Author Archives: Good Practice Exchange

About Good Practice Exchange

Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office - encouraging public service improvement through shared learning and knowledge exchange. Y Gyfnewidfa Arfer Dda yn Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru – annog gwelliant yng ngwasanaethau cyhoeddus trwy rannu dysgu.

Faster closing – it’s good to talk

Following on from our recent event on ‘Early closure of local government accounts’, Matthew Coe, Financial Audit Manager at the Wales Audit Office, talks about his experience of the day and the important discussions he encountered with delegates…

On 10 October 2017 I attended the latest Good Practice Exchange shared learning seminar in Cardiff on the Early closure of local government accounts. Alongside many representatives from local authorities, there were a large number of staff from the Wales Audit Office, all keen to understand lessons from those already piloting faster closing timetables.

In the first plenary session there was a lot of audience participation with table groups considering a number of mini scenarios on how not to manage the accounts closure and audit processes. Even with some of the Wales Audit Office “actors” hamming it up for all they were worth, it was clear that everyone in the room recognised we need teamwork and regular communication to make a success of this transition.

As is usual at Good Practice Exchange events, we then broke into smaller workshop groups covering three particular aspects:

  • Making Assets Early Closure Friendly – ensuring the streamlining of asset valuations and capital accounting;
  • Knowing why we want what we want! – what is needed in terms of working paper requirements; and
  • The importance of Internal Quality Assurance on your Financial Statements – highlighting why internal quality assurance checks are critical to a successful audit.

These workshops looked at practical actions that we could take. It was particularly useful having a trained – tamed? – valuer present in the asset valuation workshop to explain his work and give his perspective on how to give valuations sooner.

The big learning points for me from these workshops were:

  1. Everyone agreed but more importantly accepted that there will be more estimates in the accounts.
  2. In addition it is likely there will be more uncorrected misstatements noted in the auditor’s reports (ISA260 reports) – BUT this is not necessarily a bad thing: a key message to relay to those charged with governance.
  3. You can actually do things earlier on non-current assets – it is not solely a year-end exercise after all – and together we just need to think creatively about it.
  4. Finally, auditors need to be clearer on working papers they need – not want, but actually need – and in what format with finance staff. On the flip side, finance staff also need to change the way they prepare and provide the working papers.

In the final plenary session I was struck most with just how long I had spent discussing the detailed arrangements with the finance staff from Cardiff Council. While we do cover this in our work as an audit team, as a Client Manager, I personally seldom get a chance to discuss the detailed approach to working papers with the finance team preparing them. For me, to have nearly four hours to go through the practicalities and challenges of changing both Council and Wales Audit Office approaches and ways of doing things, was incredibly valuable.

There and then we were able to agree a number of key principles such as early engagement on changes, quick resolutions to queries by both sides, and further meetings to improve supporting documentation for the 2017-18 accounts (meetings we have already starting arranging).

Also not only did I find that we agreed on the need to change both our approaches (and were positive about doing something about it for 2017-18) but I could communicate the collegiate way of working that sets the tone of our audit work first hand.

Finally I would say that communication really is the key – preferably by just talking to the right people face to face – so that you can talk around the implications of potential problems early on makes a big difference to how smooth an accounts/audit process can be. Early engagement on changes in accounting policies, methodologies and potential issues, as well as carrying out earlier testing, will certainly smooth the way to a faster closing Nirvana!

10 Steps School Project

Georgina James, Melin Homes

As I’m writing this, I’m sat at my desk working towards developing our offer for Melin’s schools program over the next 5 years, a schools program that didn’t exist 4 years ago.

Flashback to our energy efficiency project, Powering Up Communities and we’re just entering schools doing a little energy program training Junior Green Energy Champions. Our street naming competitions with schools were a success and we were offering our Melin minibus to schools for educational trips. Overtime, the work we were doing in schools developed, with the eco program helping schools to achieve their ECO flags with Keep Wales Tidy and the groups were creating energy saving songs to well known tunes and performing them at our events. I’d say our first step in our recognition of the importance of working with schools, was deciding to do an end of project celebration event with the children we had worked with. We worked with partners such as ICE, Keep Wales Tidy, Constructing Excellence in Wales and Techniquest to deliver a carousel of workshops with over 100 children and teachers attending. The event was a massive success and it was there that we thought “WOW! These young people we are working with are our future residents, staff members, and local councillors or supporters” We need to make sure that our work encompasses the young people of our communities and what better way to do it than through schools. Now our journey on schools wasn’t an over night success, it took months if not years, of developing projects and relationships with schools and partners.

