Tag Archives: Auditor General for Wales

The Good Practice Exchange work programme: What’s it all about?

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

Over the past few years the Good Practice Team in the Wales Audit Office have held a series of seminars and webinars to support public service reform. Ena Lloyd and Bethan Smith look at our programme of events for this year.

Ffotograff o Jess Hoare yn cymryd rhan yn nhrafodaeth panel Caerdydd

The plenary session at last year’s Digital Shared Learning Seminar

The Wales Audit Office created the Good Practice Team to bring together ideas and approaches to help public services improve. When we first started out, we used to get some quizzical looks! I guess it’s not something you would naturally associate with an Audit Office. But then, not every Audit Office has an Auditor General who feels so passionate about wanting to help public services improve. Huw Vaughan Thomas is one of a kind. He gives us a ‘safe to fail’ space to research, engage, learn from others and share knowledge, ideas and approaches in a variety of ways. Whether it be a seminar, webinar, blog, videos, twitter, or good old emails!

You can’t help but want to go the extra mile when you are given such trust and space, and why wouldn’t you.

What we have learnt over the past few years, is our Good Practice mantra of:

  • We don’t advocate a one size fits all approach;
  • Equally we don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel;
  • We believe in adapting not adopting; and using our very privileged position in the Wales Audit Office to bring together colleagues from right across the public, third sector and where appropriate the private sector.

How does the programme get pulled together?

We often get asked how we arrive at the topics in our programme. Our ‘starters for ten’ is our Wales Audit Office Strategic Plan in terms of our key priorities. So you won’t be surprised to see such topics as Digital, the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and Early Closure of Local Government Accounts included as part of the programme. The topics also have to work across public services and where we can, work in partnership with at least one other organisation. The more partners, the better. We then take soundings from our internal colleagues as well as many people who represent, design and deliver public services in Wales. In fact, the list of people who we chat to virtually or face to face gets longer every year! We meet some great speakers and delegates who just totally blow us away in terms of what they are doing. If you have any ideas about topics you’d like to see in our programme, please do get in touch!

What’s this year’s programme about?

In this year’s programme, if there was one theme that underpins the majority of events, it’s the Wellbeing of the Future Generation Act.

Here’s the programme overview. We have used working titles to give you a flavour of what the seminar is about. However, once we have worked with partners to determine what the focus is, the finalised details can be found here.

The bottom line though, our litmus test so to speak, is what public services colleagues think. At the end of every seminar, we ask for 5 minutes of delegate’s time to complete a ‘Call to Action’ form. Over 1000 delegates attend our events over a period of a year, so it’s a rich source of feedback. We always stress how important it is to us for delegates to complete these forms, not only does it provide us with feedback on the event, but what actions delegates will be taking away and what they’d like to see taken forward by us or other organisations. The feedback we receive also helps shape our programme.

Our events are completely free of charge to all public and third sector organisations in Wales. All we ask in return is that you come to our events armed with ideas, solutions and any issues or challenges in relation to the topic of the event. Our events are called ‘shared learning seminars’ which speaks for itself – we really want delegates to share and learn as much as they can, and take away as much useful information from the event as possible.

For those that have been to our events before, I’m sure they’ll say it’s a packed morning, and we make no apology for that. Our events are purposely designed to equip delegates with as much information and contacts as possible, in order for them to continue conversations after the event.

Every year we seem to have an increasing demand on our events which is brilliant, it means public services are really keen to work together and share ideas and approaches. We have a small budget for our events and whilst they’re free to public services, it is so important to let us know if you can no longer attend before the day of the event as we often have a reserve list for events. We understand work pressures take priority but we’d really appreciate advance notice so we can re-allocate your place to someone else.

Other than events, how else do you share information?

We understand the importance of sharing information in a variety of ways. Whilst seminars might work for one person, videos or blogs work better for another person. With that in mind, our various information channels are listed below:

We share details of seminars/webinars on our website– so keep a look out for them – or if you want to us to add your details onto our mailing lists to receive info for all or some events, then please email good.practice@audit.wales.

The strategic importance of digital: a conference about culture change

What were the key messages from our recent events on digital? Kelly Doonan from Devon County Council reflects on the main learning points that she took away.

