Written by Sophia Fedorowicz, Fiona McCormack, and Rachele Hine
Here, as members of the Centre for Health and Development (CHAD) and Expert Citizens, we discuss our recent experience of coming together (virtually at least!), for a training course. The training was on ‘Get Talking’ which is a community consultation approach designed to introduce and promote the use of creative methods when working with communities. But first, let us tell you a bit more about our organisations…
At CHAD, we aim to contribute to the reduction of health and social inequalities and improve the health and wellbeing of our local population. We do this by carrying out high quality translational research in partnership with local and national organisations. One of our four main themes is ‘Health Inclusion’, which focuses on the health and wellbeing of people in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent who may experience complex and multiple needs and/or who may have difficulty accessing universal services. This includes, for example, people who experience substance misuse, homelessness, offending, and mental health. For this work theme, one of our key partners that we have worked with on many projects is Expert Citizens. We worked with them on the very first research project we completed in 2016, which focused on city centre street activity and rough sleeping. Since then, we have worked together on research into gender specific services for women, and evaluations of Housing First Stoke and other ongoing projects.
Expert Citizens CIC (EC) are an independent group of people who have all experienced multiple needs, combinations of mental ill health, homelessness, addiction, and offending behaviour. They use their unique skills and experiences to be a voice for others in working with services in Stoke-on-Trent and further afield to help guide and shape them to improve the care of multiple needs citizens. Expert Citizens staff and volunteers act as ambassadors of lived experience, working to reduce stigma and encourage decision-makers to enact change.
We are currently working together on a big evaluation of VOICES, which is a huge piece of work! As part of that, we were presented with the opportunity to do this course together.
Although CHAD and EC have worked together numerous times before, these encounters involved the confines of a structured research project with tight deadlines and most of the communication being done by e-mail/phone, and more recently, MS Teams! Traditionally, we have worked on separate elements within the research, with EC leading on the data collection with customers (through focus groups or interviews) and some stakeholders, whilst CHAD have focused on stakeholder interviews/workshops, data analysis, and writing the reports with input and consultation from members of EC (and Rachele in particular). The decision to commit to a ten-session training programme alongside each other was consciously taken to usher in a new beginning for the partnership between the two organisations.
CHAD and EC share a goal to address health and social inequality, and acknowledge the important role lived experience plays in this process. Therefore, the opportunity to jointly explore creative methods for working with communities provided a perfect vehicle to level up our partnership by going through the process together and learning about some new tools we can use in our work together.
The training sessions were online, interactive, and slow paced, allowing time for discussion, group work and getting to know each other. Discovering the person behind the e-mail address over the course of the sessions was an unanticipated, yet one of the greatest, outcomes of the process. Sophia was exposed as a coffee snob when her cafetière and fancy glassware were caught on camera, one member of the group shared their passion for gardening, another for bird watching and we often joked around during sessions in break-out rooms (full disclosure we were supposed to be thinking of answers to group tasks).
Several exercises were found to be useful for collaborating such as mapping out stakeholders as a group, discussing the effectiveness and suitability of different creative tools and how they could be applied to our work around inequalities.
We are excited to work together in the future, in a way that is fundamentally more collaborative throughout the process, and to try out some of the creative methods that we have learned about during the ‘Get Talking’ training. It feels like more creative methods have great potential for the ‘health inclusion’ theme of CHAD’s work, and will provide the opportunity to create very rich, meaningful and insightful data that could be more inclusive than asking people to take part in a traditional ‘research interview’.
So watch this space!
Emadi-Coffin, B. (2008) ‘Get Talking: community participation and neighbourhood learning’, Widening participation and lifelong learning, 10(3), pp. 30–34.