Tag Archives: good practice

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.

Improving Your Space

Buildings Management Seminar

The theme of our shared learning seminars over the last year has been assets, and we’ve been working with the National Assets Working Group to share good practice between people who are working in the field of asset management.

A couple of the projects that we’ve been able to showcase have been funded by the Invest to Save Fund, which provides short-term funding to help public service organisations transform the way that they work. These have included the assets review that Carmarthenshire County Council have undertaken, which Jonathan Fearn spoke about at the Land and Asset Transfer Shared Learning Seminar. His presentation is available on our website and you can also see him discuss it in the below video from the seminar.

There are a range of Invest to Save case studies available on the Welsh Government website, including an interesting project from Bridgend County Borough Council, where they’ve rationalised their accommodation.

One of the interesting aspects of the case study is that although the rationalisation is about saving money as the funding dictates, it’s also about improving how the service is delivered. The approach has brought together services from a few different sites and made it much easier for different departments to work together.

Not only that, but by moving the building into the town centre it’s made use of a previously empty building to help regenerate the town centre. And by moving into the town centre, the council has been able to make the building a hub for the community as its customer contact centre there.
If this has started to get you thinking about the rationalising of buildings, it’s also worth having a look at the details of Antony Wallis’ workshop at our Buildings Shared Learning Seminar, where we heard about how of Natural Resources Wales is looking at its present and future needs as the offices of the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission Wales.

The striking thing about each of these projects is that they focus on the service’s role in enabling public services to deliver more, rather than navel-gazing at their own functions. It’s great to see how Bridgend County Borough Council have not just saved public money, but also improved service provision for the people of their county.


The Year Scrutiny became Social – Scrutiny Conference Social Media Campaign


Back in June 2013, the ‘Scrutiny in the Spotlight’ Conference was launched.  If I am honest, the use of social media was not top of my list of how we should share information relating to the conference. The @GoodPracticeWAO team (on behalf of the Conference Partners) encouraged me to support the use of social media as a means of sharing and raising awareness. How glad I am now!

While we were planning the social media campaign, we were conscious not to set too many aims, so we focused on the following:

  1. Encouraging the use of a variety of social media  to engage public sector colleagues.
  2. Raising awareness of the potential impact of scrutiny through the GPX blog; and
  3. Continue the sharing and learning between scrutiny colleagues.

Whilst these were our key aims, we were very clear we also didn’t want delegates to view the conference as a ‘one off’ event on the 28 November. In our eyes, the conference started (through knowledge sharing) in the first week of September, when I posted our first scrutiny blog. We don’t envisage the conference ending until February/March 2014 as we will be continuing to share the outputs of the conference on a weekly basis.   

We have learned from previous experience that when you want to get the right group of people together at a conference, plenty of notice is essential.  Particularly when many potential delegates have committees planned at least six months ahead.

Alan Morris

However, when we launched the conference diary marker back in June 2013, we could never have anticipated that conference would be so popular. By the beginning of September we were over-subscribed and had a waiting list for delegate places. This also meant we had a ready-made scrutiny community in place to communicate with.

Prior to the conference, our social media campaign was mainly focused around a weekly blog on the Good Practice Exchange WordPress blog.  We e-mailed the blog link weekly and used Twitter to promote the blog more widely via the hashtag ‘#scrutiny13’. In the final run-up during the November, we also tweeted daily messages to heighten awareness of the conference and encourage knowledge sharing. Once we had a half a dozen blogs in place, we used Pintrest to promote the visual elements of the blogs and again tweeted them out.

Our main social media focus of the conference day itself was Twitter. We pulled together a ‘Twitter Team’, who were allocated to specific workshops and plenary sessions. Their brief was to share information with colleagues who were not able to attend the conference and to generate dialogue with other tweeters at the conference.  All tweets were on the hashtag #scrutiny13 (which you can see on Storify). This was my first experience of a ‘live’ Twitter campaign at an event. After a stuttering start I soon got into the swing of picking up on and tweeting key messages and phrases from speakers and delegates.

We also set up a filming schedule on the day of the conference where all plenary and workshop speakers shared the purpose of their session and key messages they wanted to share. This meant that, following the conference, we could develop a short presentation which combined the main elements of the event captured via video, social media and presentation slides. This material provides a valuable knowledge-sharing resource both for delegates  and for colleagues who were not able to attend.  We have included a link to a presentation slide pack that delegates can adapt to suit their own needs by including key messages they took away from the conference.