Image of speech bubble linking people to clouds, phonoes and documents

On 13 September I attended an event organised by the Wales Audit Office Good Practice Exchange called; Redesigning public services: The strategic importance of digital. Although I’ve referred to it as a conference for title alliteration purposes, it was actually a seminar event with interactive workshops – and some really fabulous catering – held at the SWALEC Stadium in central Cardiff.

This is my take on the event and the six key messages I came away with. Which, as the title suggests, aren’t actually about digital…

1. Digital means different things to different people… we need a clear understanding of what it means to us

The event kicks off with a speech from Auditor General, Huw Vaughan Thomas. In the speech he states; quite accurately, that: “Digital means different things to different people.”

It does and I think that is a huge problem. When he says that we need a clear understanding of what it means to ‘us’ I think we need one clear definition that everyone understands. It’s the only way that we can have aligned conversations and make aligned decisions.

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council has just released their new digital strategy (as a PDF) which explains that Rotherham is putting digital at the ‘forefront’ of their journey to become a modern authority. It links to local health digital strategies, but doesn’t seem to link to a wider culture change or service redesign strategy. Does digital mean the same to Rotherham MBC as it does to the WAO or to Devon County Council? Can we work together effectively if we don’t have an agreed definition?

2. Digital is not doing the same work, but digitally

Huw Vaughan Thomas goes on to clarify that: “Digital is not doing the same work, but digitally.”

Which begins to move us towards a definition of digital, and suggests that we’re starting to talk about culture change and service transformation, not creating a new digital strategy.

3. Mistakes are inevitable; we mustn’t shy away from that

Also from Huw Vaughan Thomas’ speech. This is an interesting one. If common sense was a thing this statement feels like it would be a classic example. Of course humans make mistakes; it’s one of our defining characteristics and how we know that we’re not actually machines surely? Still, it feels weirdly radical to have an auditor stand up and say this. It also feels hugely positive and (hopefully) liberating.

We have to move away from a culture that assumes all mistakes can be ‘policied’ out if only we policy hard enough. Instead we have to encourage reflection, learning and individual responsibility. Back to culture change again.

After the Auditor General’s speech there’s a quick fire question and answer session with the panel. The first questions are prepared by the organisers, but the rest are sourced from the audience – it’s a brilliantly engaging approach and works really well.

4. We can’t ‘do digital’ until we understand what citizens actually need

My cavalier approach to note-taking means that I don’t actually know which panellist said this, but it was definitely one of them.

I get an email every other day from a software development company telling me how their customer portal is going to revolutionise back office systems and save money. They’ve even got a snazzy customer testimonial video featuring a local authority IT manager explaining how this digital transformation has saved him pots of money and tidied up all his back office systems, and no-one ever ever mentions user needs.

We can’t put any digital tools in place until we know that we need them and that they’re solving the right problem – and surely we can only do that if we’re talking to our citizens? Surely we can only do that if we are clearly articulating our purpose and we understand why we’re doing anything at all? What we need is culture change and a different approach to understanding our citizens.

5. These things are not technology problems… digital is an enabler. Buying a load of iPads won’t change your culture.

Beautifully succinct quote from Professor Tom Crick in his workshop session, A digitally competent, digitally capable workforce. For me this session raises some really interesting questions about digital capabilities.

  • Is there a basic digital standard that our workforce needs to achieve?
  • If there is, then shouldn’t this be part of our job descriptions?
  • Do we have a hierarchy of digital capability in our workforce with a digital ‘elite’ who have lots of skills and are working in radically different ways to those further behind?
  • How do we make sure that staff are learning digital skills rather than learning how to use separate pieces of proprietary software?
  • Do we have senior leaders who know enough about digital to make these kinds of decisions?
  • Does every organisation essentially need a benevolent hacker at the top table wielding some real power?

Which is all to say that we probably need to look at changing our culture around staff training and recruitment.

Also in this workshop I share a story about a piece of work we did under the heading ‘ask forgiveness, not permission’ which literally makes another delegate’s mouth fall open in shock.

