Sally’s ‘Top Tips’ for involving patients, carers and public in your work
Start as you mean to go on: open and respectful communication from the start creates a participative environment and purpose. In meetings insist on full introductions, name badges (avoid the use of professional titles) and opening exercises if people are meeting for the first time. Be very clear about the purpose of public involvement; for example feedback and consultation are quite different from ideas and plans generated together by partnerships.
Understand each others’ motivation and interests early on: spend some time finding out why and what people want from the involvement, from all perspectives. This will need to be an explicit exercise, consider what ‘gains’ there are for those involved, but also what is at stake, what could be lost, or go wrong? Consider developing a specification or role description for involved public.
Think about the practicalities: what are the barriers to people getting involved? These could include where you work together (e.g. venue accessibility, suitability and convenience), how you work together (e.g. addressing communication barriers, access to creche) how much resource you have (payment for public involvement, dealing with expenses) and allowing plenty of time in the lead up for information, directions etc.
Get a budget: you cannot involve people and not expect to pay their expenses, carer costs and payment for their time. Make provision for these costs, it can be a complex area, especially when people are benefits, but there are websites that give advice www.invo.org.uk
Ensuring that groups or partnerships are effective: develop an explicit plan (these are sometimes called terms of reference) for how you are going to work together effectively, make sure it is clear and understood by all. It might cover communication issues or values underpinning the work. Be clear about the role that you would like the patients/carers/public to undertake, write this together….it will help manage expectations and provide a clear focus for the activity. Consider a ‘neutral’ chairperson for groups/meetings, who is good at working with diverse groups of people. Ask about any training/information issues to support involvement, and follow through. This could range from a phone call ahead of meetings, summary documents, access to IT facilities, captioning and hearing loop provision.
Try to look at what you do with fresh eyes: Ask someone to observe your meetings and interactions, ask them to comment on the way chairing or facilitation styles, appraise information used such as handouts/slides, do they make sense? Is there an implicit level of understanding required? Ask them to look out for non- verbal communication, secondary conversations etc in the group, this may indicate dissatisfaction with proceedings.
Get the balance right: working together requires a certain pace but also a sensitivity to peoples’ contexts. Set realistic goals and be prepared to be flexible, real life gets in the way for all of us…
Don’t be afraid of conflict: think about how you would manage difficult conversations and decisions. Have a chat with a colleague, or even rehearse how you are going to manage these. If we want involvement to be meaningful we have to listen fully to people’s experiences however challenging; use your terms of reference and ways of working guidance to help groups navigate potential conflict in a respectful and mature way. Conflict can often bring about the most interesting of developments within groups, and be a creative force for good, if handled well.
Always promote networks and peer support: provide contact lists for each workshop/meeting, and allow plenty of time for networking and discussion (with data protection do get permission from the group to do this). Remember to keep patients/public groups in the communication loop regarding the development of the work, even if there is nothing much to say. Agree a pragmatic communications schedule, explore social media for opportunities.
Provide supporting materials: don’t assume anything! Materials should be clearly presented, dated and the sources acknowledged. Use at least font size 12 (minimum requirement for the visually impaired) and be careful with colours, black text on pale colours works best for readability. Don’t be afraid of using visual images and pictures to illustrate points, and communicate concepts. Examples could be glossaries and explanations of key concepts, briefing notes for meetings, background and context documents, presentation handouts