In November 2020 we (at the Co-production Network for Wales) put together a proposal to do some co-production and involvement development work with some of the Public Services Boards (PSBs). As part of the proposal we spoke to a number of people and combed through many reports and publications, to put together a sort of “state of public services” with a specific focus on PSBs. We thought it might be useful so here it is below:
The context for Welsh public services
We have drawn on relevant reports and publications, and spoken to a number of people in our networks about the Public Services Boards and their progress (see Thanks and Acknwledgements). This section presents a summary of what we have been both reading and hearing.
1. The traditional model is no longer fit for purpose
We already know that in the face of increasing demand and pressures, the traditional model of public services where the professionals hold all the resources and solutions is no longer viable, and increasingly organisations need to be developing innovative and sustainable responses to nuanced societal problems which have no obvious answers. Moreover the increased pressures on public service budgets post Covid-19 are only going to escalate this need for change.
Co-production (of public services) means that people who provide and deliver services, and people who access and receive services, share power and responsibility, and work together for mutual benefit in equal, reciprocal and caring relationships. It enables: people to access relevant and meaningful support when they need it; services to be effective and make a positive difference in people’s lives; and people, services and communities to become more effective agents of change. [Co-production Network for Wales (August 2020), Submission to Local Government and Elections Bill Review Committee.]
A co-productive approach brings together diversity of perspectives, grows reciprocal understanding, and develops creative solutions drawing on existing assets and resources. It offers an appropriate and relevant solution to complex problems. The way to co-produce is to involve citizens and stakeholders.
Involvement, as defined in the Well-being of Future Generations Act, requires organisations to be open to influence from citizens and stakeholders, moving to a culture of ‘working with’ rather than ‘doing to’. In contrast to consultation, involvement approaches work with people at earlier stages, such as helping to identify issues and potential solutions, and being supported to remain involved right throughout design, implementation and evaluation processes. [Future Generations Commissioner for Wales (2020) The Future Generations Report 2020, p.84 (https://www.futuregenerations.wales/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/FGC-Report-English.pdf)]
However, we also know that there isn’t enough co-production and involvement happening across the board to yield the kind and scale of impact that is required for sustainable change.
“What is missing in our current model is community power: the role of local people, acting together spontaneously or through enduring institutions, to design and deliver the kind of neighbourhood they want to be part of. The economic and social model we need for the future has community power, and the civil society that enables it, at its heart. This is the way to level up the country – to make great places ‘from within’ rather than by outside interventions.” [Kruger (September 2020) Levelling up our communities: proposals for a new social covenant, p.13
2. Citizens want to be more involved
Over the past 4 to 5 years, Welsh Government data shows that people in Wales have been feeling increasingly less able to influence decisions affecting their local area.[Welsh Government (2019), Well-being of Wales 2018-19, p.79 (https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/statistics-and-research/2019-11/well-being-of-wales-2019.pdf)] Data from the National Survey for Wales shows that over two-thirds of people don’t feel they have the opportunity to participate in local authority decision-making [Welsh Government (2018), National Survey for Wales (https://gov.wales/national-survey-wales-results-viewer)], and there is a long-term decrease in voter turnout in Welsh local government elections [The Electoral Commission (2019), Results and turnout at the May 2017 Wales local elections (https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/who-we-are-and-what-we-do/elections-and-referendums/past-elections-and-referendums/wales-local-council-elections/results-and-turnout-may-2017-wales-local-elections)], which could be symptomatic of this trend. This widespread disempowerment is contrary to Welsh Government’s ambitions for greater public involvement and co-production in decision-making and service provision. It is also contrary to the wider social trend of people expecting to have more direct influence over their lives. A UK-wide survey held in 2018, asking who should have a stake in decision-making around local services, found a strong preference for more direct control with 63% of people saying individuals should have a stake in decision-making, while 62% said community groups and 61% local government. Only 30% said the national government should be involved. [ComRes (2018), Centre for Cities – Urban vs. rural polling; cited in: Lent A., Studdert J. (2019), The Community Paradigm: Why public services need radical change and how it can be achieved, p.32 (https://www.newlocal.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/The-Community-Paradigm_FINAL.pdf)]
3. Our groundbreaking Welsh Acts include this approach
So we know co-production and involvement are a way forward for sustainable and effective public services, and they can meet people’s expectation of increased choice and control. Involvement is one of the five Ways of Working of the world-leading Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act (2015) – which is intrinsically linked with the other four ways of working that make up the sustainable development principle (collaboration, integration, prevention and long-termism).
