Hello, I’m Laura and I look after the Voice Exchange project.
The project was commissioned by Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) to explore ideas about the future of mental health services in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. When we launched the project back in January, I have to admit I was a bit worried about whether or not meaningful conversations could take place between myself and people I had never actually met ‘in real life’.
In the past I have gathered lived experience in lots of ways…through focus groups, interviews, telephone calls and surveys. Yet I have always felt the best way to listen is in person, physically face-to-face. On one level, I still do believe this, but the pandemic has meant this has not been possible. The world has changed a lot since this time last year, so to run this project I have had to adapt as well.
So, how do you start conversations in a zoom-led world? More importantly, how do keep that conversation flowing, supporting people to be confident and honest despite having to share their voice from behind a computer screen?
The answer is, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Listening, really listening, takes time and trust. I wasn’t sure this could be built up during zoom meetings, but I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised working with the Voice Exchange members.
The members meet every month to discuss inpatient and outpatient mental health services. Each meeting is on zoom and lasts about two hours. But we have also started communicating outside of these meetings, and I think that has helped develop stronger relationships.
Members have an e-newsletter which they receive once a month and we have coffee mornings, which are informal drop-in sessions for members to chat about non-project related topics. We have a Group Agreement, which gives us ground rules for the way we interact with one another – and engaging in a zoom-led world means we have had to consider things which wouldn’t apply in a face-to-face situation. For example, we have a rule about no smoking or vaping in zoom meetings. We also agreed that we need regular breaks because using video conferencing can be very tiring, even though you are not moving about or travelling to a venue.
Since we launched the Voice Exchange, I am learning to listen in new ways. I am tuning into tone of voice more, especially if someone has their camera turned off on zoom. I am beginning to appreciate that conversations are different via zoom, but that is OK.
Lived experience can still be collected in a meaningful way if everyone involved is committed to making it work. This is what I love about the Voice Exchange – everyone is dedicated to shaping the future of mental health services and is determined to make the project work, even if that has to be via zoom!
I hope that by the summer, I can actually meet people face-to-face again and bring together the members of the Voice Exchange. Until then, I am not too proud to admit that I have been proved wrong – conversations can be started in a zoom-led world and they can keep going with the support of everyone involved. Thank you to everyone making it possible so far.
You can find out more information about the Voice Exchange here.
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