From our director ‘Getting knowledgeable about experience’

This time of year always has a distinct back to school feel about it. And now we are in our new location in South Camden we are surrounded by people who are studying or who are creating knowledge. Indeed, this part of town has been dubbed “the Knowledge Quarter”. It has not only large institutions such as the British Library, the University of London, the Francis Crick Institute, Google, Central St Martins, but also many smaller organisations that are working to grow and use knowledge for public good.

As a very small organisation, we are focused on a particular kind of knowledge – the experiential knowledge that comes from being a service user, whether that is the experience of being treated in one of our specialist hospitals, the experience of visiting your GP, the experience of living with enduring mental health problems, or the experience of being a care leaver. Healthwatch Camden works to gather that experience and turn it into useful insight. Sometimes that is just by helping someone to give feedback on a particular service, so that staff can know what helps and what doesn’t. Sometimes we work by gathering experience from a number of people and looking for the shared themes within it, as a basis for making recommendations for improvements in services.

Currently, we analysing experience from a number of service users who kept an audio diary of their experience of service change. The detail of their experience over time gives us a clear picture of the process of service change. It turns from individual stories into a shared body of knowledge. The aim is to create knowledge that will influence future service change, making it a better process.  

We don’t just gather experience. We also want service providers to make use of local people’s knowledge in their planning. The experiential knowledge of service users is valuable alongside the systems knowledge, financial knowledge or clinical knowledge of other planners. We’ve been talking to the people who are working on local plans, to encourage the use of experience-based design. In particular, I’ve been talking about the plans for Urgent and Emergency Care, and how the programme might bring local people into planning events to work alongside the professionals.

Too often, local people tell us that they share their stories, and nothing seems to happen as a result. So part of our role as local Healthwatch is to ensure that experience is recognised and valued as knowledge, and to help create opportunities for ‘experts by experience’ to be at the table, sharing knowledge to create the right services for the future.