Category Archives: Governance

Telling the WE Story

In this blogpost Dr Rachel Hughes, Head of Insight at Sport Wales, looks at why she thinks telling the WE story is important for Wales’ wellbeing.

I’ve had the privilege to work alongside some great people in helping to shape the forthcoming shared learning seminar on The Future of Governance: effective decision making for current and future generations. Many of us in the Group have not worked together before. We came together for a shared purpose, looked at things through different lenses, and have developed a seminar, which we hope, is creative and stretching. Central to the seminar, as Alan Morris articulated in his recent blog, is understanding and developing behaviours that unlock our resources in far more creative and sustainable ways.

Through OUR work, WE have listened and looked for the emerging entity. WE have asked ourselves, what do WE want to happen here? What’s best for US, all of US? What’s OUR next step? WE have consciously tried to help seminar participants look for the unseen threads that connect US all. To tell the WE story; the story of possibility.

The cover of The Art of Possibility: transforming professional and personal life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin ZanderIf any of you have read The Art of Possibility: transforming professional and personal life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander then it’s likely that you know what I mean by telling the WE story. If you haven’t, I highly recommend reading it. This book sparked my thinking about where we’re at as a leadership team in Sport Wales – our behaviours, our connections, our development, our possibilities – and the unfolding of these in the context of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

Typically when we work in an organisation, we naturally view the world from the inside looking out. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act encourages us to also have an outside-in perspective. To see things through the eyes of others – of (potential) collaborators, of service-users, of citizens, and most importantly of future citizens – and to look at what is possible. In order to do this, we need to shift our operating system; the matrix that guides our behaviour.

In Sport Wales we are trying to do this in two interconnected ways.

The first is about understanding and measuring our impact, and telling the compelling story (of sport). We’re using theory of change to help us with this. Through workshops over the coming months, we’re looking to draw out the theories of change that link our key activities to key outcomes for both sport, and Wales’ wellbeing.

In doing this, we recognise that there could be a tendency for us to slip into process-mode and not consider that whilst results are the outcome, people (our behaviours) are the source.

So built into this work is the opportunity for us to both pause and reflect on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And to develop a new lens through which we will be looking at things. One that incorporates the wellbeing goals, the ways of working, and for us, the DNA of sport (the things that need to be considered in order for someone to be hooked on sport – motivation, confidence, opportunity and resources, awareness, and the experience). This lens should have citizens at the centre, and will help us have an outside-in perspective.

The second is concerned with developing our leadership team. We know that our (leadership) behaviours determine results, and we are giving this increased focus. Importantly, not as individuals, but as a team. This is where I have found the WE story most helpful.

The WE story “points to a relationship rather than to individuals, to communication patterns, gestures and movements rather than to discrete objects and identities. It attests to the in-between. Like the particle-and-wave nature of light, the WE is both a living entity and a long line of development unfolding.” And in essence, this is what we’re moving to as a leadership team.

WE need to practice being US. US as a leadership team in Sport Wales, but also US, all of US in Wales, for the wellbeing of future generations.

By telling the WE story, each of us becomes a conduit for this inclusive entity. It points the way to a kind of leadership that is based on the courage to speak on behalf of people and for the long line of human possibility.

We’re at the start of this journey, one that will be in constant motion! I hope that by sharing our current thinking and approaches that this it will provide opportunities for debate, openness, further learning and sharing, and a narrative around US.

Here are some steps to help US practice :

  1. Tell the WE story – the story of the unseen threads that connect us all, the story of possibility
  2. Listen and look for the emerging entity
  3. Ask: what do WE want to happen here? What’s best for US, all of US? What’s OUR next step?

2016: The year of possibility

sunrise in North Wales

North Wales

What does good governance look like in the context of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act? Alan Morris looks at what the act means for Welsh public services and how the Good Practice Exchange’s seminar can help.

Wales is beginning to demonstrate its ability as a nation to work with what it’s got in a far more creative and sustainable way. Transition Towns, Fair trade, organ donation and the Well-being of the Future Generations Act are just a few examples.  We are beginning to figure what works for us as a nation, and often it isn’t what we have done before. Change, creativity and new ways of working also call for us to review our approaches to decision making, governance and assurance.

The WFG Act sets the bar high in its ambitious aspirations and, if those aspirations are to be delivered, there is a need for us all to fundamentally change the way we do business.  The Act will transform the way we make decisions and will require us to consider the implications of those decisions on future generations. This means re-thinking our approach to governance.

Public services have finite resources.  The word resources is often taken to mean money and when people talk about limited or diminishing resources what they mean is ‘less cash’. But the WFG Act asks us to think about resources much more broadly, including:

  • staff, including their skills, experiences and motivation;
  • buildings, plant and equipment;
  • knowledge and information;
  • the environment and ecosystems;
  • community resources, including families, volunteers and local organisations; and
  • less tangible ‘social capital’ such as good will and reputation.