6. Can you build agile, interdisciplinary project teams that can work iteratively?

For the final session I attend the workshop Learning from the Digital Innovators Network run by Jess Hoare and Amy Richardson from Y Lab, which involves marshmallows and spaghetti.

Y Lab is an innovation lab for public service created by Nesta alongside Cardiff University. They have some wonderful, practical resources – most of which are available on the Nesta website.

The workshop involves a quickfire session answering some provocative questions such as ‘[In your organisation] What is the perceived role of IT?’ and ‘Can you build agile, interdisciplinary project teams that can work iteratively?’. We then identify a digital problem and use the Nesta tools, and Jess and Amy’s support and input, to work the issue through.

Fairly quickly we start talking about articulating the problem, identifying users, understanding needs and gathering evidence. We spend the rest of the session looking, essentially, at redesigning the service and the processes.

The problem with digital transformation

Every conversation I had at this event that started with digital transformation ended with looking at culture change and system transformation.

I think we do need to have an agreed definition of digital and it became clear through this event that many people – but definitely not all – understand that digital is an enabler and not an end in itself. I would say that we don’t need digital strategies (sorry Rotherham) rather we need system transformation strategies which include digital enablers. We need to start with purpose and start with users and understand what we’re for and what they need.

I think there’s a real opportunity here though. To start conversations about digital transformation and, through events like this, show how that conversation must move to one about system transformation.

WAO Good Practice Exchange are planning more events in this series and it would be great to see them challenging participants further to think about how we use digital as a catalyst for real organisational change – not just buying a load of iPads.

The benefits of working with the Good Practice Exchange

Sophie Knott talks about her experience of working with the Good Practice Exchange on a forthcoming webinar.

Here at the Wales Audit Office we’re encouraged to work together across different areas of the organisation to share knowledge and provide a better service to clients and the public. However, sometimes time and resource pressures mean we can overlook aspects such as utilising the Good Practice Exchange team during our routine audit work.

As well as sharing good practice guidance and case studies online through their website and blog, the Good Practice Exchange team run shared learning seminars and webinars. I’ve always known about these events but didn’t realise that the team run on average more than one a month, and on such a broad range of key themes for the Welsh public sector. The Good Practice Exchange recognise that sharing information is not a one size fits all approach, so webinars and seminars can be useful as a different approach for people to take information on board.

My experience

Sophie Knott

Sophie Knott of the Wales Audit Office

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Good Practice Exchange on a forthcoming webinar on developing the public service workforce. The webinar came about on the back of our national study on Managing early departures across Welsh public bodies, published in February 2015. While the initial thought was to link directly to the report’s key themes, I undertook more research into what other conferences and seminars were talking about, any other news articles or blogs, and the webinar content evolved from there.

I’ve subsequently been involved in identifying potential speakers for the webinar, and the key questions that we will pose; and discussions about the webinar with the Auditor General, which led to him wanting to be one of the speakers! I’ve also developed material to brief speakers and created the diary marker for delegates to be emailed and placed on our website.

Future tasks include some Twitter training so I can schedule tweets for the day; pulling together slides for the webinar presentation; not to mention actually attending the webinar to coordinate asking speakers the additional questions sent in by delegates on the day, and live tweeting from the event. This engagement on the day is really important and allows delegates to share their thoughts directly to the panel and other delegates, but the webinar is also recorded to allow people to listen at a time convenient to them.

Benefits for all

It’s been really interesting to get involved in something a bit different and learn some new skills along the way. It’s giving me the opportunity to speak to people I wouldn’t normally, like a local authority Chief Exec. It’s also potentially extended the impact and readership of one of our national reports, having included details of it in the webinar diary marker. I would recommend that all staff consider the opportunities for a webinar or seminar within your own work, even if you are only at the planning stage. I’m sure the GPX team would love to hear from you!

The webinar ‘Developing a workforce to meet the challenges of public service reform’ is taking place on Thursday 14 January from 10.30 to 11.45. You can sign up here or Wales Audit Office staff can listen on the day in Room 14, Cardiff office or Room 1, Ewloe office.

Bara Brith Camp: Why trust is important to public services

Dyfrig Williams attended Bara Brith Camp to share learning from our Trust seminar. Here’s an overview from the discussion.