Explicit references to involvement, and implicit references to co-production (through its underpinning values and approaches), appear repeatedly in the Commissioner for Future Generations’ Report 2020. While it highlights that pockets of good practice exist across sectors and geographies, the implementation is far from widespread enough.
“People are often being asked their view on a narrow topic, with public bodies then missing the point about what matters to people. (…) Members of the public have raised concerns about how involved they feel in things that affect them – it is identified as a consistent theme in letters I receive. (…) People feel they have been involved after decisions are made.” [Future Generations Commissioner for Wales (2020) The Future Generations Report 2020, p.87 (https://www.futuregenerations.wales/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/FGC-Report-English.pdf)]
“Involving people from the start is still not seen as ‘business as usual’ by several public bodies, which impacts on how adequately they can apply the other ways of working and meet their well-being objectives.” [Ibid.]
“In order to improve involvement, public bodies will need to adapt their culture to ensure their workforce has the necessary skills, structures, time and resources to involve the public effectively and ‘walk in their shoes’.”[Future Generations Commissioner for Wales (2020) The Future Generations Report 2020, p.88 (https://www.futuregenerations.wales/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/FGC-Report-English.pdf)]
“Public bodies should demonstrate collaboration, innovation, transparency and local ownership.” [Ibid. p.276]
“Public bodies should be embedding a culture of meaningful citizen and stakeholder involvement (…) This means having meaningful conversations with people in communities, finding out what matters to them, and reflecting their views before decisions are reached.” [Ibid. p.278]
“Public bodies often struggle to understand the range of assets that exist within communities, such as networks, associations, facilities, natural assets, land buildings, green spaces, small businesses, and fail to make the most of these strengths when they develop their place-based plans. Unlocking these strengths is crucial.” [Ibid.]
This is not an unfamiliar picture: there also exists a lag between policy and practice with regards to the co-production duty of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act (2014). [Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care, The Evaluation of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act (https://wihsc.southwales.ac.uk/evaluation-implementation-social-services-and-well-being-wales-act-gwerthuso-gweithrediad-deddf-gwasanaethau-cymdeithasol-llesiant-cymru/)] Across the board for the co-production and involvement aspects, implementation is currently uneven and a great deal of learning and upskilling has yet to occur. There needs to be greater understanding and confidence to make judicious use of co-production and involvement where most relevant and impactful. In particular, there is:
- A lack of understanding of what co-production and involvement are, and the values that underpin them: this leads to tokenistic practices; narrow, specific and transactional involvement that misses the values – and the potential – of true co-production; and reporting that people are doing co-production and involvement to demonstrate that they are fulfilling their statutory duty, but not actually translated, or translated poorly, into action.
- A lack of a starting point for practical implementation: even if people agree with the values in principle, and see the benefits in other organisations or sectors, they are unsure where and how to begin in their own settings due to the enormity of the task and the number of agendas and pressures to be met.
- A lack of acknowledgement that effective co-production and involvement require a mindset change: a paradigm shift for the organisation from a traditional perspective to a progressive, inclusive one that values reflective practice, innovation, taking positive risks, testing and learning, and becoming comfortable with uncertainty.
We have taken part in research events run by Y Lab and the Centre for Public Impact into why change does and doesn’t spread in Wales, and they have highlighted that the main disablers are structural and organisational in nature, and the primary enablers pertain to supportive relationships. Wales has an innovation environment where only the most tenacious or those with the right connections survive; people are innovating in spite of the system rather than because of it. Incredible value could be created with more space, time and the right support.
4. The role of PSBs in co-production and citizen involvement
We are faced with the enduring question of how to bridge the gap between the aspirational Welsh legislation and its implementation in practice.
We originally focused on Local Authorities, to effect sustainable culture and behaviour change at the heart of Wales’ public services. But with the benefit of hindsight, the impact of Covid-19, and the recommendations from the NLCF Committee, it is now clear that Public Services Boards (PSBs) will have a better ability to sustain the focus on collaboration for co-production and involvement, working with multidisciplinary and cross-organisational teams, which is key to our approach.
