On the Road - Future Generations in Gresford and Aberystwyth
Reflecting on trips to two events held by the Office of the Future Generations' Commissioner and partners.
In this blog I will do my best to avoid using sporting analogies. Let’s see how it goes.
Recently, I went to 2 events held by the Future Generations Commissioner’s office in in co-operation with other organisations. The first was held in co-operation with the Football Association of Wales in Collier’s Park, Gresford, Wrexham. The aim of the day was to look at how culture pervades life and how Welsh culture, as in the culture within modern Wales can inform and aid public services.
I wanted to say something about the human universality of culture. I felt that the Oxford dictionary would be a good enough authority for a definition of the word to check that culture means what I want it to mean. To access word definitions you have to sign up to the dictionary! This is elitist education taken too far!
Anyway, disappointed with Oxford, I searched for the Cambridge dictionary instead. The Cambridge Dictionary didn’t want my details and defines Culture as:
the way of life especially general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time
the attitudes, behaviour, opinions, etc of a particular group of people within society.
We can live as though culture is a separate land, populated by actors, artists and musicians. A place where writers and film-makers weave fantastical worlds behind a glass window. A space where the rest of us look into, through screens, or visit occasionally as we go along with our lives and get to sit in the darkness looking at the show under the lights.
But culture, according to the sign-up-free definition is not that at all, it’s the societal air that we breathe. It’s everything that makes us, us. It’s accessible to everyone, all the time as long as you have some space in your brain for it. That’s not always possible but even the comfort telly, or the endless reel of social media that you look at because you don’t have the energy for anything that requires firing up a cylinder of your brain is still culture. It’s a custom to vegetate until bedtime when your day is drifting to a close and the world is just a bit too much right now.
But my point is that everything is culture. It pervades everything and shapes how we see the world. The long shadow of new public management is a cultural element in how public services are run, and Agile’s various methods are another layer adding to the public services culture for example. It’s not just the pretty pictures; it’s everything.
It’s everything, not just the designated creatives. It’s all of us given the space and a little time to lift our heads to the horizon. It’s anyone given or taking the glimpse of another way of seeing and presenting the world.
Given the challenges that we are facing, we need as many people as possible to unleash their imaginations in response. We need as many as possible to be given the permission to go and try things that may not work. They need to be shown permission and encouraged because just telling them just isn’t enough.
The event itself was very interesting. I went to a workshop on ‘Culture and a Resilient Wales’ where Dr Lana St Leger spoke about her current research project which will be looking at the links between culture, Welsh and Climate Change. I am looking forward to the published research when it’s ready. Also presenting in the same workshop was Heledd Wyn, a visual storyteller who was a Future Wales Fellow for 2022-23. Her fellowship focussed on finding modern uses for hemp. Hemp is a traditional material once widely cultivated in Wales, but one that has fallen out of favour in modern farming.
Another project that was part of her fellowship was Diwrnod Non. A day where everyone would be encouraged to switch everything off and be in the moment, being together and with nature without distraction. It’s a really nice idea. We don’t do this more often though because we’re too busy riding the endless scroll.
Another workshop looked at ‘Culture and a Prosperous Wales’ with Sian Gale from Bectu, Will Tregaskes and Ophelia Dos Santos presenting. The session was a good reminder of how our culture is an economic asset that builds skills and careers both here and internationally. The speaker who really stood out for me in the session though was Ophelia Dos Santos. Ophelia is a textile artist and educator based in Cardiff. Her practice encourages us to look at climate justice and equality. Connected to this as well is the nature of modern fashion. A big part of her community-based work is to hold sewing and embroidery sessions. As well as sharing useful skills theses session also encourage participants to open up and have meaningful conversations.
An effective part of the workshop was that it was held in one of the changing rooms. As it happens the room is purpose built to bring people to a focal point and bring them together. It was bit odd at first but it did add something to the conversation that we were all effectively sitting in a big circle. It was missing the essential essences of deep heat, socks, damp and grass but that’s probably a good thing.
In the same way as sharing a long car journey, working on something repetitive, but where you need to concentrate on one spot breaks eye contact. Breaking eye contact but carrying on the conversation often leads to opening up and going into more difficult or vulnerable places.
I would love the opportunity to hold this kind of session with people in public services. Who knows what we’d learn? Who know how that would then help us to improve the way things are done? If anyone knows of a group of people who are willing to donate the time…
The other event I went to was in Aberystwyth. I think the playground by Aberystwyth Castle is my favourite playground. It was huge and amazing when I was in primary school and in Aber to visit family. Every time it’s been replaced they have managed to keep the same magic and by now my children love it. I enjoy the benches when I’m not on swing pushing duty. It’s also next door to the castle. There is nothing not to like.
I am too old to fully enjoy a playground by now. I’m just too big to mix it with the little kids and the slide doesn’t last long enough. It’s probably for the best to be honest. I also keep thinking that I still bounce in the same way, but I don’t really want to find out.
But I wasn’t in Aber to go play, I was there for work. The event was led by Aber Food Surplus and looked at ways of creating a sustainable food system for Ceredigion.
Amongst the speakers was Sophia, otherwise known as Dyfi Dairy with an inspiring story of an overwhelming love for goats and a desire to earn a living looking after them.
Another speaker was Ben Porter from Tir Canol, a successor organisation to the Summit to Sea Project. Following the acrimonious collapse of the Summit to Sea partnership in the face of local oppostion, Tir Canol embarked on a 2 year programme of co-creation to build trust with the communities in their area of operation and to co-create a blueprint for the way forward.
I was impressed by the way that Tir Canol have taken ownership of their past. Although they could not deny their history, such open recognition of it helps build trust from the outset in a new direction. Having read the concluding report from the co-design phase, there is some good practice there. It’s also concise, honest and readable. Which is nice and in keeping with the ethos of Ben’s presentation at the event.
When we were mingling before the start of the event I got into conversation that drifted on to consultation. After a while we discussed the difference between Consultation, Co-Production and Co-Creation. I came up with a simple funnel type rule of thumb, but I have no idea if it’s original or not. It can be used as a linear or circular method, not dissimilar to the double diamond of design thinking.
Co-creation – when you have a question but no answers – when you’re looking at a ‘blank’ space and haven’t decided how to use it yet. You may be in the process of making a space blank here as well. If you wanted to try and completely re-think some kind of service provision for example. It would be good to set some boundaries here though. It’s very hard to fill a blank sheet of paper. As an example, what if you were given a field at the edge of the village?
Co-production – when the decision on what to do has been made, but not how to do it – when the general outline has been marked. Using the field at the edge of the village analogy, you have collectively decided in the co-creation phase that you would like to use the field as a sports club. The co-production phase is deciding which sport (or sports) you would like to be able to play on the field.
Consultation – when you’ve decided what the preferred options are, and want to check that everyone’s ok with it. This is when you have a plan and only want to know which colour the kit will be and other details.
Often it feels that engagement starts at the consultation phase, even if there has been an attempt to disguise the fact. There is nothing wrong with that if it’s right for the context, but it would be nice to feel that engaging with the public is more than ticking the box every so often.
I’d be very happy to learn about public engagement that has been genuinely shaped by the people. I want to be wrong.
I almost managed to not mention sport as well. I keep telling myself I’m not obsessed.