Intro to GovCamp Cymru
Gov Camp Cymru; three words that says it all about an event catered for those who either work or have an interest in the Public Sector in Wales.
I went there as not only an avid blogger but as a service user.
Everyone will need some form of support from a public sector service in their lifetime that us why everyone should be responsible for maintaining and supporting each service.
The event took place at Cardiff’s Pierhead, a building unofficially christened as the “Big Ben of Wales” but unlike London’s Big Ben overshadowing Westminster, the Pierhead stands on the same level as the Senedcd – creating a comfortable platform for democratic discussion.
GovCamp Cymru helps to pass over the bureaucratic quill to the citizens of Wales for a day.
What’s an “unconference?”
I previously went to my first “unconference” at Housing Camp Cymru earlier in July, which I later wrote about in one of my blogs.
There were familiar faces at GovCamp Cymru including this year’s winner of CIH England’s Rising Star Alice Smith, and the two Neils; Mr Prior of Northgate Public Services and Mr Tamplin of Cadwyn HA and Cardiff Pound, and both would later “pitch” an agenda that day. Keep an eye out for their blogs!
Esko Reinikainen of The Satori Lab was the host and guided us through what the event could look like and stated the rules (or lack of rules – depending on your definition) by which I mean the “rule of two feet” – if there’s nothing gained, then you’re permitted to seek it elsewhere.
GovCamp Cymru wouldn’t have been possible without the kindness of so many sponsors.
Sponsorship of an event acknowledges that organisation or company’s support for that particular cause or an event’s aim, which comes to no surprise as to why PA Public Services was its Platinum sponsor (the clue is in the name really).
Like the Olympics’ metallic colours the sponsor list read like Wales’ who’s who of innovation; starting with one of the gold sponsors (YLab), going across to one of its silver members (Future Cities Catapult) and finishing off with one of its many Bronze participants (BuildBeacon).
I’ve missed out so many great organisations and organisers from this blog, but it’ll take all day! Why not check them out yourselves via GovCamp Cymru and see if you’d want to contribute next year.
Dave McKenna wanted to understand if there’s an alternative design for democracy in Wales.
Firstly, he outlined the rights based on a citizen’s needs (as stated by the UN Human Rights for Citizens), which he summed up and particularly wanting to examine:
“Share their opinions with other people”, “Work with other people to bring about change”, and to “Take part in decision making.”
Secondly, he didn’t want us to use, not our usual, banned words. These words that weren’t allowed to be said if we are to change the principles of democracy itself. Words such as Government, Local Council, Councillors, MP, AM Etc.
Emma Reeves-McAll from Tai Pawb outlined the dilemma of equality that inhibits those in society from having a voice. It’s all about changing social attitudes before anything else!
There were many ideas put forward and people challenged others on their opinions, which made it even more interesting and enjoyable.
A comment made by a Ceredigion County Council attendee mentioned our use of language when discussing the agenda, which made it apparent that instead of addressing a citizen’s needs we debated over their wants.
I voiced that the idea of democracy built into the structure of most countries in Western society is like an iceberg; it’ll always tip in someone’s favour (point of power), but you can only get true democracy if the whole thing is turned upside down in order to expose the ice underneath, allowing it to get a chance to get some air.
At the end of the session we realised that we didn’t use any of the banned words and Dave did get a sense of what Wales could look like if its citizens adopted a new way of thinking about democracy.
Words such as Equality, Representation, Voice, Integration, and Engagement are the corner stones of democracy and perhaps a back to basics approach is essential before any promises are made, because both promises and stones could be broken in the process!
Change their, our, my behaviour
Dyfrig Williams of Good Practice Wales Audit Office stated this agenda earlier on twitter, which I replied to in order to voice my interest.
Its context interested me. The idea of helping to understand how we’re able to change our own behaviour towards work and improve the relationship between organisations (not only in the public sector) and staff.
I thought to myself, this is a session that could be beneficial for me and for my own work or in future employment.
How to change behaviour? I immediately thought money, which is at least honest. If you’ve worked hard to get where you are and have been trained to a level (that the employer has invested into you), then don’t you expect an increase in salary or a promotion at least?
There were comments made by self-employed attendees and their inability to pay the living wage because the profits gained wouldn’t cover all costs, which does reflect the economic market and the need for our government to invest in medium or smaller sized businesses. If we are to leave the EU market don’t we need as many entrepreneurs and smaller businesses that are able to sustain themselves as possible?
Other suggestions included us (Wales and UK) to ditch the 9 to 5 and adopt a new way of working, like some Swedish employers who have managed to lessen their employees’ hours to help balance their working lives with their family lives; working only 6 hours a day over five days.
Bosses, particularly middle management, have to change the way they treat staff. They (management) need to think as if they’re a part of a bee colony that has everyone working together, because that member of staff will go to another hive, making the honey (services/ organisation) taste less sweet than before.
Representatives from Welsh Government were also at the event commenting on the “Sword and Shield” effect on the services standards in the public sector, which is okay in practice but it would depend on what are they’re made of?
Are they as solid as TATA Steel or made from poorly produced fakes that don’t have the ability to make any sort of impact?
Our government needs to realise that those services aren’t run by gladiators but by extraordinary people.
I believe if you want to change people’s behaviours in organisations, be they public sector workers or other, then we need to put people (staff) first!
