What we learned from “Convening The Center”

Like our previous RWJF-funded project, “Opening Pathways”, where we took time to reflect at the end of the project and also openly shared our grant-end narrative report that we submit to RWJF, John Harlow and I wanted to also share the grant-end narrative report that we created for RWJF for the Convening The Center project. The questions are based on their template. If you have any other questions about the Convening The Center project (background about it here), please do ask!

  1. What was the goal of your project? Do you have measures of your performance?

Our original goal was to convene THE center of healthcare, which means patients and caregivers and those working to effect change in the healthcare system from the ‘outside’. We originally planned for an all-expenses paid in-person physical meeting, gathering people from within the U.S. at a central location that would be relatively easy (within 2-3 hours of flying) to travel to for most individual participants. We aimed to gather 25 participants.

However, we were awarded our grant in December 2019 and saw the impact of COVID-19 early on in our communities (especially PI Lewis’s community of Seattle, where COVID-19 was first detected in the US in late January/early February 2020), and knew we would need to postpone the physical meeting from 2020 to at least spring 2021 at the earliest. As months passed, we realized the pandemic would not in fact be ‘over’, and debated between cancelling the grant or converting to a digital experience. We did not want to lose the opportunity to gather this type of community, and chose to switch to a digital meeting.

We spent significant amounts of time considering how to achieve the goals of our meeting (bringing together 25 people who didn’t necessarily know each other or have shared goals, beyond a broad overarching goal of improving healthcare, and giving them space to connect without forcing an agenda upon them). We ultimately decided to make our digital meeting a three-phase “experience:”

  • The first phase would involve one-to-one conversations that would allow us to deeply listen and understand the perspectives of each participant. We would use a visual notetaker to illustrate their story and work as a way to reflect back what we heard, as well as offer the artwork as a gift to participants as a thank you for sharing their experiences with us. These conversations would then shape the following phases.
  • The second phase was small-group conversations of up to 8 people maximum, which we chose based on a combination of availability and ensuring a mixed group of participants where there wasn’t necessarily one person or personality that would dominate a group conversation. There was no agenda, but we used Google Slides with some introductory activities to help people introduce themselves or their work in a non-threatening way, and facilitated topics of conversation for the group to dive into. We had four total groups in phase 2. We again had visual notetaking to represent each group’s conversation.
  • The third phase was a single meeting with all 25 participants present. We chose a mix of small group breakouts, based on thematic topics that were discussed in phase 2 and voted upon by participants; as well as providing a small group mix based on people they had not yet met in previous groupings; and also small groups based on affinity groups that the PI/Co-PI selected based on what we learned of people’s work in phase 1-2. After the rounds of breakouts, the group returned together for a discussion with all 25 participants based on whatever topic they wished to discuss.

And, at the end of the project we had $9,000 USD remaining as a result of the pivot to a digital meeting. We decided to select nine individuals (through additional public recruitment) for “internet scholarships”, to continue to address the needs of this community. We successfully selected 9 recipients who each accepted the scholarship.

The project overall was a success.

  • We were able to convene 25 participants from around the world and allow them to discuss whatever topics were most important to them.
  • Because we went digital/virtual, we were able to facilitate participation from non-US based participants which greatly enriched the discussions.
  • Participants consistently communicated surprise and delight after each phase of the project regarding how well they felt listened to, respected, and treated during the experience.
  • We used a visual notetaker as a subcontractor, and her work was a critical factor of our success. Rebeka Ryvola is an experienced conference visual notetaker and artist, and although she had not previously worked in healthcare, her ability to listen to a deeply technical healthcare conversation and reflect high level themes from individual stories as well as across a diverse group of participants is unparalleled. Her art as an artifact of each discussion was critical for allowing participants to feel heard and respected, as well as providing a way to introduce themselves to each other within the cohort.
  • Rebeka’s art for the individuals in phase 1 as well as the Phase 2 and Phase 3 pieces of art is already being widely shared and touted.
  • All 9 selected recipients of the internet scholarships accepted them.
  1. Do you have any stories that capture the impact of this project?

    One of our goals was to pay people for their time. Patients and caregivers are seldom paid for their time and expertise, although they offer invaluable expertise and solutions for improving healthcare.One individual, a parent with their own health situation as well as a parent of children with their own health situations, had served on a hospital advisory committee and numerous projects. However, until Convening The Center, this individual had never been paid for their time or work. They mentioned this numerous times throughout the project, almost in disbelief, that they were being paid for the first time for this type of time commitment. It was almost embarrassing to us for being the first people to pay them for their time on a project, although we are grateful for the resources of this grant that enabled us to pay each participant for their time.

