When I started at Involve last week I faced the challenge of trying to explain my new line of work to friends and family. I found myself talking about public participation and inclusion in decision-making only to be met with blank stares.
Previous roles, working on issues of criminal justice reform, children’s rights and climate change, had always been great conversation starters and I wondered what it was about the concept of citizen engagement that was so hard to grasp, or explain.
Eventually I’d ask “have you ever wished you could have had a say in a decision that affects you?” Not a hard concept to argue with, and one that elicited some lively responses.
When people don’t know they support something until it is explained to them it is clear that the right conversations haven’t been taking place. The desire to be considered, listened to and included are pretty fundamental to how we interact as humans and yet public participation is frequently seen as a vague policy process rather than an essential starting point.
I have to admit that I’ve shared some of these prejudices in the past. Cursory attempts at engagement, consultations that target the usual suspects and time-consuming processes that don’t lead to any change in practice have all diminished public engagement in many people’s eyes and it is easy to think “sounds like a nice idea, but…”
And yet that’s what drew me to Involve in the first place. Rather than repeating old ideas and ways of operating Involve works closely with policymakers and civil society to find innovative and meaningful ways for people to be brought to the centre of decision-making.
Take for example NHS Citizen, the project that I will be working on. Members of the public have been intimately involved throughout the design process to create a model of participation which fundamentally challenges how we view the role of citizens in the NHS and is truly inclusive and responsive.
I’m really excited to be joining as we enter the new build stage and NHS Citizen starts to become a reality. And now I’m better at explaining the project I hope that others will share in my excitement. A national healthcare system that listens and responds – what’s not to get excited about?
Photo credit: Julia Taylor