Category Archives: Communications

The importance of recognising the relationship between research and language

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

What constitutes successful research and what role does language play in this? Ena Lloyd shares this post by Jeff Brattan-Wilson of Disability Wales, which is an independent, not for profit organisation established in 1972. They are a membership organisation of disability groups and allies from across Wales.

A photo of Jeff Brattan-Wilson of Disability Wales

Jeff Brattan-Wilson of Disability Wales

On St Valentine’s Day I attended the launch of The Wales School for Social Care Research at the Temple of Peace where I met Jeff Brattan-Wilson from Disability Wales. Jeff asked a great question to the keynote speaker, Peter Beresford OBE. It was one of those occasions where I really wanted to capture the message and share it wider. I chatted to Jeff afterwards and asked if would share his thoughts on our blog.  Here’s his story:

In February this year, I attended the launch of ‘The Wales School for Social Care Research’ at the Temple of Peace.

Peter Beresford OBE (Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Brunel University London and Professor of Citizen Participation, University of Essex) gave a really thought provoking presentation on the impact of research.

Peter was talking about how many significant pieces of research, written over many years, mainly written for specialist journals, usually sit in libraries, on shelves, often presenting as completely inaccessible to people who may not come from a research background.

His talk made me really think about all the research that has taken place in Wales, a large proportion of which could result in profound changes or make a huge difference in Wales, particularly in relation to minority communities.

A question came to me: how do we measure the impact of such research? Is it through the type of journal it is published in? How it successfully progresses one’s career? Or is it about how the findings are actually used in the community and whether they have any significant impact on people’s quality of life?

I asked Peter, “What can we do together to ensure that research is written in everyday language, so that many sectors in Wales can access it and use it as a benchmark to consult with the community?”

The answer was that really we all need to work together; universities, scholars and academics need to understand that they are creating barriers between themselves and those in the wider community by using complex, jargon-heavy language.

Language, we can argue, should be a pathway to promote meaningful conversation – not to be used to promote one’s own language superiority.

Afterwards, at my table, there was a discussion regarding service provision for older people in Wales. It struck me again that while there may well have been multiple strands of research taking place, and multiple solutions found, I fear that it may have all been lost due to the writing style, published only in specialist journals that few people will have heard of.

It’s easy to evidence that people from many different sectors would like to consult with the various communities that exist in society, e.g. various spoken language minority groups or even the British Sign Language community. (British Sign Language is the 3rd indigenous language in Wales, after English and Welsh). In order to consult with the community, it is important to use everyday language.

Now imagine – what if all that research had been written in everyday language? We would have a wealth of ideas, answers, solutions and creative thinking, all readily available at our fingertips.

From the work that Disability Wales has done, it’s clear that the best way to get around this is to co-produce with others. If an academic wants to research the views of a particular group, or the Government wants to consult on matters relating to a specific community, surely the best way to do this is in co-production with that very same group? That way those meaningful conversations can be had, in the everyday language used by those people. Common sense, no?

On writing this blog, I realise that perhaps by being open to how we use everyday language, we are likely to attract a much more diverse range of people who might consider undertaking research themselves, with the range of topics as a result becoming as equally diverse.

Hopefully, funders can take note and request that findings from research should be published in everyday language and in mainstream journals so that all sectors (and all people) can have equal access to it.

One other thing I felt was an important thing to take away from Peter’s presentation: he told us that his mother would read his work. She would tell Peter if she understood it, or not. If she could understand it, then it was suitable for most people; if she couldn’t, then Peter knew he was doing something wrong. I thought this to be a humbling and honest thing to share with the audience. I made a mental note to try to do something similar.

Reminds me of a quote that readily became one of my favourites:

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Nelson Mandela – Former President of South Africa

Being open by default

How might an audit office open up its systems so that information becomes open by default? Dyfrig Williams spoke with Tom Haslam about the approach of New Zealand’s Office of the Auditor-General.