    In general, while we as PI/Co-PI know the power of bringing people together through social media and virtually, and we expected many of the participants (by virtue of finding this project) were already connected to numerous patient communities or organizations, we were surprised by the number of comments that participants made about the power of this convening. Two quotes stuck out to us, from an experienced patient advocate and from a newer patient advocate:

  • “Getting to meet you all, truly made me feel not alone in what often feels overwhelming and hard.”
  • [It was powerful] “bringing so many people from all corners together. I’m still building my confidence as a speaker and these opportunities to connect in a Round Robin sort of way was impactful, for someone who is still finding their voice as an advocate”(See Appendix at end for additional stories!)
  1. Did RWJF assist or hinder your project in any way?

RWJF assisted immensely by allowing us to submit a re-budget request and allowing us to shift to a virtual meeting while maintaining the existing level of budget. This was significant, because had we originally submitted a proposal for a virtual meeting, I think the grant would have been rejected/not awarded. Or, it may have been awarded with a significantly lower budget amount.

However, keeping the level of budget allowed us to spend significant amounts of time designing an inclusive, immersive digital experience that allowed us to bridge the participants’ physical worlds with our virtual meeting. We were able to do this by designing a “kit” to send to each participant, including international participants, with thoughtfully designed and curated items to aid them in their participation in this project. A typical virtual meeting would not have supported the budget for this type of ‘kit’ nor the PI/Co-PI’s increased time to design a thoughtful, effective, inclusive virtual meeting.

It also allowed us to facilitate the inclusion of participants from around the world. With a physical meeting, we were limited in budget to only US participants because of the travel cost variance with international travel. We were able to include participants from Costa Rica, Sweden, India, Pakistan, as well as across the US. We were also able to reach more diverse, under-resourced (including under-funded and under-included), and often minority perspective community members who maybe would not have been able to participate without it being virtual – even with us paying for their time and travel, because of their other family or community commitments.

Finally, because we went to a virtual experience and chose to do three ‘phases’ to build up to the final meeting, rather than a one-day in person meeting, we were able to get to know each participant and build trust over the phases that would not have happened by dropping 25 people into a room together for a physical meeting.

As a result, the permission and support with the same budget to shift to a virtual meeting greatly enriched the experience beyond what we would have originally predicted, and we hope RWJF considers this moving forward when thinking about facilitating similar gatherings of communities or projects.

Specifically within RWJF, our project manager Paul Tarini was helpful as always throughout the project. When we chose to pivot to a virtual meeting, we asked him for his perspective on thoughtful digital gatherings, and he shared not only his own experiences but also introduced us to a number of other RWJF grantees or collaborators to help us research best practices for online engagement for conferences and meetings. Many of the ideas we learned from collaborators such as New Public ended up shaping the phases of our work.

  1. If the project encountered internal or external challenges, how did they affect the project and how did you address them? Was there something RWJF could have done to assist you?

Our main challenges were the COVID-19 pandemic and the timing overall for our grant, because the primary goal was hosting a physical in-person meeting, Per the above section, RWJF assisted us by allowing us to re-budget from a physical in-person meeting to a digital gathering, while permitting the same overall level of budget. This was crucial for our success, because simply hosting a one-time 25 person meeting would not have achieved the goal without the additional design work that was done.

  1. Has your organization received funding from other foundations, corporations or government bodies for the project RWJF has been supporting?

No.

  1. When considering the design and implementation of this project, what lessons did you learn that might help other grantees implement similar work in this field?

We learned quite a lot regarding designing digital experiences that we hope other grantees will be able to leverage, and we hope RWJF will take this feedback into consideration and support other future projects that host virtual convenings.

For example, we learned that it takes more time to design impactful virtual gatherings that are not ‘just another zoom’. It takes design of the meeting itself with a clear ‘run of show’ or agenda, as well as clear pre-communication to participants about what to expect and how the meeting or gathering will go. In some cases, such as for our project, we also found it necessary to break the gathering up into multiple stages, to allow us to get to know participants and build trust to have the open, thoughtful discussions that emerged in phase 2 and 3. Had we simply plopped 25 people together in a virtual meeting as a one-off, it would not have been successful. We also were cognizant of the demand on participants in terms of overall time commitment – people don’t have the stamina for more than 2 hours on a video call – and the demands on internet bandwidth and personal energy for requesting a video call for that time period. We chose max 2 hours for each phase, and encouraged people to choose for themselves whether they had video on or off. We also designed activities to facilitate trust and comfort in the digital environment.

As a result, we learned that going from individual conversations to small group to larger conversations worked well for establishing safe spaces for open conversations. This also enabled relationships to begin growing throughout the project and not only after the ‘main event’ of phase 3. This facilitated the network within the cohort that began to grow as a community. You can’t force a community by dumping people in a place, but you can create a space and facilitate interactions that lead to relationship and network growth, and ultimately a community did evolve.

