Bethan Smith is Goal Convenor for Involvement, Office for the Future Generations Commissioner, Wales.
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Through the 2015 Well-being of Future Generations Act, all devolved public bodies in Wales are legally required to put sustainable development first; that is, to consider the long-term impact of their decisions and “to act in a manner which seeks to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The act outlines five ways of working for public bodies to put sustainability first: long-term thinking, collaboration, integration, prevention and involvement.
For the last couple of years, FDSD has been supporting the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales to think about our approach to the last of these, involvement, and find new ways to help public bodies involve people in the decisions that affect them.
In May 2018, FDSD supported a training session (delivered by Involve) on participation theory and practice for staff within the Commissioner’s office. As a busy office made up of staff seconded from many different organisations across different sectors with differing degrees of prior knowledge on the topic, the training session was particularly valuable in creating a mutual understanding of what ‘participation’ means and the different levels of participation that exist:
“To me the session was extremely useful in understanding the technicalities between the different definitions and levels of participation… We are trying to implement some of the definitions and tables used [by the trainer] in our own work on involvement.”
“[The training] was done in a very simple and clear manner so I could understand everything without [much] prior knowledge on the topic.”
Following the training, staff certainly seem more confident in spotting opportunities for participation and in exploring the right approach to take. We all have ambitious plans to ‘walk the talk’ on involvement in our future work.
Among these is our plan for another training session in early 2019. Again supported by FDSD, this one will target Welsh public service staff in organisations beyond the Commissioner’s office. We hope to use the training as a platform for identifying involvement champions within the public sector and building momentum and capacity around public involvement.
This work on public involvement will feed into the Commissioner’s ‘The Art of the Possible’ programme which is identifying best practice in sustainable development across diverse organisations and using that to craft guidance for public bodies. This guidance ranges from simple changes that public bodies can implement through to work that is leading the way. There are ten suggestions for supporting better public involvement, ranging from using plan English and Welsh in public documents to including involvement in planning, monitoring, reporting and staff appraisal.
This resource will continue to be developed over the coming weeks and months. Drawing on the wealth of experience and knowledge from across the public, private and third sector in Wales and further afield, ‘The Art of the Possible’ has the potential to really demonstrate and promote good and innovative practice around shared decision making and involvement. We are excited to have FDSD and other partners involved in the process.
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Image: Artwork from The ‘Art of the Possible’, one of the Commissioner’s main programmes of work. More details at: https://futuregenerations.wales/the-art-of-the-possible/