One of our partnerships was with Career Wales, who we had done ad hoc ambassador work for previously.  They approached us to see if we would like a business partnership with 2 secondary schools that were situated within our area. We have now signed up to a 3 year business partnership with the two schools and are focusing on a three-pronged approach between the pupils, staff and parents, to ensure we make an impact and difference to the people we work with.

And the best part, Melin have committed to a delivery of a schools program for the next 5 years. Had Melin not had the idea to do the little bits in schools then we wouldn’t have progressed to the stage we’re at now. New projects focusing on the health and wellbeing of pupils and teachers. Which leads us to the 10 Steps project… If you want to know about where we are now and what we’ve got coming up then come along to Wales’ Audit Offices seminar on Using Alternative Delivery Models to deliver public services.

Rural Skills

Working together since 2009, Gwalia (Pobl – @poblgroup) and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (@BreconBeaconsNP) have developed a series of outdoor projects which have enhanced the lives of those living in supported housing and outreach clients.

One of the first initiatives was Brecon Beacons Community Champions which, with funding from NRW (Natural Resources Wales @NatResWales), supported young people in outdoor activity training. Participants all achieved their Bronze National Navigation Scheme Award (@nass_office) and went on to independently arrange and take part in their own choice of activities.

The activity projects so inspired the service users from the Brecon Foyer (Gwalia) they formed a local committee and constituted themselves as a group. The aims of the group were to provide inclusive and accessible activities and learning opportunities through anti discriminatory practice, to improve the image of young people and to increase awareness of issues affecting them. The group has since successfully gone on to secure funding for projects including an educational trip to Auschwitz following a project on Jewish History; a residential outdoor activity trip to Devon; visits to London and Rome and a healthy living project.

Further joint projects have included Geocaching Development 2010-12, Rural Skills 2012- 2014, Park Pathways 2014, Mental Health and Wellbeing Day 2015 and most recently Awards for All funding which has enabled the 2016/17 Rural Skills training programme to go ahead. This project has been hugely successful with all participants successfully achieving Agored Cymru (@AgoredCymru) accreditation in Outdoor Skills, Cutting docks, brambles,hedges and Practical Woodland Skills.

The combination of training and increased confidence in participants has been inspirational and resulted in the following outcomes: 1 individual has gained full time employment;

4 individuals have engaged with and participated in the BBNPA/Princes Trust (@PrincesTrustWales) Get into the Brecon Beacons programme including a two-week “Get  Into” programme  and Explore Enterprise, 2 individuals successfully recruited onto the BBNPA/  Princes Trust partnership  Get Into the Brecon Beacons 3-months work programme as Trainee Rangers – see ITV Wales coverage of the trainees here.

Matt Baker and the team from BBC Countryfile (@BBCCountryfile) joined the group on a Geocaching activity day to discover how accessing the natural environment with a little bit of new technology can trigger new ways of keeping active and improve mental wellbeing.

Inside Housing (@insidehousing) followed on from the television coverage and produced this article highlighting how Housing Support can enrich lives beyond just tenancy support.

The enthusiasm, participation and progression of everyone engaged in these projects  demonstrates the potential this work has to make a significant difference to the ways in which socially excluded groups view, access and derive socio-economic benefit from the outdoor environment.

In summary these locally focused projects have been developed by both partners to give the best possible support to young disadvantaged people living in both urban and rural areas of the Brecon Beacons National Park to help increase their access to education, employment and training opportunities.

Rural Skills

Using alternative delivery models to deliver public services

In researching this year’s alternative delivery models event, one common theme kept coming up: the importance of safe and secure housing and the organisations which are providing this service. 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, written in 1943, describes shelter as a fundamental physiological human need, alongside air, water and food.  You don’t get much more important than that.  So perhaps it isn’t surprising that in looking at alternative models for delivering public services, we found housing in the middle of it all.