We also ended up developing a physical ‘kit’ to send to participants. It included a variety of useful items (such as a device cleaning cloth and a device stand, since many people are spending increased amounts of time on devices during the pandemic as well as we were asking them to spend more time on devices for this project). We also custom designed a few special items to honor people’s participation in the project. One of these items was a pack of playing cards that they could give to family or the people supporting them to help them be able to make the space for participating in the project. We also created a custom CTC keychain and provided several additional keychains that each participant could gift to others to honor other advocates, clinicians, and “doers” in the healthcare space who have helped them in their journey or that they want to honor their work. We hoped these keychains would also serve as a memento of their time in the project and be something they could physically hold in the future to give them strength, if they need it. This kit also included a whiteboard and markers, which we used in a variety of ways throughout the project including holding up to show something on screen, which we aimed to tie the offline/online experiences together. We didn’t want to send people “junk” “swag” that would end up in a landfill, and so we included things that we thought would be used by everyone in the cohort and had meaningful ties to the project.

Overall, one of our key design principles was to consistently signal that our gathering was and would be different from random meetings and conferences where people show up, say the same thing, and leave unchanged. We aimed to achieve this by doing everything different, from paying participants, to surprising people with their CTC ‘kit’, and to providing the visual note art as a gift after phase 1 in addition to doing visual notetaking from phase 2 and phase 3 as well. We consistently heard surprise and delight from participants beyond what you would typically receive from participants at a meeting or a conference, so we believe all of these elements of doing a gathering differently were successful, and that “surprise and delight” is an effective design principle for building relationships, creating spaces, and encouraging participation.

  1. What impact do you think the project has had to date?

The project was impactful in and of itself by successfully gathering 25 diverse individuals who have not previously had the opportunity to gather without an agenda forced upon them. Additionally, we were successful by paying each and every participant for their time. (Several individuals had never been paid before for their contributions to meetings, conferences, advisory committees, and/or research projects.)

In addition, it was successful for creating connections to enable network development and growth of relationships for people who don’t have traditional ‘professional development resources’ but benefit greatly from seeing other people ‘like them’ who are working to improve healthcare from the outside.

Through this project, people were able to surface similar challenges and experiences among individuals who felt isolated and ‘lonely’ in their work. They also were able to recognize shared challenges and solutions across disease areas, when they previously were not aware of resources. One example is a participant who shared research advocate training program materials from a specific cancer community, with other participants planning to leverage or mirror those resources in other disease spaces.

Additionally, participants began recognizing similarities across disease communities, with consistent gaps around areas such as transitioning out of pediatric to (young) adult care; lack of inclusivity with established advocacy organizations and online communities; and challenges with interacting with healthcare providers.

As PI/Co-PI we have also developed a novel framework for mapping the efforts of individuals by convening the center of health and healthcare. This is an innovative framework that assesses a spectrum of patient experiences based on what patients do when they go beyond navigating their personal or individual level of lived healthcare experiences and transition toward community or systemic level involvement. We have written up this framework and the results of thematic discussions from CTC in a research article, which we plan to submit to a peer-reviewed publication (and then share here soon!). We hope to inspire further work with this proposed model for facilitating improved matching between individuals and their current or future levels of interest and involvement with researchers, advocacy organizations, and other opportunities.

  1. What are post-grant plans for the project, if it does not conclude with the grant?

No specific plans, as the project technically concludes with the end of the grant.

However, many individuals who participated in this project are planning to work together in the future. For example, several post-meeting meetings have already happened among small groups within the cohort. One such meeting involved a discussion around patient-led research publications and strategy for utilizing blog posts and mainstream media compared to academic journals and traditional research conferences as methods of dissemination of patient community knowledge.

  1. With a perspective on the entire project, what were its most effective communications and advocacy approaches, its key publications, and its national/regional communications activities?

Our most effective communication was through social media. We publicized the project via a blog post shared across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It was successful as measured by receiving applications from >60% of individuals that the PI did not recognize the name. From within the selected cohort, there were ~75% unknown participants to the PI/Co-PI, which indicated success in outreach to new networks and communities.

We believe the most effective advocacy approach was empowering individual participants. This project was not about name recognition of the project itself, but we believe by surprising and delighting participants and giving them a positive experience in the project, the ripple effects of this project and RWJF’s funding will continue to be felt for years to come.

