Friday, May 12, 2017

Bake My Day!

I recently discovered a new facilitation tool. Bread making. When in doubt, if you’ve got a tricky subject matter, or disparate group of people, bake a loaf.

As part of Marmalade 2017, Arts at the Old Fire Station, Camerados, and Mayday Trust hosted a workshop called Bread and Butter Services. This workshop intended to explore the value of relationships in addressing problems caused by isolation and loneliness. There were about 45 participants; a mixture of organisations providing services for homeless people, service commissioners, and people with lived experiences of homelessness and times of crisis.

You can watch a film about the whole day here.

OPM Group’s “Dialogue by Design” team supported the design of the event, and facilitated the day. Aside from the endless supply of fantastic(ally awful) puns that come with bread baking as a workshop activity, there are a host of reasons why it really works. Here are my top 5:

1) It gives people something to do other than talk to each other. This may seem an odd thing to say when often successful workshops are built on the quality of the conversations that take place. However, sitting across a table from someone else, aware that you need to reach some sort of outcome by a certain time of the day, can produce a very forced conversation. This is especially true when working with a group of people who may find it difficult to interact with each other. Giving people an activity to do together takes the pressure off and allows people to interact more naturally. The conversations that need to happen can still happen, but in a much more relaxed way.

2) It builds trust. Providing an activity that has nothing to do with the subject matter of the workshop encourages people to see each other as people – not as their job titles. Power dynamics and tensions in the room quickly diffuse as people come together over a simple, fun activity, in which everyone can easily participate. As a result, conversations become more human, more honest, and more productive.

3) It introduces a little chaos. Not everyone is comfortable with highly formal, organised processes. While other elements of the day were more standard design-workshop style activities, the bread-making ensured there was always an element of unpredictability running throughout. This was reassuring for those for whom a workshop or conference-style environment was new and intimidating, and conversely was stimulating for those who may have been dreading the standard flip-chart and post-it-note workshop routine.

4) It doesn’t take over the day. At first, I did think we may have bitten off more bap than we could chew by trying to get to the end of the day with solid workshop outputs AND edible bread products. However, bread baking can really be timed around the other activities, and actually doesn’t take too long. Our participants probably spent a total of an hour on bread-related activities, and the time that was spent doing that was invaluable in terms of ensuring points 1 and 2 above happened early on in the day.

5) You can eat the output of your workshop at the end. Once we had finished for the day we brought in the baked loaves, with some jam and cheese and drinks, and invited everyone to enjoy what they had made together. This provided not just a great metaphor for collaboration and building positive relationships, but also facilitated exactly that.

The event was well received by all participants. Seven subject-specific outcomes were developed during the day, as well as five key behaviours to embrace (for more information see the event report produced by the Arts at Old Fire Station and this blog post from Lankelly Chase)- so the bread was certainly not the only positive product of the event. For more information about Marmalade, please get in touch with Arts at the Old Fire Station – and check out the video wrap up for this year. For information about the process design for the workshop, (bread making and otherwise) contact

Anna McKeon
Dialogue by Design



Friday, May 1, 2015

Patients in control: ‘assume it’s possible’

Imagine walking into a GP surgery. For most of us, the first thing we normally face is a reception desk with overworked staff fielding phone calls in front of long queues of waiting patients.

What would happen if you took the reception desk away? Can you picture the waiting room as a place to talk to healthcare advisers, to find out about different wellbeing programmes without needing to necessarily even see a GP? The experience might feel something like going into an Apple Store and being greeted with a friendly smile and an iPad to search for options.

This is one of the latest ideas from the Bromley-by-Bow centre – reimagining the waiting room as a space to actively engage with patients, rather than a space where people are passively processed.

Operating in one of the most deprived areas of Tower Hamlets, BBBC is a pioneering community organisation – a vibrant hub with a café, arts workshops, offices, a nursery, garden, GP surgery and officers from the local housing association. The programmes that they run include helping people with long term conditions to take control of their lives, learn new skills, supporting people to find work and establishing social enterprises. The GP surgery (along with five others in the local area) refers patients to BBBC programmes through social prescribing.