The logo of the Office of the Auditor-General New Zealand

As part of the Wales Audit Office’s Cutting Edge Audit project, I am working on an Open Data prototype. During this work, colleagues told me that we could improve our approach to data. Not acquiring new data though – most colleagues said their biggest issue was better knowledge of, and access to, data that the office already held.

Our organisation has two specialist practices – financial audit and performance audit. This division facilitates specialism, so that we have colleagues with incredibly good knowledge in their fields of expertise. However, it also means that we have to work hard to break down organisational silos, sometimes reinforced by the systems we have in place.

Safeguarding data is an important feature of the way we have set up our information systems. Network folders are protected. Access is only available to specific teams and personnel, which means that the data within them is closed to others by default. Our SharePoint system is also set up in a similar way and the search functionality is not as good as it might be. All of this means that unless you know where the data is held, you’re unlikely to find it.

Learning from other audit offices

In my last post on the Queensland Audit Office’s work, I mentioned a well-travelled colleague called Tom Haslam. Tom has worked at the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) in Wellington, New Zealand. And while there, the OAG identified similar problems with how they organised and held their data.

To address this, the OAG implemented a new SharePoint-based information system and complemented this with some pilot cross-office groups known as ‘iShare’. These groups were based around cross-cutting functional topics (for example the Transport iShare) with the aim of helping to break down organisational silos and promote a one-team approach across the office.

Adopting a new information system gave the OAG an opportunity to debate the relative merits of information systems being open or closed by default. This was discussed across the office through various channels.

The previous information systems had encouraged a mainly ‘closed until open’ approach. But the general feeling was that closed data might prevent the office from making the most of the information that they held. The natural tendency of all auditors is to be cautious, so under a ‘closed unless open’ approach, setting information as ‘open’ might be viewed as a risk best avoided, even if this approach wasn’t justified. On a practical level, having information closed off requires various permissions and access rights to be set up. This alone can be a barrier to sharing data.

The OAG structured its new information system so that information was ‘open unless closed’ with metadata to help staff find what they wanted. This approach facilitated sharing, encouraging staff to think about how they could add value by joining up information. A default setting of ‘open until closed’ made staff think more carefully about why they should want to close off access, for example material with national security implications or identifiable personal information.

On a technical level, a cleaner configuration of the IT system without endless permissions and restrictions made the system run more reliably. The improved reliability of the new SharePoint system led to time savings, and increased staff confidence and satisfaction with IT. The iShare pilots encouraged group members to look actively for opportunities to work jointly and share information.

As these pilots progressed and reported their successes to the wider office, they encouraged a more open outlook across teams – ‘look we shared stuff and worked together and it hasn’t all turned to custard’ as our kiwi cousins might say.
Tom also thought there was a trust dimension. Handling sensitive client information is part of an auditor’s day job. Therefore, opening up data was a clear signal that the OAG was a high trust environment.

However, change is a journey and the OAG report that its experience is no different. It continues to encourage and aim for an environment where information is open until closed. But it hasn’t always been plain sailing since introducing the new information system. Some staff have embraced the opportunity to openly share information. Others have been more hesitant in sharing information more or are yet to change what they have always done to be more open. The OAG has had to periodically promote and reinforce the new approach. It recognises that a change of this magnitude won’t happen overnight or without a sustained effort. But the end – using collective knowledge to influence improvement and improve accountability – justifies the effort.

How this fits with the work of the Good Practice Exchange

Our Good Practice Exchange work on effective data sharing shows that this relies on the principle of adopting proportionate steps when safeguarding data.

In a previous blog post on whether data sharing was a barrier to public service improvement, I included a quote from the Information Commissioner, which said ‘People want their personal data to work for them. They expect organisations to share their personal data where it’s necessary to provide them with the services they want. They expect society to use its information resources to stop crime and fraud and to keep citizens safe and secure.’ It’s also well worth watching Anne Jones, the Assistant Information Commissioner for Wales, outlining how data can be shared effectively.

The upcoming General Data Protection Regulation will ramp up the safeguarding of data a few notches, but it’s also an opportunity to reconsider how we can share data effectively. Particularly, how we make sure that auditors are confident enough to make the most of data collection and sharing.

