Participation is key to challenging discrimination

At the All Wales Participation Network this year, Joe Powell set the tone with a powerful opening speech about the importance of full participation in society for people with learning disabilities. Joe was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1996 and has spent 11 years in social care. He is now National Director of All Wales People First; a group uniting the voices of self-advocacy groups in Wales. Joe drew on his first hand experience of fighting to leave a system that was determined to see him purely as a service-user, someone needing assistance, and not as someone who also had a lot to offer to his community.

Joe began his talk by outlining ‘The good life model’; values that are important to the people with learning disabilities Joe has spoken to. These values included ‘loving and caring relationships’, the choice that is derived from having some wealth (implicitly this includes control over one’s financial assets), a ‘contributing place in the World’ and ‘a home of my own’. The first thing that struck me was how similar they are to what a non-learning disabled person wants from their own life – these values seemed universal, as opposed to learning-disability specific. All of the values were, to my mind, underpinned by a balance between personal safety and security on one hand and on the other a sense of being able to take agency over one’s own life and further, contribute something to the lives of others. Isn’t this what everyone wants form their lives?

Picture of Joe Powell presenting at Participation Cymru event.

Many people with learning disabilities also have a visual impairment and some of these people were not taught to read at school. Simple measures such as offering easy-read information and audio format can make it possible for people with learning disabilities to access information without having to rely on a friend or carer to read it to them. This allows people to maintain a sense of independence and dignity, rather than become institutionalised, especially where the information concerned is of a private nature.

Given that what people with learning disabilities want is so similar to what the wider population aspire to, one could be forgiven for assuming that these desires are readily accommodated in learning-disability care and are empathised with by society. However, Joe explained that in reality people with learning disabilities are effectively ‘retired at the age of eighteen years’; rarely in employment and often even excluded from volunteering. The mentality behind such sidelining appears to be that anyone with a learning disability is a ‘service user’ and therefore in need of assistance. Whilst many people with learning disabilities are indeed users of services, this does not mean that they are not capable and eager to give assistance in their communities and contribute meaningfully not only to their own lives, but also to the lives of others.

History of people learning disabilities

This restriction in participation is not only a massive loss in terms of potential volunteering and employment opportunities but also completely contrary to the principles of the All Wales Strategy 1983. The strategy stipulates that people with learning disabilities have the right to choose their own patterns of life within their communities and to access to professional services where additional help is necessary for them to achieve this.

People with learning disabilities largely DO want to work and to volunteer, said Joe, and we need to make more of an effort to accommodate their needs in theses capacities. Prejudice stems from ignorance and when people with learning disabilities are visible in useful roles, this will make it harder to stereotype them as a burden and give credibility to their voices.

Joe’s closing remark, before inviting questions from the floor, was that participation for people with learning disabilities must be realistic and never tokenistic. We must make it possible for people with learning disabilities to enter the workforce with reasonable adjustments made if necessary only when they are capable of fulfilling that role.

If you would like to hear more from Joe Powell, you can keep up with Joe’s Soapbox.

The ‘Storify’ for the day, including Joe’s presentation, other resources from the event as well as delegate’s contributions via social media is available here.

– Non


Method of the month

Every month we feature a participatory method/tool in our newsletter and I am always thrilled to have such positive feedback and am frequently told by readers that they really look forward to see what the ‘Method of the month’ will be!  As a result we thought it would be a nice idea to turn this feature into a monthly blog post in order to (hopefully) reach more people.

We always welcome suggestions and photographs of participatory methods that other organisations have been using, so please get in touch if you have a technique you’d like to share!

An archive of past newsletters is available on our website.

Last month’s featured method is…

Evaluation thermometer

This is a visual, participatory evaluation technique that could be used to evaluate a meeting, event or focus group. Participation Cymru recently used this tool to evaluate the regional participation networks that took place this month.


Tools needed: Flipchart paper, coloured marker pens and sticky dots.

