Here at the National Assembly for Wales, we are always looking at new ways of sharing information in exciting and innovative ways. This year, we started using a product called Slate (made by Adobe) to give summary versions of reports produced by our committees.
Our Slates have been extremely successful – so much so that Adobe have made us a Slate Ambassador!
What is Slate?
Slate is a platform that allows organisations to create and share interactive reports, information and presentations. It has accessible user interfaces and cross platform compatibility, the Assembly has used Slate to share the extensive and complex work of Assembly committees in an informative and easily navigated format.
Following the recent inquiry into Alcohol and Substance Misuse in Wales, the Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee wanted to share their findings. The Assembly used Slate to create a summary of the committee’s work. Using eye catching imagery and informative content, a cross platform report with a friendly user interface was created.
“We have been blown away by the amazing things people like (The National Assembly for Wales) are doing with the tool” – The Slate Web Team
This is a question Assembly Members at the National Assembly ask every day, in committee meetings, or in Plenary meetings, in the main debating chamber of the Senedd, in Cardiff Bay.
If the Welsh Government’s job is to “help improve the lives of people in Wales and make our nation a better place in which to live and work”, then it’s important that the Assembly hears from the wide range of people affected by the decisions that the Welsh Government makes. The National Assembly for Wales is the body tasked with analysing how well the Welsh Government is doing so, after all.
How the Assembly does this has changed significantly over the last few years, particularly when it comes to the work of Assembly committees. People still reply to invitations to write to the Assembly to give evidence. Individuals, organisations and charities still visit the Senedd to be quizzed by AMs in formal meetings, though different approaches are needed to hear from different audiences.
People everywhere lead increasingly busy lives, so making participation in the Assembly’s work as easy and accessible as possible is vital for engaging with the wide variety of people that make up the population of Wales. Increasingly at the Assembly, committees have been using digital channels to encourage people to share their views with us.
We’ve used Google Hangouts to speak with students about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Skills and Higher Education Funding, filmed members of the public on an iPad and shown it as evidence at formal committee meetings, and used Twitter to source questions to ask the leader of the Welsh Government, First Minister Carwyn Jones AM.
The following video is a video of Rhun ap Iorwerth AM and Julie James AM being interviewed after taking part in their first web-chat on Google Hangout for the STEM Skills inquiry:
In the last few months we used Loomio for the first time, as part of the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry looking into alcohol and substance misuse in Wales. Loomio is a web-application to assist groups with collaborative decision-making processes.
A key part of the inquiry was talking directly with the people affected by these issues, but some people find attending official committee meetings intimidating. Also not all those affected have the capacity to put their thoughts and feelings to the Committee in writing. Loomio allowed the Committee to talk to people, without everyone needing to be in the same room.
Service providers and clients used the online forum to tell us what issues they had experienced, and what they wanted the Welsh Government to should do about it. This is a screenshot showing some of the contributions we had to the discussion:
At the end of the evidence-gathering process, once a Committee has considered everything that people have told them, they will usually write to the Welsh Government. This is to explain what steps the Committee would like to see the Welsh Government take to improve people’s lives in Wales, based on the evidence the Committee have heard.
This tends to be in official reports, which can be quite lengthy, but we are looking at different ways of presenting committee reports to make them shorter and easier to understand, at-a-glance.
One of the summary versions is this video, made for people who were filmed for an inquiry looking at youth entrepreneurship:
Using digital channels and platforms has allowed us to engage with people more effectively and easily than before.
It’s also meant that more people can help the Assembly scrutinise the Welsh Government’s performance, so the Assembly’s recommendations to the Welsh Government are based on the issues people experience in their everyday lives.
I’m David Rees (@DavidReesAM), Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee.
In September 2014 the Committee started looking into the issue of new psychoactive substances (“NPS”). We have now finished our inquiry and have written a report (PDF, 1MB) making 14 recommendations to the Welsh Government. A shorter summary (PDF, 252KB) is also available.
What are New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)?
NPS are commonly marketed as safer and legal alternatives to illegal drugs, often made in laboratories and sold via the internet or in so-called “head shops” that exist on the high street. They are often referred to as “legal highs”. This marketing is misleading – their side effects can be as serious as those caused by illegal drugs, and they can be as addictive too. Often, they also contain traces of substances that are against the law to sell and take.
Why did we hold this inquiry?
We decided to look into this issue because the use of NPS has grown in Wales, and elsewhere, in recent years. In 2013, 60 deaths in England and Wales involved NPS, 15 per cent higher than the previous year. Members were concerned about the health and social harms caused by NPS, and wanted to shine a light on the steps that need to be taken to allow people to make more informed decisions about their use of NPS.
How did we gather people’s views for this inquiry?
We used a number of different ways to ask people what they think about NPS, including:
asking the public to fill in a survey, which 1072 people responded to from across Wales;
inviting representatives from key organisations to speak with Members in official meetings at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay;
holding focus groups in Merthyr Tydfil and Wrexham to hear directly from frontline staff, and Committee members visited the LOTS project, Forsythia Youth Club, DrugAid and the headquarters of DAN 24/7, Wales’ national substance misuse helpline.
The Committee also used storify to keep people updated on the inquiry’s progress.
What did people tell the Committee and what have we done about it?
What the Committee was told
More needs to be done to increase public awareness of the harms caused by using NPS;
the term “legal highs” is really unhelpful. It suggests that using these substances is a safe and legal thing to do. In reality, they are often really harmful and contain illegal substances;
the UK Government, which is responsible for drugs policy, should ban the supply of NPS, making “head shops” and market stalls that sell NPS illegal;
those using NPS should not be given a criminal record – that could make things even worse for users who are trying to get their lives back on track;
not enough is known about how many people are taking NPS and what harms they can cause.
What we said in our report
The current drugs education programme in schools should be reviewed urgently to make it better and more consistent across Wales, and to make sure it is delivered by people who are suitably trained and qualified;
a national training programme on NPS should be developed for all staff providing public services (e.g. doctors, nurses, police, social workers, prison officers etc);
the Welsh Government’s 2015 public awareness campaign on NPS should include targeted information for young people and emphasise that legal does not mean safe;
those working in this field, including the media, should stop using the term “legal highs” as it is very misleading;
the Welsh Government should encourage the UK Government to move as quickly as possible to implement the suggested ban on the supply of NPS.
To read all 14 of our recommendations please see our report (PDF, 1MB) or the shorter summary (PDF, 252KB) document.
What did the UK and Welsh Governments think about our report?
Our report will be debated by all Assembly Members on 13 May in the Siambr, the Assembly’s main debating chamber. This will be an opportunity to draw attention to this important topic, and to put questions to the Welsh Government’s Health Minister about what the Welsh Government will do to deliver our recommendations.
I would like to thank everyone who took the time to share their experiences of NPS and their views about what needs to be done to raise public awareness of their harms. Although the Committee itself can only recommend changes rather than being able to make the changes itself, we will continue to put pressure on the Welsh Government and others to deliver the actions set out in our report.
How to get involved and keep up-to date with our work