Previously I have blogged about our staff trust event, where we heard that trust is essential if public services are to take well-managed risks, innovate and deliver public services that are truly fit for the 21st century.

Tom is leading on a separate project within the Wales Audit Office to look at how we’re using our information systems including SharePoint. One option we’re considering is the use of SharePoint Online, which would make it easier for us to develop an area that could be accessed by external bodies and partners – a portal. Leigh Dodds ‘s post provides a good overview of what a portal might contain.

A portal would allow us to share data with audited bodies and partners more effectively. We’re testing this concept with a SharePoint based prototype portal for some of our health colleagues. Learning from this will feed back into Tom’s project. And if working on the Cutting Edge Audit project has taught me anything, it’s that joined up and collaborative approaches are the best way to ensure we add real value to the work that we’re doing.

The writing’s on the desk!

Melin Homes’ white board desks have promoted positive behaviour change, saved money and resources, and also improved Data Protection practice! Ena Lloyd blogs below on the story behind the desks.

I recently popped up to see Trisha Hoddinot at Melin Homes after Mari Arthur from Cynnal Cymru said what good work they were doing on their Car Scheme. Not only saving money and achieving positive sustainability results, but also showing some early signs of positive behaviour change too.

When I got to their office, I noticed all the desks in the Sustainable team were white, and on closer inspection, there were lots of written messages on them too! So I had to ask what the story was. Turns out they were white board desks. I’ll share information on their car scheme in a later blog! Here’s Trisha’s story on the white board desks.

A photo of a Melin Homes whiteboard desk, with writing on it

A Melin Homes whiteboard desk

We are the Sustainability Team, formed in February 2016 to capture what Melin Homes was doing in terms of sustainability in order to get the best out of everything we do. We wanted to lead by example, show things are possible and demonstrate that as a team, we could be totally paperless. We had no excuse, we were a brand new team – an innovative, but realistic team. We didn’t expect teams to go paperless overnight (we have less restrictions than some teams in terms of external auditing and record keeping), but if every team did a bit of what we are doing, it would really make a difference.

What we’ve done differently

Here’s how we’re encouraging others:

  1. Every month we advertise the top three teams who have reduced their printing on our internal TV screens.
  2. We’ve changed what we buy. All future Melin Homes desks will be white board desks.
  3. We make people think. There are laptops and tablets in every meeting room so that people can log on to make notes, share meeting agendas on screen and access documents, instead of using pen and paper.
A photo of Melin Homes staff using their whiteboard desks

Staff at Melin Homes using their whiteboard desks

We decided to use A4 sized whiteboards instead of post it notes and paper for notes, and purely by accident, we discovered that our white desks were in fact whiteboard desks, which can be used for ‘to do’ lists or notes for when you’re on the phone. Our excitement was not initially shared by everyone, but within 2 or 3 days less enthusiastic colleagues were coming around to the idea and asking for whiteboard markers so that they could join our revolution! Our customer contact team also use whiteboards, which not only reduces paper usage but also helps Data Protection as notes taken on calls with residents can be noted while the call is being resolved, but wiped out immediately after.

How we did it

For us, the only way to do it was without exception, no excuses, no printing and no notepads. When we meet with others and are given papers, we scan and save them on our team system and destroy them. One challenge that we did have to overcome involved one of my colleagues, who was updating information from our contractors onto a database. Historically, they would print one document off while updating another one on screen. To resolve this, we connected a second monitor.

A photo of a Melin Homes staff member using two monitors to save paper

A Melin Homes staff member using two monitors to save paper

What are the benefits?

The benefits are much wider than the environmental benefits and the financial savings on paper and printing costs. Staplers, pens, scissors, etc. aren’t needed now and our desks are much less cluttered. The added benefit is the opportunity to remind people that we are paperless when they ask to borrow a pen.

What learning would you share with others?

My first piece of advice for others on becoming ‘paperless’ would be that you should not enforce a massive expectation for change on all staff. It will alienate people immediately. It’s better to set the challenge and lead by example.

