Involving public partners using Zoom

Involving public partners using Zoom

Healthcare Improvement Scotland's Service Change Team responded to the preferences of its volunteers to support their involvement.

Face-to-face meetings were replaced with telephone calls and Zoom meetings, based on feedback about how public partners wanted be involved.

Healthcare Improvement Scotland's Service Change Team offers advice and support to NHS boards on ways to improve their engagement when considering changes to a service. The team works with 7 volunteers, known as public partners, who provide a useful public perspective. The public partners support a wide variety of work, including helping the team to shape ongoing guidance documents, developing the programme of support projects, and its ongoing practice development.

Due to physical distancing measures being introduced, the team changed its scheduled March 2020 meeting from a face-to-face meeting to a teleconference call, as this was known to be accessible to the participants at such short notice.

Feedback from the public partners suggested that teleconferencing can be appropriate for small group discussions:

"Telephone conference calls are easy to set up and access and work well for a discussion, but only for a small group."

"Teleconferencing for other groups might have to be considered. I don't think that works as well with anything other than very small numbers."

The team also sought views from public partners on how best to meet for its scheduled June 2020 and future meetings. The majority of the public partners felt that holding online meetings on Zoom would be best, commenting that familiarity with Zoom was a key factor in wanting to use it:

  • "Everyone seemed to have previous experience of Zoom and felt comfortable with it."

Using Zoom was also less daunting as the group were familiar with each other.

  • "Zoom worked for the number in our group plus, we did all know each other so that helped too."

Public partners liked to see each other to feel part of a team.

  • "I'd be sorry to see face-to-face meetings vanish completely, but in the situation we are in Zoom is a good alternative."
  • "It makes a (positive) difference if you can see other participants and all members of the team can be present… I feel it makes you feel part of a team."

However, while video calls were deemed appropriate for this meeting, some public partners acknowledged that one size does not fit all and that other methods would need to be considered for particular groups. 

"Zoom is a great tool in certain circumstances but isn't the answer to everything, especially for wider public involvement where many 'hard to reach groups' do not have access to Zoom."

"As ever, no one size fits all but it is good to have an ever increasing range of tools."

"I think you have to have a suite of engagement offerings in terms of equality of access."

The Service Change Team observed that teleconferencing was:

  • suitable for small groups
  • accessible for most groups
  • less likely to produce technical issues

The Service Change Team found that Zoom meetings had several benefits:

  • the public partners could see each other, which was important to them
  • the whole team could be present, which was rarely the case due to other travel needed
  • reduced overhead costs as there was no need to travel
  • meeting topics could be more fully explored due to the increased number of participants
  • comments and questions posted in the chat box were useful for supplementing written notes from the meeting

Reflecting on their experience, the team thought that is important for people to get to know each other and catch up with each other – something that would usually be done while grabbing a coffee or a tea at a meeting. It may benefit the group to have time built in for this to the agendas of future meetings.


Lucy Dorrian, Service Change Adviser, Healthcare Improvement Scotland

Photo credit: Anna Shvets on Pexels

Last Updated: 19 April 2023