Does meeting virtually have its benefits?

As part of our reflections on PPI in the age of the pandemic, we have asked colleagues, researchers and public contributors to write about their experiences of Wessex PIN (Public Involvement Network) coffee mornings, which were initially held to maintain contact with public contributors when face-to-face patient and public involvement (PPI) meetings became difficult to hold.

In this post, Justin Strain, one of the researchers who spoke at a coffee morning, writes about presenting his research concept and gathering feedback in the “virtual world”. Justin is a Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist in Pain Management and Spines, working in Hythe on the edge of the New Forest. Here’s what he has to say…

Here’s what he has to say…

It’s early March 2020. We’re all aware of COVID 19. It seems a slightly distant threat – scary but, to most people, not quite real – yet. Words like ‘Zoom’ and ‘Teams’ have yet to enter my vocabulary – at least in their current context.

And then suddenly the world changed.

Across the NHS, we redeployed to different services – learning new (or long-forgotten) skills and quickly adapting to new ways of delivering care. One of the first adaptations was digital healthcare. Almost overnight, face to face consultations were replaced by video appointments, online groups and internet apps. Of course none of these were new ideas, but they’d never really caught on in the NHS. Now everyone was ‘zooming’ and it seemed the only safe way to keep many NHS services running. So we just took everything we did face to face, and changed it to online. Simple, right?

Or maybe not. It became quickly apparent that there were very different challenges to providing services online rather than face to face. The whole experience was very different, for both clinician and service user – and there was little evidence to tell us how to do things better. We needed more research about the experiences of people participating in the new online healthcare world.

I resolved to explore this are in my own clinical field – pain management. I applied for a Clinical Academic Internship with ARC Wessex who provided funding to enable research into this rapidly developing area of clinical practice. They also provided a group of insightful and experienced members of the public, to provide feedback on the research project itself. The feedback was (appropriately) arranged via an online coffee morning.

I approached the online coffee morning with slight nervousness. What would the other participants think of our project? How well would we interact with each other? Would doing things remotely all feel a little too… remote?

I realised, with some surprise, that many of my anxieties may be echoed by NHS patients, trying to find their way around the new, digitalised NHS. While the practical benefits seemed obvious – no need for patients or clinicians to travel; no risk of cross-infection – some people I spoke to found internet communication difficult to access, tiring, and generally stressful. But others found it energising, liberating, and felt more confident over the computer than in a face to face situation.

The reality of the online coffee morning was incredibly positive. The other group members were clearly very experienced, both in providing feedback and in making the online coffee morning work. They were enthusiastic and supportive, while offering invaluable and clear advice on how to improve the project. It took me a bit of getting used to. I am no technology expert so it took me a while to find my way around online, and I found the inevitable computer glitches a bit stressful. It was a bit more of a formal atmosphere as the computer couldn’t cope with everyone talking at once, although this meant that by necessity, we all gave each other that bit more space to speak – perhaps it was helpful to be a bit more conscious of when we should be listening rather than transmitting. Most importantly, I was impressed at how the other group members were able to put me at my ease, despite the virtual format, and I was surprised how easily and naturally we all chatted.

I’m not sure how much my experience reflects the experiences of other people accessing digital healthcare, but it has certainly whetted my appetite to find out.


Reaching new public members in a virtual world

On Mon 29th June we hosted an online webinar titled ‘Reaching public members in a virtual work’. We discussed challenges, opportunities and ideas to reach out and work with public members in the current circumstances. It focused on those who often face additional barriers to involvement and participation in health research – and are not always heard or well listened to.

In this blog I (Caroline Barker) will briefly touch on some of my highlights from the event.  

The Yin and Yang of virtual activities

It was clear that while virtual activities can exclude some, it can also open the door for others. 43% of our audience have seen new people engaging with their work since the pandemic. This included those who were housebound or had mobility issues, those living further away and those with limited time (eg. parents, those working full time).