Statutory members of each PSB are: local authority, local health board, fire and rescue authority, Natural Resources Wales. In addition, the following are invited to participate: Welsh ministers, chief constables, police and crime commissioner, relevant probation services, at least one body representing voluntary organisations. [Welsh Government, Public Services Boards (https://gov.wales/public-services-boards)]
PSBs are ideally placed (as well as required by the Act) to involve local communities in co-producing services and innovative solutions to local challenges. They are facing a number of pressures however and would benefit from support to build capacity, capability and confidence.
This initial 2015-2020 reporting period has been a time of very considerable change, during which a combination of significant economic, political and social factors have affected trends, strategies and plans. New issues and challenges – some foreseen, and others unexpected – have appeared or have risen in prominence. One constant factor has been the rising demand pressures on public services, despite some recent easing of the public finance austerity that began in 2008. For Wales in 2020, grappling with the immediate and unprecedented emergency pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges and problems facing public services are complex and immense. [Audit Wales (May 2020) So, what’s different: Findings from the Auditor General’s Sustainable Development Principles Examinations, p.48 (https://www.audit.wales/system/files/publications/Well-being-of-Future-Generations-report-eng.pdf)]
5. Stock take on the first round of Well-being Assessments and Plans
Each PSB must carry out a Well-being Assessment that takes stock of the state of well-being in their places and localities, and publish a local Well-being Plan, which sets out how they will meet their responsibilities under the Act.
At the time of publishing their first round of Well-being Assessments (by May 2017), the PSBs had only been operating for about a year. The criticism commonly leveraged at this first cycle of assessments and planning is that the PSBs defaulted to a familiar, traditional approach to data collection and management plans, which were focused more on compliance than innovation. In fairness, this was a completely new approach (it is never simple taking a conceptual leap) and time was short; so they were exhaustive in their quantitative aspects, and as qualitative as they could be with the available networks and within the time available.
“PSBs are engaging with citizens, but are not involving them in their work: The legislation makes it clear that PSBs should work in a citizen-centred way, involving citizens in the co-design and delivery of wellbeing plans.”
“Whilst engagement activity has been time consuming and extensive it has nonetheless tended to follow traditional approaches focussed on informing rather than involving people and consequently falls short of meeting the new expectations of the Act.”
“Stakeholders are not made aware of the impact of their contribution and we found little evidence of how PSBs are ensuring the full diversity of stakeholders are represented and take part in involvement and engagement activity.”
“We conclude that PSBs are not consistently involving people who have the most to gain from public bodies taking a stronger focus on improving citizens’ lives.” [Auditor General for Wales (October 2019) Review of Public Services Boards, pp.17-18 (https://www.audit.wales/system/files/publications/review-of-public-service-boards-english.pdf)]
The public involvement element was generally a bit thin – there was consultation carried out but not so much engagement. The goals weren’t co-produced, and neither was the delivery. Some of the resulting Well-being Plans (completed by May 2018) weren’t unambitious, but they weren’t clear on how to deliver the vision, which meant PSBs have struggled to deliver another to-do list of complicated, difficult and long term objectives.
“Work needs to be done to avoid a compliance culture around well-being planning and to broaden out discussion on different meanings of well-being than those traditionally used in public service planning.”
“Well-being Assessments do not challenge ‘business as usual’ approaches to policy development and delivery. Rather, the focus is on the production of WBAs in a timely and efficient fashion.”
“How do we develop capacity in PSBs to enable them to better explore contentious issues in local well-being planning?” [Netherwood, Flynn, Lang (2017), Well Being Assessments in Wales: Overview Report, pp.4-5 (https://www.futuregenerations.wales/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Netherwood2c-Flynn2c-Lang-OFGC-Overview-Report-2.0-1.pdf)]
PSBs have now been in action and implementation mode for approximately 2 years (after the initial phase of Well-being Assessments and Well-being Planning), so it is early days in terms of cultural transformation – and mileage does vary.
The aim of the PSBs is to improve joint working across all public services in each local authority area in Wales. Generally speaking, partnership working is still quite low down the PSBs organisational agendas, but this is changing (slowly). There is still a tendency to plan collectively, but to go and implement separately before reporting back; or to try to fit joint working into infrastructures that they’re comfortable with (e.g. subgroups that report back in). In some cases, the delivery of the PSB is equivalent to what the separate organisations would have done anyway.
