The Do Good Better List - 3 things I've loved this week

It’s been a super busy one this week with lots of delivery for two particularly lovely clients.

So the list is shorter this week. But there’s been lots to think about and share.

1. Thinking about NHS transformation and consultation

This week I’ve found myself having a series of un-connected conversations with people about the enormous subject of “change” in the NHS; and the role that comms people have in making it a success.

Change, transformation; call it what you want, has been a constant reality for “the NHS” (quotation marks a reference to this previous blog post of the week) since 2010 at the very least.

A lot of this is down to government legislation, changes in commissioning structures, payment schedules and all that fun stuff. But at the heart of this is a very simple set of circumstances.

People are living longer, but more and more of us are living with chronic, long term conditions. This means that the model of the NHS as imagined and brought to life in 1948 simply is no longer fit for purpose.

In an era where the phrase “national treasure” is used with liberal abandon, “The NHS” stands as a genuine example. We feel attached to it. We love it.

But, with anything in life, I believe if you love something or someone, you have to do the right thing by them. And sometimes this involves making (and being honest about making) difficult choices.

Ask any healthcare professional with a responsibility for managing services and they’ll pretty much tell you the same thing. The way things work now are simply not sustainable. That means, that we can’t financially afford to keep relying on running huge hospitals (that throughout the country are in various stages of repair) as the main focus of service delivery. But, more importantly than that we know that study after study (and basic logic) shows that waiting for people to be so sick that their only option is a long, expensive stay in a District General is really bad for patient outcomes, and highly disruptive for their and their families’ lives.

There has to be, and is, a better way.

Every single NHS organisation in the country is involved in “transformation” at some basic level. And this inevitably means integration, shared data systems, and more care in community or domestic settings. All this stuff is a pretty easy sell. Who doesn’t want quicker, faster, safer care? Who doesn’t want the comfort and familiarity of their own home when they’re going through a hard time?

But that’s only half the story. All this means difficult decisions and choices. If there are less people in hospitals, do those hospitals keep functioning as they are now? Clearly not. So what then?

I’ll let you answer that yourself.

I’m a big believer in the maxim, coined by Danish Agency Hatch & Bloom that “Logical thinking leads to conclusions; empathetic engagement leads to action”. And I think that’s a good approach to doing comms about NHS transformation and change.

In pounds, pence and clinical evidence terms; integration, out of hospital care, investment in digital are absolute no-brainers. This is the “logical thinking” bit.

But with this change comes inevitable anxiety, fear of a reduction in service provision. And this is where the “empathetic engagement” bit comes in.

Consultation is an inherent part of this process. It usually involves staff and the public. This is a great and welcome starting point. But the real challenge for us comms people is to make sure that we undertake these consultations with true empathy. This means really understanding what lies behind public concerns and motivations, and meeting them head on. But it also means treating them like adults, and being honest about why things have to happen, how the process is going to work and what the future will look like.  It also involves being up front with people about the choices that we all face.

I was really pleased to see a brilliant example of a local NHS area doing this exact thing this week. My old colleagues at NHS Wirral CCG and Wirral University Teaching Hospital have done an absolutely brilliant job in setting out the case for change around local urgent care services in a truly adult, logical but empathetic manner.

The project website is super easy to follow, really clear, and actually is brave enough to set out the pros and cons of the range of options they’re considering.

The language is accessible, but confident. And I’d say that this represents the gold standard in how tough decisions around transformation and change should be communicated. 

There’s a lot to learn from how they’ve done this, and I really look forward to seeing the results.

It’s time that, as part of giving people hope and optimism, we treat them like adults and help them to make informed choices about what the future should look like.

I’m trying to think of a topical example of somewhere else where this thinking could be applied, but it escapes me right now

2. Blog post of the week

What Fred and George have taught me about research and consultation by Adam Pearson.

This week it’s a post from a fellow freelancer, and a great insight into what good consultation looks like:

In this post, Adam uses his two incredibly handsome cocker-spaniels and the nightly charade of taking them out for a wee as a metaphor for public consultation.

As metaphors go, this is up there as one of the most obscure you’ll ever come across. But reading the post, it actually makes perfect sense. Just providing the opportunity for consultation doesn’t necessarily mean that people will take part. You have to make it relevant, interesting and easy for people. You have to understand motivations and meet people at their place of need to ensure that their participation is meaningful to them, as well as your project.

Or as Adam rightly puts it: “Make it about them, your audience, not you. Don’t default to the garden, put some effort in and go for a walk.”

It all makes perfect sense when you read it. It’s a brilliant post that remind us of putting our audience’s needs first.

3. Podcast of the week

Whilst I’m still gripped by Slow Burn, another big budget podcast has really struck a chord with me this week.

Unfiltered with James O’Brien this week features a fascinating in-depth discussion with Gina Miller, who you probably know as the business-woman who led a case to the High Court to ensure that Parliament had a vote on the triggering of Article 50.

This hour long conversation is a brilliant dissection of what brought her to that point in her life.

As well as feeling a great sense of admiration for her grit and eloquence, there are two things in particular that I really liked about this episode that I think make good listening for comms people:

  • her story of how she set up a successful Marketing Agency from scratch (which is something I didn’t know about her).

  • a discussion about the role of social media in public discourse, how we use it to impact debate, and the disturbing real-life impacts that the poisonous atmosphere that exists online can have on people’s lives

It’s a great, inspiring and informative listen. So give it a go…