Bromley-by-Bow Centre


The philosophy underpinning this approach is not necessarily new or unique – The Marmot Review into health inequalities emphasised a social understanding of health, and more recently Dr Atul Gawande dedicated one of his Reith lectures to the importance of medicine shifting from a focus on health to wellbeing. There is also evidence from social prescribing pilots elsewhere in the UK of the success of the approach. But the BBBC has put a wellbeing approach into practice and made it sustainable – based on an unswerving belief in the power of stronger, and more networked communities, and people’s capacity to achieve their goals and raise their aspirations.

OPM worked with the Bromley-by-Bow Centre (BBBC) to create a commissioning simulation as part of the South East CSU Person-Centred Care project. This aimed to explore the tools and knowledge that CCGs might need to confidently commission programmes and services that put patients in control.  Participants had to imagine they were at a Commissioning Challenge event for a fictional CCG – although not dissimilar to what some CCGs are already doing. At our event, commissioners, patients, local authority representatives, clinicians and voluntary sector providers had come together, to work up an idea on how to reduce Type 2 diabetes and heart disease through a living well programme.

Simulations always risk being slightly contrived, but the aim was to go beyond commissioners’ usual environments, draw inspiration from the setting and think about how to join the dots between different organisations in local areas – all of whom could have something to contribute to a wellbeing approach that puts patients in greater control of their health.

What did we learn?

Creating the space for CCG commissioners to come together with local organisations and patients is essential to understand what each has to offer. Patients in control programmes will rarely sit in isolation – they are part of a menu of options, and commissioners need to think across the local system.

We found many examples and case studies of programmes that could be described as putting patients in control. But commissioning these are not yet the norm.

Participants talked about the importance of CCGs being less risk averse – finding ways to challenge entrenched cultures, and influence others internally and externally. This is not an easy task in a time of tight budgets and long lists of priorities.

Within this context, being able to demonstrate impact and outcomes is vital – we have blogged about measuring impact in the context of commissioning earlier on in this blog series on person centred care.

Despite these challenges, overall, we found that there is real desire amongst CCGs to use the commissioning process to ensure that there are person centred approaches in place. As one participant in the simulation said: ‘The aim should be for a Bromley-By-Bow Centre in every local area…’

In the words of the Centre itself: ‘assume it’s possible’.


This is the third in a series of blogs to be published following the development of a set of online tools and resources by OPM in support of the person-centred care agenda for South East Commissioning Support Unit. The first is entitled: Person-centred care: putting patients in control and the second: Person-centred care: measuring impact.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Engagement with the Gypsy and Traveller Community in Milton Keynes


OPM conducted an engagement project on behalf of Milton Keynes Council, to explore issues faced by the Gypsy and Traveller community in Milton Keynes. The purpose of the engagement process was to create and understand a local definition of the Gypsy and Traveller community, to support the creation of an evidence base and needs assessment to inform council policy going forward, and, to build relationships between the council and the Gypsy and Traveller community in Milton Keynes.

What we did

We ran two half day workshops with the group, exploring issues including identity, community needs and council relationships. To recruit participants we used snowball sampling techniques to promote the project within a traditionally hard-to-reach group. Contact was made with both Irish Travellers and English Romany Gypsies and the workshops were attended by 24 Irish Travellers over 2 days.

The workshops were run in an informal manner to maximise engagement. We also avoided text heavy presentations in favour of image based hand-out materials, due to known literacy issues among some group members. Participants responded to this approach extremely well, and it led to a number of deep and interesting discussions. The images helped to focus our conversations on the most important issues. Participants gave positive feedback on the way that the workshops had been run.


MK image collage


During the course of the discussions, participants expressed an interest in taking part in more regular and direct engagement with the council in Milton Keynes. We helped broker conversations between participants and members of the council to identify practical ways in which this could be achieved.


