Wales in 2051: The future of governance is us

The Welcome to Wales in 2051 series ends with the story of Gwen-Eddo, whose role is to facilitate conversations with citizens to ensure their views and ideas are acted upon. But more importantly, Gwen-Eddo ensures that any decisions taken at the local and national levels align with the Well-Being of Future Generations Act. The critical skill we want to highlight is an ability to listen and connect the dots, matched with knowledge about climate and societal changes. Like many characters and stories in this series, this one is also inspired by a real person as well as initiatives that happened in Wales and across the world. Our journalist picks up the tale...

The journalist’s interview with Cleo had given him another glimpse into how Wales had come to be so focused on people’s well-being and environmental prosperity, and he was starting to realise that all the different working blocks of Wales’ society and its different sectors served to support each other – healthy food, clean and safe environments, rooted in education and put into practice.

He wondered how such a transition, in which all sectors simultaneously worked towards a similar vision of a healthy society, was made possible. He realised that many other countries had talked of similar ideas and tried them.

But they hadn’t managed to put all their ideas into practice simultaneously, and thus hadn’t supported each other’s continuous progression. The journalist’s curiosity as to how Wales had succeeded had prompted Cleo to suggest he speak to Gwen-Eddo, the leader of the local governing structure called the Citizens Assembly.

A day in the life of Gwen-Eddo

A few days after meeting with Cleo, the journalist was walking around the local park, full of families and groups of people out enjoying picnics, barbecues and games.

He was due to meet Gwen-Eddo by the fountain, and when she came into sight, guiding her wheelchair along the path to meet him, she gave him such a warm smile that he immediately felt comfortable, returning her smile with one of genuine pleasure.

Gwen-Eddo introduced herself as the leader of the Citizens Assembly, the local governing body. “But unofficially,” she said with a grin, “people call me the chief connector and sense maker.” This role had once had a largely administrative function, but was now, Gwen-Eddo explained, very much a governing role. “I listen to people, facilitate their listening to each other, and put what I hear into our plans.”

“I attend community events to speak to residents and get their honest opinions on challenges they experience, and ways they think these challenges could be addressed. I log all concerns and bring them to the rest of the council for further discussion. The citizens are the real heroes; I’m just the facilitator and enabler.” She paused and gave the journalist another disarming grin. “I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? You’re here to ask the questions but I’ve just jumped in and started talking.”

“No, this is exactly what I want to hear,” the journalist assured her. “How does that work? How do you go about considering everyone’s opinions?”

Between technology and empathy

“Well, it depends on what they’re asking for,” Gwen-Eddo replied. “Some people talk about having cleaner local rivers and anti-littering practices, while others want more opportunities for young people to get involved and gain skills. At the same time, we have people telling us that they struggle with loneliness, especially those from older generations, or wish for greater wheelchair access or improved cycle safety on the roads. So what they want and need varies a lot, and depending on the complexity of the challenge and whether there’s a diversity of opinion on how to address it, we either arrange a citizens’ assembly or tally public opinion from our community app.

“For context, the community app is our local community’s tool for democratic decision-making around expressed challenges and concerns. Any local resident can either anonymously or in their name log a concern or a suggestion they have for the town.

“Every resident can view a collated list of concerns and suggestions, and there’s an option to either agree or disagree with them, so we can get an overview of public interest. The app allows everyone to get more involved with local development and gives people a place to communicate about their hopes and desires.

“At the citizens’ assembly, we get a sense of the people’s voice so that we have a better compass for acting on democratic opinion. Although we have this app, I still like to speak to people in person to feel more connected to those I serve. It helps to build trust, get more people involved in the democratic processes, and get an even better understanding of their individual views.

“The app has been developed to be as accessible and easy to use as possible, but we know there will be those who struggle to use it, such as visually impaired people or people who for whatever reason are uncomfortable using digital technology. Our office has several dedicated mobile community champions who can meet in person with anyone who doesn’t use the app, and they’ll listen to any requests and write them up.”

