People, partnerships and principles are key for unlocking the power of involvement

Sophie Lowry profile picture

25 August 2022

Sophie Lowry
Implementation and Involvement Manager
Health Innovation Network


Catherine Dale profile picture

Catherine Dale
Programme Director for Insights and Patient Safety
Health Innovation Network


'Start with people' is the mantra that underpins NHS England's recently published statutory guidance for Working in partnership with people and communities. At the Health Innovation Network, we think this message also applies to the ways that we turn the good intentions of the strategy into real benefits for patients and services.

Given how busy we know health and care staff are we had initial reservations about the length of the strategy document as a catalyst for change.

Happily, though, we believe the depth and breadth of innovative thinking contained within the guidance could help encourage health and care services across the country to truly work in partnership.

Here are some of the things we really like about it:


The overarching objective is partnership with people and communities

Terms such as patient and public involvement barely scratch the surface of the benefits partnership working can offer people, communities and health and care services. Through focusing on true partnership as our aspiration, the recommendations recognise the value of abiding by a powerful set of principles.


It backs up its 10 key principles with practical inspiration

The document provides detailed insights and real-world exploration of several different techniques that can facilitate partnership, including co-production, co-design, engagement, consultation, and informing. No one methodology is given prominence over the others, recognising every project and scenario will have its own requirements and reiterating that it is the outcome rather than the process which matters most.


It provides clear evidence of how partnership can make a meaningful impact on tackling some of the NHS' biggest challenges

Involving staff at all levels is key to making decisions, and can sometimes come across as a "tick box" exercise. Setting out clear examples of how partnerships are already starting to help us address system challenges and deliver benefits relevant to the Triple Aim will convince more people that the reward of developing meaningful partnerships is worth the effort.

But how do we turn words on a page into creating change? Well – it starts with people!


Getting the spirit of the guidance to the right people

We all need to consider who in our organisation and network needs to read this document and the best ways to engage them in the conversation.

So we need to ask ourselves what level of understanding do we think people within our organisations need? Who do we prioritise educating about the 10 principles set out in the guidance? And who needs to remember the "start with people" mantra when it comes to planning their next project? The answer to this last question is: All of us.


Living the principles to bring the guidance to life

Getting staff and stakeholder groups involved in partnership working is not something that can be activated by one-way communication. What better way to start than by working with people in partnership to put some of the principles from the guidance into action?

At the Health Innovation Network we are already seeing the benefits of taking a principle-led approach to involvement across many of our projects, such as in our ongoing work to reduce restrictive practice as part of our Mental Health Safety Improvement Programme.

A broad range of service users and carers who have lived experience of mental health conditions have been partners in the project from the outset. As well as taking on "traditional" roles within the project group (such as sitting on steering committees), these experts by experience are beginning to guide and contribute to the communications and engagement of the project.

We hope that taking this approach will enable our experts to tell the credible and accessible story of the work, and ultimately improve the spread and adoption of the improvements we are making.

While it has often been far from straightforward, we, the 'other side' of this partnership are learning from our experts, that the visibility of people with lived experience in mental health change projects is a really important factor for the credibility of the work.

The ways that projects evolve through partnership is not a process that can be accurately mapped or proscribed. At times it can be challenging, and we certainly have needed to take time to reflect, learn and adapt our approach. Ultimately, we hope that the value delivered is worth the effort – we'll certainly be persevering with the principle of 'starting with people'.

About the authors

Sophie Lowry profile picture

Sophie Lowry
Implementation and Involvement Manager

Sophie Lowry is the implementation and involvement manager at the Health Innovation Network (HIN), the Academic Health Science Network for south London, and a member of NIHR Applied Research Collaboration south London's implementation and involvement team.

In her role, Sophie supports patient involvement across a number of projects, as well as working to embed involvement at a strategic level. She also has experience leading service evaluations across south London.

Prior to joining the HIN, Sophie worked in operational and project management in both acute and community settings, with a focus on long term conditions and community nursing. She has a BSc in medical science from the University of Exeter and an MSc in implementation and improvement science from King's College London.

Catherine Dale profile picture

Catherine Dale
Programme Director for Insights and Patient Safety

Catherine Dale is the programme director for insights and patient safety at the Health Innovation Network, the Academic Health Science Network for south London.

Catherine has over 20 years' experience in the NHS in London, including more than 15 years in quality improvement and transformation roles. Catherine is also a trustee for the Point of Care Foundation and helped develop their 'Experience-Based Co-Design' toolkit. She has a masters in business psychology and is an expert on co-designing improvements with patients and applying behavioural insights to healthcare.

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