Tag Archives: public service

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.

NHS Hack Day: Data Visualisation

Data Visualisation / Delweddu DataIt’s been a packed first session at the NHS Hack Day. The pitches have taken place, and people have chosen where to put their energy and efforts. The hard work has begun.

I’ve caught up with Martin Chorley, who’s a lecturer at the School of Computer Science and Informatics at Cardiff University. The group working on his pitch includes students of Computational Journalism, who are looking to make health statistics and data easier to find, view and understand for different areas.

The data will be displayed on a map of Wales, and will clearly and easily convey information around issues like Cancer patient waiting lists, numbers of beds at Hospitals or even the spending levels of their Health Board.

This approach takes inspiration from NHSmaps.co.uk, which shows data for clinical commissioning groups in England, but it will also add further information to what’s available on the site.

NHS Hack Day: Data Visualisation / Diwrnod Hacio'r GIG: Delweddu DataAnybody who works in either local authorities or the NHS in Wales will know that the footprint of public services differ greatly, with the boundary of no one Health Board matching that of a Local Authority perfectly.

Instead of letting this get in the way of creating the tool, they’re cleverly getting around this by amending the metadata of the information they’re collating. This will result in the boundaries displayed on the map being amended according to the details of its information source. There is even the possibility of displaying the information to the level of a Lower Super Output Area.

It’s been impressive to see how people are negotiating issues that have so often been sticking points when we look to improve public services. Proof that working in new and different ways can result in interesting approaches to old problems.


“What are you really saying?” – Achieving effective overview and scrutiny through active listening

            CfPS logo         

The ability to freely question decision makers is a powerful expression of democracy. In many ways the act of questioning those in authority can be said to define and represent overview and scrutiny’s challenge role, especially when played out in the public arena.

For many overview and scrutiny committees, however, the aim of questioning is not just challenge for its own sake but as a means to drive improvement in public services and ensure decision making is accountable, inclusive and robust.

Despite a heavy emphasis on the use of questions in scrutiny, I’m not always convinced that sufficient attention is placed on the process of answering. After all, it is a question of give and take and it’s important to strike the right balance. As Mark Twain said, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.”

Whether in a formal accountability capacity or as part of task and finish group inquiry, for me the space between question and answer represents an important frontier zone in which relationships are cultivated and crafted. It’s a form of social exchange which if not managed sensitively can crystallise attitudes into ‘us versus them’. This can prove a real barrier to making best use of elected members’ community leadership role in shaping the future delivery of public services.

CfPS 2

Being called to account by scrutiny or giving evidence as a witness has the potential to generate a range of unsettling feelings for those under the spotlight. Since the ability to obtain and analyse evidence is fundamental in helping committees reach informed recommendations, it makes sense that it should be experienced by those contributing to it as rounded and objective. This is crucial to scrutiny’s credibility and effectiveness; people who feel they haven’t been given a ‘fair hearing’ are more likely to be dismissive and disengaged.

Earlier this year CfPS linked with the Samaritan’s workplace training team to explore how the organisation’s unique approach to listening can inform more reflective forms of communication which can ultimately lead to the development of more responsive local services.

The Samaritans offers a range of confidential services to people who are feeling suicidal or experiencing emotional distress. Listening volunteers talk to anyone who calls, emails or visits a Samaritans branch and are specially trained in the use of the ‘listening wheel’ in providing individuals with support.

CfPS 3    CfPS 4

Volunteers listen with focus, using techniques such as clarification, summary and careful use of open questions. The aim is to provide contacts with a safe, non-judgmental environment in which people can explore how they feel.

Active listening allows Samaritan volunteers to suspend their own frame of reference in processing information provided to them by contacts, helping them empathise and better see things from another’s point of view.

By supporting people with their feelings Samaritans are able to get through to the facts. The relatively simple process of talking and being really listened to alleviates distress and helps people reach a better understanding of their situation and the options open to them.

For more information about the Samaritans, please visit their website www.samaritans.org

The insight offered by the Samaritans’ communication methods provides a way to augment the support element of overview and scrutiny’s ‘critical friendship’ role. Active listening lets those practicing scrutiny develop a more accurate understanding of the speaker’s message, leading to the formation of more balanced and productive relationships.

The following five points demonstrate how listening with greater focus can be used to achieve more effective overview and scrutiny:

  1. Active listening demonstrates respect and shows that scrutiny practitioners genuinely want to understand people’s viewpoints even when different to their own.
  2.  It facilitates further disclosure by not judging who is speaking. Disclosure is important in achieving deeper understanding of issues of interest to scrutiny by acknowledging the complexity of real life situations.
  3. Active listening enables contributors to reflect back, allowing them to provide correction in the event practitioners have misunderstood information presented to them. It can be an important means to ensure accuracy and improve the robustness of evidence gathering.
  4. Being attentive helps practitioners stay focused on the conversation and to remember what they hear. It can help overcome situations where councillors are perceived as being more interested in ‘queuing to speak’ than in paying attention to what is being said. It can also avoid unhelpful duplication of questioning.
  5. Active listening can defuse conflict. Fully attending to a speaker can help create an atmosphere of co-operation from which can emerge innovative, co-produced solutions which are more likely to be implemented.