We presented the main findings of the engagement process alongside best practice examples from around the country which had been identified by participants in the workshops to Milton Keynes Council at a special meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, resulting in concrete recommendations the council will be taking forward around housing, health, education and future engagement.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Locality Events for Achieving for Children, Richmond and Kingston Council


In September 2014 the Children and Families Act 2014 came into effect changing how services are provided for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

To support the introduction of these reforms, Achieving for Children, a newly set up community interest company providing Richmond’s and Kingston’s children’s services, commissioned OPM to deliver a series of engagement events.

These events brought together parents, school staff, and members of the Achieving for Children team to discuss the reforms and ask questions about the changes.

What we did

Seven events took place in school halls across the two boroughs throughout May and June 2014. A total of 269 people attended, of which over four fifths were parents. The format of the evenings combined presentations, small group discussions and question and answer sessions. This allowed participants to hear information about the planned changes, provide their feedback, and ask questions.

Although there was a lot of information to cover with many participants having detailed queries, facilitators were able to capture any comments and questions that were not heard during plenary sessions with the room as a whole. These questions were subsequently answered by Achieving for Children online, and fed into the final report. The sessions also used interactive voting to give a before and after picture of the level of knowledge held in the room.


Participant feedback suggested the locality events were successful in providing an opportunity for families and school staff to learn about the Children and Families Act 2014. Participants were keen to have further opportunities to learn more about the far reaching changes and felt that illustrative examples and FAQs may foster understanding. This is something that has been taken on board, with Richmond Council developing an FAQ section of their online guidance around SEND services.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Barnet Libraries Review Focus Groups


As part of an evidence-led review of its library service, Barnet Council commissioned OPM to run a series of focus groups to hear the views of a wide range of residents. The discussions focused on the current library service and what residents expect from library services in the future.

What we did

OPM ran nine focus groups during August 2014. We designed, facilitated and reported on the discussions. We captured the views of the general public as well as those from a range of protected groups, such as unemployed people and people with disabilities. Participants included both users and non-users of library services.

Participants discussed why people do or do not use libraries, what libraries mean to individuals and communities, their awareness and usage of library services and their thoughts on what works well and what doesn’t work well about the current service.

Participants also explored the future of library services, including their appetite for increased use of self-service/ technology in libraries and the need for support with this, the balance of service quality and local access and their appetite for getting more involved with the service as volunteers.

We reported on the views of different groups under each theme, as well as specific needs coming out of the discussions of the focus groups with older people, young people, people with mental health issues, people with learning disabilities, unemployed people, people on low income/living in areas of deprivation, and Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) residents.


The findings were used by the council to help develop future options for delivering library services in Barnet.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The role of Digital in Local Participation: Kai Rudat Memorial Breakfast Seminar

On the morning of Tuesday 25 November we are hosting a breakfast seminar on the role of digital in local participation, with speakers from across local government and the voluntary and community sector sharing their experiences of how they have used digital means to facilitate dialogue with citizens.

Digital presents an opportunity for local government and the voluntary and community sector to involve the public in decision making on their own terms, through channels that are less institutionally-focused and more citizen-driven. It offers the potential for citizens to engage and mobilise around local issues and local needs, opening up new virtual spaces for civil society where ideas can be proposed and discussed in an immediate and highly visible way.

Recent research however, has found that 11 million people in the UK still lack basic digital skills and capabilities. It’s hard to believe that in an age where the internet is at the heart of society, 21% of Britain’s population remains ‘digitally excluded’. This has a real social and human impact. But more people, networks and organisations having digital access will not be sufficient to re-energise local participation in itself. The digital approach sits within a wider engagement landscape and is just one of the tools which can cultivate active citizenship around local needs – both ‘online’ and ‘offline’.

During the event we will hear innovative case studies of how our speakers have engaged members of their respective constituencies and those sometimes considered ‘hard to reach’, often from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. These examples of good practice and experiences of key challenges and barriers to a digital approach will be open to questioning and discussion with our audience.

