Not another engagement forumIt is very tempting to pick up a flyer promoting an engagement forum and think ‘not another one’. But there is an argument for doing much more on engagement because I think we are actually getting worse at it.

Many organisations are rightly proud of anything approaching around 40 per cent email take up, saying they can communicate with nearly half of their members wherever they want and at little, or no cost. Unfortunately, the reality is they would be just as effective if they simply did nothing at all. Email open rates are low, there is no visibility around who has or has not opened the email and therefore there is little or no intelligence around the effectiveness of any given email. Worse still, email is fast becoming the only way organisations engage, dropping the postal route completely in some cases.
 
There are inevitably those organisations that pay lip service to engagement simply to satisfy the regulator. Some argue that in the past there has been a lack of focus from Monitor (now NHS Improvement) in this area. The same cannot be said of NHS Improvement today which has called provider memberships as a significant but underused resource. Speaking at the NHS Confederation Conference 2016 Jim Mackey, chief executive said it is wrong to ignore a group of people who have proactively signed up as members of their local trust.

There is of course the financial pressure being heaped on NHS trusts which is forcing many trusts to look at the most effective use of their communication and engagement budget, but they shouldn't be afraid of challenging those who try to take money out of the low risk/ low value areas.
 
Foundation Trusts have been around for over 12 years now. To begin with the size of membership was the initial focus, this then shifted to the quality of the membership. That too is a fading memory in many trusts.
 
However, engagement done well is a tool for good, a tool for change and without doubt can improve patient experience, organisational efficiencies and demonstrate to the board that more money needs to be spent on it rather than taken away.
 
Anyone responsible for engagement needs to remember they have a wealth of member data at their fingertips and most importantly that members have not joined just to sit on a database gathering virtual dust which in itself challenges principles 4 & 5 of the Data Protection Act (the data needs to be up to date and relevant).

There are some excellent examples of good engagement where the data has been used for positive change, both inside and outside the NHS. The common link in every instance of good engagement is that there has been buy-in at board level.

So, what does good engagement actually look like? It's not necessarily mobilising membership to keep A&E open, although it can be. Neither is it about changing patient pathways in mental health care, although it can be. Good engagement goes back to basics. It reignites members’ passions. It means finding out why they joined and how they feel they can help, but more importantly what do they need? 

CHKS held its first Membership Forum in June and we were proud of the success and the quality of the speakers and the audience participation. There were around 40 attendees who met at the People's History Museum in Manchester. The venue was a fitting place to discuss engagement as it was full of historical examples of how people power have achieved great things, ranging from the Suffragette movement to the Industrial Revolution.  These examples have something in common with membership - they all had a passion and used their voices collectively to make a difference. 

One point which stood out to me was how the museum engages with its own visitors. It understands the power of social media, but has made a blackboard available for visitors to write their thoughts. This is because the museum knows its audience wants to air views there and then and prefers engagement to be in a more physical format. This is an excellent example of knowing your audience which is of course the starting point for good engagement.
 
Adrian Aggett, director, CHKS Membership Services
It is very tempting to pick up a flyer promoting an engagement forum and think ‘not another one’. But there is an argument for doing much more on engagement because I think we are actually getting worse at it.

Many organisations are rightly proud of anything approaching around 40 per cent email take up, saying they can communicate with nearly half of their members wherever they want and at little, or no cost. Unfortunately, the reality is they would be just as effective if they simply did nothing at all. Email open rates are low, there is no visibility around who has or has not opened the email and therefore there is little or no intelligence around the effectiveness of any given email. Worse still, email is fast becoming the only way organisations engage, dropping the postal route completely in some cases.
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