Coronavirus Learning Log Week 3: Adaptation and Sense-making

In last week’s learning log, we discussed our aim to reach across Audit Wales and the public sector, using our connections there to gather information and data on innovative ways of working they’ve adopted in response to the Coronavirus.

Key challenges

  • Making sure our time is well spent
  • Learning how to communicate in different ways
  • Making understandable media and data content
  • Overcoming misunderstandings, and communication breakdowns
  • Learning to work in different environments

Time Well Spent

How many targets that you created months ago are still the right things to be focusingHIYXZTHLGRIWVLBLKXAMVX7YLM on’ asks Toby Lowe

We know different situations require different ways of working. I’m struggling to think of an industry where this doesn’t apply.  In translations, you might be working from home and translating content about the coronavirus. In supermarkets, you must be prepared to implement distancing regulations.

Performance Audit work has been temporarily suspended and projects such as the Covid19 learning log are determining the work we will be doing for the foreseeable future. In that sense, it is necessary to adjust the work we do.

Before the pandemic, I aimed to release podcasts, interviewing the Welsh Police and Crime Commissioners about Adverse Childhood Experiences. Considering the context in which those podcasts were recorded though, and that PCC elections are postponed, Coronavirus content is a more constructive use of my time.

Despite this, some are keen to avoid habit change. “People are saying ‘here’s a big scary situation. I’ll make myself busy, so I don’t have to think about it” Chris Bolton says, pointing out that familiar routines can act as a distraction mechanism.

This is not entirely bad. Sticking to familiar working hours for instance can keep you focussed. However, Andy Brogan points out that it’s important to avoid routine, to the extent where alterations provoke more uncertainty or result in chaotic situations ‘forms of uncertainty provoke anxiety in us. This predictably leads to pathological behaviours’

Interestingly, Bolton goes on to say that ‘If you can explain why you’re doing something a certain way, it’s probably okay’ – highlighting the need to continuously evaluate ourselves and assess whether our actions are productive.

Communicating In different ways

‘We need to liberate ourselves to behave differently. To be mutual and to listen to one another’ elaborates Brogan, alluding to the concept that complex situations often require a range of views to be brought to the table.

1_w9xolgS_-ON5qp5jplGebgConsidering our intention is to work with auditors, public bodies, and other departments to collect information on new ways of working, one challenge is adjusting our tone and the way we present ourselves.

Chris Bolton explained the work that he’d done convincing auditors and directors to take on this work as a project for the organisation ‘’For the purposes of communicating to a different audience, I had to speak I a much more formal way’’ he explains ‘’I see my role as an abridging role – that’s what we do as the Good practice team. How do we bridge into different environments?’’

Sion’s comments show a more systemic perspective ‘As auditors are trained to think forensically, they are going to be asking awkward questions’ he points out, drawing attention to the fact that what we are asking – i.e. for those we work with to think differently about the work that they do – is quite significant:

 “We’re trying to repurpose audit wales, from checking that money is being spent appropriately, to seeing how people are reacting to this crisis, asking ‘How are you going about this, flipping from being a regulator, to being an observer”

Sion goes on to say that he has experiences of having to put on different masks when working for Gwynedd council. ‘I was always available to help Councillors with their IT questions, to the point where I helped with their IT support and took a little pressure off the IT department’. He remarks upon the importance of allowing yourself to make connections, in any aspect of life, but especially when trying to broaden your skillset, to gather views or experiences:

‘Turn up where the people you want to reach already are, then take advantage of that audience’

It is acknowledged that we as a department do not have immediate access to public service boards, and councils. However, we work with people who do have that sort of access. This explains the necessity in starting with your immediate contacts and branching out more widely from there, when seeking to make connections.

Overcoming misunderstandings

People interact differently when there’s a crisis on

Deb Allen tells me a story about one of her neighbors, who lives on their own, and who had their 81st birthday last week. In a show of moving kindness in these times of isolation, the neighborhood came out of their houses, stood on their doorsteps and sang happy birthday. This provoked two very different kind of reactions.

The first was from another local, who returned to see members of the community stood outside and took to social media to lament that there was an irresponsible street party happening, and that the action showed recklessness in a time where we are supposed to be social distancing. In their defense, what actually happened was later explained to the individual and the post was removed. More important than that though, were the reactions from people who saw the recording of the gesture, and left comments of praise.