APPENDIX:

We shared a draft version of this report with participants of the Convening The Center Cohort, asking for any additional feedback and stories we should include. The following stories and comments were shared as a result:

  1. “I appreciate how you have effectively captured the essence of our Convening The Center experiences. Surprise and delight are positive reinforcements and pragmatic concepts that can catalyze trust leading to trustworthiness; and overall the gatherings were very beneficial in developing a community of individuals who had similar interests with advancing patient and caregiver engagement. I do believe we were each pleased with the concrete extras including; fair compensation, bio-‘art’ifacts, CTC shareable reminders and reflected stories that we each will carry forward. The three tiered model was an effective method allowing for Conveners to listen and learn from each other.”
  2. “I think you captured the essence of my personal experience (I can’t/won’t/shouldn’t speak to the experiences of the others). The only thing I have to say is a hearty thank you to RWJF for allowing this project to proceed virtually. It was an enriching experience, filled with far more diversity (as you pointed out).”
  3. “Many thanks to CTC & grantor RWJF for allowing the power of the pivot to take place!

    Do you have any stories that capture the impact of this project?

    I would add that this experience presented an opportunity to amplify voices of women of color. This group was accepting of my perspective and participating in it further ignited my passion to embrace my efforts as an advocate for an underserved patient population.

    What impact do you think the project has had to date?

    The project inspired me to challenge old ideas of self-doubt and redefine what advocacy means to me. Since the convening, I’ve been empowered to participate in projects that bring forth HPV, Cervical, & Gynecologic Cancer awareness for the Black-Hispanic population. This was a huge moment of growth and development for someone who struggles with social anxiety.

    When considering the design and implementation of this project, what lessons did you learn that might help other grantees implement similar work in this field

    I just wished to add, if others would like to duplicate a similar idea in a virtual capacity, it is important to have systems in place that allow for free flowing communication. This was my first time using Slack and it performed well in my opinion. The platform could be accessed on both pc or mobile device.

    I always felt connected & well-informed. The [Slack] app made it easy to contribute to the discussion with the group throughout the entire project. It also presented the opportunity for members to learn more about one another through introductions and our artwork; all prior to meeting each other virtually.”


A huge thank you to each participant who was a part of Convening The Center!

 

New Convening The Center Update – Help Us Find People Who Could Use Internet Scholarships to Do Good In Healthcare?

You may have previously read a blog post about Convening The Center, a RWJF-grant-funded project with the aim of bringing together 25 diverse individuals who are working to change healthcare in nontraditional ways. The main part of the CTC project has finished (more about that soon!), but we also realized that we had a little bit of budget left over from the project, and pitched to RWJF a new plan to use the remaining funds.

We want to give individuals working to make a difference in health and healthcare – and the health of their (online, geographic, or disease) communities – by providing 9 internet scholarships of $1,000 USD each. This is estimated to cover about a year’s worth of internet access for each individual. Individuals who are applying should be able to articulate their past, current, or future efforts as it relates to making a difference in health/care.

There are no strings attached to this ‘internet scholarship.’ You don’t have to do anything particular, or commit to any projects if you’re selected, other than write us a few (say, 250 or so) words within the next year to let us know what it meant to you to have your internet paid for. That’s it. This feedback (which can be given privately to us, or posted publicly – your call) is the only requirement for receiving these funds.

Can you help us find people who could use Internet scholarships to do good in healthcare?

Why are we doing this?

We learned (and re-learned) from working with the cohort from the original CTC project that internet access is something many of us take for granted, and that we shouldn’t. Many of us may assume, from a privileged position, that access to high speed internet is table stakes and that everyone has it, so when invited to take a seat at the table, anyone invited could get there. But that’s not the case.

This is relevant to the space we are working in with CTC, where we are seeking to support patients (people living with diseases) or carers who are working to improve healthcare and their communities, often from non-resourced settings. The ability to afford high-speed internet access therefore might be a barrier for enabling patients/carers to take a seat at the table, when invited – or from building their own table.

We realize that $9,000 won’t solve all the problems of equitable access and facilitate online participation of everyone who needs it. But it’s a start, and could be the thing that makes a difference for 9 individuals, and it’s the best use we can envision for this remaining budget.

So our ask, if you’re reading this:

  • Please consider nominating someone or applying (self-nominating) for the Convening The Center Internet Scholarship, by filling out this Google form by November 14.
  • Please share this blog post (https://bit.ly/CTC-Internet-Scholarships) with your online and offline networks, including with those you know in rural settings where internet cost may be a bigger barrier.

John and I are excited to facilitate this last use of our CTC project budget. We will close the nomination Google form on November 14; select recipients by the end of November; and aim to provide payments of the CTC Internet Scholarships (administered by Trailhead Institute, our fiscal sponsor) in early December (all 2021). Within the next year after we receive feedback from all participants, we will also (anonymously, at an aggregate level) share the feedback and what we learned from using the remaining budget funds for this purpose with the broader community, to help inform others who are looking to create similar initiatives in the future.

