Tag Archives: public sector

What I learnt from taking part in the #NatterOn Podcast

The way that we learn and consume information is constantly evolving. Dyfrig Williams reflects on what he learnt from taking part in the NatterOn podcast.

A copy of the NatterOn Podcast logo

For the last year or so I’ve been listening to podcasts to broaden my awareness of what’s happening in the world and to get a better understanding of how I can improve my work. The Podcast Addict app has been great in managing interesting podcasts because it brings a range of podcasts together into one feed.

Podcasts that I’ve found particularly helpful are:

I’d add the NatterOn podcast to that list too. It’s a podcast the looks at digital and marketing that’s put together by Helen Reynolds and Ben Proctor, who are two of the most switched on people I know. Helen gets how communications are being changed by social media more than anyone else I’ve ever met. And I’ve learnt so much about data from Ben. I particularly recommend his post on Data Maturity in local government, which has been the basis of my thinking on acquiring data with the Wales Audit Office’s Data and Tech Working Group.

So when they asked me to take part in the podcast, I jumped at the chance because I’d basically get an hour to pick their brains on interesting public service improvement topics.

So what did I learn?

Unsurprisingly, a lot. Helen shared a really interesting post on Unconscious Bias, which brings together many different types of bias into four main problems:

  • We aggressively filter information to avoid information overload.
  • Lack of meaning is confusing, so we fill in the gaps.
  • We need to act fast, so we jump to conclusions.
  • We’re working in complex environments so we focus on the important bits. Decisions inform our mental models of the world.

So what does this mean for public services? For me, it’s about awareness. If we take the time to actively reflect on these problems, then we can be more conscious of our bias as we interact with people and deliver services. We’ve already identified this as an issue at the Wales Audit Office, so we held an internal event to reflect on this. The Storify includes lots of useful resources, including Harvard’s Implicit Associations Test.

We also had a really good conversation about trust, PR and public services after Ben shared a post on the war on truth. Helen looked at the professions topping the Edelman Trust Barometer, which finds that people’s trust in government is generally a reflection of how content Britons are with their lot. This has big implications for how we interact with people from different socio-economic backgrounds.

As a project, we’ve undertaken work ourselves on looking at the importance of staff trust in public services. It’s interesting to take some of the lessons around staff trust and applying it in a wider context of working with communities:

  • Ability – have we shown that we are competent at doing our job?
  • Benevolence – do we have benign motives and a concern for others beyond our own needs?
  • Integrity – are we principled? Are we clearly acting in a fair and honest way?
  • Predictability – are people aware of what we’re likely to do?

After sharing a post on GCHQ’s Digital Approach, I also learnt from Ben that the analogy of frogs in boiling water is a complete lie.

What else did I share?

The Good Practice Exchange is also pondering how we can help public services develop their approaches to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. So I shared Chris Bolton’s post on Sustainable Decision Making and Simulation Games as it’s been useful in getting me to think differently about how we as a project might respond to the legislation in order to help services improve.

I’ve also been pondering about how we learn and develop in the workplace. In my ten years or so of working in public services, only three of the training courses I’ve attended have actually had any impact on my work. So how might we tie in our own learning and development with better organisations and improved public services? Carl Haggerty has written a great post on this.

Horses for courses

We have a slide that we use at our events that shows the many different that we share information – through our blog, social media, Randomised Coffee Trials, email and phone calls. We recognise that not everybody wants to receive information in the same form, and not everybody processes it the same way. One of the key principles of our work is that there isn’t a one size fits all approach for better services. Podcasts are another useful way of sharing learning and information, so it’s well worth having a listen to this and other podcasts to see whether they can help you improve your work and what you do.

GovCamp Cymru: Can we change behaviour for better public services?

At GovCamp Cymru Dyfrig Williams pitched a session on how behaviour change theory can help to embed ideas generated at unconferences into organisations. Below he outlines what he learnt from the session.

This year’s GovCamp Cymru was a great event. I pitched a session on changing the behaviour of people within organisation to enable public service improvement. Whilst I’d done some work beforehand on key issues that I felt needed to be resolved and how we might do that, the session was very much a pooling of ideas and experiences, so I’ve got to say a big thank you to everyone who came and to everyone who provided input before, during and after the main discussion. The Storify that we put together gives a good overview of what was said during the day.

So in terms of my session, here are the key things that I learnt:

Leadership is important

That might seem like an incredibly obvious statement, and in some senses it is. We spoke about how staff model the behaviour that leaders display within their organisations. But what was heartening was that there was discussion around what constituted a leader – it’s not necessarily about being at the top of your organisational hierarchy. It might be about thought leadership, or staff might take it upon themselves to lead change within their organisation or instil that leadership role in other people. It’s all too easy to cede responsibility to others because we don’t have a leadership role bestowed upon us, so it was great to hear attendees talk about what they could do to seize the initiative. But we also discussed how some organisations are hostile to mavericks, so it’s important to think about how you are perceived within your own organisation.

