Guest Blog – Participation Cymru

Participation Cymru work with public service organisations in the public, private and third sectors to achieve better public engagement in the design, development and delivery of citizen-centred services for the people of Wales.

We hold regional participation networks three times each year which are suitable for anyone working in the field of participation and citizen engagement. Attendees come from a range of different organisations in the public and third sector that focus on a variety of issues. These events are suitable for anyone from any level within an organisation that has an interest in practical participatory work, including consultation officers, trustees, volunteers, development workers and managers.

Each network event has a general theme; the most recent theme for the events in February was public involvement in scrutiny. When we were preparing the agenda for the day, we felt that the National Assembly for Wales outreach team were natural contributors to this subject area so we invited a team member to speak at each event.

We always begin each session with an icebreaker exercise which was a ‘graffiti wall’ on this occasion. We asked participants to think of as many definitions for the word scrutiny as they could think of, or examples of when they’ve seen scrutiny take place on television or the media… and this is what it looked like after the last of the 3 events:

Participation Cymru

The most common definitions were accountability, checking and asking questions. Some interesting meanings also came up! “Newsnight”, “boring” and “sexy” also appear up there if you look closely! None of these answers are right or wrong and it’s clear that scrutiny, in itself is a very loaded word.

Participants found the National Assembly’s presentation very informative, interesting and relevant as it outlined recent examples of inquiries carried out by Assembly committees and ways in which they’d involved the public in these inquiries. We particularly liked the use of info-graphics for presenting information in an accessible way (the Inquiry into Public Libraries in Wales is a particularly pretty example) and using ‘vignettes’ – an evidence gathering technique which we will feature in the next Participation Cymru newsletter.

You can download the full presentation from Dropbox here.

We also heard from local scrutiny experts, David Lloyd from TPAS Cymru (North Wales), Rebecca David-Knight from the Centre for Public Scrutiny (South West Wales) and Hazel Ilet from Monmouthshire County Council (South East Wales).

In North Wales, David had a boxful of various items, all of these items represent scrutiny in some way, can you guess how…?!

• A tie
• A magnifying glass
• A ping-pong ball
• Goal posts

In South West Wales, Rebecca emphasised that public engagement is scrutiny and being able to challenge decisions is empowering. Scrutiny closes the gap in democratic accountability and good quality engagement is needed in order for a service to be successful, as services are reliant on its users and not the other way around!

In South East Wales, Hazel shared some case study examples including a call-in at a scrutiny committee meeting about Allocation of land for a travellers’ site where this scrutiny process identified flaws in the evidence supporting a decision that had been recently made. As a result of the public forum discussion, the decision was referred to the full council so this demonstrates the power that the public have in the scrutiny process. Monmouthshire also have a public open forum on the agenda of every scrutiny committee meeting.

We always end our participation network events with a group discussion followed by a participatory evaluation technique. We used ‘hearts, bodies and minds’ and a summary of the evaluations can be found here:

North Wales – 5th February, Wrexham

South West Wales – 11th February, Carmarthen

South East Wales – 12th February, Newport

We are very grateful to Caryl, Lowri and Rhys from the National Assembly for Wales’ outreach team and our other speakers for their valuable input into these events.

The next round of participation networks are in May 2014 and the theme will be co-production. For more information or to book a space please visit our website. Please be aware that these events are free to attend so do fill up very quickly!

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