At our Staff Trust seminar, Professor Searle used the definition of trust as being “a willingness to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the positive expectations that the other will act beneficially or at least not inflict harm, irrespective of any monitoring or control mechanism.” I found the facets of trust particularly useful:

  • Ability – have they shown that they are competent at doing their job
  • Benevolence – do they have benign motives and a concern for others beyond their own needs?
  • Integrity – are they principled? Are they fair and honest?
  • Predictability – do you know what they are likely to do?

Bara Brith Camp

Why are the Wales Audit Office interested in trust?

Trust is really important in our day to day lives, and just as important in public service delivery. According to a CIPD report, 37% of job satisfaction comes from trust, and a trusting organisation is likely to have staff that put in more effort, with improved co-operation, recruitment and better performance.

So you can see why the Wales Audit Office would be so interested in the topic. The Auditor General for Wales has also repeatedly spoken about the need for well managed risk taking to improve public services, and as I wrote in my last post about Unmentoring with Kelly Doonan of Devon County Council, that can’t happen without trust.

When distrust becomes active mistrust, purposely negative behaviour like theft and fraud take place. And if all that wasn’t enough, public services are going to need to trust each other to deliver services that meet the goals of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. Organisations will need to work together to deliver effective services, and the Wales Audit Office will be developing our audit accordingly.

Professor Searle discussed how we often trust people who are like ourselves, which can be a barrier to collaboration as the voluntary sector, local government and the NHS are all very different places. There are countless studies on how diverse thinking leads to better decision making, and we need to avoid groupthink, where people are reluctant to go against the grain.

Trust in large organisations

Larger organisations often have lower levels of trust and have to work harder to build and retain trust. They tend to have more levels which might dilute the impact of the positive actions of those at the top, and the broader policies of the organisation.

Managers also need to determine the level of downward monitoring that is really necessary as that affects how trusted employees feel by their employers. It’s worth having a look at how Phillipa Jones encouraged Bromford Housing staff to break rules if it benefits customers and is in line with organisational values.

Making the most of resources

One of the steps that Professor Searle advocated was to create a trust fund that you can use when times are tough. A lack of trust can be expensive when time is diverted into non-productive activities like additional monitoring duties for managers, and counterproductive work behaviours by staff.

Having a workforce that is willing to give the organisation and its leaders the benefit of the doubt is an asset in a recession. Organisations can then make the most of their collective resources in order to go beyond survival and to develop their services and retain customers.

What are we doing?

Like the Unmentoring I’ve been doing with LocalGovDigital, we conduct Randomised Coffee Trials with people from seminars. Theses give people from different organisations the chance to share experiences, support each other and to build trust. This isn’t a big step – actually a 30 minute phone call is only a minor part of the working week, but it might have a big effect. Chris Bolton has blogged about Trojan Mice, which are small, safe to fail pilots. We don’t always have to make large scale interventions – there are small things we can all try in our day to day work that can make a big difference. And if you trying out new ways of developing staff trust in your organisation, we’d love to hear from you.

A declaration of independence

We recently held shared learning seminars with the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales on the continued independence of older people. Sarah Rochira, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, outlines her thoughts on independence.

Sarah Rochira, Older People's Commissioner for WalesI was delighted to attend the Shared Learning Seminars in Cardiff and Llanrwst in July 2015, two excellent seminars organised by the Good Practice Exchange team. It was a pleasure to see so many service providers from the public and third sectors, as well as older people themselves, attending. The fantastic attendance, the wide range of matters discussed and the exchange of ideas and good practice showed that this is an issue that resonates with many and that maintaining the independence of older people is important for providers, communities and individuals alike.

