Top five tips for facilitating public involvement

By Rosie Davies, Research Fellow (Patient and Public Involvement), People in Health West of England

Get any group of people together and you can be sure there will be different views and personalities. In public involvement meetings we love those different voices, however, in order to allow everyone to be heard, not just the loudest person, some facilitation skills are required.

At People in Health West of England (PHWE) we offer a half-day ‘enhancing facilitation skills’ workshop to help people run meetings about health issues with patients and members of the public. The workshop is run by Rosie Davies; Research Fellow at PHWE, and Cathy Rice, a member of the public who has been involved in health research.

Here Rosie shares her top tips for facilitating public involvement groups.


On 19 June Cathy and I ran our popular ‘enhancing facilitation skills’ workshop with participants coming from a range of backgrounds including researchers, public involvement staff, voluntary organisations and the public sector.

During the informal and interactive workshop we covered; considering what’s important for members of the public attending meetings; agreeing ways of working together; thinking through different aspects of the facilitator’s role; as well as adapting facilitation style to suit different situations.

Our top five tips for facilitating public involvement are:

1. Agree ground rules

Agreeing ground rules helps to shape expectations and support you and the group to stay on track. It can also build trust and provide a reference point if you need to challenge behaviour later on.

2. Co-facilitate with a public contributor

Having a member of the public as a co-facilitator or co-chair helps to create a sense of shared ownership and ensure that acronyms and buzzwords are avoided.

3. Stay focussed

It is important for you in your role as facilitator to keep the group on track and manage contributions effectively. That means stimulating constructive and focussed debate whilst allowing everyone to have a voice.

4. Be prepared

Having a good meeting includes planning in advance, following up and feeding back afterwards, as well as work during the meeting itself. Think about what is important to the group members, from clear directions to the venue to post-meeting debrief and support.

5. Manage different behaviours

Strategies to cope with different behaviours and vulnerability are useful to build your confidence. During the workshop we share real life examples and discuss various strategies and techniques to ensure all group members can contribute to a successful meeting.

Very friendly environment and facilitators were very good and friendly 😊

The fact that the trainers had ‘lived experience’ of mental health and health issues [worked well]

Really good workshop – very well modelled!

I feel more confident about facilitating

[I am] so pleased for tips on how to deal with different personalities. This is great – not just for facilitating!

Participants at enhancing facilitation workshop June 2019

Here are just a few of the changes participants are going to make as a result of attending the June workshop:

  • Get better on ground rules now I know what they’re for
  • Try to be more reflective when faced with different situations as a facilitator
  • Use volunteers to co-facilitate
  • Think about how I can provide feedback to [public contributor] members more effectively
  • Plan for better pre-event communication and make a checklist for facilitating
  • Ensure that…public contributors…have opportunities to co-chair

Would you like to learn more and build your confidence in facilitating public involvement groups? We are holding another workshop on Wednesday 9 October in Bristol. You can sign up here.

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NIHR Future-Focused Leadership Programme is open for applications

The NIHR academy have recently announced that the NIHR Future-Focused Leadership Programme is open for applications. The closing date is Friday 9 August at 1pm. For the first time, applications from public contributors involved in strategic activities in the NIHR are invited.

The new Future-Focused Leadership Programme enables you to develop your capabilities and effectiveness as a leader by identifying and reflecting on your strengths and areas for development. To join the programme, you will be a current leader based within NIHR or delivering a national role for NIHR. This could be as a public contributor involved in governance and leadership. You will be developing into or taking up leadership roles at the senior level, facing significant leadership challenges, where support will be most needed and impactful.

The programme will enhance skills in leading across organisational boundaries, leading strategy and change and influencing others to achieve the strategic aims of NIHR. Alongside your existing experience and leadership skills, the Future-Focused Leadership programme will provide time for reflection, refreshing existing skills and learning new ways of working which will support:

  • On-going self-awareness and recognising the impact and influence leaders have
  • Cross departmental collaboration with senior leadership
  • Creating an impact across the wider system
  • Developing team members and emerging leaders to maximise their potential.

