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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.

Sharing the learning of the Independent Review of the Impact of the Good Practice Exchange of the Wales Audit Office

The Good Practice Exchange has been in existence since late 2010/11. We set out what success would look like in 5 years, and we committed to an independent evaluation of what we were trying to achieve in 2016. So fast forward five years, and up popped the need to undertake an independent review.

So as with all things good practice, we (Bethan Smith and Ena Lloyd) would like to share the learning… 

What we do (fast forward to the next paragraph, if you know this bit)

GPX teamIn case you’re not familiar with our work, we promote improvement across public services in Wales through better knowledge exchange and shared learning. In our first year we were a team of two (Chris Bolton and Ena Lloyd), so we began with a modest programme, learning and reviewing as we went along.  We then expanded to a team of 4, with Dyfrig Williams and Bethan Smith (who took over from the very talented Tanwen) joining the team.  This meant we could now deliver a full programme of 20 events per year. As well as our programme of events, we provide support to various public service organisations in the form of a digital footprint (providing video content, blogging, social media etc. at their events), our Good Practice blog, Twitter, Pinterest and video content.

Independent Evaluation

The evaluation was undertaken by Professor Merali, from the Centre for Systems Studies at Hull University Business School. The review involved collecting data from:

  • Semi-structured interviews and conversations to capture narratives across a range of stakeholders inside and outside the Wales Audit Office
  • Attending Good Practice Exchange events
  • Reviewing the feedback from participants at our events
  • Reviewing responses of Chief Executives who participated in the recent Wales Audit Office Stakeholder Survey about all things related to the Good Practice Exchange

Views were captured from individuals from across public services, as well as a random mix of internal and external colleagues that had either attended, presented at, or shaped our events.

The review focused on three different areas:

  • Stakeholder perceptions about our role and our relationship with more mainstream audit functions
  • The value that we deliver through our information role and our support for learning and innovation
  • The way in which we achieve outcomes, and the implications that this has for sustainability and innovation

So what were the key messages?

Internal perceptions and relationships

blog picSupporting improvement was cited as one of the purposes of audit by all of the Wales Audit Office staff who were interviewed. The Good Practice Exchange was seen as a discrete part of the Wales Audit Office with a role that is related to, but distinct from the mainstream audit function.

Those in mainstream audit function felt that the Good Practice Exchange has a well-established presence in the Wales Audit Office; “…it seems to have always been there”.

While our role is perceived as being primarily an outward facing one, the Good Practice Exchange staff are proactive in developing connections and relationships with colleagues across the audit function.

External perceptions and relationships

The fact that Good Practice Exchange is an arm of the Wales Audit Office was highly valued by all the stakeholders who were interviewed, and there was a unanimous agreement that the Wales Audit Office “brand”;

  • Vested the Good Practice Exchange with authority, vouching for its impartiality and trustworthiness, and
  • “Gave credence” to speakers, information and ideas presented at Good Practice Exchange events.

Our support for learning and innovation is delivered in two ways; the event programme and the cumulative activity of Good Practice Exchange staff before, during and after events. This builds resources and capability to enable individuals to explore and exploit ideas for innovation and improvement.

“.. there is the thunderclap before the event… and a tide swell after each event whereby it builds on itself – information cascades through past and current attendees…”

We have developed a network of collaborators, contributors and “clients”, which has been key to our success. The analysis of stakeholder narratives showed that our success has been derived from our ability to incrementally generate, sustain and leverage networks and social, relational and reputational capital.

