Facilitation, facilitation…

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… facilitation’s what you need.

Earlier this year, I evaluated a pilot of PPI in research at Parkinson’s UK. The final report is out today.

Parkinson’s UK had been finding patients and carers to get involved in research and passing their names to researchers – but they wanted to make sure that any involvement that took place was good quality. So they decided to invest in providing support to researchers and Parkinson’s UK volunteers, to help them develop effective working partnerships – to facilitate the involvement.

Involvement in essence means bringing together two groups of people, who don’t speak the same language, who aren’t always clear about what they’re meant to be doing, who may have different expectations about outcomes, and are learning new ways of working – all at the same time. No easy task. Facilitation helps smooth this process.

So what does this facilitation need to look like? If you think about involvement as a conversation – then an essential first step is preparing people to have the conversation, helping them to understand what the conversation needs to be about. Parkinson’s UK staff did this by providing training to patients and carers, and advice to the researchers, before the two parties met. This meant the patients and carers were clear about their role and the researchers were clear what questions they wanted to ask. The staff also provided a translation service, translating science to plain English and back again.

During the subsequent meeting between patients, carers and the researchers, Parkinson’s UK staff helped to keep the conversation flowing. They kept everyone focused on the task, made sure everyone had the same understanding of the discussions and ensured all participants had their say. Because this first meeting worked so well for everyone and they all learnt so much from each other, the researchers, patients and carers were keen to continue working together (where opportunity allowed). It proved to be the start of beautiful working relationships!

The big lesson then is that facilitation is one of the key ingredients to ensuring high quality involvement. Parkinson’s UK staff did all this work with great skill – but they hadn’t really recognised this fact until after the evaluation. The role of the facilitator is all too easily overlooked. Perhaps it’s time to look at facilitation in more depth. What makes a good facilitator and what can they do that’s most helpful?

 

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