“There’s been a huge benefit to me. I’m able to participate in ways I couldn’t before”

Anna Kenyon

We were reminded that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to virtual events. What works for one person might create a barrier for others. Louca-Mai spoke about how poll questions worked really well to encourage some young people to have their say. However, they were not accessible for others due to the small text.

You don’t make a film by filming a play from the best seats in the house

Sophia used the above quote to highlight to us all that we shouldn’t just take something we did offline and try to run it how we would in person in an online setting.

“There’s things you can do online that you can’t do anywhere else and there’s many advantages.”

Sophia Collins

The importance of language

There was a lot of discussion about language. Tess spoke about how we can often, incorrectly, link the barriers that people face to something inherent within that person. This links to the critique of ‘hard-to-reach’, which implies there is something about that group that makes them difficult. Julian described it perfectly, saying in reality those who are hard-to-reach are actually those at the top of organisations.

“I don’t think I could…ask for a cup of tea with the Queen”

Julian Harrison

Budgeting adequately for inclusive research

We were reminded that digital engagement is not cost-free and this can be a particular barrier for some. There was also agreement that we should value and recognise community groups as partners in research and this extends to adequately budgeting for their efforts. 

“Without a real commitment to a financial framework to support, a research project will always continue to keep barriers up”

Grace McCorkle

This is more than a public involvement issues

Diversity and inclusion needs to be addressed across all levels of research organisations, including PPI, project levels, boards, committees and staffing.

Equality impact assessments can be applied to PPI and research projects and were strongly advocated by speakers and audience alike. Bella shared how they are forming a health inequalities steering group to influence senior management to change the way things are done. Many of the individuals behind the Community Voices initiative were people from the communities most at risk.

“We were not talking about these communities we are part of these communities”

Meerat Kaur

This is a time for action

We have been talking about these types of issues for many years. Our speakers expressed a need to see this particular period of events in 2020 as really putting things into perspective, reflecting and driving real change. If not now, then when?

“If we’re not going to make some of the changes that we need to make now I wonder when we’ll ever do it”

Josephine Ocloo

View the full recording on YouTube (subtitles available)
Download the meeting transcript or slides.
View the in-meeting chat discussions (grouped based on the themes identified during the session)
See the results of our audience poll questions

This event could not have happened without the generous donation of time from Sally Crowe and all our speakers: Josephine Ocloo, Anna Kenyon, Louca-Mai Brady, Tess McManus, Meerat Kaur, Julian Harrison, Grace McCorkle, Sophia Collins and Bella Starling.

Feedback from researcher colleagues at Holyrood Garden Party really highlights the impact and importance of diverse public involvement.

Thanks to the generosity of organisers of the Holyrood Garden Party, 3 colleagues who have different research specialities were able to join us in August, providing them the opportunity to discuss their current work with a wide range of attendees.

One research colleague, who was discussing 2 ideas – testing a risk assessment tool for the early prevention of childhood obesity, and another investigating how change in exposures and behaviour between pregnancies impacts offspring’s health – had the following feedback:

There was a lot of discussion on priorities in the lives of the mothers I spoke to. Issues such as financial hardship, housing, finding a job and going through the legal system, for example in relation to disputes with previous partners over children/finances took priority compared to worrying about lifestyle behaviours such as healthy diet and exercise. This informs how we build a person-centred approach to modelling change between pregnancies factoring in these socioeconomic factors.

“I realised that some women who live in disadvantaged socioeconomic conditions and/or from various ethnic backgrounds do not necessarily experience the biggest change in their lives following the birth of their first child, as previously hypothesised by me based on personal experience and previous PPI discussions, but some do after the birth of the second child as they had the support of living with their families after their first baby, while the second baby came with independence, and that carries the biggest change in environmental exposures, social experiences and behaviours.”

