Tag Archives: participatory methods

Why we love Open Space Technology

If you’ve never come across the concept of Open Space Technology before and you’re familiar with a formal style of hosting meetings, it can seem quite daunting to have to facilitate or even participate in a session that uses Open Space.

This style of facilitating fits our ethos

Our ethos is that ‘We work with people and organisations and not for them’.

Open Space Technology is a style of facilitation that allows a group of individuals to be completely self-organised in reaching goals. This is achieved with barely any input from the facilitator, who will do little more than outline the guiding principles of Open Space Technology, introduce the over-arching topic/theme/purpose of the meeting and then let the group get on with it. This technique has been used around the world in meetings of 5 to 2000 people.

There is no formal agenda and no ground rules, except for the Law of Two Feet, that is: “If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.”  (Harrison Owen)

Owen’s Tedx Talk Dancing with Shiva (or Sandy, or Katrina)’  is a great starting point for any facilitator or practitioner interested in this method.

We’ve used this technique at several network events

We’ve used this technique several times including at our All Wales Residential Network in 2012, during a session at WCVA’s annual staff day and most recently at our Regional Participation Networks in October.

This technique is excellent because it really allows anyone who attends a session to speak about what they want. Open Space gives people a platform to do this without a facilitator poking their nose in (as it may be perceived) if a conversation goes off-topic or a discussion changes course, therefore shifting the power away from one person and sharing it amongst a group.

We’ve always had success using Open Space, at our most recent participation network events there was a wide variety of topics that people brought to the meetings that we held in Rhyl, Barry and Carmarthen this October:

  • How can we work more creatively – changing work structures
  • Fair treatment for Women in Wales – recognition of rights
  • Social housing has years of experience of engagement
  • Autism support for adults who don’t qualify for help
  • Getting information to the right people in the right way
  • Making our work newsworthy
  • How to engage young people as volunteers
  • Community initiatives – engaging with a poor community
  • Home or hospital – what is better for patients and staff?

The online community

There is a huge online community for facilitators and practitioners who use or are interested in Open Space Technology, which includes a very active e-mail discussion list and a Google Group – no organisation or individual owns or controls this collective information and it truly is an ever-expanding knowledge-base. I’ve been part of the e-mail discussion list for just over a month and although I haven’t contributed anything, during my time spend ‘lurking’ I have learnt so much about situations where Open Space has been used successfully. Anyone can read the archives from this list, which date back almost 20 years so there is a huge amount of user-generated information there!

It’s fun

OpenSpace1As a facilitator, it’s great to look around the room and observe meaningful, organic and productive discussions which are taking place.

As a participant, it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to talk about things in an informal environment. Even with careful facilitation with lots of open questions asked it can still be difficult to get your point across if other participants have a louder voice than you. In an open space environment, participants can use the law of two feet to move away from unproductive discussions.

Have you ever used Open Space Technology in your engagement work? Have you ever attended a session? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

 – Sarah

How patients and members of the public are involved in appraising new medicines

I recently attended a meeting of the Patient and Public Interest Group (PAPIG), which is made up of patients, carers, patient advocates and third sector organisations. The group feeds their views via the All Wales Therapeutics and Toxicology Group (AWTTC), who provide professional, technical and administrative support to the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG). One of the roles of AWMSG is to advise Welsh Government whether new medicines should be available for use in NHS Wales.

New medicines are evaluated against currently available medicines to compare:

  • how well they work,
  • how cost-effective they are,
  • which patients they would benefit the most.

AWMSG is committed to involving patients, carers and members of the public when evaluating new medicines. During the appraisal process, the patient and carer view is critical because clinical data alone can’t quantify a patient experience – the patient needn’t be an expert in medicine in order to be involved in this process. Most of the questions asked of them during the appraisal process are related to their condition and how it affects their day to day life.