But it isn’t just that the provision of a warm, safe and secure home is crucially important to a person’s stability and wellbeing.  The various organisations across Wales which are charged with delivering housing services are leading the way on some innovative, preventative, collaborative and impactful projects across a variety of service areas.  They are delivering services which might normally have had to be delivered by another public body or that are preventing demand on one or multiple public bodies; and they are partnering with public bodies, third sector, citizens and each other to deliver these services.  In terms of the Wellbeing for Future Generations Act, despite not being legislated by it, the housing sector is leading the way on how to implement it.

Housing organisations are well-placed to understand the needs of their tenants, they are ‘on the doorstep’, and are pushing forward with a wide range of projects to support their tenants.  Trish Hoddinott (Melin Homes), who is presenting a workshop at our event about a schools programme, summed it up for me when she said, “These are our tenants of the future and we want them to be healthy, happy and economically viable.”  This is the kind of preventative, long term thinking that will help to deliver the Wales We Want and to fulfil the seven goals of the Wellbeing for Future Generations Act.

The Welsh Government’s recent publication of its Programme for Government, ‘Taking Wales Forward 2016-2021’, puts secure housing as a priority for a Prosperous and Secure Wales.  It also talks about improving and reforming public services and facing issues through new ways of working, joined up programmes and working across traditional boundaries.

With this seminar, we will be showcasing some of the projects that we found during our research for this event.  These projects are tackling issues with young people, older people, domestic violence, mental health, supported housing, and in rural communities.  They are supporting people to stay in their homes and to ensure better outcomes for them.  They include partnerships, collaborations and multi-agency projects from across the sectors.  They are exemplifying prevention through intervention.  They are breaking through traditional boundaries.  As Matt Dicks (Chartered Institute of Housing), one of our panel members, stated “Small projects and frontline changes to the way we plan services could drive and push forward changes at a higher strategic level”.

There are many challenges that lie ahead for all organisations providing services to the public.  How best can we all work together to deliver the most effective services possible for all citizens?  Who needs to drive partnerships?  Who needs to be around the table?  Who is best-placed to deliver that service?  Thinking differently about how services are delivered is what alternative delivery models is all about.

Our Alternative Delivery Models event is being held in Cardiff on November 22nd and in Llanrwst on December 7thClick on the link to register.

Should we be moving away from appraisals?

In our latest blog, Russell Higgins, Human Resources Learning Partner at the Wales Audit Office, looks at the appraisal process and shares his experiences from the CIPD learning and development show back in May…

Over the last few of years a growing number of employers have been moving away from the formal annual appraisals in favour of holding dialogue with employees. Leaders everywhere are realising their people are their organisation’s greatest asset, and traditional performance management processes don’t influence employees’ skills and abilities. Research has suggested that rather than motivating and supporting people to do better, the appraisal is often dreaded because of the time and energy it was taking.

Should we be moving away from appraisals?

In May, I attended the CIPD learning and development show, where I attended a session on moving from appraisal to coaching and continuous feedback. Both organisations have moved away from traditional annual performance appraisals, to regular check-ins and ongoing feedback and development. Speakers from both River Island and General Electric shared their reasons of moving away from appraisals in order to increase productivity and organisational performance. The aim of the session was to explain the reasons why the organisations had moved away from the appraisal

What struck me at the very beginning was just how well attended this session was!

The speaker from River Island shared that previously only 7% of annual appraisals were being completed as required and therefore the traditional approach to performance management was not working. Many staff in the family owned River Island felt disengaged with the whole appraisal process, when they researched the performance management they realised that what was important to them was:

  • Individuals knowing what is expected of them;
  • Individuals knowing what the department goals are; and,
  • Individuals knowing what the business priorities are.

With this in mind they moved from a traditional performance management scheme to one that focuses on having 1-2-1 feedback quickly (in the moment), instead of at the end of the year. Within River Island, 1-2-1 discussions need to be appropriate and conversations do not need to be an overly complicated drawn out formal discussion. What struck me about career development is that the responsibility is owned firmly with the individual and not the manager, therefore personal responsibility and accountability is the key.