Another researcher, who was working on a project about raising awareness/promoting urinary continence during and after pregnancy had the following feedback:

I was successful at engaging with 12 women from different backgrounds, including 2 young women, several women from low socioeconomic groups, 2 Portuguese women and 2 women from ethnic minority communities. The majority of the women who engaged in this activity were very keen on participating on a research study of this nature due to its importance and impact on their health, as expressed by many of them. However, it has to be noted that women involved and/or with certain research knowledge, were more likely to express their interest in a hypothetical participation in this research. Also, the majority of women who were prone to hypothetically participate have already had children, which could affect their health perception (and therefore willingness to take part) after going through pregnancy and childbirth. 

Regarding the recruitment strategy, contrary to my initial believes, every woman considered that the most acceptable and trustful resource to be offered to take part in a research study was to be approached by their midwife and/or a letter through the post, as both options seemed more formal and trustworthy, followed by a text/email option, being social media and leaflets a less popular option (depending on age). Women from ethnic minority communities did not necessarily use social media and preferred more traditional methods, as well as text messages or advertisement at churches or local community groups/centres. Leaflets at health centres without being proactively handed out would not seem effective for some women.

The third researcher colleague in attendance was at the very start of the research cycle, looking at better understanding the informal social needs and roots to better utilise local community assets, to support older people with frailty on discharge following an acute admission. They had the following feedback after the event:

Discussions with the residents helped me identify key stakeholders to involve, such as community wardens, as well as consider some of the ethical and logistical challenges such a study might have to overcome, including the difficulties in identifying often quite informal community groups that are poorly advertised and transient. The important of local knowledge in particular was highlighted.

It is clear how these discussions have played a huge part in providing a different perspective for these research projects. Hearing from people less typically involved in research has offered different views and helped the researchers consider different ways the research may need to be inclusive or relevant.

Holyrood estate Garden party

In August we were finally able to move our project onto the next step, a few months late and following numerous ‘set-backs’, (each and every one of which has created a huge amount of learning, so I’m reluctant to focus on these as being negative).

We had been working closely for some time with Lynda, a resident representative of the Holyrood estate and link to the activities that were going on at Holyrood. Plants for people (described in previous blog the parallels with tenancy/residents engagement) have been working with Lynda and other residents of Holyrood to help the estate look greener, tenants feel wonderful and community spirit to thrive by building several allotments in the estate.

We worked closely with Lynda to help with the organisation, and then attended a summer party at Holyrood, to celebrate the grand opening of the allotments. This would be our first opportunity to bring along some researcher colleagues to chat with the local community, having ad-hock and informal conversations about their research.

What did we learn….?

Again, reciprocity is key
It wouldn’t have been fair or possible to simply turn up on the day of the party, set up a stand and try to have some conversations with attendees. We really felt we needed to be part of the event, and for others to know who we were and why we were there. We joined planning meetings in the lead up to the event, helped arrange activities and helped signpost to a team who could offer blood pressure monitoring. We bought all the food and drink for attendees, helped set this up and brought colleagues along to help serve.

Get stuck in
If you want to feel like part of the community, you cant hang about awkwardly at the edge waiting for people to come to you (as much as I may have liked to do this!). Having the confidence to just approach people can be hard, but conversations don’t need to be to forced. Just chatting to people about who they are, why they were there etc. opened up opportunities for more discussion, and often the chance to introduce community members to our researchers who had come along. This, I guess, is about being human and talking to people on a level. Anyway, there was no opportunity to stand awkwardly at the edge if Lynda had anything to do with it, at one point hijacking me and dragging me into the middle of the room to join her in a dance off. What can you do? I threw some questionable shapes in front of a room of people I didn’t know… Caroline hid behind a post, for which I will never forgive her.

Listen, people want to talk

One of the things that really struck me was how comfortable many members of the community seemed talking to us and research colleagues. And yet these were not individuals who we might see typically involved in research, or PPI. As I reflect I can’t help but wonder whether this is, in part, because were chatting to people in an environment where they felt comfortable. We were taking these conversations out of an academic world and into the community, and in doing so allowed the community to own them. It felt as though the power balance shifted significantly, and that is exactly what we needed. And all we had to do now, was listen!

