Intelligence into Action: The importance of stories for learning and improvement

Update from Care Opinion Scotland

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picture of Ben Simmons

On the 5th of September 2017 we were invited to speak at Intelligence into Action, an event hosted by National Services Scotland for health and social care organisations across Scotland to learn about the latest in using data for learning and improvement.

Following a very moving talk from our superstar story author Dazzle we took to the stage ourselves to talk about the role of author testimony in contrast to more rigidly-structured and traditional data collection for performance monitoring.

We were delighted with the positive response from the audience to our slightly unorthodox message of fitting the learning to the feedback rather than setting restrictions on the kinds of feedback your improvement process can handle. One thing that really resonated was the unique ability of staff to respond to feedback personally and informally.

As usual we enjoyed showing off our ability to visualise the content of our stories, rather than examine how stories are reflecting a certain set of KPIs, and it was really great to hear the emphasis from other speakers on the day of the importance of stories for understanding the experience of people using health and social care services. After all, sometimes it doesn't make sense to turn experiences into data in order to understand them; a single story can make a huge difference if we take the time to listen.

This is even more important now that health and social care are integrating and you need to understand how people are moving between these two traditionally separate domains. The fact that people can tell their whole story to Care Opinion lets services see how their services relate to each other and hopefully better understand how to make transitions between Health and Social Care services smoother and seamless for the people using them.

The whole theme of the talk was why it is important to consider what you are missing out on if you don't find a place for people to tell you their experiences in their own words, rather than trying to shape the data you collect to fit your system. Rather than focusing too heavily on what you want to know, you need to consider what you are missing out on when a space is not left for people to surprise you.

One of the most powerful examples of this was a poem shared with us by an author about their experience of attending A&E after self-harming. We were so pleased to learn from a clinician that they had even used it in an appraisal - they said it was definitely a first for the hospital.

A conference focusing on learning and improvement felt like an odd place to read a poem, but it really demonstrated what we already knew; nothing beats an author's voice for poignancy and power.

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