Directions to good engagement on a health and wellbeing strategy
Last time, I suggested what good community engagement in producing a Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy (JHWS) might look like. Well, I’ve been brought back down to earth. I’ve fairly recently become involved in a group planning engagement for the development of a JHWS and it’s been a salutary reminder that the real world often bears only a passing resemblance to the ideal.
Rather than engaging from the beginning, they have done a lot of preliminary work on the strategy before having a two (now expanded to three) month consultation period before the professionals then go away to write the strategy, with a final consultation after that. A number of methods of consultation are planned such as discussions with existing bodies, focus groups, social media to promote public events, a webpage providing information, and a survey.
I had made a number of suggestions about how the process might be organised. One was to allow public feedback through an online discussion forum or comments page on a web site, ideally with more than one thread so, for instance, you could have separate discussions on each of the candidate priorities (though, as I have argued before, here and also to them, I think starting by identifying ‘priorities’ in the abstract, without being clear what you mean by that is largely meaningless. But maybe I’ll go into more detail on that another time).
Anyway, the proposal (about multiple comments pages) was fairly swiftly dismissed. There isn’t going to be a single, central website for various reasons (the information will be reproduced on several existing websites), it would be too expensive to set something up and the public probably wouldn’t contribute anyway.
The thing is, that given where we are, that’s probably the right decision. Not that a place online where the public could discuss this is a bad idea, but there probably isn’t the resource, time (or possibly inclination, not from the project managers, who are doing their best, but more diffusely among the local public services leaders) to do what’s required to generate that response amongst the public, so it would indeed be a waste of money.
That’s the real world, so there’s no use just railing at it. So what are the implications?
It doesn’t mean that where we are locally is OK. The engagement probably won’t be as good as it could be.
It’s a bit like the old joke, where a traveller asks a local for directions. The local stops and thinks for a long time before replying, “well I wouldn’t start from here.”
For those not starting from here, those who are just starting to revise or develop a new strategy, there are important lessons. If you’re building in engagement from the beginning as I suggested in the last blog, there is much more you can do even within limited resources – though you might need to build up the commitment.
More generally, though, there are lessons about the strategy as a whole, not just the engagement. My suggestions so far for what a strategy might look like are quite grand. I believe they’re doable within a limited level of resources, but they would require all the partners to be committed and to pull together. What if the reality is more limited? Is it still possible for a strategy to do something worthwhile? It is to that, to which I will turn my attention next.