We had some fantastic feedback and insight into several research projects on the day, which we will detail in the next blog post!

Allowing ‘Reaching Out’ to adapt and develop is about letting communities own the direction of the project.

Author: Megan Barlow-Pay

One of the ongoing challenges we have faced delivering this programme of work is that, ironically, the project was designed and developed without much input from communities. I know, I know. We are supposed to be all about Public Involvement and promoting the community voice. Sadly on this occasion the realities of funding timelines meant this was challenging at best.

Our original bid was for a 3 phased project:

  1. The Storytelling workshopbringing a wide representation of communities and groups together for a one-off celebration of Southampton’s diversity
  2. The Community Champions Advisory Group (CCAG)made up of attendees from the story telling event, this group would work alongside us to shape, guide, and co-develop phase 3
  3. ‘Spaces for Engagement and Involvement‘ – Working with the CCAG, and taking a ‘needs based, place based’ approach, we would take public involvement activities out of a clinical or academic setting, and hold a series of fun, engaging and informal events in the community.

The reality though, was this project was dreamed up without real input from the very communities the we were hoping would be at the heart of it. Whilst we had some inspiring conversations at last year’s Mela festival and worked collaboratively with our fabulous existing PPI members, we didn’t integrate the thoughts, opinions and needs of the communities we were hoping to reach out to. (And at this point, had not real links or relationships with anyone from them).

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to us then (after all, we are constantly warning others of the pitfalls of doing ‘for’ rather than ‘with’), our plans began to unravel at phase 2. Despite the success of the workshop, just 1 attendee felt they could commit to the CCAG.

The reasons behind this?
People didn’t feel they could commit to regular meetings.
The concept of the group was to vague. (We had left it deliberately ‘open’, with the intention that the members would define and have ownership).
They couldn’t see the direct benefit to the individual or their community.

Again, we needed to allow ourselves to relinquish control, admit we were wrong, and be flexible for the project to work. We worked individually with various community members who had been at the storytelling workshop, and asked them to take over re-shape and redefine the 2nd and 3rd stage of the project around their needs. (Thank you to INVOLVE who are in part funding and monitoring the project, and are happy for us to adapt as we go along!).

The new plan:

2. Individual community collaboration. We will continue to collaborate with representatives from different communities in Southampton on a 1:1 basis (rather than in a wider advisory group) in order to co-design future ‘spaces for involvement’ events. This will allow us to be flexible to their other commitments, needs and time restraints, and not place too much expectation on people to join a formal group.
3. ‘Spaces for Engagement and Involvement’. We will ‘piggy back’ onto existing community events, providing spaces where we will host conversations about research and health.

We are looking forward to running a series of ‘Spaces for Engagement and Involvement’ alongside different community events, including The Holyrood Estate’s summer garden party, West Itchen Community Trust’s summer event, and a Friday prayers at a local Mosque.

This is with great thanks to the community members who have pushed us in a different (and better) direction!

Conversations with the communications field

Author: Caroline Barker

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting our Reaching Out project at the Public Awareness of Research Infrastructures Conference. This conference described itself as a hands-on forum for communications, public relations and engagement professionals staff to share their ​experiences and expertise. I wasn’t sure what to expect: Would my work be relevant to communications professionals?; Would I learn anything?

In terms of the conversations I shared and the lessons I learnt, I think this was possibly the most valuable conference I’ve attended. A great chance to network outside of the PPI world. Plus people liked the talk and told me they learnt something!

I can’t go into all the talks and conversations, but as a little snapshot I’ve highlighted those that stood out to me.

Under-resourcing for communicating/engaging the public spans all science fields

The quote ‘we need to recognise that this is a bread and butter activity not a tag on activity’ fits well with what I know we all experience.

Payment recognition for public is not limited to health and social care

A presenter discussing citizen science mentioned that a public member pointed out ‘you’re all paid to be here, I’m not’.

Are we all too scared to take risks?

