our work with their colleagues, and also to learn more about their approach to innovation, so that we can adapt their approaches to suit our needs.
At the Good Practice Exchange we always say that there is no “one-size fits all” approach. We may have many things in common with the Netherlands Court of Audit (we have about the same number of staff and therefore roughly the same challenges in identifying capacity and scaling up change initiatives), but there are also some differences too (the Dutch public sector includes casinos – I can’t even imagine what that audit looks like!).
When we started looking at their approach to innovation, one of the key things that struck me was that they have a variety of staff that contribute very different things to the organisation. Not only does this avoid a groupthink mentality, but it also brings a lot of different skillsets to their work.
We had a presentation from Linda Meijer, who is an auditor who has become a designer. It was fascinating to hear how her design skills led to her asking different questions of data as she illustrated their findings. This was particularly useful on an audit of products that have the CE mark, which shows that products are safe and can be sold in the European market.
We also discussed how the Netherlands Court of Audit have an Investigative Journalist working for them, which was particularly useful for us at the Wales Audit Office as we have our own Investigative Studies team. Jaco Alberts’ insight was fascinating as he talked about how he applies his expertise to his role.
We also heard about how they shared their expertise through a participatory audit of higher education institutions. They asked members of each student council to check pre-investments and to look at how the institution’s budget framework is working, which meant that they had the opportunity to make the most of the knowledge that is available within institutions. This fascinating approach gave us food for thought as we thought aloud about working to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, as one of the five ways of working that’s outlined is involvement.
One of the areas that really fascinated me was the Netherlands Court of Audit’s use of data, as I have been leading on the Wales Audit Office’s work on acquiring data as part of our Cutting Edge Audit work. Their involvement of people with different backgrounds even filters into their data work, as we heard how they make the most of data interns.
As with any practice sharing, it was fascinating to hear how the Netherlands Court of Audit are dealing with challenges as well. Roline Kamphuis shared how the organisation have set up communities of practice around R, which they hope will help the organisation to free up the capacity of its data staff. We heard how they currently spend much of their time cleaning data, which means that they can make shared data available for wider use. By cleaning the data effectively at the start of the audit, they make work much easier for staff as it progresses.
They also spoke about why they particularly use R and SPSS, as they have a script that can be used for an audit trail. By developing a pre-programmed script in R, they can ensure that outputs fit house style. Also because R generates word and excel documents, it means that auditors can see easily see and understand the steps that have been taken when working on that data.
Rudi Turksema shared how the Netherlands Court of Audit had run an accountability hack, which meant that they were able to involve external stakeholders in their data work. By working in partnership with a range of organisations, they were able to open up access to a wide variety of datasets on the day. I mentioned that the Good Practice Exchange have supported the NHS Hack Day in Cardiff, but that I wasn’t sure that we had enough capacity as an organisation to run such an event yet. Yet they encouraged us to look at putting a similar event on as it had helped them to share their work and involve a wide range of people. We’ve already seen what happens when you make data open and accessible, as Ben Proctor and the Open Data Institute have already started using Google Fusion Tables to create maps and add value to our first open dataset. This certainly gave me food for thought for how such an event might help us to further develop our use of data and our own data maturity.
I learnt so much from my trip to the Netherlands. It was fascinating to see the parallel journeys that both of our organisations are taking to ensure that audit is fit for purpose in the twenty first century. Thanks to everyone at the Netherlands Court of Audit for your welcome and your hospitality – you’ve certainly helped inform our learning journey and your expertise has been invaluable in helping us to move forward with our own innovation work.