Dr Andy Williamson @andy_williamson will shape the discussion for us. He has extensive national experience in digital democracy, online campaigning and citizen engagement and will be raising themes such as:

What do local leaders need to do to engage effectively in digital dialogue with citizens? Are there any features particular to localities with high levels of digital engagement and what are these features? How do we measure success in digital engagement? Where does the digital approach sit within the wider engagement landscape? What platforms are used, and are theses the right ones? Where both online and offline engagement methods are combined, have these complemented each other or is there a tension between the two?

Our presenters will be:

Cllr Peter Fleming  @dmontfort – Leader of Sevenoaks Council, presenter to the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, discussing the changing nature of representation in a digital age.

Cllr Peter Lowe  @CllrPete  – Deputy Leader of Dudley Council, the first local authority in the UK to bring public meetings to Facebook.

Sam Mauger  @ageuklondon – Chief Executive of Age UK London, deliverers of the ‘MiCommunity’ intergenerational digital inclusion project.

Chris Martin  @mondomartin – Operations Director of Youthnet, whose online digital service ‘TheSite’ is accessed by 85,000 16–25 year olds each month.

Debbie Moss  @vinspired  – Public Affairs and Policy Manager of vInspired, who have focussed on how digital plays a role in young people’s participation in political issues across a number of programmes, particularly through the recently launched ‘Do Something Swing the Vote’ campaign.

There are a limited number of places still available for the event via our Eventbrite page. Registration opens from 8.30am.  So book up now or follow the debate using the hashtag #digitalparticipation on Twitter.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

There is a growing body of evidence about what works in integrating new migrants into society

Once again the Roma community have found themselves at the sharp end of a vigorous debate about the impact of mass immigration – and this time it’s taking place a little closer to home. Talk of a potential explosion of social discord if, as expected, a sizeable number of Roma arrive to live in the UK over the next two years has grown louder in recent weeks. High-profile politicians have predicted unrest and even violence in their constituencies if the Roma are allowed to settle in large numbers. Mixed in with well-made arguments about the pressures that new arrivals place on hard pressed public services and communities are far more scurrilous articles that suggest the writers have little understanding or empathy for this community. A recent piece in the Big Issue has tried to explode some of the myths that abound. Our own research into the needs of this Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in Kent has found that that this community faces huge economic, social, health related, and employment hardships.

Read the full article on the LSE Politics and Policy Blog.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Evaluation of CCE/NCB arts and cultural activities project with looked after children

OPM were commissioned by Creativity Culture and Education (CCE) to evaluate the impact of a programme of arts and cultural activities funded by CCE on three groups of looked after children. The project had been proposed by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) who also managed the project. The activities were delivered by three cultural organisations located in different parts of the UK:

The objective of this evaluation was to understand the impact and effectiveness of the various arts and cultural activities for the looked after children that participated. As well as understanding what impacts each of the projects is responsible for, the evaluation also focused on how each project created those impacts. Understanding how different elements of the projects have contributed to impacts identified is key to the sustainability of this line of work and will support the replication of projects beyond the three current settings.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

GDC Standards Research: ‘Harder to reach’ groups

This report presents the findings of research to inform the development of the General Dental Council’s (GDC) revised Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics. Focusing on the needs of a selection of ‘harder to reach’ patients and members of the public, it is intended to complement the GDC’s wider research and consultation programme on the revised standards.

This is the first piece of research commissioned by the GDC which focuses explicitly on exploring the views and experiences of ‘harder to reach’ groups.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Citizens’ Jury on information for women about breast screening

Informed Choice about Cancer Screening at King’s Health Partners commissioned the OPM to design and run a Citizens’ Jury to consider how to present the benefits and harms of breast screening generated by the Independent Review of Breast Screening in October 2012 in the information sent to women invited for screening.

The objectives of the jury were to seek recommendations on how to present information in the leaflet accompanying the invitation to attend breast screening, in particular: