Monthly Archives: February 2013

Weekly Blog Club

When we started blogging back in October, I felt a bit of pressure to make sure that our blog was a success. It was my suggestion that blogging could meet some gaps in our information service (which you can read more about here).

Weekly Blog Club

The things that worried me included that:

  • nobody would read it
  • the blogging voice that I’d developed when I’d started my own blog would not transfer well to the Participation Cymru blog
  • I would be seen as an “expert” in participation, when what I wanted to do was share things I was learning, rather than being authoritative (we work in the field of participation – best practice what we preach!)

One of the things that helped assuage some of my fears has been the Weekly Blog Club, to which we’ve been contributing posts since November. It was founded by a group of people who work in or with the public sector, voluntary groups or communities in the UK in order to encourage blogging.

Contributing bloggers come from a range of backgrounds and organisations from different parts of the UK, which makes for a brilliant mix. Reading these blogs encouraged me and made me realise that a range of voices are effective in different ways, and that if they can talk about their work in an informal voice, then so can I.

Having been contributing for a few months, it felt right that I took the bold leap into running it for a week, which I did last week. This gave me a chance to replenish my karma that I’d used up by getting the club to share my work when I felt like I hadn’t done enough to help out the club myself.

Running the club for a week was a great experience – I read a wide array of blogs in depth, and thought about how we might use our blog more creatively, as submissions ranged from fantastic photos and interesting postcards, to thought-provoking Spotify playlists (here and here).

Plus on my last fear, it’s well worth reading a blog that was submitted by Kenny McDonald that starts off with “For anyone to call themselves an expert is either a bold move or naïve.”

You can listen to an Audioboo of me summarising the submissions below (requested specifically by Louise Brown so she could hear my Welsh accent!) and a full list of the week’s submissions here.

– Dyfrig

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Participatory websites – what does good practice look like?

I’ve previously blogged about being invited to be part of a task and finish group to develop a health and wellbeing site for the Welsh citizen, and I attended the follow up meeting on Monday. I was asked to do a short presentation at the meeting on a website that I thought presented information well and was a good model for what the group is looking to do.

Most other attendees looked at sites that were run by Social Services, but because I’m awkward, I chose not to!

Young Flintshire

First off, I asked Twitter. I asked for examples of good websites, as I was initially struggling. Participation Cymru are fortunate enough to have some very bright followers, including Dynamix, who suggested “Any site that has verified it’s text through the Up-Goer Five text editor” (a really useful site than can help you to identify and cut out jargon). Easy Read Health Wales suggested their own website, which is fantastically clear and aims to give people with learning difficulties Easy Read information on health and well-being.

I eventually plumped for the suggestion of CLIConline. I chose one of their regional websites, Young Flintshire, because I felt that the background did not make it as difficult to read for the visually impaired, although no images should be behind text at all.

I chose this website because of its interactive nature, which I feel is vital if the website is going to be responsive and citizen-centred. Right at the top of the website there is a call to action, which asks for young people to get involved in the site. The latest articles, what’s being said and the most viewed are highlighted, which clearly shows that the website is active and current. The poll also gives young people a chance to have their say without impinging on their experience of the site. The features section of the site also enables the organisation to highlight news that it feels people need to know.

I then referred specifically to the Information Index of the website, which would be most similar to the information hub. This section was vivid, and as an example the Education section had a video as an alternative to the text so that people could watch a project in action. It was clear here how important it is that people have the space to comment and have their say, as alongside the throwaway comments about hating school was a comment from a young person who said they were being bullied. This gave the opportunity for the editor to refer them to sources of help, which would simply never have happened if there was no chance for people to feedback.

Before I left I took the opportunity to feed in information from the Citizen’s Panel for Social Services in Wales, including that the information on the site should be based on the Social Model of Disability, not the Medical Model. We feel really lucky to be working with the panel, who are all lovely people and have provided us with so much invaluable knowledge that will feed in to the Social Services improvement agenda in Wales and also improve how we work.

– Dyfrig

Words from Sarah Jones on her last day as Participation Cymru Officer

I’m sorry to be leaving Participation Cymru after 3.5 years as the Participation Cymru Officer.

Sarah telephone

I’ve probably met you while training or facilitating over the last few years (and if I forgot your name please forgive me; we have worked with hundreds of practitioners and members of the public all over Wales). During that time our tiny team of 4, plus our network of associate trainers, has worked hard to support public engagement in Wales. We’ve seen a few faces come and go and I left for 9 months to have my son (and came back again).

For me, time and time again similar issues came up regardless of who we’re working with that day:

  1. We have nothing to fear from engaging – neither personally nor as organisations. The night before certain pieces of public engagement work I really worried: Will people be angry? What if they ask me difficult questions? What if I don’t ask the right questions during the session? Practitioners often tell us they feel the same. The reality was (always) that people really wanted to talk about their experiences and were grateful for the chance to do that. Yes people were occasionally angry, and I couldn’t always answer their questions. But I could listen. And so can you. At the bottom of all of the jargon, policy and theory engagement is just speaking to people!
  2. We are all citizens. Although you are a practitioner working in public engagement you are also a citizen and have a role in driving the cultural change needed to get organisations engaging more. We can each in our own way give organisations feedback on their services and contribute to a shift towards public engagement being an integral part of what all organisations do. We all have a responsibility to tell organisations that we want to be engaged with and how they can do better by us. I now find I reply to all surveys and requests for feedback that land in my inbox, or on my doormat, including scribbling a quick note on that comment card that comes with my coffee.
  3. The National Principles for Public Engagement are an extremely useful document which I find I come back to all the time. They can be applied to many different areas of work in general, not just to engagement. They are principles for effective working. I’ve had a copy of them stuck on my wall next to my desk since we got them printed. If I had to pick which principle I think is my favourite I’d choose number 9: Feedback. We all suffer the effects of trying to engage when people have had a poor experience of previously not receiving feedback. Please tell people what’s happening – even (especially!) if it’s bad news or no news. We all know how frustrating/irritating it is to not hear anything at all. Doing this is so important as it closes the circle and paves the way for continuous engagement and conversations. And this is really what works – not dipping in and out in a piecemeal way.

My hope for public engagement in Wales (and I feel I can say this as I’m leaving) is that its given the resources and support at a national level to be done as effectively as we’re told it should be.

I’m leaving to find a role that is more compatible with my home life. I’m not sure where that journey will take me at the moment but I hope to keep working in related areas and will probably bump into all again at some point. Find me on LinkedIn.

See you soon, Sarah