Good Practice Exchange weeknotes

30 November 2022
  • Hello!

    Welcome to the first in our series of Good Practice Exchange weeknotes.

    We are in a really unique position in Wales. You may be aware that the Auditor General is the statutory external auditor of most of the Welsh public sector. This includes county and county borough councils, police, fire and rescue authorities, national parks and community councils, as well as the Welsh Government, its sponsored and related public bodies, the Senedd Commission and NHS bodies.

    We see and hear about so much novel and innovative practice in our day-to-day work which means we’re in a good position to be able to share this widely across the public sector.

    So what do we mean by good practice?

    I recently came across a document written by Chris Bolton (Chris created the Good Practice Exchange Team and is now our Research and Development Manager at Audit Wales), who wrote the following description about what good practice is (and isn’t) – almost 15 years later and every word still stands.

    Good practice is not best practice

    Best practice implies that there is one way of doing things and that it can’t be beaten. That is pretty much never the case. It may be a truism, but there is always scope for improvement. And there’s always more than one way of removing the epidermal layer from the proverbial feline. Different practices can be equally best for different circumstances.

    Good practice means what it says – it’s not necessarily phenomenal, excellent, outstanding or brilliant practice

    Good practice does not need to be astonishingly innovative. It is not only about transformational changes that result in whole new ways of working. Good practice is just as much about doing the little things – the everyday work –well and in a spirit of continuous improvement.

    Good practice is about adaptation, not adoption

    This is a factual statement as much as a though-through position. Research shows that very few organisations adopt good practice wholesale. The vast majority develop a local approach which is inspired by a good practice example. Some use the examples to accelerate their own existing idea that may be along similar lines. That seems to make sense in terms of developing sustainable approaches. It means the new ways of working are thought through in light of the local situation. And it also provides an opportunity for staff to get involved in shaping new ways of working – inspired by what others have done – giving wider ownership and commitment.

    Good practice doesn’t need to be proven beyond all reasonable doubt

    Of course it helps if we can provide cast iron proof that some practice has delivered tangible benefits. But sometimes benefits can be less tangible, and harder to measure. In those instances a clear story of how things are better can still generally be told, even if it can’t be quantified in performance or financial measures. Provided the example is honest and doesn’t claim more than it can show, it is fine.

    Good practice isn’t always ‘Made in Wales’

    Good practice can be found all over the world, not just the UK or even Europe. For example, lots of good practice on citizen and community engagement comes from the developing world. And our financial work is guided by international accounting standards, so there must be scope for good practice from around the world.

    In essence, our approach to good practice is about identifying and capturing the interesting things we find and sharing them. It is about being entirely honest in presenting examples, recognising that we don’t know for sure how good all of the practices are. It is about sharing learning from what works and what doesn’t in different circumstances. It involves providing an array of material that public services can adapt as they see fit. It is absolutely not about advocating a one-size-fits all model.

    With this in mind, our week notes will share a range of things we’ve seen and heard about during the course of our week, from within Wales and beyond, that hopefully will be of interest to you.

    As always, if any of you do have some interesting examples of things but were worried that they weren’t brilliant enough, or couldn’t be proven to the nth degree, or didn’t necessarily warrant being mandated across the piece, then hopefully we’ve allayed some of your concerns. And we’d really like to hear from you.

    About the author

    Bethan Smith is the Programme Manager for the Good Practice Exchange Team. Bethan has worked for Audit Wales for over 10 years. Prior to this, Bethan worked in a number of roles within the Social Services department of a local authority in North Wales.