Thoughts from GovCamp Cymru 2017

GovCamp Cymru is an unconference for people interested in Welsh public services and how they affect our lives.

GovCamp Cymru took place on Saturday 16th of October in the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay.

These are the sessions I went to…

  • Transformation through culture change and self organisation.
  • How can we make learning and development fit for purpose?
  • Universal Basic Income: should we in Wales be thinking about it?
  • Brexit: What happens to Welsh public services? How do we prepare?

I’m going to attempt to keep my waffle to a minimum (of which I’m certain I’m destined to fail). So instead of a blow by blow account of each session, this is more of quick jog through some key points that stayed with me following the event.

If you’re interested in reading up on what transpired in the various sessions, you can read the notes attached to the session grid. Dyfrig Williams has also pulled this ace Storify together.

It was interesting that the first session on transformation and the second session on learning & development had quite a big overlap.

  • Is it okay to have people in your organisation who are just showing up to take home a pay cheque?
  • How do we create environments where it’s safe to fail and learn?
  • How do we make it okay for people to say ‘I don’t know’.
  • How do we do things *with* people not *to* them?

If you look at more modern organisations who are operating in constantly shifting environments, I think we’ve actually got answers to these questions. For the purpose of delivering the right things more swiftly, they’ve had to figure it out.

But it would seem that many people working in the public sector don’t yet have the leadership in place that would be willing try something a bit different than the command & control we’re all accustomed to.

This does need to change, and not least because it will stop passionate and talented people from wanting to work in public services. Long term, it will likely cause increasing inefficiency as rigid hierarchical structures struggle to keep pace with a world that is changing faster than most can predict.

I did a pitch on Universal Basic Income and whether Wales should be thinking about it in the face of rapid technological and social change. It was a really fun discussion to lead and those gathered quickly got to some of the thorny issues surrounding Basic Income. Including but not limited to..

  • How much would it be?
  • How would we pay for it?
  • Would employers use Basic Income as a subsidy and pay lower wages?

These are hard questions to answer because there are lots of moving parts to account for. It’s the main reason that many countries are running basic income pilots of varying sizes to try and gather some hard data.

You can read a rough transcript of the session on this Google doc.

I concluded the session asking what I could do to meaningfully move the conversation forward regarding Basic Income. Some felt it was important to challenge the narrative that it was a crazy socialist idea. Others thought that we needed to get more people talking about it. If not this.. then what? Austerity certainly hasn’t worked as planned.

Automation *is* coming. The optimistic view is that it will augment humanity and create a whole slew of new creatively fulfilling jobs. The alternative is that industries flock to automation in a race to increase profit by pushing operating costs down to an absolute minimum. We definitely need a plan B just in case we don’t get the optimistic version of events!

I ended the day by going to a session talking about what Welsh public services are doing to plan for Brexit. I’ll be honest, it was not the most cheerful note to end on.

Someone made the point that there is likely no soft Brexit option on the table. Because anywhere between “all in” and “all out” will be worse than what we’ve already got depending what side of the leave/remain fence you’re on.

I think some of us (myself included) are hoping that something might transpire and that we veer away from the cliff edge at the last moment. But logically speaking we have to start making contingency plans for a Thelma & Louise style plunge.

As a group we struggled to articulate what at Government level is being planned for the potential of a hard Brexit. We also wondered what councils might be planning, given that some are already struggling to provide key services under existing conditions.

My impression was there needed to be more transparency & communication in terms of what was being discussed (if anything) at a local and national level. I know this is a thorny subject because it mostly feels like Westminster is in the driving seat and the rest of us are being dragged along for the ride.

I think there are two important points for fleshing a potential vision for a Welsh hard Brexit. Firstly, it’s important we try to collectively understand what this looks like in practice no matter how unpalatable.. because we may actually have to follow through with it.

Secondly, if there is a second referendum looming at some point in the near future, it’ll be easier to illustrate the consequences to people with a more fully realised and relatable vision of two potential futures. One where Wales remains part of the EU, and another where we exist outside it. (And yes.. I know.. we really could’ve done with this before the first referendum!)

In the words of President Jed Bartlet.. What’s next?

GovCamp Cymru is a place where all manner of big and small topics get an airing. I think it’s incredibly important that there’s a space in Wales for people who care about public services to gather, exchange views and find allies through serendipitous conversations.

The challenge remains, what happens the day after GovCamp Cymru? I think it’s easy to lose momentum when you’ve got the makings of an interesting idea or concept and no obvious way to take it forward.

To overcome inertia and decision paralysis, perhaps we all need to embrace ‘microactions’ described in this post by @OneTeamGov.

“We’ll achieve change through the aggregation of thousands of small things that anyone can do every day.”

What will you do different today than yesterday? What is the one small change you can make to move you closer to your/our goal? In short.. (and at the risk of sounding like some sort of lifestyle guru) change always starts with YOU. Be the change you want to see in the world.

I want to give a huge thanks to the GovCamp Cymru organisers who generously volunteer their time for the benefit of others.

Also, big thumbs up to the sponsors for making it possible for people to come and talk about public services without having to put their own hand in their pocket.

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