Hearing positive feedback from a client about recent work is very rewarding. Especially when half way into the piece of work you felt like you would never get past a stage of understanding what it is they actually wanted or that it didn't exist, ever!
Working in the communications and engagement field for the NHS for eight years now, it's always been difficult to explain what my job is – marketing, PR, engaging with people…? But the general term ‘engagement’ has many definitions and meanings to different people. In my opinion, it has to be tailored to meet the needs of whatever you are doing, and there is no standard approach. I came across this recently, when a director of strategy of a Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) I’m working with, wanted an engagement policy based on the value of a service. It was difficult to try and justify that the value of service potentially changing should not inform how the engagement should take place. But what evidence or examples could I find to back up this theory?
My aim was to ensure whatever engagement activity should take place, it be tailored to suit the situation, including how it will affect the patients and, most importantly, if any major service change was likely to take place a formal consultation would be considered. As a start, and with a little help from my colleagues at Midlands & Lancashire Commissioning Support Unit (CSU), we drafted a very broad description of what engagement and consultation is with a few examples of what activity should take place for each situation. This first draft helped us clarify what we all desired. The director of strategy confirmed he wanted a process to reassure stakeholders that when a service or part of a service would be decommissioned or disinvested, the appropriate engagement should take place. This was music to my ears. We made a few tweaks to the first draft. It now shows a clear link with the decommissioning and disinvestment policy and it includes the all-important examples. It also highlights the key principles of engagement for any type of service change, and the importance of the engagement being tailored fit to the potential patients affected. The director of strategy fed back that his main challenge throughout developing this policy was proportionality – in other words, how much and what appropriate engagement would be needed depending on the change in service.
My saving grace in creating this document was using the wide experience from colleagues at the CSU. They shared their examples to include in the document from various experiences with other organisations. At Involvement, we’ve also created a helpful resource providing examples of different situations and what engagement activity we’d suggest takes place – you can download ‘Engagement vs Consultation’ from our website. I’d also recommend seeking advice from your communication and engagement specialists – and lastly, be clear on your objective, think about who is your audience, and what are your key messages.