We will continue to share the outputs via the Good Practice Exchange blog, which we really encourage colleagues to share and comment on.

So what have we learnt from this social media campaign?

  1. Social media is a free and accessible way to publicise events and to share knowledge.
  2. We are still learning as we go along the social media journey. We can clearly see the benefit of the campaign, as every time we e-mail blogs to the scrutiny community, more colleagues sign up to automatically receiving our blogs.  The same can be said for the number of delegates who follow us on Twitter.
  3. Not that many colleagues actually comment directly on our blogs; but we know that many people read our blogs – the stats below tell the story.  Also, many colleagues refer to the blog in conversations or on e-mail.  We recognise that we are playing the long game here.
  4. On the day at least 82 delegates tweeted their thoughts and views using the #scrutiny13 hashtag. The use of the hashtag was essential to marshal and measure our social media impact.
  5. Their tweets reached up to  48,717 people across the UK and beyond.
  6. Social media is much more than an ‘instant and disposable’ medium. Tweets can be saved and used as a record of delegate perspectives on the day.
  7. Twitter’s 140 character limit forces you to focus on what is most important and distill it into a short and punchy message. I have to say my old English teacher would welcome the concept of Twitter as it is resurrecting the art of précis!
  8. We have been able to engage with scrutiny contributors from all over the UK (and wider), who have shared our messages and added to our knowledge.

So, was the social media campaign worth all the effort?

Most definitely! Not only did we get an instant understanding of what delegates were getting from the conference but, most importantly, we have contributed towards creating a longer term scrutiny community who are willing and able to share and learn from each other. Now that’s what I call Social!

Alan Morris

Personal use of social media

Social Media

Before starting my role here at the Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Exchange, I’d always kept work related tweets separate from my personal account.

I always felt uneasy that I may bring shame upon my work colleagues by tweeting something inappropriate. But when I was fortunate enough to get this job, I realised that I faced losing a few contacts because this project didn’t have a Twitter account at the time (but does now). I decided to take the plunge and mix business with pleasure.

When I worked at WCVA I admired how my colleague Michelle Matheron managed to do what I’m just getting my head around now, by tweeting about the implications of Welsh politics for the third sector and (in her words) “girlie nonsense”. But the girlie nonsense she tweets gives a great context to her work. Working around politics isn’t just a job for Michelle, by following her it becomes clear that it’s an interest and a passion. The authenticity of her tweets adds weight to what she says, and also reminds you that you can engage with her directly.

At this point I still wasn’t entirely sure that I could be personal in a professional context and vice-versa, but since taking that step I’m very glad that I have. Having never previously worked around auditing, I’ve got a lot to learn. Twitter’s given me the chance to learn more about what Wales Audit Office staff do, and also get to know them as individuals. There are lots of great people worth following, but just for two examples it’s been great following Huw Lloyd-Jones, who’s been great at highlighting good practice in tweeting from local government in North Wales, and Mike Palmer, whose passion for sustainable development really shines through from his tweets.

Social media also gives people the opportunity to develop relationships with others, which poses some quite exciting possibilities for how public services relate to people.

By being on these platforms personally, we’re better equipped to know what effective tweeting looks like. The great thing is that there are lots of public services who are already using social media in this way, who are both personable and helpful. Organisations like Torfaen County Borough Council are interacting quickly, efficiently and in the medium of the person’s choice (in this case Twitter).

It’s become clear that organisations can’t continue to work the same way they did before social media. It’s clear that the way people access information from us is changing, as is the way we communicate. This great blog post from Comms 2.0 outlines why we need to change – because people want to hear from us in a language they can understand and relate to, in a personal way, where public services are people too.

Using social media personally is a great way to get to grips with what’s expected of an organisation. But more than that, by being on there as individuals, we’re also letting people know how our organisations work and how we reach the decisions we make and why we do what we do. As Tim Lloyd says in a great blog post for the Department for Business and Skills, “a face and a name, and a deep knowledge of a specific policy area, is far more appealing to our audiences than anonymous statements from a corporate account”. Whether this is true for everyone I’m not sure, but I can certainly say that personally I follow far more people than organisations.