Preparation: Draw a large thermometer onto the flipchart paper. The top should represent heat (excellent/great), the middle should be lukewarm (reasonable/OK) and bottom should be cold (disappointment/dislike).

Choose what you’d like people to rate, e.g. overall impression, how participative the event was etc.

Give sticky dots to participants and ask them to stick them where they feel they should go on the thermometer and take photos of the results.

– Sarah

The General Election – having your say and addressing electoral inequality


Elections are the primary way for us to express our reactions to the performance of the government. An election is a tool of communication between the representatives and us: the people they represent.

Apparently, voters get the government they deserve. This implies that active participation by the electorate on polling day will result in us getting a government which truly represents its people but most of us will argue that the current coalition government doesn’t match that assumption. Only 65.1% of the electorate voted in the 2010 general election and it’s fairly obvious that more people voting could have resulted in an entirely different outcome.

Our participation in elections is without doubt an important responsibility and a significant symbol of our democracy and participation in public affairs.

Marking your ‘X’ on the ballot paper may seem like a small thing to do, we can of course participate in politics and public services in many different ways and not just at election time. However, the right to vote (that people have fought and died for) symbolises democracy and fair culture and I believe it is our duty to ourselves to have our voices heard in this process.

The way that candidates campaign and communicate with us has drastically changed. Paid-for political advertising is banned on television and radio in the UK, so a typical election campaign (in my mind) consists of hopeful candidates knocking on doors and shaking hands while proudly wearing shiny coloured rosettes and covering our doormats in glossy literature telling me that “the other candidate wants to sell the NHS” or “vote for him and he will double your taxes”.

With the prevalence and availability of modern technology, social media and digital communications are at the heart of this year’s general election campaign.

As paying for adverts of TV is not allowed, candidates are allowed to pay for political adverts and videos online via social media, potentially reaching an audience of millions and Ofcom do not regulate what is posted on these platforms. This provides an opportunity for much broader and more authentic, genuine and honest conversations to take place between the candidates and the voters. Facebook even has its own checklist for political candidates to refer to when posting updates – but are they using this to its best potential?

The evolution of social platforms between 2010 and 2015

5 years ago, the political parties were newly launching themselves on Facebook, getting their party leaders online and ensuring they had some sort of ‘presence’. Now it’s 2015 and social media has evolved so much in the last 5 years and so has the way that we use it.

Local candidates and parties should by now be using social media as a platform to have genuine conversations and engage with people so their presence online feels authentic and less like they’re just using a new and trendy tool.

Politicians traditionally use their public facing profile to get their message across and inform the public what they’re promising to change if they get elected. Candidates are now also using the platform to ask people for their opinion.

Hidden audiences and the ability to influence

The number of likes on a political candidate’s Facebook page is irrelevant when Facebook’s mighty algorithm allows networking and linking interests together; friends of friends of friends are being influenced by what appears on their newsfeed.

Obviously, some audiences are much less responsive to this method of campaigning. Some people don’t use the internet at all for example: television news and printed newspapers are still the most important news sources for certain audiences.

The role of the social networking movement in increasing electoral participation is not as simple as it may seem and ‘getting it right’ is never an exact science. Browsing through some candidates Facebook and Twitter pages – I’m surprised to see that most updates only point out the flaws in the opposition’s policies the potential for positive campaigning and conversations could be missed!

Addressing electoral inequality

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) have recently launched a report suggesting that voting should be compulsory for the first election after each person turns 18. They accurately report that ‘the working class and the young have less input into political decision-making processes‘ in comparison to older and more affluent groups of people and propose that forced participation may be the answer to this inequality.

The main issue with this is that you can’t force people to take an interest; you can’t force people to care about something if they don’t. Compulsory voting would be nothing more than an illusion of democracy – how can it be democratic if it’s forced? It can’t! If compulsory voting was introduced I can’t help but imagine a rise in the number of spoiled ballot papers or people being forced into voting for something with little information resulting in a system which is even less representative than it is now.