You should also use every opportunity to reinforce what you want to achieve. Whenever a member of our team attends an internal meeting, there is always a member of staff who apologises for having a paper and pen with them as they feel guilty. We don’t have to mention anything, but we always welcome the opportunity to remind people that we are Melin Homes’ first paperless team.

You do need to be aware of external meetings. I always feel the need to explain to others why I am using a phone or tablet to make notes, so they don’t think I’m being rude and texting friends or checking social media.

If you are positive about making the change, you can work around it. Good luck!

Getting to grips with effective time management

Managing your time in a busy office can be an insurmountable task in and of itself. In this post Dyfrig Williams looks at the changes he’s made to the way that he works.

A change in personal circumstances has recently meant that I’ve been working more from home. Not my home in Cardiff, but my partner’s home in Exeter. Kelly is an incredible writer, so instead of outlining how this started, I’ll signpost you to her fantastic post on our relationship and digital romance.

At this point I feel that I’ve got to say that I’m incredibly lucky to be working in an organisation that has helped me to balance my work commitments with my personal life, and also that I’m fortunate to work within a fantastic team who are incredibly supportive. Project wise, everything has been pretty seamless. This might be because we’re already geographically dispersed – Beth lives and works in North Wales and currently half of Chris’ working life is spent on secondment with Bangor University. Fortunately for us, Ena also works incredibly hard from our Cardiff office.

What I’ve learnt

A photo of Dyfrig Williams' calendar, which shows Trello notifications

My calendar, which is integrated with Trello

Remote working has its challenges, but it’s enabled me to rigorously examine how I work. To put this into context, I’m so disorganised that I’ve been on two time management courses. Neither of these changed anything, and I’m not convinced that a training course was the most appropriate way to solve the issue. However I’m also acutely aware of my weakness, so I set up systems and processes to help me combat my poor organisational skills. I now set up a Trello board for each topic that I work on, and the Wales Audit Office’s recent upgrade to Office 365 means that I can sync these to my Outlook Calendar so that I have regular updates when tasks are due.

More than anything, working from home has highlighted just how much time I waste during the day. I’m a firm believer that social media should be social, so I log on to our work accounts a few times in the day to learn from others and share key messages. However my defacto purpose was to undertake the fun and social learning that I love, and to avoid some of the more monotonous yet essential tasks that keep the Good Practice Exchange’s show on the road. Cue some difficult conversations with myself. Now I’m focusing my work around effecting change and evidencing outcomes.

The Herculean task of managing emails

I’ve asked a fair few members of our staff how they would like to hear about changes to our systems for our Cutting Edge Audit project. A fairly typical response was that email was probably best, but that staff are facing an avalanche of them. I don’t think we’re alone in facing this challenge – Halton Housing found that their average employee spends 40% of their working week dealing with internal email that adds no value to the business before they switched off their internal email.

One person I spoke to questioned how people had the time to go on Yammer. What I’ve found interesting is that people see a clear distinction between two modes of conversation that could both be used for the same purpose. Answering email sometimes seems to be an end in and of itself. Surely it’s distracting us from productive work in the same perceived way as Yammer does? I used to have my inbox open all day, which meant that I dealt with emails as and when they came in. I now only open my inbox a couple of times a day to answer emails. After all, no one emails in an emergency.

After reading Oliver Burkeman’s article on time management (which is also available as a podcast), I’m convinced that Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero, a rigorous approach to email that aims to keep our inboxes empty, leads people into answering emails at the expense of real work. And as Burkeman says, “becoming hyper-efficient at processing email meant I ended up getting more email: after all, it’s often the case that replying to a message generates a reply to that reply, and so on”. So email becomes a default mode of communication, whether it’s appropriate or not. The crux of everything is that by managing email in this way “you’re still Sisyphus, rolling his boulder up that hill for all eternity – you’re just rolling it slightly faster”.

Should we ditch the office?

