A quiet revolution is going on in Wales. Driven by statutory national drivers including the Well-Being and Future Generations Act (2015) and the Social Services and Well-being Act (Wales) (2014) the Welsh Government is requiring a paradigm shift in the way the citizens of Wales are involved in the provision of services from initial ideas to implementation.

Responsibility for encouraging, promoting and ensuring genuine involvement of people in decision-making and provision of services is a statutory requirement for Local Authorities. This signals the death knoll for one-off consultations that were designed to provide a snapshot in time. Out of the ashes of such consultations must come a phoenix to support new ways of engaging citizens in continuous conversation that can take people’s ideas for improvement in services forward to action.

Five values of co-production
Five values of co-production

The challenge that has been laid down will require nothing short of a paradigm shift in how things are done. Clearly that won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight. Ensuring the genuine engagement of citizens with government to deliver well-being requires power sharing and working together as equals amongst people used to hierarchical ways of working – it therefore calls for mechanisms that take seriously the importance of bottom up, grassroots, participatory democracy rather than the top-down approaches we are familiar with.

The Welsh government has thought about this and requires Local Authorities to establish regional social value forums as part of establishing this new culture of consultation and service delivery. All service delivery in future must be achieved in cooperative partnerships. The various Acts also place a duty on all partners who provide services to cooperate with Local Authorities.

Currently Local Authority’s across Wales are developing strategic plans to make this a reality. They all need to find ways of bringing together independent service providers and citizens to ensure that services are jointly planned and carried out. One mechanism identified for doing this is co-production and a Co-production Network has been established to support the development of “a fairer and more sustainable Wales where everyone has a voice”. https://copronet.wales

Co-production Network Swansea
Co-production Network Swansea

The Coproduction Network is made up of citizens, volunteers, service users, carers, community leaders, professionals, researchers, academics, civil servants government people, policy makers, directors, managers frontline workers. It follows that mechanisms for working with such heterogeneous groups must be egalitarian and robust.

Ways need to be found of valuing all participants and building on people’s strengths. If we are to do what really matters for people then we have to build relationships of trust and power-sharing. Without this the idea of people as change makers just won’t happen.

How can VocalEyes help?

Whether you are a Local Authority, third sector or voluntary community group, VocalEyes offers a powerful digital platform that can deliver engagement by enabling big conversations with large numbers of stakeholders. It provides a safe and secure space for information sharing and online discussion.

The platform facilitates the generation of ideas, prioritisation of issues as well as opportunity for pledging support to project and action groups and participatory budgeting for activities undertaken. The platform can deliver genuine citizen involvement to shape services that are person-centred. It enables people to have a voice, choice and control in decisions that affect them and their families and neighbours. This approach puts people at the centre.

Swansea Well-being Plan Conversation -Ideas for Action
Swansea Well-being Plan Conversation -Ideas for Action

VocalEyes can bring together local authorities, citizens and providers of services and support them working together to shape the services provided. It can therefore support the creation of local and regional citizen panels across localities, regions and country.

Citizen panels do exist already. However, they tend to rely on traditional survey methods to comment on priorities identified by the local authorities. Such approaches don’t allow the individual voices of citizens and their experiences to be taken into account when seeking solutions to local challenges. It is essential that those charged with this responsibility for citizen engagement are willing to engage in new ways of working so they can engage more widely, target the right people and offer the chance for meaningful and continuous conversation, rather than mere consultation.

Such an approach won’t work if it becomes just another talking shop – it has to be solution-focused. If public institutions, third sector groups and community groups are to engage with its citizens in a meaningful way and maximise the number of people taking part it needs to find new methods of engagement using the latest technological and proven methods.

VocalEyes - Ideas into Action - Process
VocalEyes – Ideas into Action – Process

Successful consultation and productive conversations require a strategic approach. VocalEyes is already working in the public sector to support planning a targeted digital approach. It is currently helping various groups with the following:

  • Identifying target groups for conversations
  • Working with client to encourage participation from target groups
  • Identifying best practice ideas and seeding them into the target groups for rating and prioritising
  • Teaching digital skills and democracy to staff charged with responsibility for public or user group participatory engagement
  • Supporting methods for open and transparent participatory budgeting
  • Providing community organising training and support to help local people turn priorities into locally owned projects.

Please contact us if we can help you develop on-going conversations with your target groups to generate, rate and prioritise ideas and turn them into action.

This blog was written in collaboration with Sue Lyle from Dialogue Exchange.
We have formed a partnership to support participatory democracy within educational contexts.

Co-Production, Participation and Dialogue