My focus was on the misconceptions and anomalies that exist around older people in public service delivery:

  • The needs and interests of older people are confined to health and social care: All policy areas and portfolios are relevant to older people and ensuring that housing, transport, education and leisure services, for example, are working together to help maintain the independence of older people is a key priority for me and something that I am working on with governments at all levels. Furthermore, service planning should be done with older people rather than to them. Older people possess a wealth of knowledge and experience and as regular users of services, are ‘experts by experience’ in how services should be delivered.
  • Older people require large-scale strategies, plans and policies: In my discussions with older people across Wales I never hear about strategies and plans. What older people need to help maintain their independence are the small things that often make all the difference. Adaptations to people’s homes and innovative cost-effective investments in ‘lifeline’ community services such as public buses, toilets and libraries are crucial in this regard. Older people ask for very little and these small-scale investments can make all the difference in keeping older people active and engaged with their communities.
  • Older people are the sole beneficiaries and recipients of public services: Older people are worth over £1bn to the Welsh economy annually. Wales’ public services would simply grind to a halt without the huge contribution of older people through volunteering and unpaid care, for example. Older people are invaluable assets and we should be investing in them to increase their contribution to economies and communities across Wales. Older people and the impact of an ageing population are frequently referred to in negative, derogatory ways and we need the public, private and third sectors to work together and change our starting point: frailty and dependence are not an inevitable part of ageing and with a little help, older people can contribute so much more. An ageing population brings it with many opportunities if we change the language and take an asset-based approach.

During the seminars, it was wonderful to not only hear about the exciting and innovative schemes underway across Wales to support older people to maintain their independence – from pop-up libraries in the Vale of Glamorgan, to gardening clubs in Wrexham, integrating services in rural Ceredigion and digital inclusion classes elsewhere – but to also hear from older people themselves about their views and experiences, and the difference that these services can make to their lives. As always, quite simply inspiring.

I was also pleased to hear that the Ageing Well in Wales Programme has inspired older people as well. The five priority themes of the Programme all have a crucial role in supporting older people to maintain their independence and with over 450 network members now working on Ageing Well aims in communities across Wales, the Programme is gathering pace.

Following the seminars and subsequent Wales Audit Office report I am keen to keep the momentum going and I will continue the excellent co-operation with the Auditor General for Wales and the Good Practice Exchange team to ensure that the importance of maintaining the independence of older people is recognised by everyone and beneficial for all.

Service deliverers need to work together towards the same outcomes. A preventative approach and the integration of services are crucial to enable older people to get out and about and have lives that have value, meaning and purpose. This approach will improve the resilience of individuals and communities alike, reducing the dependence on our health and social care services and ensuring that Wales is a good place to grow older – not just for some, but for everyone.

Google Atmosphere: think creatively and innovate boldly


Dyfrig Williams took part in Google’s Atmosphere, a webinar that examined cultures of innovation. In this blogpost he reflects on the key learning points.

This Welsh Public Services 2025 paper clearly outlines that we’re in a challenging time for public services, as there are fewer resources to deliver services in a time of rising demand. If we can’t continue to deliver the services in the same way, how can we start changing the way we work? It was with this in mind that I watched Google’s Atmosphere, which shared lessons from organisations in the private sector.

Where do innovative ideas come from?

In this session Tim Brown from IDEO looked at how we need to think about our options in a completely different way if we’re looking for radically different solutions. He examined how we consider our issues, in the sense that if we frame questions in a really specific way, we have little scope to come up with solutions that look genuinely different. The example given was around asking the question “How do we make this chair more comfortable?” If we instead ask “How might we sit in different ways?” there is much more scope to think and work differently.

This chimes with Google’s 10x thinking, where issues are radically approached by trying to improve something by 10 times rather than by 10%. The only way to make those kind of improvements is to think in a different way.

Cultivating team innovation: A look inside the work rules of Google

Listening to Laszlo Bock from Google was heartening, as it echoed aspects of our Staff Ideas webinar from a few weeks ago. Laszlo emphasised the importance of staff engagement. It’s easy for managers to stick with what they know, because they’ve become managers by making good decisions. But as Laszlo pointed out, the sum of employee intelligence is huge, and we must make the most of it.

It’s fascinating that decisions at Google aren’t based on gut instincts, but that they rely on data. Their Project Oxygen was designed to identify the traits of successful Google managers. The team working on the project spent a year examining data from appraisals, employee surveys, awards and other sources, which resulted in more than 10,000 observations of manager behaviours.