“Inconsistent attendance and a sense among some third sector representatives that the agenda is owned by the local authority were seen to reduce effectiveness and collective ownership. The review also found that PSBs invite a wide range of organisations to participate but there were opportunities to involve other partners, including from the private sector and faith groups.” [Audit Wales (May 2020) So, what’s different: Findings from the Auditor General’s Sustainable Development Principles Examinations, pp.38 (https://www.audit.wales/system/files/publications/Well-being-of-Future-Generations-report-eng.pdf)]
In other places however some good partnership working has started to emerge, and with it a growth in confidence. There is appetite for improvement, and for this coming round of Well-being Assessments and Plans to be more innovative. There is a clear opportunity here to build the skills and experience of PSB teams to support the next 5 year cycle of assessment, planning and implementation.
“For Wales to realise the aspirations of the Act, public servants need to be braver, broader-thinkers and collaborate better together and with other sectors.” [Future Generations Commissioner for Wales (2020) The Future Generations Report 2020: At A Glance, p.3 (https://www.futuregenerations.wales/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/At-A-Glance-FG-Report.pdf)]
“The public services of the future need to be collaborative with multidisciplinary teams connected but not tied to organisations, bringing skills together to solve complex problems.” [Future Generations Commissioner for Wales (October 2020) Manifesto for the Future: Recommendations for political parties standing in the 2021 Senedd Elections, p.30 (https://www.futuregenerations.wales/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Manifesto-for-the-Future-FGCW1.pdf)]
6. What Covid-19 means for PSBs going forwards
In the spring and summer of 2020, the immediate and short-term Covid-19 response was covered by each organisation responding to its individual priorities; but the long journey of recovery ahead is where PSBs can come into their own, embracing partnership working and community involvement to prioritise and co-produce their well-being actions.
Generally speaking PSBs would be taking a long-term view of their impact on their area’s well-being, and expecting incremental improvements over time. The Covid-19 crisis, in contrast, offers an opportunity (and an imperative) to effect rapid change through supporting the resilience of communities; building on the local action, mutual aid and citizen energy generated during lockdown; and leveraging community resources more creatively and effectively. This is a chance for “renewal” rather than a return to pre-Covid-19 business as usual, and an opportunity to get rid of (or alter) practices that for too long have held public bodies back from delivering on their potential, and that have been driving inequality, environmental damage and disempowered communities.
“Historically, dramatic events like those we are currently experiencing have acted as a catalyst for radical policy and paradigm shifts. However, for radical change to happen, an alternative model and set of ideas must be available to build from.” – Thea Snow [Snow T. (2020), From the service paradigm to the enablement paradigm: reimagining government post crisis (https://medium.com/centre-for-public-impact/from-the-service-paradigm-to-the-enablement-paradigm-reimagining-government-post-crisis-861d36f598bb)]
In June 2020, the Minister for Housing and Local Government wrote to the chairs of the PSBs, and set out her expectations that the PSBs, as a natural partnership arrangement, will have a key part to play in the Covid-19 recovery, as well as in leading the Green Recovery.
At the same time, the handling of the Covid-19 crisis has increased people’s interest in active citizenship and involvement. Local community voluntary responses and people working together, organically and spontaneously, in locally appropriate ways to support the vulnerable, demonstrate the potential that exists. The community sector via the third sector, the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA), and the Third Sector Partnership Council are also advocating for stronger PSB involvement and engagement with communities.
PSB are currently carrying out community Covid-19 impact assessments (through surveys and using their networks of statutory partners), which will contribute to informing the upcoming round of Well-being Assessments. (They are gathering quantitative data such as volunteer numbers, health demographics, local economic opportunities, quality of housing, etc). Covid-19 itself hasn’t created a shift in working practices – indeed we have observed through the pandemic that those organisations that were already embracing a co-production approach continued to do so during the lockdowns, while those that hadn’t weren’t in a position to switch their mindset and ways of working in the face of extreme pressures. And yet this will be increasingly needed, as overcoming the Covid-19 crisis will still leave us with major social and environmental challenges to find answers to.
This is why it is critical that we support teams in PSBs to upskill and embed co-production and involvement in their behaviours and culture: this will enable them to better respond to emerging priorities, make better use of existing resources, meet the Minister’s expectations, and stay connected with engaged local communities and community organisations.