The patients and carers who contribute may not be scientifically or clinically trained, but they certainly hold invaluable knowledge about the impact that their condition has on their and their families’ lives. Other stakeholders such as pharmacists, academics, clinicians and industry representatives are also involved throughout the process. The patients and members of the public are found through patient advocates and third sector organisations that are represented on Patient and Public Interest Group. AWTTC also search for other patient groups in order to reach those who are not currently engaged in this process.

It’s worth noting that other bodies in the UK who appraise new medicines do not take responses from individual patients or members of the public, but AWMSG do.

Patients and members of the public who are involved are known as lay-members. The dictionary definition of a lay-member is “A person who does not have specialised or professional knowledge of a subject.”  So if this is what a lay-member doesn’t have, what about the skills that they do have?

At the meeting, we completed a participatory exercise to examine ‘what skills, experience, qualities and attributes does a lay member have?’

Here’s some of what we came up with:

What does a patient representative look like? Skills and experience

  • Getting the point across
  • Analytical ability
  • Good communicator
  • Good understanding and experience of health conditions
  • Good listener

Qualities and attributes

  • Confident
  • Sympathetic / empathetic
  • Caring
  • Being able to stay within their remit

Completing this visual exercise was very a thought-provoking and interesting way of looking at the lay-member role.

What participatory tools have you used to analyse the roles of citizens involved in your consultation process?


New methods, good practice and evaluation dice: Our May Participation Networks

This post was written by Dyfrig just before he left Participation Cymru.

We always try and practice what we preach – that participation helps to delivered services that better meet people’s needs. February’s networks gave us a lot of scope to consider how to take our participation networks forwards. Participants told us they wanted the opportunity to learn more innovative participatory methods and also the chance to reflect on case studies, as these meant people could see what’s working in other areas or fields.

Each network began with an icebreaker, which was chosen by and put into practice by Sarah Ball (who was unfortunately unavailable for the North Wales network as she was assisting members of the Citizen’s Panel for Social Services in Wales to give evidence at the Senedd), who will be taking my role and facilitating future networks.

The icebreaker was Human Bingo, where people had to network to find other participants who had the characteristics listed on the bingo sheet we gave them. The first one to find someone who matched each one of the characteristics won a prize! A pack of Milky Way Magic Stars, which were highly sought after! We then had a bit of a discussion about it – I had initially been a bit skeptical about some of the more specific and outlandish points (such as someone who spoke a language that wasn’t English or Welsh), but it was generally felt that these more unusual points helped to get conversations started.

Our associate trainer Justine Scorrer then led a session on participative techniques. We started with some icebreakers such as Put Your Distraction in the Corner and Lucky Dip. We then put some methods into practice such as Roman Voting, Building Teams, 12 Brains are Better than 1, and Yes and……..Yes, before asking people What Do You Really Think? Justine then asked participants to reflect on their learning through Train it Forward, which was used to evaluate this part of the session.

After a short break, we looked at specific case studies. Kath Cook gave a great case study in Gorseinon about how NPT Homes had involved young people. After our featured presenter dropped out last minute, Justine Scorrer stepped into the breach in North Wales to talk about another project NPT Homes where they had engaged with tenants to set outcomes for the housing service, and in the South East we heard from Brecon Beacons National Park

We then broke up into small groups to hear from participants about work that they are undertaking, good practice they have encountered or issues they are having. I heard about innovative work across the three networks, including how City and County of Swansea had involved young people in procurement, how Hywel Dda Health Board used podcasts in their engagement, and Menter Iaith Conwy engaging with people on a community centre in the county.

DiceLast but not least, we evaluated the network. We used a technique called Evaluation Dice to do this, where people rolled a dice and they fed back on an aspect of the network, depending on the number the dice landed on.

To go back to the opening paragraph, we always try and put feedback into action. After the first network we were told that the dice we were using was too small. Fortunately in the interim we had ordered a large, novelty inflatable dice, which made the exercise easier and probably more fun too!

The next regional networks will take place in October and the theme is accessible information. Although I will have left Participation Cymru by then, I hope to attend them to share good practice in my next role with the Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Exchange, so I hope to see you then!