The behaviours that good leaders might display started with really simple things like saying “Thank you” to make staff feel valued. Spice Cardiff talked about opening up agendas of meetings, and we also spoke about the importance of risk taking. The public sector can often be risk averse, but we dug a little deeper to think about why that might be. The point that “The people who design change have less to lose than the people who implement it” really struck a chord with me, and if we are asking people to take a leap of faith on working differently, then we need to ensure that people feel supported and that they won’t be hung out to dry if things go wrong. We spoke about approaches that may help us to mitigate risk, in particular the value of prototyping to demonstrate new ways of working when you’re told that a new method can’t work.

Legislation is a sword and a shield

I love this quote, which came from a discussion on the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. We spoke about how the act could be used as a shield to safeguard staff who are trying to make change happen by providing a clear rationale for change, or a sword to fight with in order to take the initiative to kickstart meaningful change within our organisations. People seemed to agree that all levers of change should be aligned, but that there wasn’t a “one-size fits all approach”. Legislation certainly plays a role in behavioural change, but so does culture, leadership, politics and the public that we work with and for. We need a range of tools and tactics so that we use the most appropriate tool for any given situation.


A photo by Nigel Bishop from GovCamp Cymru

We learn by talking, thinking and doing

Despite it being a session about organisational change, there was nobody that worked in Human Resources at the session. Regardless, the consensus seemed to be that organisational learning was too important to be left with one centralised team and that we should all take responsibility for it as individuals, especially as there are so many online resources available.

In the session people agreed that one of the ways in which unconferences can add value is by growing networks and learning from others. But we have to consider how inclusive we’re being – are we bringing people from our organisations along with us on the change journey? As I mentioned in the discussion, Carl Haggerty has written a great post where he reflects on how he learns and how he helps others. Another way of embedding change within an organisation is to get someone who’s already done it to come in to talk about it and demonstrate the difference. The connections that we make at unconferences can help us to spread good practice and new ways of working.

There was also a discussion around having ‘champion’ roles within the organisation, where the pressure to spread the change is taken away from an individual and shared much wider. An example was given around the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, where the responsibility is shared around staff members to embed the cultural change within their teams in order to meet the requirements of the act.

Will GovCamp Cymru help to change behaviour?

The points raised at my session certainly made me think again about how change takes place within organisations. I’m currently working on a Data and Tech project that will look at how the Wales Audit Office challenges our existing use of data and technology, the assumptions we normally take for granted, and how we can offer radical solutions when we use new technology to transform our audit and business processes. If we’re looking to change the way we work, we’re going to need to bring our colleagues with us on the journey. The feedback from this session has been really helpful, and I’d love to hear from anyone else who puts the learning from the session into practice within their organisations in order to deliver better public services.

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.

What happens next?

Guest blog from Alastair Blair of The Potent Mix, who reflects on the Making a Virtue of the Virtual Shared Learning Seminar. The original blogpost is available here, and you can see Alastair and other speakers discuss the event in the below video.

In a well-ordered world, the Welsh (and English) Councils and other public bodies learn how to save money the same way the Scottish Councils have, and then adopt a portal similar to tellmescotland.

In the real world, it’s salutary to look at what has happened. Even in Scotland, although 80% of Councils have adopted some or all of the measures learned from their training by thePotentMix, a small number still have done nothing and are saving nothing as a consequence. There are still tens of thousands of pounds that can be saved, on top of the hundreds of thousands that have already been saved. Ironically, almost all of these local authorities have experienced the front page ‘Council must save millions’ headlines in their local paper, usually followed by a quote from an official to the effect of ‘we’re doing everything we can to save money’. No they are not, and as an aside, if they aren’t doing it in this little area which I have knowledge of, what other areas are they not doing it in?

The vast majority of Scottish Councils are now using www.tellmescotland.gov.uk and increasingly other Scottish public bodies are as well. However, a small minority has taken a lot longer than they should to become acquainted with and trained in using the portal. Its unique selling point – the fact that it alerts the citizen to what’s going on, makes it far better than any existing system where the public have to seek out the public notice information, either on a Council site or via an advert or poster on a lamp-post. In addition, it’s not difficult to use: in Glasgow, the biggest Council in Scotland, the planning department uploads all its notices to tellme in only ten minutes each week.

The Improvement Service in Scotland has tried to take the message to government south of the border, as indeed have I. The response has been largely muted (with a handful of notable exceptions). The proposition is simple – do this and you’ll save money, improve communication, tick that important ‘channel shift’ box, and future-proof your public notice advertising. This is such an ‘easy win’, yet too many people, at all levels (and I’ve communicated with/spoken to Directors, Chairs, comms people, procurement people etc., at numerous major public bodies – even the DCLG) are simply not interested.

