Thinking about the Gather space after Sunderland

Thanks again to the people of South Hylton for an excellent workshop on NHS Citizen on Thursday. The most important part for me was the discussion about the Gather layer, which expanded the list of our tricky questions (in case you’re wondering, that’s a good thing).

The main points that I took away are:

  • National/local: Gather has to be something that works at local and national level. Someone said that people will often want to raise and solve issues at local level, and that Gather should not only allow that but encourage it. So Gather will need to manage the local/national (and possibly hyperlocal) levels seamlessly. That probably increases the importance of….
  • Online/offline: we have been thinking about how we can bring off-line discussions into the discover space, but from the conversations we had in South Hylton, it is clear that we need to think about how online and off-line mix in the gather space as well. One route might be hosted discussions, which would work particularly well on local issues, but we need to think about the balance between online and off-line – and how we can connect offline discussion on national or specialist services issues.
  • Guarantee of response: given general scepticism of the State, it was not surprising that people did not automatically believe the NHS would honestly respond to issues that were raised in Gather, rather than just replying to issues raised with a straight bat. The NHS will need to make the guarantee of response clear, and ensuring that it lives up to it early on, if it is going to build the trust it needs.
  • Triage – the pros and cons: there was a bit of debate about how ideas would be selected within the space. It’s clear that not everything that is discussed in Gather could possibly go to the Assembly, and if Gather is truly an open space there will also be occasions when people have ideas that are inappropriate for the space, either because they are to do with individual personal cases and so are better handled elsewhere, or because they are based on inaccurate or tendentious information. There are two parts to this. First, how ideas are ruled out of order. This will have to be on the basis of a very strong and clear moderation policy, designed with participants. Second, how  ideas within Gather are selected for further consideration in the assembly or in any other room. Again, a clear set of principles is important, but we also need to make sure that the selection is carried out by a group of people in the space rather than a shadowy committee of experts.
  • The role of community champions: the speed with which we were able to access the local community network was a reminder of how important local community bridge-builders are. Several participants pointed to the importance of local community champions in spotting the gaps in service provision caused by organisational boundaries or decisions taken by the high-ups. We will have to work out how we can find and enlist the support of community champions.
  • Networking Gather: We will have to think about how the Gather layer can exist as something that both brings together discussions and yet allows local action. This means that we have to hold on to the idea of networking networks – but that we should be collaborating with those networks to host conversations as well as merely contributing to them.

All these are big, difficult issues, and we will be talking about them and others during February and March. Come and join us at the Innovation Expo in Manchester, in Exeter on Valentine’s Day or sign up to the mailing list to be the first to hear about our workshops later in March.


Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.