Last week I interviewed Amos Mallard, who works for Birmingham South and Central CCG about their work on digital engagement with the public.
Question 1 – What do you believe is the benefit of public engagement with a CCG?
The NHS has been pretty amazing over the last 65 years, but it faces huge challenges in the future. Costs are rising, people are getting more complex conditions and living longer, and our financial outlook in the UK isn’t encouraging. I would argue that it’s never been more important for the public to engage with the NHS. Engagement (when it’s done properly) helps patients and communities understand the issues and develop the solutions. The benefit of engaging with your local CCG is the opportunity to shape and improve the local services you use. There are other benefits too, like connecting with your community and developing self-efficacy with your health.
Question 2 – How have you used social media to engage people?
We’re in the formative stages of using social media. The approach we’ve taken has been organic really; connecting with interesting and relevant people and organisations, trying to build genuine relationships and not be too corporate or ‘broadcasty’. We recognise that social media is an important component in our communications, so we want to try and build a credible base from which to engage people.
Question 3 – What do you believe have been the benefits of using social media?
For one, it’s cost effective and gives you access to a range of stakeholders you might miss if you weren’t using social media. It also lets you go where the conversations are already happening. We don’t need to build our own empire of groups and meetings, we can dip in to what’s already there and that’s really powerful. Another benefit has been the connections with other statutory agencies, VSOs and the third sector which allow us to coordinate messages across our accounts and spread the word quickly. That’s proven useful on a day-to-day basis and will be useful during crises.
Question 4 – What skills do you think are most important in using these tools?
Having an authentic voice is essential. Developing engaging content is important as well. It’s useful to understand how to analyse and monitor what’s going on in order to be as data driven as you can.
Question 5 – Are there any barriers or difficulties that arise for you in carrying out this style of engagement?
Using social media (NHS digital mavens aside) is a cultural shift for the NHS. Health is several steps behind business in the sense that we’re still afraid of using open channels and not having complete control. It’s not been a barrier for us personally as we have some experience in social media.
Question 6 – What do you see as the next steps for digital and the CCG?
I’d be really happy if, in perhaps two years, we were able to articulate and evidence that we made a positive change by using digital. That’s what engagement is all about for me. The ethics of transparency and accountability are good and right, but I also want engagement to make a difference and improve the NHS. We’re launching a redesigned website soon and we’ve aimed to make it open and engaging. We want to use narrative for change, so there’ll be opportunities for people to blog for us and share their stories. There’s still some content development to do, but I think it will support what we’re trying to achieve.
Question 7 – Which organisations do you look to for inspiration and ideas?
There are so many creative individuals and organisations out there it’s difficult to say. I like the way Comic Relief empower poeple to make change in such a simple and engaging way. Macmillan do a fantastic job of coalescing people around a shared purpose. I think any organisation who can deliver a message creatively and effectively deserve praise; it’s not always easy to be heard above the digital din these days, so anyone who manages it is doing well.
Question 8 – Do your CCG members take an interest in digital tools and the feedback or questions you receive this way?
They do. Some don’t particularly want to use social media, the majority are really interested in what’s being said. We ran a live social media session for the board quite recently to show them that people are listening and want to engage, Fortunately it worked well; I had nightmares of putting questions out to twitter and sitting in silence with the board members waiting for responses. We had plenty of activity, so everything was okay. In terms of digital tools we tend to use as many as possible to share information and maximise resources. It’s not always easy for people to use a new tool, but once they see the benefit they’re usually converted.
All of this is a journey; CCGs are new organisations with a lot to learn. I think BSC is doing pretty well. mostly because we are open to suggestions, keen to be authentic and really care about the communities we serve.
Amos Mallard, Birmingham South & Central CCG Follow on twitter @BSC_CCG