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.
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.