Over the past weeks I have had the pleasure of filming, recording and editing a series of short films for the conference ‘Same Picture, Different Lenses’, a conference that took the unique approach of seating Wales’ public service watchdogs and senior leaders and managers from across Welsh public services, alongside the very people who use those services. At the conference we asked them to work together to find solutions to the most common problems facing the Welsh public sector.
Filming for the conference has seen me touch all corners of Wales and have some great discussions about where and how we can all help improve the services we use. I have met Commissioners, dementia campaigners; disability rights campaigners, the Ombudsman, young parents and teenagers – all of whom have strong views of where services are failing and how they can be improved.
The biggest theme that has emerged from all the discussions is communication, or it seems a lack thereof. Communication not just in the sense of public services broadcasting what they do and what they offer but taking the time to listen and be sure that what they offer is what is required or as we say in the public sector – ‘Fit for purpose’.
Peter Davies, the Sustainable Futures Commissioner perhaps summed this up best when he said that we need to change the language of public services. It’s true we do love a bit of jargon, how many times have you seen a document that talks about service re-configuration or co-production of services. What does it all mean? And how can we ever hope to start a conversation about making services better when no-one can understand what we are saying? Here it is known as the aunty Ethel test, if you can explain it in a way Ethel understands then you are doing things right.
We also need to get better at getting into communities and asking people what they want. Projects like the Commissioner’s own ‘Wales we want’, or the ‘National Conversation’ as it is known, are great examples of involving communities in public service delivery and gaining insight, but on a much smaller level too we should also listen to those individual voices, who can’t make as big a noise.
Speaking with Chris Roberts and his wife Jayne the penny dropped for me on how small, simple changes can really have a big impact. Both have found since Chris’ diagnosis of early-onset dementia that there are a lot of services out there but people just don’t know what is on offer and how they can get involved. Through their peer groups they have been able to share ‘new discoveries ‘and learn about services but for those outside these networks it may not be so easy. Chris and Jayne suggested some great ideas from using libraries and other public spaces as information hubs to link people and services together. For example, bringing benefits advisors to meet with those who have found themselves unable to work as a result of a diagnosis through to using free spaces such as pubs for support group meetings – it’s more social, its free and after all they are all adults so what better place to meet?
It is simple ideas like this that I our Conference captured, great ideas and great solutions that improve services and improve lives.
It makes me think of that line from the Bob Hoskins BT ads, “It’s good to talk” – you know what Bob? You were right.
The Same Picture, Different Lenses Conference was held at the Wales Millennium Centre on November 5th. The interactive conference , Chaired by the BBC’s Sian Lloyd, focussed on problems and solutions to three key themes arising from the work of the external review community – working together, creating real value and better listening. If you would like to Follow the outputs from the conference you can do so via the hashtag #waoconf14 on Twitter
Mark Woods is a PR and digital communications specialist for the Wales Audit Office. Mark has developed an on-going interest in public sector communications and shares his findings through his blog and on Twitter @MarkStevenWoods. Mark has also developed a keen interest in video production and editing and produced this series of videos to support the ‘Same Picture, Different Lenses’ Conference being hosted by the Wales Audit Office.