Accomplishing business innovation: How Airbnb transformed an industry

We’ve been doing some work on risk management lately (including running a webinar on the topic), so Jonathan Mildenhall of Airbnb’s points on risk were very timely. Jonathan encouraged us to take risks and to celebrate both failure and success. Their monthly ritual of celebrating fabulous failures encourages this culture, as it focuses on ideas that didn’t progress as planned. Jonathan said that “The more a company celebrates failure, the more confident a company gets in taking risks. The more confident a company gets in taking risks, the more successful those risks are.”

In case you’re wondering how this learning might be applied in the public sector, Chris Bolton has written a series of blogposts that look at how we might approach failure, including this great summary post on loving and learning from failure.

Well managed risk taking in the public sector

The Auditor General for Wales has repeatedly advocated well managed risk taking, and you can see him doing so in the above video. As he says, if those risks are well managed, instead of casting blame on any failure, we’ll be looking to share the lessons that have been learnt.

From Financial Audit to Good Practice Exchange

Michelle Davies has recently been working with us at the Good Practice Exchange. It’s been great to have her on board, and we’ve been learning from her about her work and vice versa. In this blog Michelle tells us about her experiences of working with us.

Michelle DaviesI’ve recently completed a Good Practice project where I helped deliver the Facing Financial Challenges Webinar (which you can watch in full on Vimeo). For those of you who don’t know me, I’m normally found working in the Mid and West Wales Financial Audit Cluster working on the exciting stuff – Local Government and Health Accounts!

So, Why I did I want to get involved?

I was both curious and ignorant as to what went on with the Good Practice Exchange Team, what do they do and how do they do it, what circles do they move in, what are their goals in our organisation? After working in Financial Audit in the West for over 10 years, I was desperate for a change of scenery. Getting out and about more, even working in the Cardiff office was a change of scenery.

I learnt loads of new skills, from different approaches to researching topics which I had little or no knowledge of at all. And as for social media, well it would be safe to say I am a little rusty around the edges; I needed to move with the times and the promise of being taught how to ‘tweet’ was appealing. Don’t you just love it when people say “it’s easy?”

I guess to work differently; sometimes you have to work with different people. Although a little daunting at first, you soon learn personalities and expectations. You can learn so much from other people, a kind of inner confidence starts to grow as you bounce ideas off colleagues and share their experiences and excitement.

What I learnt

Firstly I had to research the subject area, surfing the web, trawling through the current relevant reports, any conferences, seminars, identify potential speakers and produce a scoping document to present with my findings and identify the key themes for discussion.

Armed with my research material, I sat and discussed my findings with Ena and Anthony Barrett to agree on a punchier title and to identify speakers that were able to discuss current, relevant good practice identified within the public sector. I learnt the importance of does the title say what it does on the tin?

I held my first speakers briefing with Guy Clifton from Grant Thornton over the telephone, explaining the webinar structure, format and timings and taking away additional housekeeping issues he had for the Good Practice Exchange Team to confirm.

Social Media, i.e. twitter schedules and live tweeting
I had a lesson in tweeting and was asked to tweet live at a few seminars, helping the Good Practice Exchange Team when they were short staffed or at a larger event where there were several workshops running at the same time. A lesson in tweeting, was as I discovered, not always going to ensure it goes smoothly on the day!

Confidence in getting it done
Ummmm, what do I do now, what do I do next, am I doing this right, all my worries and part of the learning curve. Ena would smile at me and say, what do you think, tell me what you feel, what is your gut instinct? Now go and do it!

The Good Practice Exchange Team use a different way of working, they need to be ambidextrous within the team. You learn to work backwards. The team know what they want to achieve, so how do they get there, their focus is on impact.

The good, the bad and the ugly

I’ll do the ugly first – helping on an external seminar specifically to tweet live, I connected to the wifi, ok, sitting at the front of the audience listening to Huw Vaughan Thomas deliver his opening speech – I’m connected but hey – no internet! No matter what I tried it just wouldn’t work! At the end of the opening speech I managed to get Dyfrig’s attention and he miraculously connected my machine, phew! To play catch up I started copying and pasting from a twitter schedule – it wouldn’t work! It took about 15 attempts and a rising temperature before I realised that there were too many characters! Ok – no stopping me now…. except every photo I took of the speakers to upload with their key messages would appear upside down! No photos then!