Surely it is also still important to monitor any disinterest and dissatisfaction. There are many very justifiable reasons for choosing not to vote; it could be that someone feels as if they’re not well enough informed, or that none of the candidates or parties accurately represent their views and some people are just not interested. It is important to monitor lack of activity at the polls and find out why this is happening instead of just forcing everyone to participate.

Principle #2 of the National Principles for Public Engagement is “Encourage and enable everyone affected to be involved, if they so choose.” Those last four words are central to the engagement process – giving people the option to be involved.

I will be voting in this General Election because I want to and it’s my choice to, as I mentioned earlier I feel that it is my duty to be involved but I respect and understand the views of those who don’t want to vote. No one should be forced into democracy – that would be a contradiction!

So, participating in elections is an important responsibility but our vote is not our only voice or is it our only opportunity to be involved in politics. Everyone has a right to be listened to and those in power need to listen to us, however we choose to be heard.

– Sarah

If you’re 16 or 17 years old – you may not be able to vote this time but you can still register. The National Assembly for Wales’ elections takes place in May 2016.

Digital inclusion and the future of e-participation

On the 25th and 26th of February 2015, Communities 2.0 hosted a conference about Digital Inclusion and Participation Cymru went along to find out more.

Here are our thoughts about the significance and role of digital inclusion for the future of participation in Wales.

It is quite astonishing to think about how far technology has come in such a short amount of time. I’m sure many of us remember our first computer (probably like me, a clunky Windows ‘95 affair), or even our first brick – perhaps a Nokia 32:10 mobile phone. It’s strange to think of just how much we can now do from a basic smart mobile at a fraction of the cost.

(Check out the photo below and see how many of these take you back!)

Communities 2.0 Digital Inclusion

Technology like this has irrevocably changed the landscape in which we live our day to day lives. But as the digital world races ahead, it is easy to get left behind.

For most of us whose lifestyles and workplaces are increasingly digitalised, it is perhaps difficult to appreciate the kind of hurdles we would face if we did not have the resources and skillset needed to be autonomous in the digital world.

As society becomes more and more digital, the divide that exists between those who are digitally included and digitally excluded begins to present a real problem and has implications across all levels, even economically and democratically.

It is this division that fell under scrutiny across the two days of the communities 2.0 conference.

It was estimated in 2015 by the Money Advice Service that over 500,000 adults remain digitally excluded in Wales (approximately 1 in 6 of us). The association that exists between digital exclusion and poverty along with other vulnerable groups of people indicates that digital inclusion is a social justice issue, and it is not difficult to see how digital exclusion can compound a state of powerlessness.

From a business perspective, the increasingly digitalised global marketplace means that digitally switched on organisations have a much greater opportunity to source cheaper materials, broaden their reach with customers, simplify working processes and cut down on working hours. All of this makes it much more difficult for businesses that are not utilising the web to survive.

A lack of digital know-how not only limits employment opportunities, but even makes it problematic to access benefits such as a job seeker’s allowance

Maintaining human relationships – something as simple as keeping in touch – can become increasingly difficult if you are amongst the digitally excluded. Furthermore, as more and more public services make the move to online services, you are much less likely to hear about news and information on things which might affect you.

From this point of view, to be digitally excluded is to not only be isolated and disenabled, but also fundamentally disempowered. So, what can we do to help put an end to digital exclusion?

Well, there is no simple answer. Whilst the Welsh government is taking positive steps to increase the focus of digital literacy in Wales, it is encouraging that independent organisations like #techmums also exist to help break down those barriers and increase the confidence of digital users. As ever, there is always fantastic ongoing work being undertaken by volunteers across the nation to help empower those who need it.

The efforts of these groups and people really did highlight that it is important to bear in mind, whether in work or in our personal lives, that we share a responsibility to share our power and ensure nobody gets left behind.