As overview and scrutiny in Wales develops in an environment of austerity, active listening provides a constructive means for it to make a more valuable contribution in the design and delivery of local services. By inviting, authorising and legitimising the public’s views and experiences within decision making, we can achieve better accountability through listening and ultimately improve outcomes for the people of Wales.

The team at CfPS are really looking forward to the joint conference on 28th November. We are delighted to be able to support the event as part of our Welsh Government funded programme and to contribute our collective experience in demonstrating the return on investment in overview and scrutiny.

Rebecca David-Knight, Wales Scrutiny Programme Manager, Centre for Public Scrutiny  

Disaster recovery in action

Effective use of Information Technology

Before I moved to Cardiff a couple of years ago, Aberystwyth was my home for the best part of a decade. I used to walk past the National Library of Wales every day on my way to work and pause for a second by the building so I could check out the fantastic view of the town from there.

When a fire broke out in the Library, my friends’ social media accounts were consumed by the story, as they all worried about friends who worked there, the building itself, and resources that it holds that are treasured both locally and nationally.

Effects of fire on the National Library of Wales

A picture taken from the BBC website of the effects of the fire on the National Library of Wales

The scale of the reaction was dwarfed by the effects of the fire. When pictures emerged we were all shocked by them.

Einion Gruffudd and Owain Pritchard spoke at our IT shared learning seminar about how the Library managed to get their IT systems back online amidst all this. The fire occurred on the Friday, but amazingly computer services were up and running on the Monday, and the library was open for business as usual on the Tuesday.

Owain Pritchard speaking about the effect of the fire

There were lots of lessons to be learnt and experiences to share from Einion and Owain’s accounts. I wasn’t aware that most of the damage was caused by the water from extinguishing the fire rather than the fire itself, but incredibly data was recovered from 90% of the equipment affected. We heard how two data centres, a mesh network and virtualisation had all played a role in the system recovery.

Lots of the key messages from the session were highlighted on Twitter and can be seen on the Storify of the seminars. I highly recommend watching our interview with Einion too. Fortunately few of us ever need to put our disaster recovery systems into practice, so there’s lots for us to learn from people who’ve had to put their plans into action.

–      Dyfrig

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.


Bilingual facilitation – how can we be better?


National Eisteddfod of Wales / Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru

Last week Mike Palmer (who focuses on Sustainable Development for the Wales Audit Office) and I ran a workshop for the Public Engagement Working Group in the Eisteddfod in Denbigh. We ran a workshop where we looked at putting the National Principles for Public Engagement in Wales into practice.

Both Mike and I really enjoyed the workshop, which enabled us to share knowledge and to collate information on how we think the Welsh Government may want to involve people in their national conversation on the Future Generations Bill.

Afterwards both Mike and myself sat down and reflected on what went well and what we would change in future.

As I was working in a Welsh as a first language environment, I relished the opportunity to present in Welsh. You can see the original Prezi here, or you can see the presentation on which it is based on Participation Cymru’s website. This was a mistake, as I should have made slides bilingual. The first language of some participants was English, and whilst I translated my information as I went, having it readily available would have made the process much easier.

But it was the wider issues around bilingual facilitation and community cohesion that struck both Mike and I. As a Welsh speaker I have always been keen to make sure that people have an opportunity to contribute in Welsh, so I’ve set up separate groups as part of events I’ve been running. Whilst this has enabled people to take part in the language of their choice, it’s also meant that people who speak different languages don’t get to hear the perspectives of the other group. Of course we can get groups to feedback to each other, but how do we cross-pollinate ideas so that people truly develop ideas together?

If we do bring these groups together, how do we ensure that English speakers aren’t frustrated because they don’t understand Welsh, and that Welsh speakers aren’t frustrated because they’re forced to participate in English?

I’m very aware that this blog poses more questions than answers, so I’ve been googling my socks off and I’ve also tweeted various practitioners. Edward Andersson from Involve offered me some great ideas. We had a discussion around how Participatory Appraisal could help with this as the techniques are visual and are not reliant on language. Edward suggested checking out Oxfam UK’s Poverty Programme, which has produced a great guide called Have You Been PA’d? on this.

Mike and I also spoke about the issue of translation. Whilst we did our best to avoid jargon, some terms we defined at the start were public service specific (such as engagement and participation). What we realised was that some terms that were perhaps unclear were muddied even further by being directly translated into terms that are rarely used by Welsh speakers in their day to day lives (ymgysylltu and cyfranogi). If the citizen is truly at the centre of services, we need to ensure that we use terms that people understand. Edward made a great point here as well – that the translation shows the artificial nature of the initial word.

The Welsh Government has attempted to change this, where it’s changed the name of the Sustainable Development Bill to the Future Generations Bill. The name change is aimed at making sure that people have a better understanding of what the bill aims to achieve (making sure the decisions we make now don’t adversely affect people in the future), but many have been concerned that sustainable development, a term which is recognised internationally, has been ditched and is being watered down. Can we go down the same path with citizen engagement?

Psychologically and sociologically, it can’t be good to separate from each other based on language. The scale of the challenge is such that no doubt I’ll revisit this in the future, and I’m sure to blog again on this. I’ll post any further resources I find below, and if you know of any useful guides please feel free to do the same.

Thanks in advance for your help!


PS I know that Participation Cymru are available should Welsh organisations need any assistance around engagement – I’m going to approach them for help on this very topic!

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