“… it is about individuals that are within that team- that drive, that energy, that thinking, that enthusiasm, that kind of passion for change and different thinking…and to be honest nobody is ever coming along and saying ‘this thing you are doing is wrong ‘. They are saying ‘have you seen there are different ways to do this and there are lots of opportunities out there, and you can pick any of them that you like.’ Nobody has ever said ‘that is wrong’…you can read into that and take from it whatever you wish. And I like that.  One size fits all is for me a disaster”

Conclusion

The report concluded that;

  • The Good Practice Exchange works well in its current form as a lean and agile unit of the Wales Audit Office
  • The Wales Audit Office brand is essential for our authority and credentials for impartiality and trustworthiness
  • Our events and activities are well-received and it is recognised as being an effective catalyst for change and improvement
  • Our modest size and our network mode of operation enable us to be agile and responsive
  • Our digital footprint and use of social media is effective in maintaining currency with its followers and collaborators
  • Over our lifetime of activity and engagement with diverse stakeholder constituencies we have accumulated a valuable and extensive network embodying social, relational and reputational capital

Going forward, our capabilities, resource base, reputation and positioning within the Wales Audit Office make the Good Practice Exchange well suited to support the Welsh public sector’s transition to models of service delivery that are aligned with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

Next steps

As a team, we are really pleased with the outcome of the report. We encourage openness and transparency and felt it was important to share the outcome both with internal colleagues and our external networks. The report has helped us to focus on the areas that are working well, and what we need to work harder on to improve.

We are always keen to hear feedback from colleagues, both internal and external, and over the coming months we’ll be working on our evaluation processes to make sure we fully take into account the comments we receive post events. After all, public services in Wales are changing and evolving and we need to ensure we do the same to meet the changing needs.

So watch this space for next phase of the Good Practice Exchange. And most importantly, if you have attended any of our seminars or webinars, thank you for your time, contribution and feedback, good and bad, as that’s what shaped us.

Making savings and planning ahead

In the following blog, the Wales Audit Office’s Local Government Manager Jeremy Blog - JeremyEvans talks about how savings planning plays a vital role in supporting council financial resilience, following the release of the Auditor General for Wales’ report Savings Planning in Councils in Wales.

Effective savings planning is critical for the effective stewardship of public money and the delivery of efficient public services – in other words balancing the books whilst continuing to deliver quality services to the public.

Councils need to have a medium term financial plan, setting out how, at a high level, they will operate within the income that they receive, be that from Welsh Government or other sources such as council tax. This plan needs to look three to five years into the future. We found that all councils have these plans in place.

Making up the shortfalls

Having identified the shortfall in income – the gap between what they have and what they need – councils then need to identify how to bridge that gap over the life of the plan. As you would expect, current year plans will need to be very detailed, whilst those for two or three years away less so.

The better councils are at achieving their savings, the less pressure there is to find one-off funding streams to balance budgets. There is also less pressure on services to continue to drive out unachieved previous year savings at the same time as grappling with making those set for the current year. Not having to use underspends, reserves or other windfalls to balance the budget also means that they can be used in a more thought through way – potentially helping councils to fund initiatives that will bring financial benefits in the future.

What does success look like?

To be successful, savings plans need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. We found that about half of councils have such plans in place.

Being clear how savings will be made is key to transparency. This way everyone understands what needs to happen and any concerns about the impact of the savings can be raised at an early stage.

Accurate savings value and realistic timescales are important. This ensures there is a clear benchmark against which services can be held to account and against which they can assess their progress, spotting any problems early.

As the financial pressures continue to bite, the ability of councils to just make across the board percentage cuts reduces.  Savings need to come from more fundamental changes to the way services are delivered or the way councils operate.  We found that these types of savings take longer to achieve as they are more complex and potentially higher risk.  With these transformational savings, there is a greater need to get the plan right.

Join us for an event

On 8 August, our Good Practice Exchange Team is holding a webinar on Building Financial Resilience in Public Services. The aim of the webinar is to share approaches to building financial resilience (including examples of good practice) and identifying the key barriers and how to overcome them.

The webinar is aimed at members and officers of public services in the following roles:

  • Heads of Service
  • Service/operational Managers for major operational delivery
  • Budget holders
  • Section 151 Officers and Finance Managers
  • Cabinet Members with budget and planning as part of their portfolio.

The webinar will be recorded and will be available on YouTube around 1-2 weeks after the live webinar on 8 August. This allows us to add English and Welsh subtitles.

You can register for the webinar on our website or by contacting a member of the Good Practice Team by email: good.practice@audit.wales.

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