For the newspaper industry though, the unwillingness of some of the public sector to change gives hope that the money will continue to flow in for some time yet. They are right to have that hope. Based on a long career dealing with the public sector across the UK, there are too many who do not want to change, and as a result change is slow and intermittent. But at a time when the public sector needs to save money, improve and future proof services, this is inexcusable and is increasingly being identified as such.

Paradoxically, to someone with a private sector background (such as a newspaper industry executive) this reluctance to change is incomprehensible. However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon, for Wales at least. The Wales Audit Office, which refreshingly seems to have a remit to be forward-thinking and proactive, has found out about the work carried out by the Improvement Service and its private sector partners in Scotland and are pushing ahead with plans to take this into Wales. A pilot in Wrexham is on course to save that Council c. 40% of its previous advertising costs. Further meetings are planned across the Principality and it is to be hoped that the publishers will also work with the public sector there to find a mutually acceptable way forward. Given that, privately, at a very senior level, there is an acceptance from the publishers that the revenue from public notice advertising will, one day, be gone, what matters is what happens in the interim. To coin a phrase, let’s work together.

Alastair Blair

Balanced Boards

Trustees Shared Learning Seminar

The recent Trustee Shared Learning Seminars resulted in a rich seam of approaches shared by delegates in Norma Jarboe’s workshop on Balanced Boards. Norma shared some current thinking around the importance of having a balanced board and some very thought provoking stats which reinforced some of her key messages, which you can see below.

During the workshop, delegates also shared some of their approaches with their workshop attendees. Following the workshop, I caught up with a few of the delegates to capture their comments.

I would like to thank Bernadette Fuge, Chair of Age Cymru, Ray Singh, Independent Member (Legal) of Velindre NHS Trust Board and Joanne Moore, HR and Governance Manager for Learning Disability Wales for giving up their time freely to enable us to share their knowledge as wide as possible.

Bernadette Fuge

Bernadette Fuge, shared Age Cymru’s approach in how they obtained a board with the necessary skill sets that reflected the direction of their organisation. Ray Singh also shared Velindre NHS Trust Board’s approach. Joanne Moore from Learning Disability Wales, shared the changes they have recently undertaken to widen the diversity of their board. In particular, how they recruited their new trustees and the different type of media they used to access hard to reach groups. At this point, several workshops attendees were busily scribbling down some of Joanne’s suggestions. Here comments are captured in this podcast.

Trustee Co-option seems to be a popular solution for some boards to bridge certain skill gaps.

Ray Singh of Velindre NHS Trust / Ray Singh o Ymddiriedolaeth GIG Velindre

Some delegates were struggling with the need to limit the time members served on their boards; some delegates shared situations where some board members had been members for more than 17 years. Ray Singh, Velindre NHS Trust Board’s Independent Board Member shared their approach to this matter. Bernadette Fuge also shared Age Cymru’s approach.

One of the very interesting approaches Age Cymru have adopted in recent years is annual appraisals for their Board Trustees. Bernadette provides more details in this podcast.

Several of the workshop delegates shared their inability to access hard to reach groups. Joanne Moore, HR and Governance Manager for Learning Disability Wales to share some of their approaches. Several workshops delegates were busily writing down what Jo had to say. So if you weren’t at this workshop, here is what she had to say.

Learning Disability Wales / Anabledd Dysgu Cymru

Hopefully, this blog has given you a bit of a flavour of the useful sharing of information that went on the Balanced Boards workshop. We have further information to share with you from our North Wales seminar so what this space!


Jyst Gweithdai WordPress / Just WordPress Workshops

Bydd Tanwen Grover a Dyfrig Williams o dîm y Gyfnewidfa Arfer Dda yn cynnal sesiwn ar blogio yn y 3ydd sector a’r sector cyhoeddus yn ddigwyddiad nesaf Defnyddwyr WordPress Cymru, sef Jyst Gweithdai WordPress. Cliciwch yma am ragor o wybodaeth.

Tanwen Grover and Dyfrig Williams from the Good Practice Exchange Wales are holding a session on blogging in the public and third sectors at the nest WordPress Users Wales Event – Just WordPress Workshops. Click here for further information.

What Public Service Leaders can learn from ‘The Boss’ (aka Bruce Springsteen)

I’m sure several people reading this blog will possibly have raised eyebrows having read the title and are asking “What has Bruce Springsteen got to do with Public Service Leaders?”

Recently, Bruce returned to Cardiff Millennium Stadium as he said he would, in his previous concert at the Stadium five years ago. So for starters, you could say he delivers on his promises. Moreover, I see him as a great leader, with great leadership traits, which he clearly demonstrated whilst carrying out his job.