But it’s in our gift to make the most of the way we work with all of these resources. The WFG Act gives us the ability to use these resources in a far more creative and sustainable way. And one of the keys to unlocking these resources is changing behaviour.

If we in the public services continue to look at things from the same perspective, then we run the risk of continuing to deliver the same outcomes. The Act provides an opportunity to look at things differently, do things differently and deliver better outcomes.

The WFG Act places a duty, and a challenge, on public audit too. We must understand and embrace the challenges and seize the opportunities the Act offers if we are to play our part in improving public services for the people of Wales.

The Wales Audit Office is currently considering the encouragingly high level of response by public bodies to the Auditor General’s recent consultation on how he should reshape his audit approach in response to the WFG Act. The Auditor General will be holding an event in the autumn, in conjunction with the Future Generations Commissioner, to share his views on what the results of the consultation mean for his audit approach. Both the AGW and the FG Commissioner will also take the opportunity to set out how they intend to work together.  More details of that event will follow in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, we are already beginning to work in different ways. For example, we are holding a shared learning seminar that will provide an opportunity for public bodies to explore the implications of the WFG Act, in terms of decision making behaviours and governance. The seminar will involve key decision makers from the 44 public bodies who come under the act in a very practical day on 6th July in Cardiff and 14 July in North Wales. We are working in collaboration with the WLGA, Welsh NHS Confederation, FG Commissioner’s Office, Centre for Public Scrutiny and the Welsh Government to hold an event that is different from, but also builds upon, the well-established shared learning seminars run by the Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Team.

The seminar will give delegates the opportunity to share and learn from each other in a, safe workshop environment. Instead of providing expert speakers or presenting case studies, the focus will be on enabling participants to share each other’s experience and expertise.  We will ask them to work through what decision making behaviours might help and what might hinder, as they seek to maximise their contribution to the well-being goals by applying the sustainable development principle.  We will also ensure that we capture ideas, suggestions and examples on the day and share this information widely online.

In years to come, wouldn’t it be great to look back at the year 2016 as the year when Wales took another important step along its journey to be an even more sustainable, joined up country. A key factor will be decision making that seeks to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, by taking account of the sustainable development principle.

The WFG Act is ambitious and raises high expectations. However, our football team has shown us that if we combine our talents in a team effort with effective leadership – we can perform beyond expectations. As Chris Coleman said after the game against Russia, geographically we may be a small nation, but if you judge us on our passion I think you could say we were a continent…’


Twitter – Gareth Bale

We also intend to use social media to encourage discussion and awareness within the WFG Act community before, during and after the conference from across Wales. The hashtag for use in connection with any tweets sent is #WAOGov

There will be a series of blogs from the seminar partners over the next few weeks. Please get involved and share your ideas and views on developing effective governance for the future public services in Wales.

Have you got the right people on your board?


It’s been a busy couple of months for us here at the Good Practice Exchange. Far from winding down to the festive period, we’ve run events looking at issues for trustees and in governance. We’re now in the process of collating all the outputs together and making sure we get them sent out to attendees and shared through social media.

As a team we try and ensure that our events reach as many different sectors as possible, as we believe that there’s a lot that we can learn from each other. It’s a point that the Auditor General for Wales made in the opening session at the Trustees seminar – that governance issues aren’t confined to either big or small public service organisations.


It was fascinating to see common issues crop up at both the Trustees event, where the audience was predominantly from charity and community groups, and the Governance event, where people were mainly board members and staff from the public sector.

At the governance events I facilitated Grant Thornton’s session on ‘Approaches to governance from further afield’. In the discussion following the presentation we heard from delegates on issues of ensuring that the right people are on the board.

There are lots of resources on our Trustees Pinterest Board that relate to this. In 2013 Norma Jarboe’s presentation on Balanced Boards dealt with the topic head-on, and following up from that event we recorded a short podcast with Ray Singh from Velindre NHS Trust discussing their skills based boards.

At this year’s event Anna Bezodis from Wales Council for Voluntary Action and Alex Swallow of Young Charity Trustees ran a workshop specifically on having the right people on your board and succession planning.  There are some great points in the presentation on thinking about the skills available on your board. Vicky Holberry of Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham helpfully shared a training-needs-analysis, which can be used by organisations to identify skills gaps.

As ever, we can accomplish a lot by sharing and working together. We always share the delegate list with everyone who attended the seminar with a list of ideas people are sharing and things they’d like to learn. Hopefully the cross-organisational and cross-sector learning will continue, and we will of course share any good practice that we unearth along the way.