7. The gap in provision needs addressing urgently
The next iteration of the Well-being Assessments is due to be carried out in 2021-2022 (and must be completed before the May 2022 Welsh Local Government elections). The Welsh Government is currently reviewing the statutory guidance for PSBs on carrying out well-being assessments; the SPSF1 Core Guidance [Welsh Government (2016), SPSF1: Core Guidance, Shared Purpose: Shared Future Statutory guidance on the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 (https://gov.wales/docs/desh/publications/160915-spsf-1-core-guidance-en.PDF)] is being reworked and we are informed it will be ramping up the 5 Ways of Working in the expectations that PSBs will not simply repeat the first assessment, but build on it and improve their practice.
“Public bodies and Public Services Boards could be being clearer how the involvement they are doing differs to what they have done before, how it has shaped their well-being objectives and steps, and how people are involved continuously in their work. (…) Public Services Boards are still struggling to involve people at an early point in time, involve them on an ongoing basis and involve a broad range of people representative of their population.” [Future Generations Commissioner for Wales (2020) The Future Generations Report 2020, p.86 (https://www.futuregenerations.wales/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/FGC-Report-English.pdf)]
We know that PSBs have teams covering data production and analysis, and survey and consultation information are being collected; but there is a gap to fill regarding meaningful engagement activities and community involvement, and concerns about capacity as teams have been stripped back due to a combination of external pressures. Despite the existence of documents and strategies, the gap in implementation persists in practice, as the skills and confidence in this area are still underdeveloped.
“Public bodies are often not creating opportunities for citizens to be involved from the early stages of design through to evaluation and they need to do more to involve the full diversity of the population.” [Audit Wales (May 2020) So, what’s different: Findings from the Auditor General’s Sustainable Development Principles Examinations, p.42]
“Overall, we sense that most public bodies are still consulting and engaging more often than involving. Similarly, our review of PSBs found that they have ‘tended to follow traditional approaches focused on informing rather than involving’.” [Ibid. p.45]
We hear from people who sit on PSBs that they have little time to stop and reflect. They appreciate opportunities – and the time and space – to explore and share challenges, ideas and practice (including around working together and citizen voice) in a supportive environment. Currently, some are seeing the pandemic as an obstacle to engaging effectively with citizens in ways they would previously have done, and others view it as an opportunity to tap into parts of their communities that previously they hadn’t been able to. Both of these are true of course, and PSBs will need to build their strength in community engagement and involvement (including through digital and remote channels), and make this an ongoing practice by continually involving communities in their work, building trusting working relationships with their local population, and supporting this with effective collaboration between the partner organisations.
“Further work should be undertaken to provide a deeper understanding of people’s lived experiences through gathering and using far more of the information that partner organisations hold about people’s well-being and making use of the ‘day-today intelligence’ that is gathered on the ground in communities by a range of services.”
“It is clear that there has been a major effort from PSBs to engage with the public to seek their views. This is to be welcomed but further work is needed to enable better understanding of people’s lived experiences.”
“PSBs should consider how they can build on their involvement work to date, and collaborate better with each other on involvement work including through the use of media that resonates with people (including digital media).” [Future Generations Commissioner for Wales (July 2017) Well-being in Wales: Planning today for a better tomorrow, Learning from Well-being Assessments 2017, p.5 (https://www.futuregenerations.wales/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/FGCW_Well-being_in_Wales-Planning_today_for_a_better_tomorrow_2017_edit_27082017.pdf)]
By being a critical friend, and offering support, help and advice, the Co-production Network for Wales can contribute to PSBs making progress and developing their skills, experience and confidence in this area, which will benefit their populations as well as the wider public services landscape in Wales.
Acknowledgements and thanks
We have spoken to a number of people in our networks about the Public Services Boards and their progress. We are grateful for their support, insights and input.
- Heledd Morgan, Office of the Commissioner for Future Generations in Wales
- Chris Johnes and Matthew Brindley, Building Communities Trust
- Babs Lewis, Y Lab
- Adrian Bailey, Swansea Council for Voluntary Services
- Chris Blake, The Green Valleys, Natural Resources Wales Board
- Simon Pickthall, Vanguard Cymru
- Clover Rodrigues, Wales Local Government Association (WLGA)
- Nina Ruddle, Glyndŵr University Wrexham
- Steve Martin, Wales Centre for Public Policy
- Andy Middleton, TYF
- Ruth Tipping and Rae Baker, Natural Resources Wales
- Hilary Maggs and Kevin Griffiths, Welsh Government (Local Government Partnerships)
- Chris Bolton, Wales Audit Office
- Sara Sellek, Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA)
- Auriol Miller, Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA)
- Chief Executives of County Voluntary Councils in the Third Sector Support Wales network