We are passionate about not re-inventing the wheel

One of the four pillars of the Good Practice Exchange’s philosophy is that we don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel. If we came across an approach or project which has achieved reasonable success in the public, private or third sector from anywhere in the world, we want to promote it. We think it’s quite likely other organisations will have a similar problem.

We feel passionately about this. For instance, an organisation might have already done some serious leg work on pulling together a business case to change their approach to a service. Our view is that there will be at least some lessons learnt from the project team, which we think should be shared widely to benefit other organisations. Knowing what things to look out for, avoid, do more, do less of and manage differently is bound to be of benefit in terms of both time and money for other organisations who are or will be in a similar position.

Imagine further, what if the business case approach was of such a similar nature to what an organisation was intending to pull together that it saves hundreds of staff days? Doesn’t it make complete sense for us to promote the business case?

[On behalf of the Good Practice Team, I need to be quite clear; we are not saying this is THE approach to take, but that this is AN approach you could consider taking. The same thing goes for when we talk about good practice case studies as opposed to Best Practice. We think that Best Practice suggests that we are saying that this is THE approach, whereas, in reality what we are saying this is AN approach. In essence, we don’t advocate a one size fits all approach].

A good example of a business case which we have promoted is the Agile Working Business Case from Monmouthshire County Council (as part of our Agile Working Shared Learning Seminar). The Council have implemented their agile working well over two years ago now. We feel the Council is in a great position to share all the things that worked well, what didn’t worked so well and what they would do differently if they had their time over again.

Sian Hayward of Monmouthshire County Council is a great advocate of sharing her learning from the Agile Working project. She has had visits/telephone conversations from almost every local authority in Wales as well many other organisations, and you can hear her discuss this in the above video. We think this is an effective way for organisations to learn, adapt the business case and take it forward at a greater pace as they are not starting with a blank sheet of paper.

Another example of not re-inventing the wheel is that of a Welsh Social Enterprise called Indycube. This company has successfully set up a series of WiFi enabled offices in Wales where individuals or companies can hire a desk for £10 a day. What about the idea of organisations working with Indycube in setting up a site in their organisation? Listen to what the owner Mark Hooper has to say about the idea and different approaches taken by current organisations using the different locations.

So, if after reading this blog you know of an approach or project which other public services would benefit from, why not drop us a line? We’d really like to hear from you, as we are about sharing the experience…and the results.


The magical world of Podcasts


We’ve created a fair few podcasts since I started working for the Good Practice Exchange. It’s been a great way of capturing people’s views and evidencing what kind of impact our activities are having, and to also hear from people how we can best take our work forward.

For anyone looking to do cheap podcasting, phones and tablets are able to record good quality files these days (we’ve been using our personal iPads and Asus tablets), you can edit them using free software like Audacity (which is open source), and you can host them online using social media such as Soundcloud (where you can host up to 2 hours worth of audio for free) or Audioboo (where you can host an unlimited amount of audio files that are under 3 minutes long).

I’ve been doing this a while now, but since I’ve begun working here I’ve realised that the podcasts I’ve been recording aren’t as good as they could be. My colleague Chris’ podcast with Helen Reynolds first made me question the way I was doing things. Whilst I was recording clinical interviews capturing exactly what I needed to know, Chris’ effort was uplifting and captured both his and Helen’s personality. This was reinforced by an interview he conducted with Dr Sharon Evans from Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, where the personal touch again works wonders.

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Around this time I began attending the Geek Speak events in Cardiff. At the first event I went to Gareth Morlais led a session on digital storytelling. After his session (which was great), I relayed my thinking both to him and others around my podcasts.

Gareth’s digital stories are full of emotion, and I realised that that is what made them great – they are very human accounts of people’s experiences. Whilst I was getting the information I needed out of my interviews, they didn’t have the warmth I was looking for. I was getting people’s views to fit into my own story, as opposed to listening to people tell their own. I realised that I had been conducting interviews in a very old fashion way. In a world of web 2.0 where we share and interact with others, I was working in a one-sided model.

Now I’m very keen to collaborate with people so that both own the podcast and we both get what we want out of it. After all, it’s hard to sound excited about something you’ve had little input into.

My first couple of months here have been great. I’m learning new things from my colleagues all the time, and I can’t wait more of what I’ve learnt into practice.

– Dyfrig