Protecting your charity

Trustees Shared Learning Seminar

Our Trustees seminars are inspiring affairs. There’s nothing like working in a room full of people who are giving their time and expertise for free to make you realise there is a lot of good in the world we live in. Having worked in the voluntary sector for eight years before starting work at the Wales Audit Office, I’ve got a bit of an emotional investment in the sector too.

In the opening session of both days we heard from Mike Palmer and Chris Bolton talk about the Wales Audit Office’s public interest reports. As an organisation we really want to avoid the kind of circumstances where we need to produce them, so these seminars are our way of trying to prevent or reduce the likelihood of this happening in the future.

Trustees Seminar - Seminar Ymddiriedolwyr

I attended the Charity Commission’s workshops at both events, where it was clear that the best way to protect your charity is to have the right processes in place at the start. It sounds like an obvious message, but many people said that their focus was very much on the work of the charity, and very often the process tended to be forgotten about.

It was interesting to hear about the steps that organisations are taking to ensure that they manage risks. One trustee mentioned ‘the press test’ – how would their actions be viewed if they were covered in detail by the press? It’s a simple approach that encourages trustees to reflect on their decisions and to avoid making decisions in haste. The bottom line is that everything they do has to be in the best interest of the charity.

There was also discussion about inductions and training. Do trustees have a clear idea of what is expected of them? Have they been given the right information to enable them to get to grips with their roles effectively?

We had some fascinating discussions about what to do if something does go wrong. At the Cardiff seminar Rosie Stokes from the Charity Commission confirmed that using charitable funds for legal purposes is a valid use of charitable funds. It’s important that charities deal with issues effectively and rigorously if they want to protect their charity.

You can hear Rosie discuss the workshop in the above video, and the slides from the Charity Commission workshop are also online. It’s worth having a look at both so you can think about the messages within them and contrast them with what your organisation is doing. One of the key messages that came out of the event is that governing documents set out the aims and objectives of your charity. And if you’re working to those aims and objectives, then you’re far more likely to be delivering the effective services that your beneficiaries need.


#scrusm – sharing scrutiny practice online


We received fantastic feedback on the Scrutiny in the Spotlight Conference that we jointly held with the Centre for Public Scrutiny, Welsh Local Government Association, Welsh Government and Cardiff Business School last year, and a big part of its success was the networking aspect. Councillors, Officers and wider support organisations each had the chance to share issues, but also good practice in their area.

But getting people together from every corner of Wales (and beyond) is an expensive business. We’re looking to continue that networking and information sharing by taking it online.


At 6:30pm on Tuesday 16 September we’ll be taking part in a Twitter chat on scrutiny that’s being facilitated by Dave Mckenna of City and County of Swansea. You can take part in this chat by using the hashtag #scrusm, where the discussion will be centred around getting the public involved.

Virginia Hawkins and Kevin Davies of the National Assembly for Wales ran a workshop on the topic at last November’s event, where they shared their toolkit on involving the community. In this chat we’re looking to hear about any tools, resources or approaches that councillors or officers are using, any issues they’re facing and good things that they’re doing.

We recognise that not everyone is on Twitter so we will be producing a Storify to capture the tweets so that everyone gets to see what happened, just like we do at all our events.

If you’re yet to take to Twitter but think that this might be for you, there are some helpful online guides like this one from Mashable and useful videos like the one below from Hootsuite. There are also some resources on Twitter chats that can help you get to grips with the format.

So whether you’re looking to learn more about how others are approaching their scrutiny, or whether you’d like to share your experiences, we’d love to have you involved in the chat. Because by helping each other to avoid what doesn’t work and sharing what does, we can all play a part in improving public services.


Gwent Scrutiny Challenge

jessica_portrait_jpg250x166Readers of my CfPS blog will know that I’m a fan of the present Welsh approach to scrutiny and its central positioning in the drive to improve public services: this quick blog is just to confirm that my fan status remains undiminished! I’m on my way back from another successful, packed, thoughtful and challenging conference about scrutiny in Wales – this time organised by a handful of scrutiny officers from the Gwent authorities of Monmouthshire, Caerphilly, Newport, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent, as part of their plan to keep up the momentum from the epic Scrutiny in the Spotlight Conference in Wales last year.

