Healthcare is one of Delaney + Associates’ areas of expertise, and patient engagement – and increasing patient engagement – across Canada is a major focus of our consulting work. Over the years, we have been involved in a great number of projects planning, implementing, and reporting on patient engagement, as well as building patient engagement into healthcare system decision-making.
During that time, we have witnessed and reported on a great number of successful projects that have engaged patients effectively and have made system-wide impacts. Many of these projects and their stories have been inspiring, mind-shifting, as well as system-shifting – but there is one thing common to many of the stories that causes us concern.
We notice that even though patients were key participants in these projects – often crucial decision-makers involved in shaping the direction of the conversation and project objectives – when asked about results, outcomes, or impacts of those same projects, patients were uncertain. They were uncertain not because they didn’t know what the outcomes might have been or should have been, but simply because they really didn’t know – in the absence of final reporting back to them.
While other project members or participants might have been in the loop in terms of project outcomes, and might have been able to get more information, patients were not in the know – in terms of how the projects evolved, whether they resulted in positive outcomes, and whether their input made a difference.
Carefully planned, well-implemented projects with positive results can then be said to be missing a major piece and an important step in the engagement process. Key stakeholders are not getting information on whether their input was heard, whether it was incorporated into any of the aspects of the project, and whether their voices made a difference. The loop is not being closed and patients are left questioning the value of their input.
This situation makes the case to re-think, review and share the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Core Values, and more specifically Core Value 7: to “communicate to participants how their input affected the decision.”
Here are some of the things we do at D+A to report back to stakeholders, including patients:
- Formal Reports: When planned and built into an engagement process, all segments of the engagement are generally summarized in the form of an official report. Reports are, usually, something that our engagement clients want and expect, and a report is typically the final deliverable produced for a project.
- Updates on a Public Website: If a report is not a part of the engagement plan, but the project has a designated website, updates can be posted on a public project website, and stakeholders are invited to visit the site for news, updates and key information.
- One-Pager: Often times, the team leading the project will not have information or updates to share immediately after the engagement. In such cases, sending out a one-page summary of the input received and how this input will be used is all that can be produced, and possibly all that is needed. This can be sufficient to close the loop in the short term.
- An Infographic: If reporting back to an audience that might not have an appreciation for long, detailed reports, an infographic can effectively summarize the engagement process, the highlights from the input received, and the next steps. An infographic is easy to share and visually appealing, and can in a few words acknowledge the time and feedback received from stakeholders.
- Media Release: When a project attracts a great deal of attention, is a source of discontent in a community, and/or could potentially cause outrage, a media release with detailed information on how stakeholder input will be used, is often most appropriate. A media release is a formal approach to reporting back to stakeholders, and can ensure the wider community receives and sees the information about the project.
- Newspaper Ads: Depending on the demographics and preferences of stakeholders involved in a project, a newspaper ad could also be an appropriate way of reporting back to stakeholders. A newspaper ad can ensure that people who rely on newsprint as the main source of information for community news and updates, receive the report-back from a community engagement process.
- Social Media: Again, depending on the audience, social media can be an effective way to send updates – if the stakeholder audience is on the same social media platforms. With the majority of projects, social media can be one of the avenues to report back, though not the one and only reporting mechanism. Stakeholders engaged in a project probably will not all use the same social media platform, and the communication preferences of stakeholders need to be determined in the planning stages of the project.
In summary, reporting back is, generally, a simple courtesy of thanking participants for taking the time to provide input, and a way of communicating two key things: 1. how their input will be used, and 2. what is the next step in the process.
Beyond being a courtesy, closing the loop helps build positive relationships with stakeholders, and it fulfills the important promise that you will keep them informed.
For these reasons, any standard mode of communication can be used as long as it seeks to reach the desired audience and, therefore, goes to where the targeted audience is. This can include the use of emails, posters, and social media, for example.
I would also argue that in addition to understanding the engagement process, participants should also understand the big picture, and how their input overall made a difference. It might take a fair bit of time and effort to deliver this kind of feedback to participants, but it serves decision-makers and engagement specialists well, as it is crucial for securing future participation in engagement projects and for preventing engagement fatigue.
To quote a youth patient who is sitting on a number of committees and is frequently involved in patient engagements, “to know that my input has made a difference inspires me to be more involved.”
We’d like to hear from you. Have you had a similar experience in the past? Have you participated in an engagement where there was no report-back? And if so, what are your thoughts about it?