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.

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.

Breaking down barriers between people who deliver services and people who use services

 

sophie howe

Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales 

“The issue of whether we have the Wales we want, has to be answered through a two-way dialogue with the public,” says Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales; “the way we involve people must move beyond traditional methods of consultation. Opening a conversation with people is vital to transforming public services.”

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act places a duty on public bodies to carry out sustainable development through the five ways of working. This includes planning for the long term future, preventing problems before they arise or get worse, integration of services and across the seven national well-being goals, collaborating with the right partners and, crucially, involving people in their decision making.

In fulfilling these duties, getting involvement right from the outset is crucial to the Act’s implementation. The Wales ‘we’ want must go beyond civil servants and local government – it has to involve and engage with communities and individuals to ask them: what is the Wales that you want; what do you want for your family and community now and into the future. Starting from the perspective of people who live in Wales and use public services can often give a much simpler solution to intractable problems we wrestle with as officers.

George Bernard Shaw said that the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. Could this be a description of our current culture of consultation in the public sector? We are often instructed to ‘consult’ with the community and stakeholders, but this is often far from real, ongoing involvement.

It is often said that public bodies don’t have the resource to follow the National Principles of Public Engagement and involve people in a meaningful way. But this doesn’t have to be about intensive face-to-face engagement (although this is very effective), there are numerous ways that we communicate now in our home lives that involve cost effective digital means. How can we make this more possible in our professional worlds too?

Unsurprisingly, the people of Wales have noticed. IPSOS Mori revealed that only 13% of the public felt that they had a stake in the services they received. In working with Good Practice Exchange to pilot the software tool, ‘SeneseMaker’, to involve people in setting the Commissioner’s priorities, many people told their story of feeling disempowered, disengaged and by now, disinterested, by what’s going on. People felt that they had been consulted too late, provided with information that was in technical language, asked the wrong questions and many did not know what impact their input had.

Perhaps this highlights that the average person is not interested in service boundaries and funding provision, or appreciates being labelled as a ‘service user client’ or part of a ‘protected group’. The language we insist on using to talk about the public we serve, and the public sector insistence on constructing a process, has had the effect of dehumanising public services.  Perhaps we have become experts at asking the right questions, to tick the right boxes, but often we have become adept at missing the point.

A recent example is where several people commented on a consultation by a council on the closure of schools. In line with equality legislation, they asked parents detailed demographic information. However, the consultation questionnaire failed to ask if any of the parents were unable to drive, despite the school only being accessible by car.

This example serves a lesson that, in involving people, we’re actually talking about “people!” People who are mums, dads, sons, daughters, neighbours and friends.

Sophie Howe believes: “I think we could go a long way in breaking through bureaucratic barriers that can sometimes exist between people and services. Surely by walking a mile in their shoes, we can all make public services a little more human?”

The Good Practice Exchange are holding an event on ‘How different methods of engagement can help involve the citizen in public service delivery’ on 6 September in Cardiff, and 28 September in Llanrwst, Conwy.

These seminars begin to explore how good we are at getting the true picture from our communities, on understanding the lives that people lead, what methods can we use to understand the challenges people have, what motivates them and what would help them to lead happier, more fullfilled lives.

A discovery into data at the Co-op

Thanks for sharing your working out in the open Rob, its really helpful.
Cheers Ena

Digital blogs

We’ve been looking at how we handle our data. Over the years we’ve had recommendations from both in-house and consultancy teams about how to do this, but now we want to break the cycle and finish what we started.

Above all we’ve been thinking about how we can take a more ‘Co-op’ approach to our data. We pulled together a multidisciplinary team from across the business to look into this and they’ve become know internally as the ‘data layer’ team (explained in more detail by Rob in his being trusted with data post).

So, where to start?

We want to be trusted with data, and use data to inform what we do. The purpose of the discovery was to explore how we should go about creating the right conditions, both online and offline, to support this; and where to start.

We wanted to understand:

  1. How we deal with data now.

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How can we co-produce public services?

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?

Focusing on process

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.

Prevention

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.

Housing Festival: Fishbowls, failure and complexity

A presentation at Housing Festival, which was held in the Depot, an adaptable space for creative events

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

The Chartered Institute of Housing recently held the Housing Festival, which was billed as a new type of event to share new ways of working. Dyfrig Williams shares what he learnt below.

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.

What the hell is a Fishbowl?

A graphic of the layout of a fishbowl, which is Five chairs surrounded by concentric circles of chairsGood 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.

Iteration is key

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.

Learning from failure

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.

Working in complex environments

The Cynefin Framework, which is divided into the domains of Complex, Complicated, Chaotic, Simple and DisorderI 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.

Innovative audit: Learning and sharing with the Netherlands Court of Audit

Flags from the Netherlands' different provinces line the waterside in the Hague

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

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.

Looking at audit differently

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.

Data

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.

A photo of Steve Lisle presenting the Cutting Edge Audit work to the NCA

Steve Lisle presenting the Cutting Edge Audit work to the Netherlands Court of Audit

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.