Many people commented on the openness of my talk and how impressed they were to see a slide on ‘what didn’t work’. Why are we always so keen to show off and hide the challenges? We discussed how it is likely to be because we are typically publically-funded organisations and, as such, feel that we have to always be proving that we are spending the money well. But does that mean that we are too risk-averse and so won’t ever reach new audiences?

Is it always fair to ask people to be involved?

I had a very stimulating conversation about public involvement and co-production and whether it is always fair to expect people to get involved. How do we tackle the challenges of diversity and under-represented voices when, for some individuals, it might just not be fair to add another burden (ie contributing to research) on top when their circumstances might already be very challenging.

The parallels with tenancy/residents engagement

Author: Caroline Barker

Since the workshop, Megan and I have been busy continuing to build and sustain the relationships we’ve worked hard to make. Through these links, we’ve been meeting even more people passionate about communities and doing amazing things out there in the community.

Today we shared a coffee with a number of people working with or for the council – with a focus on housing. They shared their knowledge of the barriers to community engagement (with the purpose to work with residents to improve housing) from schemes like Decent Neighbourhoods.

“Decent Neighbourhoods isn’t just about making an area simply look better, it’s about getting the local community on board so that residents feel part of the transformation and proud of what’s happening in their neighbourhood.” Aidan Cooper Decent Neighbourhoods Project Manager 

Some of the barriers parallel directly with the messages we, as Reaching Out Southampton, have been trying to share:

Plants for People project – residents working together to create community gardens
  • Address ‘What’s in it for me?’
  • Honesty, transparency, respect and trust are important
  • Be innovative and try new things
  • Avoid duplication (learn from what others are already doing well)

Other advice given resonated with how I’ve been feeling recently about how under-resourced, and under-skilled, we are to really build and then keep relationships.

  • You need the right person – someone that people are able to open up to
  • It takes time to build credibility
  • You need to be present in their space/community – otherwise credibility/trust wont come

We also heard about how the council is an authority that are tainted to many and so they need to get through to the residents using other means – for example using art or creative techniques, led by non-council members. This did make me question whether the same barrier exists for us.

One of the transformed neighbourhoods

What next?

We have kindly been invited to join them at various housing/residency events, which we will of course be attending. And in the wider project we will be taking on their reflections and using their advice to be present as much as possible.

Storytelling event and the challenges of creating inclusive spaces

Author: Magnus Gorny (Reaching Out intern)

Last week we have finally held our storytelling workshop that we have been working hard on planning and organising. I arrived a little bit in advance and helped Megan, Caroline and Sonia set things up at our lovely venue, Board in the City.

I really liked the overall atmosphere of the event. It impressed me how many people came to attend, and everyone seemed very friendly and keen to listen and contribute. We sat in several groups on different tables, making sure the staff were spread out (though I did end up at a table with Caroline, but it was nice to have a familiar face around).

Continue reading

Investing in Outreach. Building relationships takes more than an email… Time, a friendly face and authenticity are key

Author: Megan Barlow-Pay

As a (relatively inexperienced) team we were somewhat optimistic in our planning for linking up to community organisations and groups. We fired off a series of emails inviting people to meet with us to chat about our Storytelling Event just before the Christmas holidays (you know the type – laden with helpful info, lots of detail about the content of the workshop, the type of emails we love). The event was scheduled for the end of January and we were confident people would be interested to meet with us and find out more. By the time we returned in January we had received an impressive 2 replies! Time to rethink.

Alex (our Independent Public Contributor) strongly advised we invested some time in attending different events and activities in Southampton, helping out, getting to know people and the communities we were were hoping to link with. Email communication may work well in our academic world, and as a mechanism for starting conversations with people it was something we were comfortable with. However, reaching out to new communities (and particularly to people who may not have a ‘professional role’) was going to need a different approach.

Increasingly it became clear to us that the how you go about doing something is as important as the what. Building relationships was going to have to start a lot earlier than at the workshop.

We decided to push the event back to the end of February, take the plunge and start attending events and gatherings across the city. Sometimes invited, sometimes uninvited.