Working from home also means that I have two days free of meetings per week, which gives me plenty of opportunity to undertake deep work away from distraction. I’m a social animal so I’m not advocating a move away from social interaction. Basecamp’s No Talk Thursdays and Library Rules sound like hell to me. I’m a firm believer that we need people to emotionally invest and buy in to the work we’re doing, and enjoying work is a key part of getting work done. However tools like Doodle can help us to think about what time suits us as individuals as we opt in to meetings, instead of scheduling based on time available in our calendars.

To me, Basecamp’s approaches show that there’s no such thing as a blanket rule for efficient working. By happenstance I’ve been able to look at what I do and make adjustments based on what works in different environments. This has all been written from a personal perspective, and not everyone works in the same way. It’s important that we look at what these tools can do in the context of how they can make us more productive as teams and individuals.

I started off this post by talking about work/life balance and how the Wales Audit Office has facilitated that. To me, this is at the heart of time management. If you’re forever looking to be more efficient so you can cram more work in, then the likelihood is that you’ll be unable to avoid the stress that you were looking to combat. But if you’re instead looking to better balance your life, you’re able to ensure that you’re focusing your work where it has the most value. This approach has made my work more fulfilling, and I’ve been able to focus on my personal life and do more of the things that matter to me. I’m at the beginning of my journey and I’m going to see how this develops. As I mentioned above, this isn’t a one-size fits all approach, so if you’ve got time management tips that work for you, I’d love to hear from you.

Making services more accessible for people who do not speak English or Welsh

Logo

The Good Practice Exchange Team is running a shared learning seminar focusing on access to services for people who do not speak English or Welsh. So why are we holding this event? Rachel Harries, Wales Audit Office, shares our thinking on this topic…

If someone can’t speak English or Welsh and needs a translator to access your services, would you know what to do?

The 2011 census tells us that more than 80 different languages are spoken in Wales. At that time there were about 20,000 people living in Wales whose main language wasn’t English or Welsh, a proportion of whom said that they couldn’t speak one or other language fluently. People whose main language is not English or Welsh are most likely to live in Cardiff, Swansea, Newport or Wrexham council areas, partly because these are UK Borders Agency dispersal areas for refugees and asylum seekers. But every area of Wales is home to some people who aren’t able to communicate easily in English or Welsh; for example, people who use British Sign Language as their main language and all councils have committed to accepting refugees under the Government’s resettlement programme.

The number of individuals and families affected is relatively small, but they are more likely than the wider population to need to access public services, either because of existing health conditions that may be linked to their sensory loss, or because of traumatic experiences they have undergone before arriving in Wales. Even worse, difficulties in making themselves understood can mean that people aren’t able to access the services they need (and are entitled to) and they may reach crisis point before they come to the attention of the people who can help them.

From our initial research into this subject we know that this is a situation that some public services may face relatively infrequently, so there’s a good chance that some organisations simply haven’t prepared to respond appropriately. But we also know that there is a lot of good work that is already happening in specific areas and organisations. Our seminar on ‘Making services more accessible for people who do not speak English or Welsh’ is a chance to share good work and allow people working in public services to think about realistic, practical steps their organisations can take to put suitable arrangements in place.

The seminar workshops will cover three topics – digital inclusion, housing and health. We knew we wouldn’t be able to cover all the issues that this diverse group of people might face so we had to think about what would be relevant to the greatest number. Housing was an obvious place to start as a roof over your head is such a fundamental need; without this foundation, other services won’t be able to make much of an impact.

Health was another important area as people who can’t speak English or Welsh find it difficult to access healthcare – even though they may be more likely than others to need it. As a result, their health can deteriorate before they get treatment, which is worse for them and potentially much more expensive for the NHS.

Finally, we chose digital inclusion as there are many opportunities for organisations to use new technology to communicate with people who don’t speak – or read – English or Welsh proficiently. The widespread use of smartphones and developments in software designed to increase accessibility means that there are now simple and cost effective solutions available that simply wouldn’t have existed a few years ago.

