RESEARCH, REPORTING AND SCRUTINY
Information Gathering Research, Reporting and Scrutiny: delivered by the community, for the needs of the community. Establishing groups across the whole of Wales who are passionate about informing policy formation, transformation and delivery of public affairs will enhance the work of democracy and support the success of public service endeavours. Crucial to the success of this endeavour is a need to support the development of a community citizen media, who will not only report confidently and rigorously on public affairs, but will amplify the voice and impact of the groundbreaking work these community researchers achieve. Here, the wider aim of civic community engagement and development is powered by the community themselves.
How do you go about your own information gathering research, to share your knowledge and have your say on the decisions which affect our everyday lives? Where can you find a support network for this, where all questions are respected and equality is championed as a civic right?
FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE
Wales is known at home and abroad as one of the most destitute nations in Europe. Concerns have been expressed with temerity about Wales’ future prospects in an unstable global environment, as Brexit has become a legal certainty. A sense of hopelessness has settled like a mist over Wales, sapping us of strength, autonomy, and a belief in our own self worth and identity. In the face of these challenges, Sylfaen Cymru, an Education and Information Gathering service, was born. Our mission is simple:
To re-enfranchise the disenfranchised
To empower the disempowered
To magnify the voice of the voiceless
We intend to do this through connecting people with public service & public services, thereby breaking through the barriers to both. During the General Election (our timing was rather unfortunate), we asked members of the public about how we can walk forward together in Wales in the coming months and years. We wanted to know:
How can we help the people of Wales take control of Wales’ past, present and future?
How would you best describe Wales today?
Which causes should power figures focus on to improve people’s quality of life in Wales?
What is your perception of the function and efficacy of the Welsh Assembly?
We attempted to reach as diverse a population group as possible,with representatives across the spectrum of nationalities, age, race religion and belief, gender and intersectionality, and disabilities and health conditions. Our findings below represent the common responses across the diversity unless otherwise stated. Excitingly, our information gathering coincided with the execution of a poll by YouGov and Plaid Cymru, creating a fascinating dialogue.
We described Education as Public Citizens Education. Conceived to include the following as a starting point, through evaluation of the core empirical methods in disciplines History, Psychology, English, Politics and the traditional Sciences. Our focus group of respondents were 40 in total, from across Wales but in majority from South Wales.
This is what you told us.
Nearly 80% of respondents believe Wales is in desperate need of Public Citizen Education to empower Wales and its people. It was explained to respondents that this could focus on, for example, how to make politics (and politicians) work for the individual and their communities; how to mobilise legally and effectively on behalf of a common cause; how to influence policy-making; how to see through propaganda and rhetoric; and how to utilise and identify debate and discussion techniques. It is intended that this should combat the pervasive sense of disempowerment by providing people with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate public life and public affairs successfully. We would also need to monitor the impact of this work, such as on quality of life, levels of understanding and engagement in public life, and on both mental and physical manifestations of self empowerment. At present, education to this effect does not exist as an established study discipline; nor has much study been given to whether there has been any significant trend of skills learned in Humanities and Science subjects being transferred into our daily Public interactions.
61% of people who spoke to us believe we need increased legal independence which would complement our current levels of devolution, and allow Wales to implement its new laws more effectively. 58% see a need for a larger number of independent research bodies. This could improve our ability to steer Wales in the direction our laws and policies are created for - a basic facet of the Rule of Law taken for granted in other parts of the UK. More respondents saw a need for increased levels of devolution, at both state and council level, than those who desired the opposite. This information sits in contrast with the feedback you gave us about the Welsh Assembly, which reflected a general lack of confidence in the capability of the current and past Assemblies to act as the voice of Wales and produce tangible benefits for the country. A recent YouGov poll suggested that the large minority of curious interest in Wales' independence is increasing, but the majority do not support independence. This is fascinating, as coupled with our findings the suggestion is that increased confidence in the competence and scope of our political and legislative powers could be a compromise preferred by a majority of Wales. More research and information gathering must be conducted in this area.
Respondents stated powers in Wales should focus their efforts upon the eradication of poverty and homelessness; increasing job opportunities; and alleviating the stress upon the Welsh NHS and social care as priorities. Wales has experienced the highest poverty rates in the UK for years. High levels of low paid work and zero hour contracts are exacerbating this, and concerns are being raised about the UK Welfare benefits system’s ability to adequately respond to these challenges..Global Warming was an obvious option missing from the survey and its absence was challenged multiple times. This is perhaps no surprise in light of the current climate emergency, and indicates that future industrial efforts should continue to press towards zero sum, futuristic industries such as those proposed by the Institute of Welsh Affairs.
We need to reach more people across the whole of Wales, to make this a truly democratic and impactful project that delivers real results for learners of all ages and backgrounds, but this information shall inform the beginning of our efforts going forward.
HOW WE'LL USE THESE FINDINGS
Using the information you shared with us, we intend to transform the foundation, and in time, the landscape of Wales. We will do this by connecting people with public service & public services, and thereby break through the barriers to both. We will achieve this via the twin strategies of grass roots information gathering, and education and advice resources. To achieve this we are working with both the general public and policy makers alike.
We believe that education reform must be prioritised to catapult Wales into the future, and for us all to move forward together: Adults and children, British National or Asylum seeker, all genders, all nations, all backgrounds… No-one left behind.
In practical terms, this means that education designed to facilitate critical thinking within the public sphere must be made available to all community groups, and must put them actively at the heart of the efforts. Particularly, we believe skills in this area must work hand in hand with the upcoming 2020 Welsh curriculum and the Humanities AoLE, converting the theoretical and abstract into the practical result of achieving meaningful impact.
We are currently conducting delivery-focused meetings including focus groups and interviews with community members, schools, and public and third sector organisations to turn this into a reality.
Our work with you: We want to speak to marginalised and overshadowed groups, including young carers, the LGBTQ community and BME communities, children, the elderly and the blind and deaf communities. We also want to work with those marginalised groups which are seldom identified, particularly low income individuals and households. Finally, we want to offer an opportunity to work with us on the journey to democratise education and render accessible active participation from all quarters.
When done right, grassroots information gathering turns communities and individuals into informed researchers, ethical challengers to power, and feedback providers, to shape the future of public life and services. This effort goes hand in hand with the democratisation of education, turning passive and disempowered stakeholders into active, ethical and self-assured ones. These communities and individuals utilise their new skills and confidence nurtured through education, to play an active role in the type of grass-roots information gathering which will influence policies through the provision of simultaneously personal and well-reasoned evidence.
Surely this type of evidence us every public sector decision maker's dream: a fruitful, healthy and active dialogue between people and state. Not only that, but it should lead to an increase in levels of knowledge and resulting individual and local activity, through the production of both qualitative and quantitative research designed to improve social policy.
Our work with you: We are in the early stages of providing easily accessible fora for this to happen, and participation should be fed by (and ultimately integrated into) the results of Public Citizen Education as outlined above.
CONTACT SYLFAEN CYMRU
Get in touch with us to learn more about our work and how you can get involved.