Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Agitate and make trouble - not my words but from the top down

I was at the NHS Alliance conference this week in Manchester listening to a variety of politicians, doctors and managers talk about the future of healthcare and the NHS.

One memorable phrase from the first day was NHS Chief Executive David Nicholson inviting the audience to 'agitate and make trouble' in the interestsof improving services. Well, there you go, the challenge is out there.

There were many debates about patient involvement - though not many actual patients there. One thing that was often missing in the discussions was a view of engagement as a relationship rather than as a task or transaction.

The conference was chaired by well known doctor, journalist and stand-up comedian Phil Hammond. This reminded me of the value of humour and fun in these types of debate.

It was good to have the opportunity to do a bit of networking too.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Person...

I came home late last night from a piece of work in Birmingham to find this wonderful picture created by my 2 and a bit year old daughter Grace on the wall.

It simply captures the creativity and vision of young children - it is powerful, colourful, bold and confident. I am thinking of using it as the logo for my consultancy business! And it was just what I needed after a long and tiring journey across London.

It has also been a strong reminder of how important our visual senses are and what young children can do to teach us adults to stop and look once in a while.

And by the way, Grace tells me it is not a portrait of me...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Trainer Development - Some Thoughts and Reflections

I thought I would post the presentation I gave at the wonderful National Children's Bureau PEAL Trainer Development Days last week. It was part of a workshop exploring issues of trainer development, accreditation and the new City & Guilds qualification called PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector).

For me as a trainer who generally operates as a one man band (or at most with one other co-trainer) it was great to get together with so many experienced trainers for a couple of days. Events like these really prompt self-reflection and it is always good to reconnect with people and have fun in the process.

PEAL (Parents, Early Years and Learning) can be found at

Monday, 22 September 2008

Blogging the Dream - Mental Health Activism in Romania

My friends in northern Romania are part of an great new project using blogging as a way to give a voice to mental health service users and those who are often not heard.

The wider project is called Blogging the Dream. It already includes some interesting articles and some photos of real people making changes in their community.

Next year I will be returning to Romania to link up with Orizonturi and other organisations to run some workshops at a conference on activism, communication and grassroots policy development.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Happy Birthday National Health Service - 60 Years Old Today

The British National Health Service (NHS) is 60 years old today.

As a major party of the welfare state established after the Second World War it has been a great achievement to continue to give unrestricted access to healthcare, free at the point of access, to everyone.

I still think the principle of public service is relevant to the 21st century. It inspires people to give their careers to an institution that is different and part of the wider public sphere. In an increasingly commoditised era, it is essential to retain these values and also our connections to our past.

I am very proud to be a small part of the NHS as a non-executive director of Bexley Care Trust.

It is when I work abroad that I most become aware of how unique the NHS is. Having just returned from Switzerland where you have to pay for your own private health insurance it helps me remember that this is the norm in most parts of the world.

How did I celebrate the birthday? Well we had some young people spend the day with us to explore the local history of the NHS in south east London. And then we worked with them to look at ways young people and other service users can participate in modern day health commissioning. They will be coming back to us for three days in later July to design a young person's council and do some real commissioning. Exciting stuff.

Here is the link to the story on the BBC website

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Participation and Citizenship - Contributions from Political Economy

Whilst reading around issues of the media and political economy I came across this very interesting definition of citizenship from the works of Murdock (1999 and 2005 - no, not the Australia chap) on the political economy of communication.

He defines citizenship as "...the right to participate fully in social life and to help shape the forms it might it take in the future..."

To make this a reality Murdock (quoted in Murdock and Golding, 2005, pp.65-66) argues that people need access to a range of communicative resources that support participation including:

1. Access to information, advice, and analysis that enables them to know their rights and to pursue them effectively

2. Access to the broadest possible range of interpretation and debate on areas that involve political choices

3. The right to have one's experiences, beliefs and aspirations represented without distortion or stereotyping

4. The right to participate in public culture by speaking in one's own voice - registering dissent and proposing alternatives

I think this is a really useful model that could be adapted to many different dimensions of communication and participation. It resonates with my own feelings about the value of peoples life stories and experiences and the expertise they have in living their own lives in their local communities.

How well does our local community measure up to these four points? What do we need to do to get closer to these standards?

Communication is a vital part of making participation real - I think the focus on difference and the possibilities of appreciating and valuing dissent and alternative viewpoints is really powerful.

It is also a real challenge to the limited range of views that are usually portrayed in the media and in organisational communication.

How do we make communication a part of the participatory process and not a tool of limited interests or groups?

I think that face-to-face (or situated) communication still retains a lot of power and is something we need to do more of. It is when people are able to engage directly, build rapport and trust, and work together to understand and appreciate each other that participation becomes something active and life changing.

So how do we build more face-to-face communication in this increasing fragmented society? And what is the role of social networking including its limits?

Reference: Murdock, G. & Golding, P. (2005) Culture, Communications and Political Economy in Curran, J. and Gurevitch, M. (2005) Mass Media and Society. Hodder Arnold: London