Training and Development Blog, by Annette Aiken
With the local elections having recently taken place, many council officers are thinking about putting together a structured training and development programme for their newly or returning elected members and for other officers to enable effective scrutiny. This can be challenging, especially if you are starting from scratch.
In this blog, we offer a useful 5-point checklist, which considers key issues that officers need to think about when considering commissioning overview and scrutiny training and development for themselves, their colleagues and also for their elected members.
This checklist will help officers to create an engaging, robust, tailored and well-structured training and development programme for all those involved in scrutiny work.
- Align training and development needs with the corporate framework of the council: A well thought out training and development programme takes into account the council’s corporate framework. Speak to management and leadership colleagues to find out the council’s overall business priorities and goals. This should include a combination of short and long-term goals. Finding out from management about the council’s expectations around the role of overview and scrutiny is also crucial. Key themes that officers should look out for include, to better enable policy shaping, to hold the executive decision-makers to account and to review issues of importance to local communities.
- Conduct a training and development needs analysis: This should be conducted from the point of view of management, in terms of council short and long-term goals and corporate strategy and where skills gaps might exist. Speak to members and officers to get their viewpoints regarding training and development needs. Methods for engaging with elected members and officers include holding roundtables, where training and development needs can be openly discussed, and feedback obtained about participants experiences of what has worked well previously, finding out about practitioners different learning styles, uncovering any best practice, and discovering personal motivations for undertaking the training. Feedback could also be obtained by asking practitioners to complete a survey. Results can then be analysed for relevant insights. Discussions between officers and their line managers, regarding personal development needs would also be useful to inform training needs. All data obtained should be analysed to assist in creating a focussed, holistic training and development plan. Regularly conducting training and development needs analysis ensures that emerging needs are quickly identified and addressed. Involving those who work directly in Overview and Scrutiny means that they are actively involved in the process, rather than being dictated to by management around their learning needs. This will encourage participation and genuine engagement.
- Prioritise training and development needs: Time and budgets are limited and these factors should be considered. Useful questions to ask are: How much time can be devoted by elected members and/ or officers to undertaking training and development? What is the budget for training and development? What is the cost of various training packages? What type of training will result in the most impact? Which training will provide the most value for money? In addition, it is crucial to prioritise which training and development needs will have the most impact on the work that Overview and Scrutiny undertake. Which topics are the most urgent to be addressed should also be considered, combined with training that will help to achieve the council’s organisational goals, within their corporate framework. Training and development needs that will have the biggest impact should be prioritised first.
- Consider the training delivery method: The exponential development of information technology in recent years, has brought about a variety of ways that training can be delivered. This includes online training delivery and blended, or sometimes called hybrid session delivery. These training methods have their merits and pitfalls.
- Online/ virtual training delivery: Online training delivery can be more flexible, in terms of ability of participants, especially elected members who may have other commitments, to attend. This method of delivery is generally cheaper to purchase, as there are no logistic costs involved, for instance, venue and equipment hire. This might have a positive impact on budgets; is suitable for attendees who are geographically dispersed, is beneficial in terms of time saving, and can be flexible in terms of the number of participants who can attend. This method could also be seen as environmentally friendly, as participants do not have to travel to attend. Conversely, some attendees might feel unfamiliar using online platforms, such as Teams and Zoom, in terms of their technical proficiency; there might be Wi-Fi connectivity problems, which is very disruptive; attendees may also be distracted, and therefore not fully engaged with the training session. Additionally, online delivery tends to lack the interactivity and communication that in-person sessions tend to provide.
- Blended/ Hybrid training delivery is a mix of online/virtual methods and in-person training delivery. This method can offer the best of online and in-person delivery. In terms of scrutiny training sessions, some councils have enquired about undertaking sessions where some attendees are present in person, and others are logged in online. As with online session delivery, technical glitches can frequently occur, thus disrupting the session for all in attendance. Vital time is taken up managing both in person and virtual attendees which might result in some attendees feeling as though they are not fully involved in the session and session set up and logistics around set up can often be complex.
- In-person training delivery: In-person training delivery is seen as the traditional method of training delivery. Training sessions can be delivered as workshop style events, generally with a facilitator and attendees all being present in the same room. Undertaking in-person sessions has many benefits. These include, allowing attendees to meet each other, to collaborate, sharing thoughts and ideas directly with one another and the facilitator, which promotes authentic engagement and interactions, participation, communication and learning. However, there are also some disadvantages to in-person learning. These include logistics around setting up time/ date when the most participants can attend, arranging a venue and the availability of technology. This method can be costly in terms of budget. Not everyone may be confident or comfortable enough to contribute verbally to sessions, for example they might be reluctant to ask questions of others and there might be poor attendance depending on the time of day that the session(s) run. We would always recommend in-person delivery, over virtual delivery, where possible.
- Choosing and Comparing training providers: Once a decision has been made about the type of training and development, then it’s time to choose and compare training providers. Choosing the right training provider is essential so that colleagues, and the organisation feels supported. Questions to consider include, how closely the training provider’s offer is able to match the needs of the organisation and the attendees? Does the training offer guidance on best practice in the field of overview and scrutiny to shape training content? What is the provider’s expertise and reputation in the field? This might include making an assessment of suitably qualified professionals to deliver the training. What is the cost of the training on offer? How well does the provider communicate with the organisation about the training and organisation of sessions? Getting recommendations from colleagues could also be an option.
Similarly, contacting past providers who have delivered successful training could also be done. Once a list of providers has been created, then comparisons can be made, and a shortlist generated, from which to make an informed choice of provider. The next step should be to make contact with potential providers. Requesting to have detailed discussions, by email, phone or virtually, with providers, around tailoring their content to suit your audience’s needs, including what aims and objectives you have for the sessions.
This is very important to discuss with any potential provider. Other topics to discuss might include cost, delivery method and timings. From these discussions, providers should then be able to provide a proposal for you to consider. It might be necessary to ask additional questions of them to clarify points before you are able to make a firm decision. You should be able to make an informed decision based on the above and also on how the provider conducts themselves.
Further questions to consider include, do they have an efficient, professional approach and response to your enquiry? Are questions able to be answered to your satisfaction? Does their offer provide value for money in your opinion? Do they have good credentials? Visiting their website will also give you an idea of the provider overall and could also include some testimonials from previous clients.
To sum up, it is crucial that thorough research is undertaken about what is on offer from training providers before informed decisions can be made to commission training. This, combined with talking to leadership about strategic aims and to elected members and officers about their objectives relating to training and development, will identify relevant needs. Considering the points raised in the checklist above, will help council officers to plan and deliver a successful training and development programme.
We hope, that in providing this 5-point checklist officers will feel better equipped to make informed decisions around creating a robust and engaging training and development programme for Overview and Scrutiny practitioners.
To find out more about our training and development offer. Please visit Local Government – Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (cfgs.org.uk)