This blog details a couple of examples, and some reflections on the process.

The Sunday Lunch Project

“The Sunday Lunch project has been running since 1990, providing a free Sunday Lunch in a warm, welcoming, friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Regular lunch guests are a wide range of adults, workings or retired but in need of support or company, some have temporarily fallen on hard times, some are without a suitable home and in need of a good lunch and some company”. (Taken from The Sunday Lunch website)

Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor

The lunch we attended was in a town hall in Northam Estate (inner city Southampton), and packed with a huge number of local people, all enjoying a delicious meal of sausages (donated from a local butchers) and veg. Volunteers work on a rotation basis to cook the lunches, and this week was the turn of Northam Youth Group who were doing a brilliant job of waiting on us hungry diners.

It was an oddly intimidating turning up, (especially considering it was an open event aimed at being inclusive and friendly), but both Caroline and I felt out of our comfort zone. We decided to arrive together (safety in numbers!) and, on reflection, were not hugely proactive about starting conversations with people. Confidence isn’t a trait people experience in consistent measures… I’m sure many colleagues and friends would be surprised to hear me say my confidence was challenged in this new environment, but I really did struggle with knowing how I should approach people and start conversations. That said, as we settled down to eat we began chatting to people around us. The role food can play in helping open conversation is actually quite a powerful one – and one of the fundamental principles of the Sunday Lunch Project.

We managed to chat to Denis, who founded the project, as well as a number of regulars (and even had an impromptu tour of the local youth center). It was really inspiring to talk to diners and hear about what the project has meant to them, as well as explore in more detail with Denis how he has managed to deliver successful outreach programmes across the city. Everyone we spoke to was open and excited to talk to us about the project, raising this question again of barriers.

Are we perceiving barriers to engaging communities as lying within the communities themselves – describing them as ‘hard to reach’, when actually many of these barriers are systematic and lie with us?

Avenue Multicultural Centre

Avenue St Andrews Church holds a regular Friday drop in session, called the Andrews Multicultural Centre which has been created by CLEAR (City Life Education and Action for Refugees), the British Red Cross and Avenue St Andrew’s United Reformed Church. It is supported by the SWVG (Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group).  The Centre is a partnership of organisations with complementary services working closely together for the welfare of the service users. Upwards of 50 asylum seekers and refugees attend the Centre every week.

I attended the AMC in February, along with Alex. This was a different experience as Alex, (who was very much IN his comfort zone), spent 2 hours introducing me to everyone he knew at the centre – which was a LOT of people! The conversation would go something like:

“Hi X, this is Megan. Megan, tell X about yourself and about Reaching Out”. Talk about being put on the spot! But it was an amazing lesson in networking, and after about 3 or 4 spiels I felt myself settling into it, becoming more relaxed and authentic, and getting better responses from people. People were interested in the project, but they were also interested in me, and it wasn’t until I opened up, stopped trying to be ‘professional’, and began talking more honestly and frankly that I really started to have some meaningful conversations.

Millbrook Christian Centre

Millbrook Christian Centre is a church in the heart of Millbrook, one of Southampton’s most deprived neighbourhoods. We were linked to the church by Hazel Patel, one of our Public Contributors and collaborators in the Reaching Out project.

Image result for millbrook christian centre

Caroline and I attended the church one Sunday evening, when they have their more ‘informal’ service (unfortunately Hazel was on holiday so couldn’t join us). We had been offered the opportunity to speak after the service, and had suggested we were welcome to turn up as the service finished, or beforehand and we could join and observe. It seemed appropriate to arrive early and attend the service (we were, after all, hoping to learn more about the church and their community). This also gave us the opportunity to meet the wonderful Will Rose (who was preaching) beforehand, as well as get a feel for the relaxed and fun atmosphere the church tried to promote (when we arrived a group of kids were partaking in a lively karaoke ‘competition’ at the alter!).

Image result for millbrook christian centre

Joining the service was a great experience, (and Will had done his homework – managing to work ‘co-production’ into the service!). It also meant that when we were invited up at the end to talk about Reaching Out we had a much better understanding of the church and its congregation.