The bad – well actually I don’t have any bad experiences, so far they have all been good or ugly, and even the ugly one is funny now. You learn from your experiences and I have, tweeting live at the webinar last week went well – phew!

The Good – I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences, I have learnt a new set of skills and gained an inner confidence and passion that was missing. I have been fortunate in meeting many people from all walks of life, with a range of skills and personalities, some impressive, some humbling, some inspiring, and some eager and switched on.

What I would say to anyone else who wants to get involved

Do it! – You won’t regret it and if you have any concerns and worries I can help you overcome them. The sharing of information this way is important to the future of both our organisation and public services.

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.


The Wales Audit Office and Co-production

Re-shaping services with the Public

How does the Wales Audit Office’s work fit in with the co-production agenda in Wales? On Tuesday I attended Working With Not To’s Big North Wales Co-production meet up! to share what we’re doing.


When I started thinking about co-production and audit I immediately started thinking about public service performance. But after we ran a shared learning seminar with the Society of Welsh Treasurers last Friday, it struck me how our finance work is equally tied into co-production. Participation Cymru’s All Wales Network was also taking place down the road, and despite the different subject matters, the Wales Audit Office report on Meeting the Financial Challenges Facing Local Government in Wales linked them together as “ineffective stakeholder engagement means that some councils may not be adequately reflecting the needs, priorities and expectations of their citizens.”

So co-production can help save money by targeting it where it can be used most effectively. But at the event I also pointed out that genuine co-production still needs resources to be successful. We heard a lot at our Land and Asset Transfer Shared Learning Seminar about how assets that had been passed on to town and community councils weren’t viable without the right support.

Council 2025: A vision for local government in Wales

A couple of weeks ago the Auditor General for Wales spoke at the Welsh Local Government Association’s Annual Conference and examined re-organisation of local government. I recommend watching the video below if you haven’t already as he asks some searching questions – where is the debate in Wales about what local government should be about? Where are the models of delivery and enablement that will help us deliver the value and quality that Wales needs?

He also looks at co-production in Welsh local government:

I carried out as you may recall a study on public engagement in local government a couple of years back. That found few practical examples of collaborative forms of engagement. Since then, I’ve seen very little evidence of a shift towards co-production, or as it’s often described, working with and not to.

The Wales We Want

Co-production is also a theme in the mid-term report of the Future Generations Bill. The bill presents a big challenge to public services, including the Wales Audit Office. The only way that we can audit in a way that’s meaningful and proportionate is by working with councils to co-produce a solution. We’ve already started doing that by using feedback from the Future Generation Bill Shared Learning Seminar in the work that Mike Palmer is leading on, and there will be more chances for public services to let us know how audit can be effective.

So what is the Good Practice Exchange doing to help?

In order to help public service organisations to get to grips with this, we’re holding a free seminar on Re-shaping Services with the Public. We’re practicing what we preach about working in partnership, and the event will be run in collaboration with Welsh Government, Welsh Local Government Association, Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Wales Public Service 2025, 1000 Lives Improvement Service, Wales Co-operative Centre and Good Practice Wales.

Sketch notes for the Wales Audit Office and co-production presentation / Nodiadau Braslun ar gyfer cyflwyniad Cydgynhyrchu a Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru

Sketch notes for the Wales Audit Office and co-production presentation

The theme of the event has obviously struck a chord, as next week’s event in Cardiff is fully booked, but there are still some places available for September’s event in North Wales.

The emphasis of the seminar is going to be on sharing practical experiences of how different relationships can help re-shape public services to deliver better outcomes. We’ll be using the #ReshapeServices hashtag on the day if you’d like to follow it on Twitter, and we’d love to hear from you about what’s working in your area too.


We’re not in Kansas anymore ……

Jessica Crowe is Executive Director of the Centre for Public Scrutiny, an independent charity founded in 2003 to promote better scrutiny and accountability in decision-making across the public sector.  Here’s a copy of Jessica’s blog the weekend following the conference.


