Let’s talk about PPE. No, not *that* PPE, I’m talking about Patient and Public Engagement, also known as PPI – Patient and Public Involvement!
I’m pleased to announce that lately, organisations have been approaching BigBirthas to get involved in projects at the planning stage. This is great news!!
It is no longer acceptable (why was it ever?) for organisations; bosses, politicians, researchers, and healthcare professionals to make decisions about us, without us. People in positions of power, if you’re not asking about our lived experience, if you’re not listening to our stories, in whose name are you working? Are you really the experts here?
These sorts of scenes are just not acceptable:
Engaging with your audience (or representatives of it) at the outset has some very tangible benefits.
- There’s a good chance that if you’ve overlooked something, service users will spot it. It’s our lives you’re talking about after all, and we’re literally the experts!
- You can get the language right. You’re much less likely to draft something patronising, presumptuous, implausible, or antagonistic if it’s co-written/proofread by members of the intended audience.
- You’ll understand what’s important to us; what floats our boat and what gets our goat. If your clients connect with what you’re saying, they’re more likely to listen. Honestly, if you want us to listen to you, it’s only reasonable that you hear us too!
- Getting the language and tone right in documents encourages staff to do the same in their interactions.
- Engaging with your audience at the earliest stages means you’re asking the right questions at the outset.
I’ve read so many hospital policies and research where it’s clear no representation was present at planning, drafting, or proofreading stage! It’s very easy for phrasing to become ‘us and them’, paternalistic, and ‘we know best’ in style when you’re external to the group in question. There are very few people for whom that approach yields the best engagement! Even worse, that language feeds into the psyche of those acting on your words.
How to find your audience
Therefore, if you want to do best by your clients, you need to get your audience involved, preferably as early as possible in the project. But how do you recruit your service users? If you’ve tried putting up posters and putting a link on your website and that’s not getting you anywhere, what next?
Former service users may have even more insight than current ones, but are less likely to see your invitation. If it’s too costly to contact previous service users directly, could you advertise in baby and toddler groups, with health visitors as well as maternity clinics? What about maternity voices partnerships?
Are the service users you do engage sufficiently representative of the diversity of your clients? Do you need to try thinking more out of the box to reach more of the people you should be speaking and listening to?
Have you considered why people aren’t engaging? Are you offering expenses or any incentive for people to give you their time and effort? Is it something super simple like the time you’re trying to connect? Avoid daytimes and particularly the school run, provide creche facilities, or reimbursement for childcare. For in person meetings, make sure parking is good and preferably free, and there are good public transport links.
Are you clear about what you’re asking/offering, and who the work will benefit?
If You Represent An Organisation
Big Birtha is always happy to give an opinion, and is on several advisory and oversight committees already. If you want more than one person’s input (you really should!) we have a BigBirthas Facebook Group of 300+ members, from which you could recruit participants. Or if you just want to ask a few general questions, and sound out some ideas we could facilitate a Q&A style open meeting and see what happens. We’re passionate about this stuff, and changing maternity services for the better, so you’re likely to get some great engagement!
Just get in touch via the Contact Big Birtha link. Explain what you’re up to and we can discuss how Big Birthas can get involved to help you make your next project as engaging as it can be, which is in all of our best interests.