If you’re on Twitter you can follow the debate and questions via the hashtag #GwentChallenge14, but a few things struck me throughout the morning:

  • Yet again, how the quality and effectiveness of scrutiny depends not on what scrutineers do but on the quality and effectiveness of the engagement and information they get from others – which all derives from the culture of the leadership, both political and managerial. There was some frustration over the apparent criticism of scrutiny for factors outwith their control, and some challenge back to the regulators over who scrutinised them. However, a challenge back to stay focused on what is in their control and to keep asking the questions, however difficult that can be, was reasonably well-received!
  • Another common theme reflected the vital importance of the quality of member leadership and contributions, whether how to deal with members who don’t attend the pre-meeting and then spend the main meeting grandstanding, or how to raise the quality of planning, meeting agendas and questioning skills. Mandatory training was demanded by a few delegates: is this something that should be considered more widely?
  • The scale of the financial challenge facing local authorities – and other partners – is looming ever larger in everyone’s minds. My response on the event’s Question Time panel was twofold: in scrutiny, less is more – financial restraints mean that robust prioritisation is even more important to ensure scrutiny is focusing its limited resources on the issues that really matter. And secondly, help is at hand! We have just produced a new guide to finance scrutiny, as part of our Welsh Government-funded programme, developed in partnership with Grant Thornton, packed full of tips, good practice examples, clear advice to understand a council budget monitoring paper and killer questions to ask.

CfPS logoLook out for this new guide, which is launched at the end of the month, on our website: and come to the free launch event on the morning of 26 June in Cardiff. The Minister, Lesley Griffiths AM, is launching it, and there will be opportunities to discuss common financial challenges and hear how others are tackling them. Get in touch with to register your interest in attending.

Jessica Crowe, Executive Director, CfPS


Reducing the burden of reporting

Future Generations Bill SeminarThe Future Generations Bill will mean big changes for public services in Wales. I was fortunate enough to facilitate the workshop by the Integrated Reporting Council and the Crown Estate at our Future Generations Shared Learning Seminar in February, where I had the opportunity to listen to both Mark Gough and Kate Jefferies outline how Integrated Reporting might benefit an organisation, especially in relation to the bill. You can see both Mark and Kate discussing their session in the below video, and the presentations from plenary session and the workshop are available on the seminar page on the Wales Audit Office website.

I really enjoy the part of the workshops where participants tell us about the approaches that organisations are taking and the issues they’re facing. Having invited people from across public services to attend, it would be rude not to hear from them about their good practice and to make the most of the experience available to us in the room.

One of the main fears in the workshop was that the bill would result in an extra layer of bureaucracy for councils who are already over-burdened with reporting needs.
It was fascinating then to hear about Wrexham County Borough Council’s approach, as they’ve put together a ‘Golden Thread’ where each level of reporting feeds in to the next.

4. Reporting


This means that the staff appraisals have a clear path to the council plan, the themes of which mirror the Local Service Board’s ‘Our Wrexham plan’. It’s great to see how effective planning of the process has meant that each staff member’s personal objectives can be directly linked to the aims of public service organisations in Wrexham.

It was fantastic to hear how this has resulted in streamlined reporting – the data is now both simpler and clearer. It also avoids reporting the same thing at different levels and frees up time so that staff can spend it directly on providing services.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can read the case study in full here, and if your organisation is undertaking similar work, we’d love to hear more about it.


The Networked Councillor


Towards the end of last year I ran a couple of Networked Councillor sessions at a brilliantly well organised Scrutiny conference in Wales. One of the things that keeps impressing me when I visit Wales is the very real commitment to learning and exploring good practice that you find within both national and local government and one of the ways in which this conference manifested this was in asking each of the facilitators to contribute a follow up blog post. Here, rather belatedly is mine.

I suppose the first thing to note is the, to my mind at least, incredibly strong link between the thinking behind Networked Councillor and opportunities which the scrutiny function offers to really explore ways of doing things differently. This is additionally true in Wales where the Local Government Act (Wales) of 2011 has further opened up access to the scrutiny function within local government. As a result there is a lot of work being done in Wales to explore ways in which we can better involve the public in the process of accountability.

What I appreciated about the conference – and which has stayed with me – was the emphasis on the need to create a culture of accountability. One of the most powerful sessions for me was on the Mid-Staffs review and the fact that the failings there were as much down to organisational behaviours as they were down to process or data.

The Networked Councillor is intended to explore ways to bring about behaviour change as much as it is a way of providing participants with practical views. The starting point for the programme is the need for networked, open, co-productive and digitally native representatives and these are deliberately presented as behaviours rather than a checklist of technical skills. If we apply these same cultural facets to the democratic process then we can see very strong alignment with the way in which we might offer the public an immediate and engaging opportunity to engage through the scrutiny process. Imagine a scrutiny process which is truly open, exists as part of a network of conversations and participation, and makes sense to an increasingly digital and networked society.

Wales is already very well networked, and though the Williams report and resulting reorganisation is going to disrupt the nature of those networks it is not going to change this fact. Because of this I think it’s a place where we could consider what happens after we have a critical mass of networked councillors, and where we can start to open up questions about what a networked democracy might look like. Wales is actively experimenting with the way in which it makes decisions, the way in which government works with the public and in a very real way the way in which it organises the infrastructure of government – why not think about how we might design a democratic system for the networked society?