Thanks for sharing your working out in the open Rob, its really helpful.
Thanks for sharing your working out in the open Rob, its really helpful.
Thanks for sharing your working out in the open Rob, its really helpful.
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?
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.
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.
Recently, I’ve been working with the Chartered Institute of Housing to share learning from their Frontline Futures work with wider public services. This led to me being invited to moderate a Fishbowl discussion to share stories about solutions and innovations at the Housing Festival, which was being held in the Depot in Cardiff.
Good question. I had to undertake a bit of research beforehand to get my head around what it was I was being asked to do. Essentially, it’s a chance to discuss a topic in a loosely structured format.
A number of chairs surround a smaller group of chairs. A few participants are selected to fill the fishbowl, while the rest of the group sit on the chairs outside the fishbowl. The moderator introduces the topic and the participants start discussing it. The audience outside the fishbowl listen in on the discussion and can take part by sitting in an empty chair in the middle, and then one of the speakers in the middle must make their way to the chairs on the outside.
Esko Reinikainen spoke about the importance of iteration in his presentation at the start of the day. We got the opportunity to iterate our Fishbowl by gathering feedback from participants. We started off a bit slowly in the first fishbowl because I wanted to try and ease everyone into the process by focusing on questions. By the end of the first session though, we’d built up a real head of steam and participants were really engaged in challenging what they were hearing and how services could be improved. So the second time around we dashed through the initial discussions and encouraged people to contribute in the centre of the circle. If anyone’s planning on moderating a fishbowl, this meant that everything flowed a bit better and we had more of an opportunity to share good practice.
Esko also mentioned Amy C. Edmondson’s concept of Teaming during this presentation, which starts with helping people to become curious, passionate, and empathic. I referenced another of Edmondson’s concepts, her Spectrum of Reasons for Failure. I think that this is a really handy tool for looking at failure and identifying subsequent action. We spoke about Trust a fair bit during our chats (and I’ve previously written this post about why trust is important to innovation), and I think that her dissection of what warrants blame is a really helpful tool for us as public sector staff. There are of course times where failure is not an option in public services, but too often we apportion blame for failure in inappropriate circumstances.
Ian from The Wallich shared a gut-wrenching story from the stage about how he became homeless. He could have appeared on the radar of any one of a variety of public services (health, social services, housing or the third sector), but it was The Wallich who helped him in his time of need. The complexity of his circumstance means that in this type of situation we should be looking to share lessons about what we can do better, yet too often a fear of blame is a barrier to learning, sharing and innovating within public services.
I shared The Cynefin Framework during the discussions, which we have used at the Good Practice Exchange to help us think about how we share practice. In simple circumstances where we can predict everything that’s going to happen, there is one right way of doing things that we can clearly apply to what we do, for instance in controlled environments like manufacturing. Yet in complex environments in which housing and other public services often operate, there is no one size fits all approach. This is when many of the approaches that Esko spoke about are most appropriate – we need to test, prototype and iterate.
We also need to think about how we can minimise our own organisational complexity so that we reduce our potential pitfalls. Do we need to create more policies for every conceivable circumstance? Can we move from process to productivity in order to empower staff to make better decisions instead? Paul Taylor has written a great post on this, and Owain Israel from Charter Housing gave a really good example of putting this into practice as they’re scaling back their formal surveying work to look at more flexible ways of checking properties. Neil Tamplin pointed out that this was a rare case of someone looking to make themselves obsolete, and Paul has written another good post that’s worth checking out on planned obsolescence as a driver for innovation.
Neil spoke about working out load on the panel, and I haven’t come across anyone in any public service who does this better than him. His Braindumps are a brilliant example of working in the open as they’re incredible roundups of his working week and interesting resources. This is so important because whilst there may not be a one size fits all approach that works for us in complex environments, there’s nothing stopping us from learning from others and adapting what other people are doing. Quite aptly, Neil has already written a great post on the event, and I couldn’t say this better than him:
“If your purpose has something to do with improving the lives of people who need housing then I would argue you are morally obligated to share anything that advances that cause, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.”
