A few months ago, I found myself at Health and Care Innovation Expo with some very loose arrangements about meeting up for coffee with some colleagues from across Leeds as part of our NHS Change Day Pledge, ‘Leeds Connected Coffee’.
Our serendipitous pledge was all about encouraging random conversations over coffee between people across the health and social care system; people who wouldn’t ordinarily have conversations with each other, but who might have a curiosity about each other’s roles. However, serendipity was in force more than I expected;unable to locate my colleagues, I ended up having a chance meeting with Kirstie Stott (@kirsti79), at the NHS Change Day stand instead. Kirstie is in her last month on the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme and general nurse by background, she was also the regional lead for the NHS Change Day pledges. Kirstie and I had never met, but had connected for a while on Twitter and chatted on the phone a few weeks before we met whilst Kirstie set up our pledge on the NHS Change day website. We grabbed a coffee together and whilst we sat and talked at the back of the hall, we discovered very quickly that we shared the same values, energy and passion for helping to shape a future health care system that is more open and inclusive; one that embraces the diversity that can emerge from a more social approach to leadership; one which encourages relationships to flourish across hierarchies and organisational boundaries and one that listens to and is receptive to all everyone’s voice within the system.
There was more than a bit of synergy in our thinking and I was also reminded of a conversation that I had just had with Anne Cooper (@anniecoops on Twitter), who shared her passion with me for the development of a network of change agents to build on the energy created by the NHS IQ virtual ‘School of Health Care Radicals’, which we had both recently participated in.
So, New Health and Care Voices was born right there at NHS Expo with two aims in mind:
1) To create a space for people who are passionate about having a voice that helps shape the future of health and care.
2) To create a space where people from across the health and care system who are passionate about health and social care could come together as a community and share innovations and ideas that might ultimately shape the future of health and care.
Kirstie and I are both comfortable with the disruptive nature of conversations on Twitter and like that social media can be a bit of a leveller when it comes to providing a space that cuts across hierarchical and organisational boundaries in Health Care. So, it was clear from the start that we wanted to take some of this magic and try and replicate it in the physical world. We would do this – we decided – by creating gatherings in spaces that are not affiliated to any health or care institutions; gatherings between anyone and everyone interested in having their say about health and care and between people who believe in community, connectedness and relationships.
We know from our own experiences that despite all the talk about a model of distributed leadership in the NHS, most people at grassroots don’t get the opportunity to hear from some of the more inspiring leaders in our health care system, as there tends to be an unspoken element of exclusivity to many professional development events, which is sadly linked to cost.
And even where there is some evidence of diversity and inclusivity in the delegates lists at many health and care events, we think that the style and format of the day often serves to maintain the status quo, by replicating the ‘command and control model of leadership’ that often exists at organisational levels. Essentially we are talking about all those conferences that involve an ‘expert speaker’ standing on a podium and presenting to a largely passive audience. Let’s face it, most of the really interesting conversations tend to occur in the queue for coffee afterwards.
It seemed a bit ambitious and daunting then to commit to organising some events across the country that attracted some inspiring speakers despite having no budget for the events, marketing or indeed anything else. However, we decided to experiment with the power of community spirit and we were amazed at the generosity and willingness of the people within our networks.
We held our first event in Leeds at the lovely White Cloth Gallery, with Karen Lynas, Deputy Managing Director of NHS Leadership Academy as our main speaker. It was great to hear Karen echoing our own thoughts about the need for health care leaders to stop transmitting and to tune in instead to the quieter voices in the system. It was also heartening to see the quality of conversations that were happening in a room full of people who brought with them many diverse views.
We advertised the event almost entirely on Twitter and although we had a few cancellations on the night, the event was a sell out and people attended from as far away as South Wales. Most people attended in their own time because they chose to and because they felt connected to the idea of building a community of new voices within the system. As an antidote to the usual process driven approach to health care improvement, we decided at the outset that we wanted to take a more organic approach to the development of our community, by allowing its members to shape the direction of travel.
Whilst we are interested in establishing themes that will shape the future direction of our community, we have decided that our focus is on creating space for conversations that are values driven and we have not set any rigid outcome measures. We have also opted for a more openly facilitated style of event that maximises opportunity for discussion, and we have set one of our few rules as being that whoever speaks at our events will be required to stay and mingle with people throughout the event.
Our next event is in London on 20th August and we are pleased to confirm that Rob Webster, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation will be speaking at the event.
We also recognise that different voices in the system require different mechanisms for having their say and so our next steps relate to the development of our digital presence, through means of our Facebook, Twitter and future website. We are very keen that this element of New Health and Care Voices will reflect the community ethos of our network and that our members have the opportunity to help us take this forward.