Tag Archives: randomised coffee trials

Randomised Coffee Trials: Encouraging networking

Could Randomised Coffee Trials help people within your organisation to network and share information? In this blogpost, Bethan Davies reviews the Good Practice Exchange’s use of the method.

Some of you may already be aware that the Good Practice Team have been piloting Randomised Coffee Trials for the past year, as a way of encouraging delegates to continue conversations after our events. Dyfrig Williams blogged about the use of Randomised Coffee Trials last year.

Back in January, we thought it would be good to get a feel for how the process is going, and whether it’s something we should continue with or whether we need to find a new approach. We decided to survey our seminar delegates to seek views of those that had taken part, and those that hadn’t, and find out what they thought.

We received 65 responses to our survey, with some really interesting responses and overall, most were positive. Some of the reasons people like the Randomised Coffee Trials were:

  • It’s good to know that colleagues in the public sector face the same frustrations and challenges!
  • It’s a good opportunity to discuss current work, share good practice and learn from each other
  • It provided the opportunity to have helpful discussions with people that would otherwise never cross paths in their day to day work
  • It’s a great way to learn about what other organisations and people do and helps identify potential opportunities that could aid own organisations work

For those that didn’t take part in the trials, the reasons varied from people not having the time to take part on top of their day to day jobs, they were not interested in the process, or that they just didn’t understand the process, which is a lesson for us.

The feedback made me think about how we ensure all delegates have the same opportunities to engage and continue conversations after our events. Having a busy day to day job may mean some people don’t want to make that extra commitment to meeting up with someone new. An interesting bit of feedback that we had from one delegate was that we should set up a Randomised Coffee Trial during or after our seminar – a bit like speed dating! That would enable everyone to take part, hopefully provide further clarification for those that don’t understand the process, and enable those who want to continue to do so. Something for us to keep in mind!

Another suggestion was about having an online space where people can share their stories and find new partners/ organisations that have similar issues to discuss. A recent example of an organisation doing something similar is Monmouthshire Made Open.

A screenshot of Monmouthshire Made OpenMonmouthshire Made Open allows people to raise challenges; crowd-source solutions; pitch ideas and ask for funding, volunteers or materials on a single platform. Unlike other social media it allows people to turn problems into actions in a single place, people make and build connections and form groups, people can ‘like’ ideas and help shape solutions which can help build consensus and a movement for change.

Monmouthshire Made Open is still in its early stages of development, but is definitely worth looking at. Monmouthshire Council hope this platform becomes a key tool in involving people in the development of the wellbeing assessment for the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and help them identify innovative and shared solutions.

We’re going to continue with Randomised Coffee Trials for the foreseeable future, but if you have any suggestions for us please get in touch!

As we all face complex and challenging times, no single individual or organisation has the answers, so it’s so important that we encourage communication between organisations and encourage learning.

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.

Unmentoring 2: The return of Randomised Coffee Trials

What can Welsh public services learn from Kirklees Council? Dyfrig Williams discussed digital with Steve Langrick.

UnmentoringWe’ve been running Randomised Coffee Trials, where random participants are drawn together to discuss their work, since our Wellbeing seminar in March. We’ve had some great feedback, where people have discussed a range of issues from job interviews, to mentoring and working closer together.

At the same time I’ve been taking part in LocalGov Digital’s Unmentoring sessions, which are along the same lines as Randomised Coffee Trials. My first Unmentoring blog looked at my conversation with Paul Inman of Warwickshire County Council, and this time I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Langrick of Kirklees Council.

I spent much of the conversation getting as much info as possible out of Steve, who fortunately was happy to share his work and how the council are embracing digital developments.

Going mobile

As a higher proportion of people in Wales access the internet through their phones than any other part of the UK, I was intrigued to hear how people access Kirklees’ website and how it influences the council’s work. In two years there’s been an increase of 300% in the use of mobile to access the website, which is now close to 50% of traffic to the website. With stats like that, a responsive and easy to use site isn’t just a ‘nice to have,’ it’s a necessity.

Cyngor Kirklees


With more people accessing their information through mobile, Kirklees are tailoring their approaches accordingly. They’re developing a new site called BetterOff to help benefit claimants through their applications and to show them how much they might be better off in work. As this can be quite a long process, the council can potentially save a lot of money by moving the service online. They can then focus their resources on the more complex enquiries they get on the issue. It’s also preventative as it guides people through the right steps up front, which helps them to avoid potential sanctions.

BetterOff also embraces the concept of Assisted Digital, where people who can’t use online services are helped to access them. The site itself is not an inhibitor, as people can come in and get support to access the site and the service.

What’s next for Kirklees?

Public services are constantly evolving and adapting to the environment in which they’re delivered. Kirkless Council are a good example of that, because even as they’ve undertaken a lot of work in the field, they’re constantly looking to improve. The Alpha version of their new website is online so that people can see what their new site will look like and comment on how it meets their needs. Like Kirklees Council, we can’t rest on our laurels if we want to deliver the best services possible for the people of Wales.

Unmentoring and Randomised Coffee Trials


We launched Randomised Coffee Trials for the first time at our Wellbeing Seminar. For the uninitiated, they aim to get random people together to discuss their work. This guide by David Gurteen is a really useful introduction. In order to explain the concept to attendees, we played this video by the Red Cross on how they’re using it.

Happily, LocalGovDigital launched their Unmentoring at about the same time, which is based on the same principles. Perfect – a chance to experience the method and to learn about someone’s work at the same time.

I was paired with Paul Inman of Warwickshire County Council, and it was a great chance to learn more about their work and compare it with what’s happening this side of Offa’s Dyke.

Warwickshire have been undertaking some work around customer journeys and channel shift. An online transaction can be much cheaper than meeting in person – a transaction costs an average of 15p online compared to £8.62 in the flesh. It’s interesting to hear how small changes can make a difference, like prompting people to go to the website when they’re on hold on the phone.

Warwickshire County CouncilThe pleasing thing is that Warwickshire haven’t forgotten about people in all of this. Kate Bentham’s blog is a great example of why we should keep our people focus when making changes. In terms of their website, Warwickshire believe in evolution, not revolution. This means small changes along the way, like making the margins smaller on mobile, rather than big PR headlines. But each change makes a small difference, and people don’t have to re-learn the site.

In terms of what I brought to the party (apart from my own cup of tea), I expanded a little on how the Wales Audit Office are using Yammer and the Good Practice Exchange’s Effective Use of IT event, where we looked at the National Library of Wales’ disaster recovery.

Our next Unmentoring chat is at the start of next month, so we’ve both got a bit of time to reflect on our first conversation and delve a bit deeper into things. But what’s been really useful is the opportunity to take some time out to reflect on what a ‘good IT service’ might look like, and also to spend some time talking to somebody about the challenges public services face who has a different perspective to my own.

Most of us have worked in silos at one point or another, and it’s all too easy to get entrenched in these with our own specific ideas and perspectives. It’s been fascinating seeing how Unmentoring and Randomised Coffee Trials can play a part in breaking down barriers to information sharing, and I’m looking forward to learning more about Warwickshire’s work going forward. Mark Jeffs has outlined how we need to work differently. The inspiration for that has to come from somewhere, and hopefully Unmentoring and Randomised Coffee Trials can be that spark that helps people to think about things in a new light.