Having talked so much about taking risks and learning from failure in this post, I wanted to finish by saying how great it was that the Chartered Institute of Housing took a chance on a different format and a different type of venue. It was certainly very different from a traditional public service event, which certainly provoked a few discussions and gave me a few talking points when meeting new people. Hopefully you all took as much away from the event as I did so that we can all make a practical difference into making people’s lives better.
What can the Wales Audit Office learn from the Netherlands Court of Audit’s approach to innovation? Dyfrig Williams visited The Hague to see how they work and to share the work of the Good Practice Exchange.
In May I had the opportunity to visit the Netherlands Court of Audit to learn more about their Doen project (which means ‘Doing’) and their approach to innovation. Their whole approach stems from learning by doing, which is a fantastic mantra to have. Throughout the visit, staff openly shared their successes and failures from very practical change projects. Their safe to fail space mindset is key for providing the space for that learning and improvement.
The month before I had shared the work of the Good Practice Exchange with Mark Smolenaars and Sanne Kouwenhoven from the Netherlands Court of Audit in Cardiff. Myself, Steve Lisle (who is leading on the Cutting Edge Audit project) and Mike Usher (our Sector Lead for Health and Central Government, and who also leads our Investigative Studies work) were fortunate enough to be invited to the Netherlands to share our work with their colleagues, and also to learn more about their approach to innovation, so that we can adapt their approaches to suit our needs.
At the Good Practice Exchange we always say that there is no “one-size fits all” approach. We may have many things in common with the Netherlands Court of Audit (we have about the same number of staff and therefore roughly the same challenges in identifying capacity and scaling up change initiatives), but there are also some differences too (the Dutch public sector includes casinos – I can’t even imagine what that audit looks like!).
When we started looking at their approach to innovation, one of the key things that struck me was that they have a variety of staff that contribute very different things to the organisation. Not only does this avoid a groupthink mentality, but it also brings a lot of different skillsets to their work.
We had a presentation from Linda Meijer, who is an auditor who has become a designer. It was fascinating to hear how her design skills led to her asking different questions of data as she illustrated their findings. This was particularly useful on an audit of products that have the CE mark, which shows that products are safe and can be sold in the European market.
We also discussed how the Netherlands Court of Audit have an Investigative Journalist working for them, which was particularly useful for us at the Wales Audit Office as we have our own Investigative Studies team. Jaco Alberts’ insight was fascinating as he talked about how he applies his expertise to his role.
We also heard about how they shared their expertise through a participatory audit of higher education institutions. They asked members of each student council to check pre-investments and to look at how the institution’s budget framework is working, which meant that they had the opportunity to make the most of the knowledge that is available within institutions. This fascinating approach gave us food for thought as we thought aloud about working to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, as one of the five ways of working that’s outlined is involvement.
One of the areas that really fascinated me was the Netherlands Court of Audit’s use of data, as I have been leading on the Wales Audit Office’s work on acquiring data as part of our Cutting Edge Audit work. Their involvement of people with different backgrounds even filters into their data work, as we heard how they make the most of data interns.
As with any practice sharing, it was fascinating to hear how the Netherlands Court of Audit are dealing with challenges as well. Roline Kamphuis shared how the organisation have set up communities of practice around R, which they hope will help the organisation to free up the capacity of its data staff. We heard how they currently spend much of their time cleaning data, which means that they can make shared data available for wider use. By cleaning the data effectively at the start of the audit, they make work much easier for staff as it progresses.
They also spoke about why they particularly use R and SPSS, as they have a script that can be used for an audit trail. By developing a pre-programmed script in R, they can ensure that outputs fit house style. Also because R generates word and excel documents, it means that auditors can see easily see and understand the steps that have been taken when working on that data.
Rudi Turksema shared how the Netherlands Court of Audit had run an accountability hack, which meant that they were able to involve external stakeholders in their data work. By working in partnership with a range of organisations, they were able to open up access to a wide variety of datasets on the day. I mentioned that the Good Practice Exchange have supported the NHS Hack Day in Cardiff, but that I wasn’t sure that we had enough capacity as an organisation to run such an event yet. Yet they encouraged us to look at putting a similar event on as it had helped them to share their work and involve a wide range of people. We’ve already seen what happens when you make data open and accessible, as Ben Proctor and the Open Data Institute have already started using Google Fusion Tables to create maps and add value to our first open dataset. This certainly gave me food for thought for how such an event might help us to further develop our use of data and our own data maturity.