Because the group of people we’re talking about is so diverse, the seminar itself should be useful to a broad range of people, but in particular we thought it would be useful to public sector and third sector staff who are

  • equalities portfolio holders
  • equalities officers
  • policy leads
  • website accessibility managers
  • staff responsible for developing or delivering services for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to the UK
  • staff responsible for developing or delivering services for people with sensory loss

If this sounds like you, you can sign up for the seminar for free and find out about some practical and cost effective steps you can take to make sure that the people who need them aren’t shut out of the services you provide.

What I learnt from taking part in the #NatterOn Podcast

The way that we learn and consume information is constantly evolving. Dyfrig Williams reflects on what he learnt from taking part in the NatterOn podcast.

A copy of the NatterOn Podcast logo

For the last year or so I’ve been listening to podcasts to broaden my awareness of what’s happening in the world and to get a better understanding of how I can improve my work. The Podcast Addict app has been great in managing interesting podcasts because it brings a range of podcasts together into one feed.

Podcasts that I’ve found particularly helpful are:

I’d add the NatterOn podcast to that list too. It’s a podcast the looks at digital and marketing that’s put together by Helen Reynolds and Ben Proctor, who are two of the most switched on people I know. Helen gets how communications are being changed by social media more than anyone else I’ve ever met. And I’ve learnt so much about data from Ben. I particularly recommend his post on Data Maturity in local government, which has been the basis of my thinking on acquiring data with the Wales Audit Office’s Data and Tech Working Group.

So when they asked me to take part in the podcast, I jumped at the chance because I’d basically get an hour to pick their brains on interesting public service improvement topics.

So what did I learn?

Unsurprisingly, a lot. Helen shared a really interesting post on Unconscious Bias, which brings together many different types of bias into four main problems:

  • We aggressively filter information to avoid information overload.
  • Lack of meaning is confusing, so we fill in the gaps.
  • We need to act fast, so we jump to conclusions.
  • We’re working in complex environments so we focus on the important bits. Decisions inform our mental models of the world.

So what does this mean for public services? For me, it’s about awareness. If we take the time to actively reflect on these problems, then we can be more conscious of our bias as we interact with people and deliver services. We’ve already identified this as an issue at the Wales Audit Office, so we held an internal event to reflect on this. The Storify includes lots of useful resources, including Harvard’s Implicit Associations Test.

We also had a really good conversation about trust, PR and public services after Ben shared a post on the war on truth. Helen looked at the professions topping the Edelman Trust Barometer, which finds that people’s trust in government is generally a reflection of how content Britons are with their lot. This has big implications for how we interact with people from different socio-economic backgrounds.

As a project, we’ve undertaken work ourselves on looking at the importance of staff trust in public services. It’s interesting to take some of the lessons around staff trust and applying it in a wider context of working with communities:

  • Ability – have we shown that we are competent at doing our job?
  • Benevolence – do we have benign motives and a concern for others beyond our own needs?
  • Integrity – are we principled? Are we clearly acting in a fair and honest way?
  • Predictability – are people aware of what we’re likely to do?

After sharing a post on GCHQ’s Digital Approach, I also learnt from Ben that the analogy of frogs in boiling water is a complete lie.

What else did I share?

The Good Practice Exchange is also pondering how we can help public services develop their approaches to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. So I shared Chris Bolton’s post on Sustainable Decision Making and Simulation Games as it’s been useful in getting me to think differently about how we as a project might respond to the legislation in order to help services improve.

I’ve also been pondering about how we learn and develop in the workplace. In my ten years or so of working in public services, only three of the training courses I’ve attended have actually had any impact on my work. So how might we tie in our own learning and development with better organisations and improved public services? Carl Haggerty has written a great post on this.

Horses for courses

We have a slide that we use at our events that shows the many different that we share information – through our blog, social media, Randomised Coffee Trials, email and phone calls. We recognise that not everybody wants to receive information in the same form, and not everybody processes it the same way. One of the key principles of our work is that there isn’t a one size fits all approach for better services. Podcasts are another useful way of sharing learning and information, so it’s well worth having a listen to this and other podcasts to see whether they can help you improve your work and what you do.

