For your comfort and safety, webcasting is in use during this workshop

[This blog post was first published in March 2015 and published on the NHS Citizen site, which is now archived. See here for the blog post. and here for all Citizen Jury pieces related to NHS Citizen.]

As a participation professional who’s been lurking around NHS Citizen as it develops, one of the most exciting aspects has been the webcasting.  Even the debriefing team meeting at the end of the NHS Citizen Design Workshop in January this year (2015) was webcast http://www.nhscitizen.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/161516 from 03:56).  This is a level of openness and commitment to transparent reflection that goes way beyond anything I’ve been involved with before.  I fell in love with NHS Citizen as I watched that. 

On the other hand, when I was sitting down to design the detail of the particular event I was brought in to facilitate - the Citizens’ Jury test in Hatfield on 3rd and 4th March 2015 - I had some reservations.

Let me explain.

Transparency vs safety

In the tradition of facilitated meetings that I work in, a very high value is put on creating a safe space for difficult conversations.  When I help a group agree its ways of working (or ground rules, or working agreements) we always discuss and agree something around confidentiality and attribution.  Sometimes the agreement is that no-one expects anything to be kept confidential or to be non-attributable.  But sometimes people agree quite strong confidentiality boundaries, because they need the reassurance to feel safe enough to speak freely, without being judged by others or being punished for their views later.

Webcasting is clearly the opposite of that safety agreement: your words and your identity are available to anyone with internet access. 

So while I value the transparency and openness that webcasting enables for those not in the room during the conversation, I could also see some downsides for the jurors and for the quality of their conversation.

The choices we made about webcasting took into account other considerations too: budget was a factor.  In the end, we decided to webcast just the afternoon of the second day: the jury announcing and explaining their decision, and the reflection and learning session that came after the formal work of the jury had ended.

Ready for my close-up

So what impact did webcasting have on the quality of the conversation?

One thing that I noticed was that some of us at least scrubbed up a bit better on webcasting day than on the first day of the jury.  I found myself regretting having worn my smarter dress too early, and only having more comfortable but less flashy clothes on webcasting day.  I wonder if the cameras put us on Sunday Best, at least figuratively if not literally.  And if they did, would this be a good thing or a bad thing?  Some jurors reflected that the conversation was more managed, formal and slow during the webcast sessions: this was exacerbated by the need to pass the microphone around.  We were less relaxed and less spontaneous.

I have mixed feelings about the formality that overtook us on that second afternoon.  People were more guarded and took time to choose their words carefully, so we lost the energy and creativity of our earlier conversations.  On the other hand, I welcomed the caution to some extent because I’d become acutely aware of the way in which jurors might make themselves vulnerable during the webcast. These were, after all, members of the public pretty much plucked off the street.  Not necessarily used to speaking in public or having their words analysed after the event.  I found myself feeling protective towards these people who were not there because they had a professional perspective to offer or wanted to advocate for a particular set of interests, but because we had asked them to be there.  After all, we can all stumble over our words or say something we regret.  If we’re politicians, professionals or campaigners, perhaps we shouldn’t make mistakes and if we do we are held accountable.  But for jurors, many of whom may never have been in any kind of similar situation, their mistakes would be available to the world to see live and then immortalised for their neighbours, workmates and families - let alone NHS Citizens like readers of this blog - to watch over and over again.  

On balance, I’m glad these jurors were cautious than creative in front of the cameras, even if that slightly defeated the purpose of live webcasting in the first place. 

Other lessons

There were other impacts which we’ll need to find better ways of managing if we webcast from a citizens’ jury again. 

It’s clear from comments that the webcast viewers would have liked to see the presentations from the specialists, as well as the explanation of the jury’s decision.

The people watching the webcast wanted to know how long sessions would be and when we would take our breaks.  In the event, our first webcast session didn’t need as much time as we had anticipated, and we went into the break earlier than advertised.  This wouldn’t have been problematic if everyone had been “in the room” with us, but for people watching it was confusing and annoying that we didn’t stick to the pre-announced schedule.  I don’t want to overplay this: it is a manageable wrinkle.

And although not many people took up the option, it was great to be able to feed in comments from people who watched the webcast and get their perspective during the reflective learning session. 

Impact of webcasting on the jurors

Knowing that we were planning to webcast some of the event might have skewed our sample - the people who participated in the jury: filtering out the shyest and selecting for reality-TV stars in the making.  But nothing that we heard from the recruitment team (or saw during the event) suggests that this actually happened.  We offered the option of having a ‘no filming zone’, which people who didn’t want to be featured on camera could use.  The webcasting team have experience of making this work, but in the event no-one asked for this. 

Jurors themselves had mixed views on how to manage the webcasting.  Some thought it would be a good idea to have the cameras and microphones there the whole time, so that they would get used to them and be ignoring them by the time the webcasting happened.  Others were very clear that they wouldn’t have wanted the cameras in the room during the earlier discussion sessions: they thought this would seriously limit the openness and energy of the conversations.

Experimentation continues

The NHS Citizen team may experiment with other ways to give people a flavour of the citizens’ jury process in future events: Clive Mitchell has already started to explore the idea of using a citizen journalist instead of a webcast.

It’s exciting to be part of a team that’s so committed to experimenting, reflecting on what works and doesn’t work, and changing how things are done as a result.  And I am willing to say that on camera!