In summary:

  • Who: People who are looking to make a difference in health/care who might benefit from having a year’s worth of internet costs covered
  • What: Up to 9 individuals will receive $1,000 USD, estimated to cover a year’s worth of typical high speed internet plans.
  • How: fill out this Google form and nominate yourself or someone else. Multiple nominations are welcome, there is no limit.
  • When: Please apply by November 14, and recipients will be selected in November 2021.

Designing digital interactive activities that aren’t traditional icebreakers

A participant from Convening The Center recently emailed and asked what technology we had used for some of our interactive components within the phase 2 and 3 gatherings for the project. The short answer was “Google Slides” but there was a lot more that went into the choice of tech and the design of activities, so I ended up writing this blog post in case it was helpful to anyone else looking for ideas for interactive activities, new icebreakers for the digital era, etc.

Design context:

We held four small (8 people max) gatherings during “Phase 2” of CTC and one large (25 participants) gathering for “Phase 3”, and used Zoom as our videoconference platform of choice. But throughout the project, we knew we were bringing together random strangers to a meeting with no agenda (more about the project here, for background), and wanted to have ways to help people introduce themselves without relying on rote introductions that often fall back to name, title/organization (which often did not exist in this context!), or similar credentials.

We also had a few activities during the meeting where we wanted people to interact, and so the “icebreakers” (so to speak) were a low-stress way to introduce people to the types of activities we’d repeat later in the meeting.

Technology choice:

I’ve seen people use Jamboard (made by Google) for this purpose (icebreakers or introductory activities), and it was one that came to mind. However, I’ve been a participant on a Jamboard for a different type of meeting, and there are a few problems with it. There’s a limit to the number of participants; it requires participants to create the item they want to put on the board (e.g. figure out how to add a sticky note), and the examples I’ve seen content-wise ended up using it in a very binary way. That in some cases was due to the people designing the activity (more on content design, below), but given that we wanted to also use Google Slides to display information to participants and also enable notetaking in the same location, it also became easy to replicate the basic functionality in Google Slides instead. (PS – this article was helpful for comparing pros/cons of Jamboard and Google Slides.)

Content choices:

The “icebreakers” we chose served a few purposes. One, as mentioned above, was familiarizing people with the platform so we could use it for meeting-related activities. The other was the point of traditional icebreakers, which is to help everyone feel comfortable and also enable people to introduce themselves. That being said, most of the time introductions rely on credentials, and this was specifically a credential-less or non-credential-focused gathering, so we brainstormed quite a bit to think of what type of activities would allow people to get comfortable interacting with Google Slides and also introduce themselves in non-stressful ways.

The first activity we did for the small groups was a world map image and asked people to drag and drop their image to “if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?”. (I had asked all participants to send some kind of image in advance, and if they didn’t, supplied an image and told them what it was during the meeting.) I had the images lined up to the side of the map, and in this screenshot you can see the before and after from one of the groups where they dragged and dropped their images.

Visual of a world map with images representing individuals and different places they want to be in the world

The second activity was a slide where we asked everyone to type “one boring or uninteresting fact about themselves”. Again, this was a push back against traditional activities of “introduce yourself by credentials/past work” that feels performative and competitive. I had everyone’s names listed on the slide, so each could type in their fact. It ended up being a really fun discussion and we got to see people’s personalities early on! In some cases, we had people drop in images (see screenshot of example) when there was cross-cultural confusion about the name of something, such as the name of a vegetable that varies worldwide! (In this case, it was okra!)

List of people's names and a boring fact about themselves

We also did the same type of “type in” activity for “Ask me about my expertise in..” and asked people to share an expertise they have personally, or professionally. This is the closest we got to ‘traditional’ introductions but instead of being about titles and organizations it was about expertise in activities.

Finally, we did the activity most related to our meeting that I had wanted people to be comfortable with dragging and dropping their image for. We had a slide, again with everyone’s image present, and a variety of types of activities listed. We queried participants about “where do you spend most of your time now?”. Participants dragged and dropped their images accordingly. In some cases, they duplicated their image (right click, duplicate in Google Slides) to put themselves in multiple categories. We also had an “other” category listed where people could add additional core activities.

Example of slide activity where people drag their image to portray activities they're doing now and want to do in the future

Then, we had another slide asking where do they want to spend most of their time in the future? The point of this was to be able to switch back and forth between each slide and visualize the changes for group members – and also so they could see what types of activities their fellow participants might have experience in.

Some of these activities are similar to what you might do in person at meetings by “dot voting” on topics. This type of slide is a way to achieve the same type of interactivity digitally.