Bosses need to understand that their employees are not just “workers” but are the blood of the organisation that helps to keep the circulation going and maintaining the services.
Also, there are (now) generational complications too with younger people (generation Y/Z) likely to earn less than their “more mature” colleagues, an increase in zero hour contracts (creating unpredictability and stress), and younger people feel that they can never get on the career or housing ladder – there are only jobs and non-affordable renting.
Act 3, Open Data
After going to one of Welsh Tenants/ Tenantiaid Cymru’s plenary called Future Gazing, which looked at the benefits and cons of big data and technology in the housing sector, I thought that this session led by Angharad Owen would get me further hooked on exploring the issues with data, especially since it involved the new Act – a law that could potentially be a banner for further devolution in Wales?
The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act is considered by the Public Bodies in Wales as the go-to-guide when carrying out their duties.
The use of open data can be instrumental in understanding performance such as highlighting the difficulties of an organisation or a service’s abilities, which is not about honesty but concerns the reality of the economic climate on a service (a public service, which is paid for by tax payers) – they have a legal duty to notify the service users!
Open data can be key to supporting the effectiveness of public services and aid those working in the sector to hopefully develop new strategies, to look at new “Ways of Working.”
Although, there are (I believe) risks involved with open data. It’s a question of having data from trustworthy sources, as the person/people/ organisation collecting the data shouldn’t have any affiliations that could benefit them in any way. The public, especially these days, need the trust factor!
Welsh Fforeign Polisi
Esko, as a Finnish immigrant wanted to know our perspectives (being Welsh) on foreign policy, which is currently still governed by the long arm of Westminster.
Could we have our own?
One of the attendees of the session, Helen Frost of Frost Creative did her stuff sketching out our thoughts (and dreams) as a fully independent nation. It may be that she plans to draw a dragon’s foot, trapped in a thorny vine of a red rose – eager to break away! A bit too controversial perhaps? Someone’s controversy is another person’s truth.
The group discussed obvious issues that has influenced foreign policy over the last few months including the B word (Brexit), as Esko calls it, and the fact that Theresa May has appointed Boris Johnson in charge of this vital position (luck of the draw or what?). And more relative to the agenda, would it still affect Wales if were to go solo?
A simple yet hard-hitting question was asked – What does Wales have to offer? I can honestly say that I’ve underestimated my own nation in a way, as we further outlined what Wales and its people have got and can do.
For instance, our ecological, industrial and agricultural resources: our drinking water with our many reservoirs, which we should get back from the English really (Oh! Cofiwch Dryweryn: Remember Tryweryn); our slate is almost legendary with its fine quality and connection to the history of the Romans in pre-Britain; our alternatives to energy including the use of wind turbines; our claim to fame with Welsh sheep such as wool and produce (not the other thing!); could our success with tourism help support an independent economy? We have a nation made from mountains for hikers and bikers, an interesting history for learners and sight-seers and some of the cleanest coasts in Europe attracting surfers from around the world; we could keep our steel industry going strong and not put the fire out (and won’t need any corporate entity or other governmental policy influencing its future); and perhaps we could open the coalmines once again? Just a thought.
We compared ourselves to other countries (as you do when examining foreign policy and a Finnish person facilitating the session) and got chatting about serious issues such as our national security/ armed forces; would we consider keeping or losing them like Iceland? Also, would we be affiliated with other countries or become neutral, like a modern-day Switzerland?
The session was productive and gave me an insight into my own country that I didn’t think about before, as we (the Welsh) are so use to being a step away from England and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Once, we thought devolution was a long-shot in itself!
Wales is an island, which means that it’s above the water and perhaps becoming an independent country could be its peril causing it to sink, but maybe the reason behind this way of thinking is that nobody is teaching it how to swim!
A Citizen’s Public Confession
I personally would have put forward a pitch, but because of sleep deprivation I wouldn’t have wanted to fill in a slot that could have been filled by a speaker who perhaps could have contributed more to the event, which they all certainly did.
I can be vouched by others, as I had a title planned too “To Strike or not to Strike, what is the cost?” which would have been about the recent strikes; (hypothetically) examining not only the financial circumstances faced in Wales from strikes but the the right and ethics of striking. Never mind!
I thought it was great having the option of having a conversation with other Welsh speakers like myself, who were all given a bi-lingual lanyard.
Although, I would like to point out that it may have unnerved non-Welsh speakers from joining a smaller group’s discussion.
Obviously, there should be a choice for people to speak their own mother-tongue, but what if those non-Welsh speakers could have contributed to the discussion and missed out on the opportunity? Perhaps this could be something to think about for future events.
The elevators at the venue unfortunately did malfunction but I want to commend the volunteer organisers for addressing the issue, which meant that nobody with a physical disability or medical condition affecting their mobility missed out on anything.
P.S. Here’s my conclusion
Overall I thought GovCamp Cymru acted as a conductor for those interested in the Public Sector (which should be everyone really, shouldn’t it?) and anyone could have contribute anything, which is a great thing about an “unconference” – it’s full of like-minded people.
I hope to get more involved next year. I do suggest that we all participate.
If we are to have another 4 or so years of Conservative leadership then we have a duty to protect our most vulnerable people (and bystanders by that matter) who have to manage with undernourished services that are supported by overworked and underpaid staff.
Let’s put a bit of humanity back into our Public Services again!
(Image courtesy of Brickset, Flickr c.c, 2013)