From Gather to the Assembly Meeting: what’s the issue?

Yesterday we began our first test of the Gather Space of NHS Citizen. The aim was to identify what ideas people engaging with NHS Citizen think are important enough to considered for the first test of the Assembly Meeting today.

If you’d like to know more about the test, about NHS Citizen and the three spaces then scroll to the bottom to find out more.

We began Gather online about two weeks ago, and yesterday at the NHS Expo we held our first face-to-face Gather Meeting. We heard powerful personal stories illustrating how the NHS needs to change in a number of different ways.

After we had combined both the online and the offline discussions, we had far more ideas than we thought we would. I think it’s a real sign of the pent up demand people feel to have their voices heard that, by the time we had closed Gather at 7pm last night, we had received 56 ideas. This is far more than the 20 we had set as our target. In fact, counting individual ideas submitted separately we had even more, but some were duplicates or represented a different perspective on an idea that had already been submitted, so we combined some ideas. They are all up online here.

The NHS Expo is a huge event, with multiple strands of activity. We only have an hour for the first Assembly Meeting; enough time to discuss only one of the ideas.

So, last night two members of the NHS Citizen team, me and Anthony Zacharzewski, and Olivia Butterworth, Head of Patient and Public Voice for NHS England met to decide which of the ideas should go forward. We had intended to involve up to three citizens in this choice, but (in a clear learning point) attempting to do this in the evening at the end of a long day meant we lost our volunteers before we had even started. This is not to criticise them, the NHS Citizen system is going to have to move slower if it is to work at a pace that citizens can keep up with. It is not even to make a major apology ourselves, we have two days to run a limited test trying to connect Gather to the Assembly Meeting. We aren’t making big claims about the legitimacy of the process, we have had to work within the constraints that the Expo has imposed on us.

We had intended to webcast the deliberations of the team choosing the idea, but we bedevilled by the power surge that killed our equipment earlier in the day. Apologies, again time was against us. Fingers crossed that we’ll be online again for the Assembly Meeting this afternoon.

With 56 ideas to decide between, the three of us had a mammoth task. The first thing to say is that no idea will be lost. All those not chosen to go forward to the Assembly Meeting will stay open in Gather when we reopen it for the next test. In addition, we will be working closely with Olivia to take up as many as we can with the Board and relevant parts of NHS England well before the Assembly Meeting comes together again.

At the opening of the Gather Space we identified the criteria we would use to chose which issue would go into the Assembly Meeting. One of these was that any idea going forward must have at least five ‘upvotes’ on the online Gather Space. It became rapidly clear that we had made it all but impossible for any of the ideas presented at Expo yesterday to meet this criteria; only those ideas which had been posted soon after Gather was launched online had the time to collect enough votes. We knew that finding the right way to connect the on and off line Gather spaces would be tough and we were brought up sharp against that last night.

We needed to find an issue that had enough people able speak directly from personal experience and the evidence to the Board members coming to the Assembly Meeting. It also needed to be big enough to be relevant to many of those who might want to attend the Assembly Meeting and might have a useful perspective that the Board has not listened to before.  

After considerable thought and debate we were agreed that the question that should go forward was one that came out strongly (in many different ways) at the face-to-face Gather was,

how can we really make NHS England information accessible and understandable to all patients, carers and citizens?

We will now be inviting people present at Expo to join us at the Assembly Meeting at 2.30pm today, and for people not able to be here in person to submit thoughts, questions, perspectives and stories for the Board members to hear and respond to (most simply by commenting on this post). We are expecting to hear some powerful stories that will challenge individuals and the whole NHS England system to think differently about how things are currently done. In an hour we aren’t expecting a big revolution in information accessibility, but we are hoping to start a debate that will over time lead to real change.


Some background explaining how we have got to this point

For information about the NHS Citizen System and how the spaces connect, go here.

If you want to know a bit more about what we were trying to do yesterday in the Gather Space, go here.

And you’ll find a little explanation about what we hope to do in the Assembly Meeting today, here.