General Electric shared with the audience that they have rebranded feedback and now call it insights, as they suggest that the word feedback has negative undertones for people. If staff within GE observe a behaviour that is impactful and effective then they share that insight with the person straight away, this is known as continuous 360 degree feedback. In addition, if staff observe behaviours that have an negative impact then this insight can be shared.

These examples show just how organisations are moving away from the traditional methods of performance management. However there was recently a case where an “overly promoted” medical practice manager won a constructive dismissal case against her former employer, where the employment tribunal said that if employers fail to properly conduct performance management procedures for employees they consider to be underperforming, “issues and resentments [will be] stored up for the future”.

The Wales Audit Office have been working on ensuring that the appraisal system isn’t a burden and really adds value.

As we look at what performance management looks like in the future, instead of looking backwards, an enhanced conversation with the employee that looks forward may be helpful in ensuring that the organisation is forward thinking and looking at what the future holds. For me, we need to be thinking about what support, development and management the employee needs in order to reach their true potential. The importance of on-going feedback is key and should not be left until the end of the year, it should be discussed on an on-going basis. Employees should take ownership for their individual personal development plan (PDP).

How might the Wales Audit Office take Open Data forward?

The Wales Audit Office is looking at how we share Open Data, before leaving the Good Practice Exchange, Dyfrig Williams looked at how the organisation might take this forward.

I’m leaving the Wales Audit Office having led on the Cutting Edge Audit Office work on acquiring data. Part of my work looked at how we made better use of Open Data as an organisation, both in terms of making use of data that’s released by other organisations, and how we release our own Open Data.

Where to start with Open Data?

The Good Practice Exchange held an introductory webinar on Open Data, as it had been raised to us as a topic that lots of people were interested in, but had little idea of how and where to start. This is a good starting point for anyone who is interested in why this is important.

Key things for us to do in future

When we published our first Open Dataset, we published it to as high a standard as our resources and expertise allowed. The 5 Stars of Open Data give us a guide for how we can improve our datasets, and the website also has a costs and benefits section that outlines what we would need to do.

Our visit to the Netherlands Court of Audit was really useful as it gave us an opportunity to look at how another audit body is making use of data. Some of the most useful feedback was from Roline Kamphuis around how they purposely remove personal details from data to make it easier to share between departments. We need to look at the data that we gather and interrogate what types of data we need and what’s stopping us from sharing it. If it’s the fact that it’s personal data, do we need those personal details? The data spectrum from the Open Data Institute may be really helpful in helping us to better understand when it’s appropriate to share data.

the data spectrum

Internal Networks

It was also really interesting to learn about how the Netherlands Court of Audit have set up communities of practice. Staff working with data in the Wales Audit Office have so much knowledge that can be tapped into, but we also need to ensure that they can make the most of their expertise so that they can get to grips with really meaty projects. Once we have an initial team in place, we should consider how we can build expertise and capacity so that knowledge isn’t held within a silo of the Wales Audit Office. There will be some learning from the group’s set up as part of the Cutting Edge Audit prototype to share good practice around use of Excel.

It’s also important for us to think about how we store that data and whether it has any implications for how easy or difficult it is for us to pool our data internally at the Wales Audit Office. Do we need to look again at our data gathering process to see how we can make maximum use of the data to benefit other parts of the organisation? This gives us an opportunity to make better use of our resources and to extract more value from the data. How this data is held and shared is important – it needs to be easily accessible so that it can add value across the Wales Audit Office.

We also need to think about how we add value internally by making data open. Are there reports that we have to generate time and time again that we could automate that would benefit staff and the public? Is there potential for us to release performance reports in a different way? Could the data for our annual report for instance be gathered as a dashboard and released as Open Data? Could the automation of this data help to streamline reporting and save staff time? Lucy Knight from Devon Council shares some great ideas in her Open Data Institute Lecture.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlJkoaCZSlM

External networks

Being an active part of external networks has been key to our success, both in terms of socialising our ideas and in releasing data that people find useful.

