Virtual meetings for public partners
Healthcare Improvement Scotland arranged for its volunteers to have full access to MS Teams so that their valuable public perspective could continue to shape its work.
Physical distancing measures introduced by the government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic saw the majority of volunteers across NHS Scotland step down from face-to-face volunteering roles in mid-March 2020.
At the same time, Healthcare Improvement Scotland had to adapt to new ways of working and consider how our staff and resources could best be deployed to support the NHS to handle the crisis. This led to all staff working from home, clinical staff being redeployed to NHS boards across Scotland, shifts in priorities and some programmes of work being temporarily placed on hold.
Our volunteers, known as 'public partners', are involved in a range of activities including sitting on groups/committees to provide a public perspective, supporting our inspection teams, and checking public-facing publications to ensure that they are readable.
What did we do?
With many work programmes on hold, it was important that we stayed in touch with our public partners to keep them informed of developments and offer opportunities to take part in and shape our work going forward, from a distance.
To this end, our Public Involvement Unit arranged regular virtual meetings using MS Teams. All public partners were provided with log-in details at the same time as our staff in order to support the move to home working, and meetings were arranged.
What worked well?
The first meeting was approached as a practice run and no expectations were set as to what we would achieve. The meeting was more of an informal catch-up using an as-yet unfamiliar digital platform in order to build confidence and familiarity. We have since carried out a second meeting.
While some people experienced issues with sharing their camera or microphone, most were able to access the meeting and contribute without any major issues.
MS Teams offers a chat function and this was particularly useful in allowing people to ask questions, offer insights or link to online resources being mentioned.
Public partners expressed their thanks for setting up the meetings and creating the space for the sharing of information and keeping in touch with staff and fellow public partners.
What could we do differently?
Reflections from these meetings include the need to:
- issue clear joining instructions
- test the meeting software prior to the actual meeting
- assign someone to monitor the text chat and raise awareness of questions being asked
- assign a point of contact for any IT issues experienced in accessing the meeting or during the meeting
- provide training/guides to support public partners to familiarise themselves with the software
- provide a run-through of virtual meeting etiquette, including 'raising a hand' to speak, keeping microphones on mute when not speaking and blurring background to protect privacy
- provide guidance on how to rejoin a meeting if connection drops
- set clear expectations about what the software can currently do and what it cannot do
- highlight useful features for accessibility, such as captions
Graeme Morrison (Public Involvement Advisor, Healthcare Improvement Scotland)