This application window will be for the first two cohorts of the Leaders stream; Cohort 1 starts in late September 2019 and cohort 2 in January 2020. The third cohort is anticipated to start in January 2021 (with applications in summer 2020) so there is a further opportunity to participate at a later date.

This prestigious 12-month programme will consist of a blended learning approach, including face to face workshops and virtual, online sessions.

Further information on the format and content of the programme and how to apply is now available at

If you have any questions please contact

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Volunteers with learning disabilities quality checked GP practices in Swindon

Healthwatch Swindon have recently completed a report about nine quality checking visits made to GP practices and dental surgeries in Swindon. The visits were undertaken by supported volunteers with learning disabilities between August 2018 and April 2019.

According to NHS England, “Quality checking is where people with a learning disability, autism or both are employed to help us look at the quality of the services they use and tell us how we can make them better.

Healthwatch Swindon worked with Swindon Advocacy Movement to recruit and train volunteers and support them to undertake the visits.

Whilst all providers made some specific arrangements to meet the needs of people with learning disabilities or on the autistic spectrum there are common and consistent themes and recommendations for change or improvement in all the reports. Practices should bear in mind the requirement to make reasonable adjustments and the guidance available.

The volunteers made three main recommendations which were common to all the premises visited:

  • Improved physical access including parking arrangements and door opening.
  • Provision of easy read signage and information throughout – both inside and outside buildings.
  • Clarity of displayed information.

You can read the full report here.

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Health and Care – What’s YOUR opinion?


by Mike Bell, Public Involvement Facilitator, May 2019

I recently received an email inviting me to an event at Bristol City Hall entitled ‘Thinking big about online feedback’. It was one of those emails that had ‘cascaded’ through various channels and originated from an organisation I’d never heard of called Care Opinion.

Online platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and the recently launched hyvr all offer members of the public a chance to have their say about health and care in the UK. Within our public involvement team at People in Health West of England, we’ve debated the usefulness and effectiveness of these on many occasions. So, as City Hall is only a five minute walk from my desk and Care Opinion were offering refreshments I thought I’d go take a look.

Dazzling statistics

The first speaker was the CEO of Care Opinion, James Munro who you would expect to be enthusiastic, and he was. Dazzling us with statistics about numbers of users and success stories: over 343,000 stories told, over 9,600 staff listening, 100,000 visits every month with stories on Care Opinion viewed over 83 million times. Fifty or more trusts reporting a better than 95% response rate and, more importantly, the changes made to services as a result of people’s stories. The cynic in me was wondering about James’ maths by this point.

James was followed by the Director of Patient Centred Care (you might think of this as Complaints, PALS or Patient Experience) at Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust who was equally enthusiastic.  She said that, despite the fears of some staff about the potential for a barrage of complaints, most stories (about 67%) have been positive. Additionally, she added, the negative stories can be responded to quickly, by the most appropriate member of staff which means they rarely become “formal complaints” and everyone is happy.

Next was a lay board member of a London GP confederation made up of 43 surgeries who told a similar success story and by now, members of the audience representing patient experience teams in other trusts began joining in with more praise for Care Opinion.

This was the point where I surreptitiously took out my phone and Googled “Care Opinion” under the table. Once on the Care Opinion website I randomly searched “knee replacement surgery” and found hundreds of stories.  I was able to see at a glance which had been read and which hadn’t, as well as follow any responses by the various trusts.  I could also see where changes had indeed been made to services and where stories had been used as training tools. It seems some of the praise was justified, although there were stories about poor experiences which had neither been read nor responded to.

So, this is how it works

Go to the Care Opinion website (no need to log in) and tell your story about your health and care experience. Care Opinion then moderate it (to make sure it’s anonymous and doesn’t breach their guidelines). They then forward it to the relevant care staff so they can hear what you think. They may also pass the story to Healthwatch or NHS England if they think it’s something they need to hear about. If it’s positive, staff can share the story so their colleagues know they are doing things right. If it’s negative they can respond via the website which, in some cases, may lead to a change in the way things are done.

Someone once said “the greatest barrier to communication is the illusion that it has been achieved” and we see that all too often these days. Where once you would write a letter and hope for a reply within two or three weeks, we now expect immediate responses to texts, emails, WhatsApp messages and Tweets and crikey do we get angry when we don’t get it.