I learnt so much from my trip to the Netherlands. It was fascinating to see the parallel journeys that both of our organisations are taking to ensure that audit is fit for purpose in the twenty first century. Thanks to everyone at the Netherlands Court of Audit for your welcome and your hospitality – you’ve certainly helped inform our learning journey and your expertise has been invaluable in helping us to move forward with our own innovation work.
After four years at the Wales Audit Office, Dyfrig Williams will be leaving the Good Practice Exchange team on 11 August. Below, he blogs about his time with the organisation and where he’s off to next.
I’ve been interested in public service improvement since starting my career at the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, and this job has felt like getting paid to do my hobby for a lot of the time. I’ve been able to combine my personal interests, where I’ve attended events like GovCamp Cymru and LocalGovCamp, with my professional life where I’ve worked closely with both internal and external stakeholders in order to really interrogate what good public services should look like in the twenty first century.
I joined the team from a public engagement background having worked at Participation Cymru for three years. I’ve never lost the belief that public services work best when people have an opportunity to shape those services that they access. In some senses, it’s been really fascinating seeing how developments in technology have pushed that even further in recent years. Whichever sector or service you’re working in, there’ll usually be someone at an event that you’re going to who will be talking about the implications of digital for your work. And with that comes the inevitable focus on user needs that is the basis of successful digital services.
There are so many things about the job that I love, not least that it’s never failed to challenge me. That challenge has sometimes come as I’ve often been a generalist working with specialists to share their story. It’s sometimes been an intellectual challenge from social media, where this job has helped to connect me to people who are doing great things and are pushing the boundaries of what they do. And sometimes it’s been the supportive challenge of my colleagues, who are a fun and amazing bunch of people to work with. Thanks Beth, Chris and Ena, you’re legends! I’m going to miss your company and lunchtime leftover feasts.
I’m also leaving Wales, which means that I’m leaving behind an exciting time for Welsh public services and the Wales Audit Office. We’re one year in to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, which shapes the long term goals for Wales. As Nikhil Seth of the United Nations said, “what Wales is doing today the world will do tomorrow”. This is challenging and exciting for the Wales Audit Office too, as we grapple with what effective audit of this act looks like looks like.
We’re also a year into the Social Services and Wellbeing Act, which again puts people at the heart of public service delivery. I worked with the Citizens Panel for Social Services in Wales (which was and continues to be one of the most incredible pieces of work that I’ve been involved in), which fed into the development of the act.
This experience will hopefully stand me in good stead when I begin my new role at Research in Practice as their Learning Event Co-ordinator. Research in Practice support evidence-informed practice with children and families. Here’s their Triangulation Model:
In my current role we occasionally get asked why good practice is a bad traveller (see this post by Chris Bolton for a brilliant riposte), forgetting that we’re implementing changes in tremendously complex environments. I really like how Research in Practice’s theory is grounded in practice and people’s everyday lives, and I’m excited to be a part of that.
I’m also really excited by the wide range of learning opportunities that they offer. One of our core principles at the Good Practice Exchange is that one size doesn’t fit all, so it’s great to see a project that doesn’t focus on training as the answer to all public service needs, as is often the way within the public sector. The way that they approach Change Projects in particular to identify solutions to specific challenges is fascinating.
And on a personal level, I had to cancel my interview last minute after my uncle had a heart attack to support my family. That they re-arranged the interview and gave me another opportunity speaks volumes for how people-centred they are, and I’m really looking forward to repaying them for the opportunity that they’ve given me.
I’ll be coming back to Cardiff for GovCamp Cymru, which is the one day unconference about government and public services in Wales. I hope to catch up with a lot of you who have made my time at the Good Practice Exchange so memorable, and I look forward to catching up properly with my Wales Audit Office colleagues before I go. And thanks very much to you for reading my posts here over the last four years. I’ll continue to post on Medium, and please do stay in touch with me on Twitter so that I can stay up to date with the good things that you’re all doing.