It is easy to think about technology in terms of what it gives us – whether it is the tools to find the answers we need, the opportunity to advertise our business or find employment, the ability to simplify our daily lives, provide us with entertainment or new things to learn – even something as simple as the ability to keep in touch with the ones we love. Perhaps it is time to think about technology from another point of view, and see if it helps us to give something back.


Making Action Learning Work!

Re-blogged from WCVA

Action Learning

In addition to training and bespoke support the Communities First Support Service is offering an increasing number of people in the CF workforce the opportunity to learn from each other via our Outcome Learning Groups (OLGAs). These are based on the methodology of Action Learning. Here, Jane Lewes from The Learning Consultancy, who is working with the CF Support Service to develop the framework for this peer learning, explains the ‘rules’ of Action Learning.

Action Learning is being used increasingly frequently as a tool to help community groups to work through some of the issues they have to tackle on a daily basis. The kinds of issues or “knotty problems” may cover just about anything; they can be irritating, frustrating and even the source of genuine distress. Whatever the nature of the problem, one characteristic they all share is that others will almost certainly have experienced the same, or a similar, problem.

So, how does Action Learning help to unblock problems and break through barriers?

The technique of Action Learning is a remarkably simple and effective way of supporting an individual to work through a real and current problem, leading to new insights and, ultimately, solutions. The technique is simple because all it requires is a group of people (round about 6-8) who agree to follow the “rules” which are few but essential for success. These are:

Trust: When a group of colleagues agree to meet as an Action Learning Set (ALS), there needs to be a strong basis of trust – trust in one another and trust in the process. One of the cornerstones of trust is the commitment to confidentiality. An absence of trust will almost certainly cause the ALS to implode and could lead to further damage.

Clarity of role: There are 3 roles in the Action Learning scenario:

  • The Presenter – the individual who shares her/his issue or problem
  • The Supporters – the other members of the Set whose job is to listen intently and ask insightful and powerful questions about aspects of the issue
  • The Facilitator – the individual who acts as a “benign referee”, ensuring the entire Set keeps to the rules of the process

The Process: A typical Action Learning Set will run something like this:

  • The Set meets in a venue where they will be assured of privacy;
  • The Facilitator reminds the Set about the “rules of engagement”, management of time, commitment to confidentiality, the requirement to listen with empathy, suspend judgement and give total focus to the Presenter;
  • The Supporters listen – listen, not to reply, but to understand;
  • The Presenter speaks for about 6-10 minutes;
  • The Facilitator opens the floor for the Supporters to pose questions to the Presenter, but NOT to give advice or provide possible solutions!
  • When the questions have dried up, the Presenter sums up the situation, identifying any new insights and actions they will take before the next session;
  • The session ends with the Facilitator running an evaluation about the session’s overall effectiveness;
  • The length of the session will vary, depending on agreement among the Set

Quality of the questions: The ability to ask powerful questions is essential for an ALS to work. Questions should be designed to help the Presenter identify some new aspect or angle – something that hadn’t previously occurred to them. Questions should be open and focus on the positive, with the tacit assumption that there IS a solution to the problem. The quality of Supporter questions is the key ingredient for effective Action Learning.

Outcomes: The aim of Action Learning is to help individuals identify actions they could take to solve a problem or resolve an issue. Each session should begin with an update from the previous Presenter, sharing what has happened as a result of the actions to which they committed at the last Session. It provides a real boost to the dynamic of the Set to hear about positive outcomes.

Motivation: When a Learning Set first assembles, members agree to commit to a defined process – regular attendance, adherence to the process, total engagement, confidentiality and so on. As time goes on, if individuals ignore these commitments the level of motivation will diminish and the Set will lose its effectiveness. Motivation to participate is essential as it acts as a spark that ignites energy to “fire and inspire” the work of the Set.