There are clearly examples of stories, good and bad, on Care Opinion that haven’t been responded to and I believe one or two trusts never respond (though you have to wonder why). However, there are plenty of examples on their website where real communication has certainly been achieved and where patients appear satisfied their voice has been listened to.

If you haven’t already heard of Care Opinion and you have a story, good or bad, about the health and care system, I suggest you give it a go.

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Patient voices are leading to improvements of Somerset’s adult safeguarding service

New feedback gathered by Healthwatch Somerset on the county’s Adult Safeguarding service will be used to improve it for the future.

Healthwatch Somerset is the county’s independent health and social care champion. They listen to what people like about local health and care services, and what could be improved. Better communication through the safeguarding process and clearer information on staying safe in the future were just some of the recommendations made by families, carers and those who have been using the Somerset Adult Safeguarding service.

The Somerset Adults Safeguarding service, which protects an adult’s right to live free from abuse and neglect, dealt with 1,830 concerns in 2017/18 but only received feedback from six people.

Somerset County Council, who run the service, approached Healthwatch Somerset to help develop a new way of improving the service using the voice of the people who use it.

Emily Taylor, Manager of Healthwatch Somerset, said: “We worked closely with the Adult Safeguarding Team to design a questionnaire and considered an approach that would be effective but also deliverable by the team going forward.

“Our volunteers contacted people who had been through the safeguarding process. Several respondents said that they did not always know what was happening throughout the enquiry and that they were not being asked their opinion on what they wanted to happen.

“We recommend key questions are asked and recorded throughout the enquiry. This would help to check people’s understanding of what’s happening and their feelings about their level of involvement in the enquiry.”

Emily continued: “Half of respondents said that they either didn’t get any information or would have liked more information about staying safe in the future. We recommend that key agencies review the information made available to adults at risk and their advocates about how to stay safe.”

A spokesperson for Somerset Adult Safeguarding Service added: “As a service we thank Healthwatch Somerset for their support and enthusiasm in their undertaking of this pilot, the findings have far exceeded our original expectations.

“We will actively work towards enhancing service user engagement into the safeguarding process to ensure their voice is heard.”

You can read the full findings in their report Evaluation of Somerset Safeguarding Service: User Feedback Process.

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New digital health training well received

On 28 March 2019 People in Health West of England and Bristol Health Partners ran a new training session for patients and public contributors to learn about digital health and use of data.

The workshop gave an overview of how digital technology and data are being used in health and care and what this means for patients. Participants were introduced to the concepts by local speakers and had the opportunity to share their thoughts through interactive games and discussions.

The aim was for participants to be better informed to contribute to conversations on data and digital service design and development. Feedback from the day was really positive with all respondents rating the training as either ‘very good‘ or ‘good‘ in improving knowledge of digital health and uses of data. You can read more detailed feedback in the report below.

“Thanks for making it understandable for non-technical people”

“Invigorating, stimulating, exciting day; thank you”

As far as we know, it is the first training of its kind in the UK. The workshop was designed by John Kellas (Community Innovation and Engagement Consultant working with Bristol Health Partners) in collaboration with a design and facilitation team. The team are planning to run a second session in the Autumn and publish a resource pack to help others run similar sessions across the country.

Olly Watson, Senior Project Manager at Bristol Health Partners has produced a report from the first pilot session which you can read here.

If you are involved in work to increase the patient and public voice in digital health and data initiatives, do get in touch at or

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Do you want to share your experience of health or care services?

Care Opinion is a place where you can share your experience of health or care services, and help make them better for everyone.

Using a simple online form you can share your story. It could be a story about you, or someone close to you. You can say what happened, what was good, and what could have been better.

Your story may get published and shared with staff in the services who need to see it. You can also see other people’s stories and see how stories are leading to change.

Care Opinion think that by sharing honest experiences of care, we learn to see the world differently. Working together, we can all help make care better.

They are a non-profit organisation, funded mainly through subscriptions from health and care organisations and have been sharing people’s experiences of health and care services online since 2005. They have built a national and international reputation for their innovative and value-led approach to online feedback.

Find out more on their website or from this short video

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