For the last few weeks in DH we've been pausing to listen, reflect and improve.
You can read all about the NHS listening exercise and the work of the NHS Future Forum elsewhere. But for the digital communication team the exercise has provided an opportunity to focus some of our digital engagement tools and techniques on some very specific objectives.
In a way, the listening exercise has provided an ideal brief for us. We have a clear call to action with a mandate from the top, a desire to provide multiple ways for people to contribute comments and ideas, a defined timeframe, and a route straight into the process for people's comments, with the promise of changes to policy and a Bill as a result.
We will adapt our proposals in light of engagement and discussion. The engagement process will inform changes to the Health and Social Care Bill and our broader policy and implementation plans [from the NHS Future Forum terms of reference]
Members of the NHS Future Forum have attended more than 200 physical listening events in the last few weeks. But there's a limit to how many people you can physically get in front of in a few weeks, so digital engagement has played an important role in extending the reach of the exercise, enabling people to get involved whether they were able to contribute in other ways or not.
Here are some of the things we've done, and the tools we've used, in the last few weeks:
- Almost-real-time updates. We've used our existing Modernisation sub-site to report on the work of the NHS Future Forum, from announcing the details of the exercise, to reporting from events, to covering related events elsewhere.
- Structured open comments. There are 4 themes for the exercise, and we've been inviting comments on each of them throughout the exercise. We've received hundreds of comments on each theme.
- Structured unpublished comments. We've provided a method for people to submit comments to the Future Forum without them being openly published, using a simple Google Form (as well as advertising an email and postal address).
- Digital engagement elsewhere. The Forum leads and our ministers have taken part in online conversations elsewhere, for example with the BMA and on the Guardian live blog, and we've marketed them and reported on them through our official channels. And where we've been able to we've partnered with others who would could help us to generate useful digital engagement opportunities.
- Webchats with Future Forum members on our site. We've used Coveritlive to host webchats with the Future Forum workstream leads on each of the themes. We've also used the same tools to host a private webchat with small group, when a physical meeting wasn't possible.
- Personal content. Some of the Future Forum members have reported on their work during the exercise either by blogging, posting video messages, and inviting and responding to comments, or by posting occasional articles to report on their work.
- Analysis of the comments. The comments have all been fed straight to the Future Forum team, but with a bit of help we provided some overall analysis of the themes and sentiment of the digital comments.
I don't think any of this is particularly innovative, but the coordinated and focussed effort, and the clear route into the process around the Bill sets it apart from the other things we've done like this recently.
The online comments we've received have all gone straight to the NHS Future Forum. Many have been published openly, and you can see that we've published nearly 2,000 comments publicly on the pages of our Modernisation channel. We've received hundreds more that have been submitted privately via the site. We've also received hundreds of comments via the webchats and blogs that the Future Forum members have taken part in on the site and elsewhere. On our own site and in the webchats, we've published almost everything we've received, and we've responded directly in the comments stream where we've been able to.
The listening exercise hasn't finished yet, so it's not for me to comment on the impact all this digital listening has had. But I hope we've been able to provide a few useful and alternative routes for people to contribute to the process.