Here is what a couple of OLGA members have said about their initial experiences of Action Learning:

“It was very thought provoking and made me take a good look at myself and the other Cluster Managers. It also made me feel worried about all of us – I suppose a bit scary. It was a bit like a light bulb moment and realising we have the same issues and problems to deal with. This is something we can now work on to achieve and support each other with.”
“What I brought back from the session is to look for the positives in any situation as you can nearly also find something to positive to build on.”

“I thought the whole afternoon was brilliant. Not knowing what to expect, my first experience of a learning set under the facilitator’s guidance was really worthwhile and the issues it raised have stayed with me since and I’ve actually spent some time addressing these. I have found myself reflecting on the whole experience in the weeks that have already passed and am looking forward to the next one.”

If you would like to learn more about how Action Learning could be of use in your role as a member of an OLGA, please contact the CF Support Service on or 0800 587 8898.

Participation Cymru offers a facilitation service for action learning sets that helps to set up a set and facilitate initial meetings as well as monitor and evaluate Action Learning. Would you like to enhance your learning by being able to reflect with colleagues on current work issues? Visit our website for more information.

Update: Regional Participation Networks

Free Tools

We held regional participation network events this month in Rhyl, Newport and Carmarthen. At the network events we explored several free online tools that can be used for engagement. A wide variety of organisations attended and shared a lot of interesting ideas.

Here is the list of websites and tools that we discussed:

Socrative – quiz tool

Read-Able – readability checker – create info-graphics

Infogram – create info-graphics

Powtoon – create animated cartoons

Pixabay – free stock photos

Morguefile – more free stock photos

Phrase it! – add speech bubbles to images

Pixlr – free online image editor

Mailchimp – create newsletters for your mailing lists

Twtpoll – polls and surveys for Twitter

Tagboard – search for topics/hashtags on Twitter – Twitter search

Eventbrite – organise bookable events

Survey Monkey – design surveys and questionnaires

Magisto – movie clip editor

Google Charity Apps

Doodle – organise meetings with others

KeePass – Encrypted password safe (open-source downloadable software) – GNU Image Manipulation Programme (open-source downloadable photo editor)

Skitch – Photos & drawings in Evernote (downloadable software)

Geospike – Travel diary using GPS

We will be holding regional network events again in May where local Community Voice projects across Wales will be sharing their work. If you would like to be involved please contact us for more information.

– Sarah

Photo credit: Pixabay

Think globally, act locally

“Thinking global and acting locally” is as relevant today as it has ever been. This idea encourages us to consider the state of the whole world, but to take action in our own communities, neighbourhoods and cities. It is part of human nature to protect the environment that we live in – the grassroots efforts of small groups of people can have a huge impact to our immediate community and our wider surroundings.

cynnalcymruI recently attended the launch of the Sustain Wales Fund hosted by Cynnal Cymru at Cardiff City Hall where there were some excellent speakers representing local organisations such as the Arts Council for Wales and NSA Afan, as well as global industries such as Coca Cola Enterprises. These organisations have very different activities but the message was clear: the goal of sustainability is vital to every sector, every business and every community.

Sustainable development meets needs of the present without compromising ability of future generations to do the same. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill and Wales Sustainable Development Charter gives validity the principles of sustainability and shows the commitment that the people of Wales have to our future and the future of the planet. However, in order for any sort of change or reform to happen and be meaningful it needs to happen from the ground up, hence the phrase:

Think global, act local.


We all have a stake in the future: it is our legacy and in everyone’s best interests to put sustainability at the heart of services. In times of austerity it makes even more sense to consider sustainability, using our resources sparingly but efficiently; maximising and developing our current potential. Sustainability also delivers palpable benefits to our organisations’ work.

Cynnal Cymru is now looking forward to following up on some of the excellent suggestions from the event and actioning their new initiatives: The Sustain Wales Fund, The Sustain Wales Awards, a new membership scheme and a range of training and events.

The Storify of the day is available here.

– Sarah