The Challenges of Managing a Network: Patient Partner and Engagement Leader Perspectives

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Patient Partner Charles Lee and Engagement Leader Jami Brown recently attended the 2018 Networks Leadership Symposium in Vancouver, BC. This year, the symposium was themed “Networks as Balancing Acts: Managing Inherent Tensions?”. The purpose of this event was to encourage participants to explore a range of network tensions and the challenges involved in trying to manage them. In this blog post, Jami and Charles discuss their main takeaways from the symposium, as well as future opportunities for the Patient Voices Network (PVN).

What was most exciting to you about this event?

Charles: I had my eye on the Network Symposium given my interest in collaboration, social learning and knowledge management. The symposium was designed to encourage reflection, participation, and interaction with a diversity of views. This format allowed ample time to have conversations with both presenters and other attendees, and the workbook contained suggested questions and space to capture important thoughts. These features and the carefully crafted space let participants come together to discover, share and learn.

Jami: It has always fascinated me to see how the influence of a few people can be strengthened through the connection to a common cause. Aligning their thoughts into collective action can be a guiding light for influencing change. We can see this recently through movements such as #metoo or #marchforourlives. The nagging question I have is how we can apply lessons from these movements to develop strong, vibrant networks to influence changes in health care services. This two-day session brought together leaders from across Canada, who posed provocative questions, highlighted exciting research, and provided meaningful opportunities for conversations between participants about the world of networks.

What are the key takeaways from this conference?

Charles: One highlight for me was the emergence of themes around collaboration and authenticity, especially during the talk by Dr. Darrin Hicks from the University of Denver. He brought up important questions around inclusion and power. Other themes included network tensions, and the idea that nodes could become toxic to the network. These themes were revisited and used as points of reflection over two days of discussion.

I would like to have seen more patient partners in the room, as their ideas, viewpoints and diversity would have been the perfect complement to the conversations. Complex change happens out in the open.

Jami: As it turns out, much of the focus over the two days was on themes that could be applied to many successful engagement activities, whether with patients, with staff or in our own lives. These themes included:

  • Clarity of purpose: Why are you a network? What’s your network’s guiding mission or purpose statement? Successful networks are ones where everyone is rowing the boat the same way and clear on what they are trying to achieve.
  • Communication: Successful networks are transparent and communicate often. Their goal is to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Engaging with key players: This includes reaching out to those who may not be on board with your purpose but are key to being able to move forward with your goals. Build in time to identify these people.
  • Dealing with toxicity: It’s not unusual for there to be disagreement in a network. The key is to address it and develop common ground.
  • Transparency: Whether it’s a government-funded network, or an organic one, transparency is essential for creating trust.
  • Trust as the foundation: When there is a focus on building trust, there is a shared responsibility for outcomes. Trust feeds collaboration.

How would you apply your new knowledge to PVN?

 Charles: The symposium has led me to reflect on PVN. I’m curious to explore tensions and how they are separated and managed; how collaboration and authenticity is being defined through network activities; and how individual viewpoints have come to shape the collective identity of the network. It would be great to see PVN on a future Networks Leadership Symposium program, or involved as a member of the Symposium Planning Committee.

After two full days of learning, the Networks Leadership Symposium left us with many new concepts to explore and questions to consider. With its diverse participants and ideas, the symposium was able to serve as a microcosm of a network and encouraged attendees to explore a space that wouldn’t otherwise be available. Overall, I came away with the idea that reflection is critical, and within a networked setting, it is important to check in on intent, culture, relationships and activities, and explore meaning for others.

Jami: As Charles and I discussed PVN in the context of our learning, we saw a wealth of opportunities to use these strategies to enhance the current state and build a more powerful network. We think a good first step would be to increase patient partner leadership in the network through co-design of priorities and further skill development. The current energy nationally, provincially and locally about engaging patients provides the perfect backdrop for further development of PVN.

Thanks to Jami and Charles for their thoughts on this important topic! 

Written by Lauren McGuire-Wood

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