Views from the Conference: Keith Towler “A public sector that listens”

Sometimes conferences for the public sector tend to lead themselves down a road where jargon, leadership theory, performance indicators and best value indicators become ends in themselves. The Wales Audit Office conference did not make this mistake. Instead we were talking about listening, acting on concerns and improving outcomes for everyone who relies or uses public services.

As a speaker I wasn’t quite sure how to pitch my input on listening to children to an audience of senior public service leaders. In the end I decided to keep it simple, ensure children and young people’s voices were heard directly and to ask my audience what stopped them from actually listening and acting on concerns.

In discussion during the day it was very clear to me that participants recognised that listening is a real skill. Something that requires professionals to recognise that to properly listen requires giving up some power and being open to challenge, new ideas and creativity. That partnership is about the relationship between human beings. And critically that listening and acting on concerns could change organisational cultures and that leaders in the public sector should model that behaviour.

Same Picture Different Lenses (45)

It was an uplifting day. A rare thing in today’s reality of austerity and public service cuts. If we are to meet the challenges that austerity poses the recognition that listening to people adds real value could just be the platform we need to build modern and sustainable public services in Wales.

About the author:

Tony Fanning photographyKeith is a respected children’s rights expert with over 25 years’ experience in social work, youth work and youth justice roles.

As the country’s second children’s commissioner, he has published reports on child trafficking, young carers and looked after children. Keith was also a member of the Welsh Government’s National Children’s Safeguarding Forum and a panel member of the Family Justice Review – an independent review commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, Department of Education and the Welsh Government – where he represented children’s interests.


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