Facilitating or moderating these types of interactive activities

In addition to choosing and designing these activities, I also feel that moderating or facilitating these activities played a big role in the success of them for this project.

As I had mentioned in the technology choice section,  I’ve previously been a participant in other meeting-driven activities (using Jamboard or other tech) where the questions/activities were binary and unrelated to the meeting. Questions such as “are you a dog or cat person? Pick one.” or “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” are binary, and in some cases a meeting facilitator may fall into the trap of then ascribing characteristics to participants based on their response. In a meeting where you’re trying to use these activities to create a comfortable environment for participation amongst virtual strangers…that can backfire and actually cause people to shut down and limit participation in the meeting following those introductory activities.

As a result of having been on the receiving end of that experience, I really wanted to design activities with relevance to our meeting (both in terms of technology used and the content) as well as enough flexibility to support whatever level of involvement people wanted to do. That included being prepared to move people’s images or type in for them, especially if they were on the road and not able to sit stationary and use google slides. (We had recommended people be stationary for this meeting, but knew it wasn’t always possible, and were prepared to still help them verbally direct us to move their image, type in their fact, etc. This also can be very important for people with vision impairment as well, so be prepared to assist people in completing the activities for whatever reason, and also to verbally describe what is going on the slides/boards as people move things or type in their facts. This can aid those with vision impairment and also those who are on the go and can’t look at a screen during the meeting for whatever reason.)

One other reason we used Google Slides is so we’d end up with a slide for each breakout group to be able to take notes, and a “parking lot” slide at the end of the deck for people to add questions or comments they wanted to bring back up in the main group or moving forward in future discussions. Because people already had the Google Slide deck open for the activity, it was easy for them to scroll down and be in the notetaking slide for their breakout group (we colored the background of the slides, and told people they were in the purple, blue, green, etc. slides to make it easier to jump into the right slide).

One other note regarding facilitation with Zoom + Google Slides is that the chat feature in Zoom doesn’t show previous chat to people who join the Zoom meeting after that message is sent. So if you want to use Zoom chat to share the Google Slides link, have your link saved elsewhere and assign someone to copy and paste that message into the chat frequently, so all participants have access and can open the URL as they join the meeting. (This also includes if someone leaves and re-enters the meeting: you may need to re-post the link yet again into chat.)

TLDR, we used Google Slides to facilitate meeting note taking, digital “dot voting” and other interactive icebreaker activities alongside Zoom.

Update – 2021 Convening The Center!

2020 did not go exactly as planned, and that includes Convening the Center (see original announcement/plan here), which we had intended to be an awesome, in-person gathering of individuals who are new or have previous experience working to improve healthcare through advocacy, innovation, design, research, entrepreneurship, or some other category of “doing” and “fixing” problems they see for themselves and their community. But, as an early “I see COVID-19 is going to be a problem” person (see this post Scott and I posted March 7 begging people to stay home), by early February I was warning my co-PI and RWJF contacts that we would likely be postponing Convening the Center, and by May that was pretty clear. So we decided to request (and received) an extension on our grant from RWJF to enable us to push the grant into 2021…and ultimately, ::waves hand at everything still going on:: decided to shift to an all-virtual experience.

I’ll be honest – I was a little disappointed! But now, after several more months of work with John (Harlow, my Co-PI), I’m now very excited about the opportunities an all-virtual experience for Convening the Center will bring. First and foremost, although we planned to pay participants for ALL travel costs, hotel, food, AND for their time, I knew there would likely be people who would still not be able to travel to participate. I am hoping with a virtual experience (where we still pay people for their time!), the reduced time commitment to participate will enable those people to potentially participate.

Secondly, we’ve been thinking quite a bit about the design of virtual meetings and gatherings and have some ideas up our sleeve (which we’ll share as we finish developing them!) about how to achieve the goals of our gathering, online, without triggering video conference fatigue. If you’ve had any fantastic virtual experiences in 2020 (or ever), please let us know what they were, and what you loved (or what to avoid!), so that we can draw on as many inputs as possible to design this virtual experience.

Here’s what Convening the Center will now look like:

  • Starting now: recruitment. We are looking to solicit interest from individuals who are new or have some experience working to change or improve health, healthcare, communities, etc. If that’s you, please self-nominate yourself here, and/or please also consider sharing this with your communities or a friend from another community!
  • January: we will reach out to nominees with another short form to gather a bit more information to help us create the cohort.
  • Early February: we will notify selected participants.
  • February: Phase 1 (2 hours scheduled time commitment from participants, plus some asynchronous opportunities)
  • April: Phase 2 (2-4 hour schedule time commitment from participants, plus some asynchronous opportunities)
  • June: Phase 3 (2-4 hour scheduled time commitment from participants, plus some asynchronous opportunities)

We’ll be sharing more in the future about what the “phases” look like, and this virtual format will allow us to also invite participation from a broader group beyond the original cohort of participants. Stay tuned!