For both Caroline and myself (who have both only ever been in a church a handful of times in our lives) we were struck with the warmth of everyone offered to us. Again, it seemed to be that our perceptions of barriers we might face didn’t translate into reality.


This blog is just a small number of examples of a programme of wider engagement we attempted across January and February.

A pretty major learning curve for me over this time was the realisation of just how much is out there. The more we networked and the more people we meet, the more projects and initiatives we are introduced to. This was both inspiring and daunting, and is certainly a reminder of how little we have done in the past to link in and explore what is going on in the local area.

I have also reflected recently on my experiences engaging with the different groups that I have been. One thing that is really noteworthy is how keen different community organisations and groups are to link with us. In many ways I am not a natural ‘networker’ (though I am a ‘people person’ I find it quite intimidating to approach people I don’t know). The people who we have met and talked about the project with have all been so enthusiastic and welcoming. Reflecting on this really highlights to me how warped our perceptions of barriers to inclusion may be. I have focused a lot on the barriers communities face in access and confidence, but there are real barriers in our ability and confidence as individuals in the research community as well.

Some personal reflections on the project so far

Author: Caroline Barker

We’ve got just over a week until our storytelling event and our time is very stretched getting everything ready for that. But I just want to pause for a minute and summarise some of my key learnings in the last week.

I am really proud of my new skills in how to monitor and evaluate

We’ve been lucky to work with independent evaluators Jai and Catherine (commissioned by INVOLVE to evaluate the whole project) and it’s been so invaluable. They’ve made us realise all the assumptions we’d made within our project. By recognising these, we can make sure we ask the right questions to establish exactly what aspects of the project do or don’t work in reality.

That doesn’t make me any good at documenting my learning formally

Magnus’ visual drawing during work to develop our monitoring, evaluation and learning framework.

Journaling is one of the means of documenting our learning as we go but it’s proving difficult to find the time to do it properly. This project is time consuming, and at points is all consuming. We’ll have a meeting or conversation which will make a huge change or provide some insight and learnings but we don’t then have the time to sit and reflect on this, then document that – we’ve already moved onto the next meeting or activity. We need to correct this, and that’s one of the reasons I’m writing this post. You can expect to see more reflective posts – on past and current activities.

Working with a creative mind is amazing

Debs brings such a wealth of experience to the table and she doesn’t find it difficult at all to come up with more engaging ways to do something. We were unsure of how to introduce the next stage of the project at the end of the storytelling workshop (the CCAG – more on that later). We just knew we didn’t want a formal presentation or to put people off by overcomplicating it or putting pressure on individuals. Debs suggested that one person could be interviewed by another. We’ve seen Debs do this at another event, and it felt really authentic and interesting, and seemed to be a format that resonated with the audience. We’d have never thought of this on our own.

Don’t forget to address “what’s in it for them?”

Alex once again reminded us about to address ‘what’s in it for them’ in some of our communications materials. This is not the first time this has come up, and yet we keep forgetting. We have two different groups to address in our projects – communities/organisations as a whole, and the individuals who take part in the project. Alex has provided some guidance, from his experience, about what might appeal to each of these. We’ll be asking people if that is of interest when we chat more with them.

I have my own barriers to working with new audiences

I find working in public involvement extremely rewarding, but it’s also an area where you have to constantly adapt, and it’s often very difficult to predict how much time or resource a project requires. Reaching Out has been no different. It’s such an exciting project but it’s also been difficult to fit it all in around my normal work load.

We’ve needed to give up our weekends and evenings. I’ve learnt what my own barriers are and been pushed outside of my comfort zone. For example, I’m not even that great at networking at an academic conference – so me walking into someone else’s comfortable space and having to approach them has been tough. Once I’ve got through my own barrier, everyone has been so approachable and so willing to talk. This does lead to the question of how many of these ‘barriers’ to involvement are we creating ourselves?