Prioritising with the end in mind

“So how do you decide what to focus on first, and how do you determine an appropriate outcome for a community challenge?” the journalist asked.

“The concerns or suggestions with the greatest community support are the ones we focus on first,” Gwen-Eddo told him. “Then we move down the list to address the least popular requests later. However, we do discuss and address all queries. When it comes to deciding how to tackle a given community challenge – for example older people experiencing loneliness – we at the council look through all the suggestions that people had made on the app, as well as setting up a citizens’ assembly for people to discuss the matter in person and exchange ideas.

“Ideas are shaped through facilitated conversations that turn everyone’s insight into action using the Three Horizons Framework. In the case of loneliness among older people, the citizens collectively decided on three different ways to involve older people and lonely people in general more within the community, one of which was to put nurseries and elderly living homes together. Another measure was a befriending service that organises social outings for people to meet, cook together, go for walks or play games. The third measure was an intergenerational exchange, where a younger person might learn how to cook or learn a new language from an older or lonely person. In exchange, the younger person might teach the older person about the newest technology or help where help is needed.

“All residents voted together using participatory budgeting techniques to decide the share of resources going to each project. All three measures then became implemented as a community-led scheme. Social enterprises saw this as a business opportunity when they realised that this gap existed in the market, so they created affordable services for all three ideas, which created jobs but also tackled some of the societal challenges facing young and old people.

“For other challenges the council will work with existing companies in the local community and subsidise them for projects around infrastructure – to build safe cycle lanes or more accessible parks, for example. But we still go through the process of gathering both public and expert opinion to learn about the best ways to ensure that any undertaking is inclusive and user-friendly.

“All we do here at the Citizens Assembly is facilitate the conversation, offer a platform for people to discuss the challenges in a safe environment, and connect the right people and companies to the right projects.

“We have this model of democratic decision-making in place for local residents of all ages, but have also seen a rise in younger people expressing their opinions through the community app. Young people’s voices are as important as anyone else’s, so we created a youth assembly to give them equal value to the older generations’ voices. And as part of every project, we consider the impact our decisions and actions will have on nature and our environment.

“The great thing about this participatory democracy model is that it feeds into the national governance structures. So we don’t just carry out these projects as a one-off, we also inform policymakers of the challenge and our decisions, which can help other communities and improve funding models. The citizen assemblies, of course, can vote on national policies too. And the council is also responsible for holding companies accountable for their actions and ensuring that they follow legislation, via whistle-blowing schemes and audits. This is because the role of the Citizens Assembly is to ensure that the well-being of future generations is being implemented on the ground.”

Connecting skills

“My job is to sense-check proposals – and not just those submitted by companies,” Gwen-Eddo added, “but also by the council and other authorities. There are more people in roles like mine around Wales, and we were selected because we were the most vocal, the most radical, but also the most down-to-earth. I come from an activist and nursing background, and others in my position come from social care, teaching and campaigning or with backgrounds in psychology, and most of us haven’t had any political training. We were selected because of our ability to listen, to connect a wide range of issues, and communicate them effectively to others.

“We’ve had rigorous training, though, provided over many years to prepare us for the massive challenge we had ahead of us. Over the decades many versions of this job have existed, and we’ve been called everything from community engagement officers to rebels.” Gwen-Eddo chuckled. “But, here, in this age, we are seen as chief sense-makers and facilitators of radical democracy.”

Did you like this story? How did it make you feel? What aspects of the story provoked you the most? Email us on your response on

This being our last character, in the next week we will wrap up the Welcome to Wales 2051 with a short summary.

How can we develop and use the skills needed to create a 2051 we are proud of?

Have a look at our range of services and

Please note that some AI-generated content is included in the featured image for this piece.

Wales in 2051

In this mini-series, we follow six characters as they explore sustainability, working life and community in Wales in 2051

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