Again, here is the nomination link you can self-nominate or nominate others at. Thanks!

Nominate someone you know for Convening The Center!

Convening The Center

(Update: see the latest about Convening the Center in 2021 here)

Patients and care partners who want to make a difference in health care are advised to give up our day jobs, create non-profits, or change previously identified career paths to “go work for a healthcare organization.” These formal constructs are not the only ways to achieve change or make a difference.

Those who choose to work outside of traditional pathways often end up with fewer resources and fewer opportunities (not just financial, but also the opportunity of collaborations and connections).

Thinking about these gaps in resources and opportunities has been swimming around my head since the Convening we hosted as part of the Opening Pathways project (more about it here). As a project, we learned so much from the conversations we had when we were able to just bring people together.

The feedback we received from non-traditional healthcare stakeholders was one of the most surprising results of the Convening. These are people who are not necessarily working professionally in healthcare, but doing a lot of work in the nontraditional spaces. In the year since the Convening we’ve repeatedly heard how valuable it was for this group to come together, in person, to connect with others with a similar drive and passion.

Fast forward to early last year. My friend Liz Salmi (of #BTSM) reached out Alicia Staley (of #BCSM) and me to share about an exciting, random conversation and brainstorm she had with Steve Downs from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).  The idea: What if there was an ‘unconference’ to bring together more of these individuals–those working outside of traditional pathways–to learn and collaborate, without the agenda driven by an existing organization, association, established conference, or company?

This concept sounded great to me! It feels like a next logical step to take with Opening Pathways especially if we pair it with a few structured activities similar to what we did at the Convening to create more equitable participation opportunities for patients and care partners to help people feel comfortable engaging together in person.

When Liz said she didn’t have time to lead this project I volunteered to take it on. Liz and Alicia agreed and expressed their full support.

I put together a proposal in partnership with John Harlow who also worked on Opening Pathways, and was instrumental in designing the original Convening. We submitted a proposal to RWJF, did a few rounds of feedback and discussion about the proposal, waited a bit, and found out right around the new year that the proposal was accepted and had been awarded funding! Yay!

We’re calling this project “Convening The Center.” This both picks up on the name of the previous Convening, and emphasizes the people/patients as the center on which all of health and healthcare should be focused.

Convening The Center: What if there was a gathering for individuals working outside of traditional healthcare pathways?

What this means:

  • We have funding to put together a ~2 day meeting for ~25 individuals who are doing both the possible and the impossible to change and improve healthcare.
  • The funding includes travel (ground transportation, flights), lodging (hotel), food during the event, and an honorarium for the participants’ time.
  • The meeting was originally scheduled to be sometime in 2020 (August or September was goal; COVID-19 disrupted this planning, TBD for new dates but looking at 2021 instead).

Who will be involved:

Convening The Center project team:

  • Dana Lewis (me), Principal Investigator (PI)
  • John Harlow, Co-Principal Investigator (PI)
  • Convening Advisors: Liz Salmi, Alicia Staley, Nick Dawson

Who can participate?:

  • TBD! Here’s why and how:

Why must we convene the Center?

If you’re reading this, you likely have your own story of doing the “impossible” — you’ve faced barriers and obstacles, but have found a way to innovate, overcome, or steer around. There are a LOT of people doing this “work,” whether it’s their professional work, their personal passion, or a necessity driving them to improve things for themselves or a loved one, building and supporting their communities as unfunded labors of love. But we also know that geography, socioeconomic background, and financial resources, among other reasons, commonly leave some of these individuals siloed, or prevent them and their work from reaching its full potential.

We know there is a lack of connectedness among individual innovators, researchers, and advocates who are not employed in the traditional healthcare system. While there have been a handful of attempts to convene patient advocates to share ideas and connect with opportunities and resources, none have been devoted solely to this type of community. Existing attempts have included ad-hoc social media groups and inclusion at existing conferences and meetings. Both face serious limitations.

Social media is limited by one’s ability to stumble across a network, while conferences or meetings—which are traditionally held by legacy institutions—usually include people who are already “in” a network that invites them to such physical events, and are thus already “doing” the work, but these do not do enough to encourage new participants. Additionally, conferences and meetings prioritize the hosting organization’s agenda rather than facilitating the development of non-traditional innovators. Given the limitations of social media and existing conferences, the status quo leads new “doers” to (unknowingly and repeatedly) duplicate the work of others and fail to effectively share knowledge and scale tools that could help others. Overall, there are not a lot of resources for people who do this outside of a professional job.