For instance, he clearly recognises the importance of engaging with his audience (read service users), and he does this in a couple of different ways.

He has built a section in his concert whereby he asks the audience which songs they would they like him to sing. This part of his concert has become legendary now, as audiences bring hand written catchy headlines on cardboard, by the hundreds. He spends time reading them, and a camera is located behind him to enable the tens of thousands in the audience can see what he is seeing. He will then choose a selection of cardboard messages and sing a few of the songs and display the relevant message too. He keeps the rest of the messages and displays many of them at future concerts. Great audience satisfaction and a great story to tell friends afterwards. I see that as great involvement and customer experience.

During the various sections of the concert, Springsteen invites audience members to sing and dance on stage with band members. Also Bruce and various band members join audiences at the front and side of the stage and to sing with them. I’m not saying this is unique to Springsteen, as other artists do similar approaches. What I would say, he displays a real human touch.

Whilst he is clearly the leader of the band (read organisation), he publicly acknowledges the efforts of his team members and the undoubted contribution they make on behalf of the band. He spotlights them constantly throughout the concert. He does this by encouraging individual band members to take centre stage and highlight their skills and expertise. He creates a working environment where his team members enjoy themselves so much, that it’s difficult to decide who is having the better time, the band or the audience. This is an excellent example of staff engagement.

Springsteen has to think strategically before every gig because of the different needs of his audience. The set list is planned meticulously so that each section of his varied fan base feel satisfied at the end of the gig. Whether you’re a fan of his early material, his acoustic efforts or his biggest hits, there’s something for everyone at his gigs.

In terms of value for money, there is never a warm up act at a Springsteen concert, there isn’t time! One of the other unique aspects of a Bruce Springsteen concert, is you will see hundreds of audience members set the timer on their watches or mobile phone the minute he strikes the first chord and then stop at the final chord. He is on stage for at least twice the average length of time of most artists. Following every concert, besides thousands of views being shared on social media, radio phones etc. there is always the massive debate as to the exact length of time he was on stage. You can’t ever buy that kind of publicity.

So in summary, The Boss consults, engages, involves, tailors service delivery, works strategically and has high customer satisfaction. Good traits of any Public Sector Leader I would suggest.

Finally, I would suggest an appropriate nickname.


Making the Most of Your Assets

3. Asset Management ImageDid you know that since 2006, business energy costs have risen by 243%? No, nor did we. The public sector in Wales is well aware of the need to cut costs and improve services. But what do you do when you’re faced with costs that seem out of your control? You could look to manage your assets better by trying new ideas or approaches. The Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Exchange aim is to help you find these new ideas and approaches through offering free seminars, resources and guidance on asset management.

 What do we mean by asset management?

It covers a wide range of topics, including energy, IT, fleet, buildings and plant and machinery – all things you need to make your organisation function. Whilst you can’t cut any of these from your budget, you can try to manage them better. The aim is to make financial savings without having negative effects on service delivery.

Some good work has been done across the UK on asset management. Over £800m has been saved since 2004 in central government estate, according to the Northern Ireland Audit Office. In Wales, the National Asset Working Group helps organisations work together to make financial savings. But costs still rise and now that sustainable development is becoming a core principle for the Welsh public sector, why not look at some new ideas?

That’s what the Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Exchange is doing this year. We’re planning on running some free seminars and gathering good practice on energy, fleet, IT and buildings management. We’ll share with you some key ideas and themes coming out of our work on this blog and our website. In the meantime, you may find the knowledge that we gathered previously helpful.

Why is finding these new ideas important? The public sector in Wales is facing tight financial constraints and well-managed, considered risks and new ideas could help. Sharing and learning from each other’s experiences can help organisations tackle asset management in a new way. Instead of struggling with your energy management, you could adapt the successful approaches taken by someone else – that’s our philosophy.

What else is out there?

The National Asset Working Group’s new hub could be a good place to start. The Energy Saving Trust has a blog with some interesting ideas and the Guardian has a collection of sustainability case studies from businesses. Some general internet research will turn up a range of ideas you may find useful.

Asset management is not just for your estates and facilities department. It’s an enabler of services   for your whole organisation. You could spend some time developing your strategy and see what new changes you could make to save money. If you’re not very familiar with asset management, you could do some research to see how important it is and what can be achieved.

Keep an eye on our website for new ideas and resources to help you think afresh about your asset management. There will be a collection of energy management resources available at the end of July. You can also see details of our Energy Management Seminar on our website. On the day, you can follow #WAO_EM on Twitter for some new ideas and approaches.

We’d like to hear from you if you’re doing some interesting work in this area or if you find any of our ideas particularly helpful – leave us a comment below.