September is well past the holiday season for most people, but we are both just about to go on ours (separately – we see plenty of each other at work!). We both enjoy holidays as it is a chance to relax, a change of scenery, explore new places, try out new things. It’s about recreation. But what do we mean by recreation?
Recreation is about re-creating, about being creative, in whatever way suits us. It is the key to getting refreshed, revitalised and energised. Creativity is a fundamental part of being human and we should take every opportunity to engage in activities that will promote that side of our lives. It is about looking at the world with fresh eyes, whether looking at a piece of art in a gallery, reading a good book, listening to the birds sing, spending time with friends and family, smelling the new mown grass…or making your surroundings look lovely!
Public Health as a function recognises the importance of creativity and its contribution to wellbeing.
Not only do we seek to promote it in other people, we are looking at how we can promote creativity in all our work. One example is around how we engage with communities and the general public. There is lots of talk about community engagement at the moment, but are we any good at it? Of course we are interested in engaging about the health and wellbeing of the population whether that is in regard to; promoting healthy behavior, working with colleagues to develop new services, establish positive environments for people. However, what we need to know is whether or not we are really doing that in an effective way?
The questions we need to ask are:
Will a questionnaire, received by email really prompt the kind of engagement that we are looking for? Will a notice in the local paper help us access the people that we really need to talk to? We all lead busy lives , yet we know that talking and exploring ideas will lead to creativity and finding solutions that we may not have found through simply asking a set of questions via the more obvious channels. This is not to say that these approaches are not applicable, but they must not be the only approach. If this is all we do, people may simply disengage. We need to capture the imagination and passion to achieve the sort of engagement which will help to inform our decisions.
We have been talking about what it would feel like if someone was trying to engage with us. We wondered about venue…maybe a comfortable coffee shop, or a trendy wine bar? What about being offered interesting food to make it worth our while? Or a voucher as a token of thanks for our time? None of these are likely in these times of austerity, but maybe we need to start using our creativity to make the whole process more enjoyable.
We have been developing skills across the region in Participatory Appraisal. This is a way of engaging local people using lots of different techniques, such as focus groups, or fun activities which allow conversations to take place as you do something (one of the most enjoyable was going on a boat trip – a captive audience!). Most people enjoy being asked their views, probably because they feel valued, and most people are clear about what would be best for their health, wellbeing and happiness. Given the time, space and the right environment we all have the ability to be creative about solutions for ourselves and others.
Sharing views, then finding solutions and ways of changing how we work to provide the best results are what true engagement is about. Not just being asked what we want, and information being taken away to have something ‘done’ with it. Real engagement might be a longer route, but it is the way of truly empowering people to be part of the decision making process and ultimately supporting communities to take on responsibilities, using the strengths within those individuals and communities, to improve health and wellbeing.
All too often we are working in situations when we feel the need to be logical, be analytical, instead of being creative. We have both experienced the reaction from colleagues when telling them that we have been engaging with communities and spent time drawing images to symbolise a certain situation, but then when they saw how it added value to the words, or the description they began to understand what we were doing and why. So, we would encourage you to welcome creative ideas, whenever they are expressed. It is amazing to see what solutions can be found when you explore that seemingly wacky idea, and at the very least they will keep us entertained. After all, even if there is no obvious solution, a laugh on the way will help make us all feel better. Those of you reading this short piece who are lucky enough to find they can express their creativity in work should count themselves blessed. For those who aren’t, well, maybe it is about finding those little moments that provide an opportunity to inject a new insight or idea into the workplace when possible. And going out at lunchtime to smell the new mown grass and watch the clouds go by may help.
This is a developing area and we have included the couple of links below which may be of interest
Health and Social Care Integration and the development of the new hospital offer opportunities for being creative in finding solutions to new challenges and ways of working.
We began this blog by stating we were each going off on our respective holidays and whilst these will be different, we will both be making sure that we find every opportunity to be creative and come back to work refreshed.
Catherine Mackereth and Michele McCoy are Consultants in Public Health at NHS Dumfries and Galloway