Therefore, we aim to do something different to identify participants for this meeting.

Rather than just invite the same individuals who have the resources to participate, or have already succeeded somewhat, even in the face of all the existing barriers, we plan to solicit attendees from a mix of health communities, from a range of experiences, with diverse demographics, including those who are newly working in this space, as well as experienced individuals with established credibility.

How will we reach all of these different communities and individuals? This is where we need your help!

We have a two-phase recruitment process to identify potential attendees.

Phase 1 (right now)

  • Fill out this form! 
    • We’d love for you to nominate yourself, if you’re potentially interested in participating.
    • But a crucial part of this is to ALSO nominate someone else – a friend or someone you know who may not otherwise hear about this opportunity.
  • We’d also love for you to help share this form widely and help us reach people in different networks. If you TikTok, post it on TikTok. If you’re on LinkedIn, share it on your LinkedIn or a group. If you’re part of an offline support group, talk about it there. Or reach out and share the link with your advocacy organization and encourage them to nominate other advocates and ‘doers’ that they know.

Nominate someone you know for Convening The Center!
Phase 2 (in a few weeks):

  • Based on the first wave of nominated folks, we’ll work to make sure we’re striking the balance between people who are longer-timers in this space and people who are newly emerging in this type of work.
  • We’ll reach out to a selection of folks identified in phase 1 and ask for a little bit more information to help determine the final cohort of participants for the in-person meeting. (Goal: ~25 participants).

We’ve learned through Opening Pathways and other work in this space that more — and perhaps different — resources are needed for “doers” in healthcare who are not traditionally employed in this space.

We don’t expect the outcome of this project to solve all problems or identify a one-size-fits-all resource. However, we do hope to help manifest a new, more inclusive, and more effective vision for changing the future of healthcare.

The future we seek augments the existing health efforts of legacy institutions by coordinating the work of individual innovators, researchers, and advocates in a more inclusive community of practice. We do not think this will solve all problems around under-representation and the static network of those already “in” and doing this work, but it’s an important step and one we’re happy to be able to take.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • Who is funding this project? How is it being funded? What organization are you partnering with?Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is a great partner, and I’m proud that they’re willing to fund this meeting. Paul Tarini is our project officer at RWJF. While my co-PI is based at an academic institution, we decided to experiment with using a fiscal sponsorship organization to manage the grant. We identified and selected Trailhead Institute, a 501(c)(3) organization that works with a variety of projects and organizations in the public health space. I’ll write more about this in the future, but so far they have been GREAT administrative partners and have been seamless to work with during the application and kickoff of the grant process. Also, we learned from the past Convening that it would be beneficial to directly fund a meeting planner to do logistics work (rather than me), so we included in our budget a meeting planner that is coming from Trailhead to help with administrative and logistics planning for the meeting. Yay!
  • How will you select participants?Our goal is to gain a diverse slate of people, including diversity in socioeconomic background, ethnicity, gender, education, area of healthcare, type of work, how long they have been doing the work, etc. Before finalizing the list of participants we will collect information from potential participants and make sure they’d be interested and available to participate once the date is selected.
  • What are the outputs?We anticipate one primary output from this meeting to be relationships among attendees. After observing the strength and resilience generated for individuals by participating in our Opening Pathways convening, we see relationships as a powerful support for the efforts of healthcare “doers”. By relationships, we do not mean a community of 25. Community building is long-term labor-intensive work. Rather, we hope that some attendees will find common ground and collaborate in various ways after Convening the Center.We do not expect to produce a particular report or website from this work. However, we do expect to write blog posts about our process of developing the meeting, the experience of facilitating the meeting, and the insights derived from conversations at the meeting. We anticipate those insights to be about the wants and needs of healthcare doers, what they wish they had when they started out, what they’d tell their younger selves, and how to refine and scale various healthcare improvement efforts.
  • What about COVID-19?While we have been planning this meeting for August or September 2020, we are aware that currently (in March 2020) there is a lot of uncertainty about how COVID-19 may impact meetings after the next few months. While we are beginning virtual recruitment of participants, we will work with public health officials to get guidance on whether August/September still makes sense, and if not, work with both participants and public health to determine a suitable alternative timeline for holding the meeting. If that’s not feasible, we may find ways to meet this goal virtually.Update: Obviously, it does not make sense to convene the center physically for an in-person meeting in 2020. We are aiming for a gathering – in-person if safe and appropriate, otherwise adapting to virtual – in 2021. We’ll keep everyone posted!

(Update: see the latest about Convening the Center in 2021 here)