The Open Data Institute Node in Cardiff have created a dynamic map to show levels of Council Tax per head of population in Wales and also a hex map of the Total Gross Expenditure. This has come from actively sharing our datasets with interested parties through networks that the Good Practice Exchange have developed from the Open Data webinar and more established networks like the Open Data Wales Slack channels. Our attendance of unconferences and support for events like GovCamp Cymru have also helped to develop these relationships. We need to cultivate these relationships and continue to work openly so that people can build on our datasets and add value to them. In turn, this will also help us to develop our own expertise and discover useful datasets. Events like Open Data Camp are run annually, and are full of people who are making practical use of Open Data that we can learn from. Blogging and sharing our journey has been very helpful in making these connections.

One way of fleshing out these networks are through Hack events. The Good Practice Exchange have previously supported the NHS Hack Day in Cardiff, and potential models to look at include Accountability Hack (a two day event for the UK Civic Tech community to connect, learn from each other and impact the UK’s democratic process using technology and open government data) and also the Netherlands Court of Audit’s own Accountability Hack. By liaising closely with partners such as ODI Cardiff, we could look at how our data could be better used and fits with the Wales Audit Office mission to help public services to improve.

Useful resources for our Open Data journey

How different methods of engagement can help involve the citizen in public service delivery

In our latest blog, Kevin Davies, Head of Public Engagement at the National Assembly for Wales talks about the importance of engagement with citizens…

Improving engagement with the people of Wales is a big priority for us at the National Assembly for Wales, where we run a variety of projects to engage citizens from all over Wales in order to build long term engagement, understanding and trust between the Assembly and the people it represents, and to encourage direct public participation in the Assembly’s work.

A few years ago the Big Lottery Fund funded Pathways through Participation, a research project which explored how and why individuals get involved and stay involved in different forms of participation. The project was run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, in partnership with the Institute for Volunteering Research and Involve.

This project found that the following factors play an important role in determining if people start, continue or stop participating:

  • Personal motivation, such as helping others, developing relationships, to have influence, an interest in an issue of importance to them;
  • Trigger, such as a reaction to a decision, or a recent life experience like ill health, moving to a new area or having children;
  • Resources, including time, money, geography, access to transport, health, skills, experience, knowledge, and confidence; and
  • Opportunities, an appropriate environment with conditions and opportunities to translate motivation to participate into action.

blog pic

The way that we deliver our activities and how we measure their effectiveness considers these factors, to ensure that whilst we are measuring if we are meeting the specific short term objectives set for individual projects, we also understand the impact that different activates has on citizens that are involved, with the desire to encourage long term democratic participation.

Recently we gathered feedback from participants from two projects. The first was with small business owners across Wales who took part in video interviews to share their views with Assembly Members for a committee inquiry on Business Rates in Wales.

The feedback told us that all participants would take part again if given the opportunity, and that they felt that they had the opportunity to express their views. The most significant changes as a result of their participation was evident in the response to following statements:

  • ‘People like me don’t have a say in the decisions the National Assembly for Wales’: none of the participants disagreed with this statement before taking part, compared to 67% who disagreed with the statement having taken part.
  • ‘I have the confidence and information needed to get involved in politics’: half of the participants disagreed with this statement before taking part, where as 88% agreed with this statement after taking part.

A similar feedback exercise was conducted following an event to engage with individuals with a lived experience, and those working in a frontline capacity, as part of a committee inquiry into Perinatal Mental Health. What we found from this feedback exercise was that:

  • None of the participants had previously directly engaged with the Assembly, and all of them said they wouldn’t have taken part in the consultation if they hadn’t been invited to the event;
  • All felt they had been given enough of a chance to have their say during the event, and they would all take part in something like this again;
  • Participants had a real variety of political interest, just over half had a great deal/quite a lot of political interest, the remainder claimed to have some/not much political interest;
  • 7% claimed to have a great deal of political knowledge, 52% a fair amount and 41% not very much;
  • When asked whether their levels of knowledge of Welsh politics was better than it was before, the majority agreed or strongly agreed;
  • When asked whether their understanding of the difference between the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government had improved, the majority either agreed or strongly agreed.

Our intention is to seek to gather this type of information for the range of different engagement initiatives we deliver at the National Assembly, to better understand their effectiveness and improve our offer in the future, ensuring that those participating in our work are better placed to continue as democratically active citizens.