4 June 2020
At a time when COVID-19 has changed almost every aspect of life, we’ve been finding ways to carry on the work that we do with patients and the public, including updating our co-production resources to support researchers, healthcare professionals and public contributors to work remotely when we can’t meet face-to-face.
Mike, Tilly and Ellen share how our Young People’s Advisory Group (YPAG) has adapted to a virtual space during lockdown:
On Monday 16 March, when loo rolls were only available on the black market and it was fast becoming clear that the apocalypse was nigh, we held a small, early evening YPAG meeting at our offices in Whitefriars. We didn’t know for sure then, but it would be our last face-to-face meeting to date and possibly for the rest of 2020.
Health research goes on, however, and with more and more research about COVID-19 and its effect on people, there is still a demand for public involvement.
Zoom very quickly became the go-to online platform for meetings with colleagues so seemed the obvious choice for our first online YPAG. We decided early on to keep it short as well as covering only one issue and involving fewer members – five as opposed the usual 15 we would usually get.
It worked well and we have had three more since, each lasting only an hour. There have been a few challenges – I couldn’t hear anyone during one meeting, despite ‘turning it off and on again’ – and we’ve had to make a few changes to how we work to ensure safety and support for everyone.
There are pros and cons of holding YPAGs via Zoom. Pros include easy to arrange (especially while the schools are closed), short and to the point, no travel or venues to arrange and anyone can take part as long as they have access to a laptop or phone. Cons include no opportunity for group work, favours more confident group members, no real social contact before or after meetings and NO LUNCHES.
I asked one of the group if they would share how they felt about the new virtual YPAG – here’s Tilly’s view.
Lockdown. It seemed like the end of the world. When you thought of the word, nothing positive about it sprung to mind. However, after three months of this strange new life, I’ve realised that some positives have come from something I feared so greatly to begin with.
Personally, I have found time to relax and unwind especially when the upcoming few months for us Year Elevens would have been filled with stress and anxiety. Globally there have been pros such as pollution levels falling across many countries and wildlife flourishing. But, of course, it has inflicted so much more suffering and change in all our lives which can make it hard to look on the brighter side of things.
I am lucky – from working in YPAG research I know my circumstances are more fortunate than many. I like to think we can learn from this period of time and reflect on the abrupt adaptations we’ve had to make.
YPAG, as a face-to-face focus group, was moved to Zoom calls, as I’m sure many businesses and organisations have done during this pandemic.
Online calls definitely have their perks. There is no need to travel which, for people like me who are always late, means we can start more efficiently and it saves our supervisors’ money for those who previously needed public transport. This also means you can keep your pyjama bottoms on and no one will notice (shhh)!
In terms of focus and efficiency, there are fewer social distractions, notably for us chatterboxes; on the other hand there can be at-home distractions which can disrupt your thought track or make you feel less than fully comfortable. This may also mean that some people might feel less confident, as there is something quite daunting about talking to a screen full of people rather than casually sitting in the meeting room with them (but it is very subjective as some may find this less intimidating). There is also the technical side of it where you don’t know when to speak or struggle to jump off someone else’s idea; but I would think that as we get more familiar with the technology this will become much easier and more natural.
Socially, I would say it’s not as rewarding as in person, which is one of the reasons I enjoy YPAG so much. Having that time to catch up or play heads up in between researchers is part of the experience we are so fond of. And you cannot forget the lunches in Whitefriars which I know we all look forward to.
However, I believe that the best part of YPAG during this time is that we can still participate! We can still have our voices heard on important research, at a time where gauging people’s opinions and experiences is especially valuable. And we get paid (slightly better as well). I’m so proud that everyone is still eager to get involved during a time when motivation can be hard to find.
Since 2014, I have attended meetings with the Young Persons Advisory Group (YPAG) in the research centre at Bristol Children’s Hospital. The days that I spent there were not only informative, they were packed with laughter and new friendships – plus the free food was a big bonus! I learned so many life skills at YPAG, from communicating with a variety of people to getting the bus by myself for the first time. I formed relationships that I will never forget, all because of the vital human interaction of sitting together to have a conversation.
On 23 March 2020, we were no longer sitting together, we were sitting at home at our own desks. Technology that many of us had not used before suddenly became our only method of contact. Not only did this make the meetings difficult to communicate in, but also presents issues regarding technology and safeguarding. At the usual YPAG meetings, it is easy to hear everyone’s opinions and share ideas, but over a Zoom call this proved to be challenging. In addition, despite being able to share screens so all could view the PowerPoint, I found myself longing to have sheets in front of me so I could scribble down notes and thoroughly analyse the information. Personally, I prefer to do my work on paper rather than online.
Perhaps online work was something I could – or would have to – get used to. Although I was deeply missing the meetings, the new way of discussion meant I could provide the researchers with vital information from the comfort of my own bedroom- and the comfort of my joggers!
I had been worried about focus – in the old meetings I wouldn’t have my three-year-old Labrador barking at the postman – but this was not an issue. Although there are many things in my home that can distract me, I was able to keep my attention on the meeting.
In future meetings, I would love to be able to go to the research centre again and spend the day with lots of people. Communication is a vital skill for nearly everything in life; talking to PhD students at 12 years old has made talking to adults much less scary and added more confidence to my communication skills. As well as the range of skills that in-person meetings taught me, I miss the incredible lunches! However, the Zoom meetings are still just as fun and informative; I would be interested in seeing how they could modify YPAG’s future.
Following the launch of our co-producing research resources in February this year, the world has completely changed. We want to be able to continue to co-produce research together, in the face of COVID-19, so we’ve updated our resources for co-producing research – please take a look.