Pob lwc with your work!
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…
In 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.
The evaluation was undertaken by Professor Merali, from the Centre for Systems Studies at Hull University Business School. The review involved collecting data from:
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:
Internal perceptions and relationships
Supporting 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”;
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”|
The report concluded that;
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.
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.
In the third of a series of posts on the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Frontline Futures Programme, Dyfrig Williams spoke with Jonathan Tumelty of Trivallis to find out how they are empowering their staff to lead service changes.
At our recent event on improving digital leadership and ownership, Chris Bolton shared a slide that showed the vast number of business fads that had been implemented within organisations in recent years. It’s probably not surprising that some staff aren’t jumping for joy at the prospect of digital transformation being the latest change process that’s being implemented at their organisation. So how can organisations go about changing the way that they do business?
At Tai 2017, I spoke with Jonathan Tumelty about how Trivallis have enabled frontline teams to lead their service change.
Trivallis found that their teams were working in silos as they were grouped by job roles. Each area of responsibility would be informed by others, but this structure almost encouraged clashes and ended up with fraught relationships between different areas of the business. They decided to align their systems geographically based on the patches that they work in, but this was easier said than done as attempts in the past hadn’t worked.
Although Trivallis knew what their end goal looked like, they decided to hand control over how a geographical structure might work to staff by holding a series of meetings to shape the change. It started off as quite a light touch process through involving managers, then they had individual conversations with key influencers who were working on the frontline. Staff were given ownership and control of the process, and there was clear communication throughout.
Initially, staff got people together to map their frustrations, which was in turn affecting customer satisfaction. Employees undertook an exercise where they grouped post-it notes together, which fortunately echoed the initial thought process. They developed principles for these new ways of working with staff, with the managers only offering very broad parameters. Pilot teams were set up to test the plans that had been put together by staff, and they then worked to unblock barriers that they faced. In the first few meetings the staff were waiting for directions from Managers, but eventually they began to take control of the exercise themselves. Jonathan described the process like this video from a music festival, where one person starts the discussion, and gradually more and more people get involved. People who weren’t initially keen to take part ended up really wanting to be part of it.
From the staff feedback, Trivallis created virtual teams. Now all frontline services have been split up by areas, and the next phase is to build links between each team. The services are no longer siloed services, but a multi-skilled team working around an area. Jonathan said that this localised approach had been achieved without changing policies or any change in spending – it was all about empowerment and identifying power.
To go back to our recent Digital Seminar where we looked at digital leadership and ownership, Kelly Doonan ran a fascinating workshop for us on influencing change. Kelly shared French and Raven’s power bases in her workshop to help people understand where their power lies. It’s fascinating here to see how managers shared their legitimate power, whilst also harnessing frontline staff’s expert power from their delivery experience. It was great to hear from Jonathan about how Trivallis have made the work a success. If you’ve improved your organisation’s work by sharing power, we’d love to hear from you about how the changes that you’ve made have resulted in better public services.
Having blogged about the Frontline Futures programme and the learning that can be drawn from it for frequent users of public services, I was invited to the Chartered Institute of Housing’s TAI event to find out more about how the coaching approaches have resulted in improved public services. I met Owain Israel from Charter Housing to find out how he’s putting the learning from the course into practice.
Before talking to Owain, I had very little idea about the role of surveyors in housing associations, but it was fascinating to learn more about how they improve the quality of housing. Owain’s work has a particular focus on voids, where the surveyor carries out an end of tenancy inspection to check out the property before it becomes void. This gives tenants an opportunity to sort out any issues before they get charged by the housing association.
As part of the old process, the surveyor would ideally go back into a property for a post-inspection after work has been carried out. However, they’re not always told when people will leave. At the Good Practice Exchange, we hear a lot about the process that people work to, without thinking about what the outcome is for people. Owain and his team have questioned every aspect of the process, including whether an inspection can be carried out instead of a void survey. Some contractors have only done work that has been identified in the survey, which means that other work that may be required hasn’t been done. This process has created accountability issues, with tenants occasionally being unhappy with results.