On 28 November,  I heard a local government minister say things like:

“scrutiny is the heart and soul of good governance”

“scrutiny puts the government into local government”

“everyone from the leadership to the front line understands the role and value of scrutiny … these are the necessary conditions for scrutiny to add value”

“scrutiny is the classic invest to save service”

For readers in England, no I hadn’t been spirited away over the rainbow to a mythical land of Oz. The minister concerned was Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Local Government and Government Business in Wales, giving the key note address at a 250-strong conference on scrutiny in Cardiff. As some of you will know, CfPS started delivering a major new programme in Wales earlier this year on behalf of the Welsh government, and we were supporting this conference as part of the programme, along with partners, the Wales Audit Office, Welsh Government, Welsh LGA and Cardiff Business School.

There were CfPS workshops on our Return on Investment model for demonstrating the impact of scrutiny reviews, an excellent closing summation from TiGilling, and I was chairing the conference overall. With a wide range of workshops, including one from the always engaging Catherine Howe of Public-i, and a spell-binding presentation from Peter Watkin Jones, solicitor to the Francis Inquiry, there was plenty on the agenda to justify so many delegates taking a whole day out to come.

What I found particularly encouraging was the palpable sense of energy and determination in the room. Despite notable Welsh scrutiny successes such as Cardiff’s review of the night time economy, and reviews described on the day such as Wrexham’s review of markets and Swansea’s review of support for care leavers, a number of councils in Wales have struggled to raise scrutiny’s game. However, I would say that the conference last week was a watershed moment in building a new consensus that poor or average standards of scrutiny should no longer be tolerated in Wales.  This was a (large) room full of people who were up for change and positive about ensuring member scrutiny is in a fit state to help public services across Wales to address the challenges they will face over the coming years.

We heard a delegate from Anglesey / Ynys Mon saying that he had been “inspired” to go back and rethink how they do things and a great challenge from another councillor about how to develop a strong brand for scrutiny in Wales, and saw a rush on the CfPS stall over lunch, with copies of Tipping the Scales – our guide to the Return on Investment through scrutiny model – flying off the table. It wasn’t all cosy or self-congratulatory either. I heard from an opposition councillor who was apparently the only scrutiny member present from his authority and who told me how scrutiny was struggling to break out of majority group control, and from members who would have liked more recognition of the steps taken (with CfPS support) to improve scrutiny in the National Parks Authorities in Wales.

But overall, I was left with a really strong impression of the emergence of what the Minister called a “visionary and dedicated scrutiny community” in Wales. So what lies behind this ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ vision? I think there are several drivers:

  • Genuine political commitment and interest from the Minister for Local Government, who has made a point of visiting Welsh councils and talking directly to elected councillors – and who has backed up this interest with real investment for improvement – the CfPS programme but also the Scrutiny Development Fund which is funding scrutiny innovations across Wales;
  • A renewed interest in the potential of scrutiny to support service improvement and stronger accountability from regulators such as the Welsh Audit Office, whose major study of scrutiny across Wales, based on a learning through peer review methodology, will be launched shortly;
  • A recognition that public services in Wales need to reform and adapt to the challenge of austerity and changing social demands and expectations, and an acknowledgement that an inclusive democratic scrutiny process can help build support and acceptance of the need for change – by involving citizens and service-users in developing solutions alongside decision-makers.

It’s early days, and forthcoming steps such as the development of a set of agreed ‘Characteristics of Effective Scrutiny” for regulators and politicians, which CfPS has been supporting the Welsh Scrutiny Officer Network to develop off the back of the WAO study, will help take things on to the next phase. The biggest message which I sought to leave the conference with was the need for Welsh scrutineers to drive greater consistency and to raise all scrutiny practice to the standards of the best. With the challenges public services and communities are facing, average or inconsistent scrutiny will not be enough: we need colleagues to challenge poor practice, to be self-critical and to learn from others’ experience of what works.

Come to think of it, that’s a good message for scrutineers across England (and elsewhere) too. And you don’t need to wear ruby slippers or click your heels together – you can follow the debates from the conference on Twitter using hashtag #scrutiny13, (with the highlights handily collected together on Storify), read the WAO Good Practice blog for a range of contributors’ thoughts, watch videos of interviews with some of the speakers on Vimeo, and find out more generally on the WAO website.