‘It brings out the best and worst in people’ says Deb, citing another case she witnessed in a shop where an employee stacking shelves went ballistic on a customer, when they walked past them. ‘You wouldn’t see that in normal circumstances’ she goes on, raising attention to how people have begun to see each other in the context of Covid19.

There’s potential that the coronavirus will make us more appreciative of each other in the time following. There’s also a worry that it will make people more mistrustful. Which occurs more may depend on the way we respond to this pandemic, through our online and essential interactions, and the way we choose to treat those most adversely affected by these changes to society.

Working in different environments

A conversation that has come up between me and numerous members of staff are what are our future workplaces going to look like.

Sion Owen points out that workplaces that didn’t previously allow home working are likely going to struggle to justify not allowing it, after the Coronavirus – if you can trust staff through a crisis, you can trust them in peacetime.

A member of our law and ethics team points out to me that Audit Wales was trialling hot-desking, i.e. moving away from fixed physical spaces where people work, to having computers that any employee can log on to.

Indeed, it may be case that our future workspaces are significantly scaled back, and that initiatives like these become a ‘new normal’

The argument against this of course is that working from home is not convenient for everybody, and that many enjoy the sociable aspects of going to work. I know that I certainly miss the commute, the environment and corridor conversations.

Therefore, an important action for workplaces to take in these situations is to gather the views of staff, looking for consensus solutions which work for a wide range of people, and adjusting our workplaces accordingly.

Not only does this help make decisions, but it empowers employees to help make them.

Making Understandable Content

“I think the coronavirus visulations will be looked back on as iconic in the world of data’’ says Sam Williams, referring to the graphs used to accompany attempts to reduce the growth of coronavirus cases.

‘’I’m someone who is quite comfortable looking at a spreadsheet…though, better data visualisation can enable you to assimilate information far more quickly’’ he continues

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A discussion ensues about the way Covid-19 is being represented visually. Colour coded graphs showing the growth of the virus are nearly always accompanied by words stating the need to ‘flatten the curve’. News outlets produce incredibly well-made visual guides to the coronavirus pandemic. These serve the dual purpose of making the situation understandable and acting as a behaviour change tactic, to make groups of people take the epidemic seriously.

Good visualisation can bring a narrative or provide a way of looking at a situation – that’s partly why, in furthering the learning log project, we will likely see increased emphasis on data sets to make sense of different ways of adapting to Covid19.

One of our projects is using data to analyse the amount of people who attend our physical events. Although this project dates back before the Coronavirus, it provides some useful context for how and where we hold our events in future (pictured)

Then there’s the challenge that comes from media content. ‘Editing is an arcane art’ says Sion Owen, referring to his recent attempts to edit a pre-recorded talk by a representative of Conwy family centers. It’s a poignant observation in that ‘the editor gives structure – they need to make judgements’. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this but considering the current state of society, structure and order can seem like archaic phrases.

Perhaps that’s our role. We can’t re-order the world but through content such as Data visualisation as well as content such as blogs, videos, podcasts and posters – matched with the extensive research we’re doing in partnership with the rest of Audit Wales, we can help to make sense of the world in some small way.

Learning Opportunities:

  • The work that we do should be necessary and we should always be able to explain why we are doing it; realise that being busy is not necessarily the same as being productive. If our schedules are hectic, it may be worth looking at them and asking which activities are useful, and which ones we are doing out of routine
  • Seek to make connections by involving yourself in different opportunities and speaking to people you may not normally speak to; this may involve changing your tone or the way you present yourself slightly, to suit different environments, so make sure you understand the needs and thought processes of who you’re addressing.
  • Always make sure that you have a full picture before jumping to conclusions about someone’s intentions or actions; these times require a certain amount of trust to be fostered between people so being careful with how we use social media, and how we advise people is especially important.
  • Take on views that aren’t your own; you might have a strong case for changing something about the way your organisation works. However, somebody may have different ideas and perspectives on how to do this; consult the facts and try and build consensus
  • Make sure that any content you produce can be understood by an outside audience. You might be skilled in one way of perception, but someone else will have a different set of cognitive abilities. Think of different ways you can help others make sense of the information your trying to convey and trial those methods!

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