Not upheld and partially upheld complaints: Getting to grips with complicated situations

Not upheld and partially upheld complaints usually occur when dealing with complicated situations. How can boards and staff ensure that the process is fit for purpose and built around the complainant? Dyfrig Williams and Ena Lloyd reflect on learning from the Good Practice Exchange’s Complaints Seminar.

Back in June we held a seminar on Embracing Complaints. The reason why we wanted to hold the seminar in the first instance was following a discussion with Nick Bennett, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. We got talking about the increasing number of complaints that they have been receiving, which led to Nick making a great presentation at the event on the cause of this and why the number of complaints are set to rise even further. It’s well worth having a look at the Storify for an overview of Nick’s points.

An image of Chris Bolton's Tweet, which shows the increasing trend of complaints to the Public Service Ombudsman for Waqles over the last five yearsJane Dale, Head of Organisational Learning at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board raised an interesting question at the event about not upheld and partially upheld complaints. Where a Health body believes that the correct care has been delivered but the patient feels that they had a bad experience, feeding the information back to a disappointed complainant can be challenging. It can also be difficult to present the information effectively to Board members to encourage strategic improvement. Do boards find it difficult to deliver improvement when the learning may be around soft skills instead of hard processes? It can be difficult to apply that learning and put it into practice across an organisation when it’s not in a binary context of right and wrong.

For example following an investigation it may be found that the correct clinical course was followed however the patient may feel that the communication / explanations were poor. Staff on interview may state that they made every effort to explain the situation however the patient remains unhappy. The challenge is whether to classify this as a complaint that is not not upheld and to explain why or to classify it as partially upheld. If it is classified as not upheld the patient continues to feel aggrieved and not listened to. To uphold it implies something was wrong and staff find that difficult if they have made every effort to communicate with the patient.

Nick Bennett added, ‘if in doubt go for the learning point rather than the tick in the box’

Complex and complicated situations

Public services are delivered in complex environments. Simple processes may work for relatively straightforward issues, however when feelings and viewpoints are brought into the equation, no process can give simply black or white answers when there are shades of grey.

An image of the Cynefin Framework, which shows good practice should be shared in complicated situationsThe Good Practice Exchange’s work fits with the rationale of the Cynefin Framework. You may notice that we never use the term ‘Best Practice’. That’s because it implies that there’s one right way of doing things that will work for every situation. This may work in a manufacturing environment, but when the relationship between cause and effect is muddy like it is in complicated environments like public service provision, a simple one size fits all response is unlikely to work.

So how does an organisation develop and manage a complaints process when feelings and viewpoints need to be taken into account? The danger with any policy or process is that once it’s formed, it sits on the shelf without being put into practice. So success lies in making the document a living, breathing thing that is continuously updated and improved based on practice and experience. There may be lessons that can be learnt from Digital Design principles in terms of working iteratively. Principle five of the Government Digital Service Design Principles says:

“The best way to build good services is to start small and iterate wildly. Release Minimum Viable Products early, test them with actual users, move from Alpha to Beta to Live adding features, deleting things that don’t work and making refinements based on feedback. Iteration reduces risk. It makes big failures unlikely and turns small failures into lessons. If a prototype isn’t working, don’t be afraid to scrap it and start again.”

Has the process been designed with the complainant in mind?

As Alan Morris said at the event, the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act gives organisations the opportunity to look again at their culture. It gives them the chance to look again at old processes and to question whether they’re still fit for purpose. Does the process focus on the needs of the organisation instead of the needs of the complainant?

Participation Cymru’s National Principles for Public Engagement in Wales may help organisations to think about how they might make the process focused on the complainant. They can provide prompts for useful questions. For instance, is the process effectively designed to make a difference? How do you feedback to people and how will you learn and share the lessons to improve the process of engagement?

By blogging on this, we’d really like to get some responses on social media so that we can share ideas and approaches with Jane and all interested parties to help public services improve. And by recognising that a person’s emotional response is at the centre of such complicated situations, organisations can help to ensure that they’re on the right path of public service improvement.