So how are Charter Housing getting to grips with this? One of the things that I really liked from Charter Housing’s work is that they’re looking to make lots of small changes, and also that they’re looking to undertake those changes incrementally. They’ve changed the survey sheet that they use and they’re looking at whether it’s always necessary to undertake a survey where the tenancy is in a reasonable condition. This means that contractors have more freedom to undertake appropriate work.
The next step in the streamlining of this process is for surveyors to take more ownership of the complaints they receive. Currently, the Support Services Manager picks up complaints and spends one day a week dealing with them, which isn’t an effective use of their time. Part of the answer is technological, and Charter are giving surveyors the right information systems to get better access to data. They’re now running training sessions on the use of the system in order to upskill everyone.
The second part of this process is the human aspect, which is where the Frontline Futures course has really added value. Owain has been coaching staff so that they feel like they can deal with problems themselves without passing the issues up the hierarchy. These confidence issues fit with Jonathan Haidt’s theory on the elephant, the rider and the path, which Melys shared in the previous post. In this theory, it’s the emotional system that provides the power for the service improvement, not the rational system.
Owain’s been undertaking this coaching through meeting with individuals, where he identifies what support they need and what the blockages are. Owain hasn’t described these sessions as coaching sessions, to staff they are one-to-one meetings. These meetings have helped him to identify why staff are reluctant to make decisions themselves. He’s also used these coaching techniques within team meetings, where staff come to a meeting with a problem. They then reflect on how they’ve dealt with it in the past and looked at how they can resolve it. Surveyors are now speaking more openly about the issues they’re facing, they’re more aware of the appropriateness of their responses and they’re now taking ownership of similar queries and dealing with them themselves.
The Good Practice Exchange has undertaken lots of work in the past on empowering staff, including looking at staff trust, an essential ingredient to empowering staff. We’ve also been looking at how organisations take well managed risks in order to innovate, where we’ve found that safe to fail approaches are often likely to enable staff to deliver better services. I’ve got a book on moving away from command and control on my reading list, and talking to Owain has certainly made me even more interested in how coaching can help staff to move away from a strict focus on process to looking at how outcome focused approaches can result in better public services.
I was excited to see that the Wales Audit Office had released a set of data as open data. Open data is data that anyone can find access and use and it is the most useful sort of data.
Dyfrig Williams wrote about the process they’d gone through to release this data set (a summary of the audit data from each local authority in Wales for each year). The data is a simple table and you can download it as a CSV file (essentially a file that will work in any spreadsheet programme) here.
I downloaded the file and quickly spotted some problems. These are not errors exactly but just things that are missing or inconsistent and will make some uses of the data a bit harder. But this is not a complaint, because one of the attractive features of open data is that I could resolve these problems. I can do this because the Wales Audit Office have released the data under the Open Government Licence. This tells me I don’t need their permission to do anything with the data and there are no limits to what I can do with it (apart from I have to make it clear where it came from).
These are the things I did to my copy of the data.
I changed the format of the “financial year column” because in the Wales Audit Office file some of these are numbers and some are text.
I added a column of GSS codes. GSS codes are codes that are used to identify local authorities (and other boundaries). Having the GSS code means you don’t have to worry about whether the data says Anglesey Council, or Isle of Anglesey Council or Ynys Môn. And with the GSS code I could add “polygons” for each council. Polygons are basically instructions on how to draw the outline of each council and information about where to put the drawing on a map.
And I’ve been able to hand back to the Wales Audit Office a KML file. This is a file suitable for use in mapping software. Anyone who wants to visualise the Wales Audit Office data on a map can just open the KML file and get going.
I’m part of the core team at ODI-Cardiff so I get excited about open data.
It took me a very few minutes.
I’m trying to get better at using a Google service called Fusion Tables and this is a good opportunity to experiment.
I’m actually quite interested in what this data might tell us.
In the following blog, the Wales Audit Office’s Local Government Manager Jeremy Evans 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.