Can we measure what we feel?

 In Blog

By Cat Harrison

If there’s one question that has popped up time and time again from those who are intrigued by (but interestingly, often not involved directly in Sign up to Safety), it’s ‘how are you measuring your impact?’.

I was reminded of this recently when listening to an excellent edition of Radio 4’s The Fix focused on generating solutions for low morale and burn out amongst junior doctors. Some fantastic ideas were put forth (which recognised the need to help people connect and support each other, and the importance of removing barriers that stop people from doing the job as they want to do – I was literally cheering the radio). Inevitably one of the first responses was just this; how in six months-time can you measure it’s made a difference…?

I have such an innately conflicted response to this question when I hear it. As someone steeped in a background of engagement and communications, who has worked in and around patient safety for years, measuring what you do, analysing impact and using that insight to achieve and judge your outcomes has been fundamental to my approach in every project I’ve worked in.

Yet I still believe that it is somewhat blind to forget that not everything of value is easily or accurately measurable.

As my colleague Adam so brilliantly put it recently, ‘I can’t measure a headache, but I know when I’ve got one’. This seems to me such a perfect analogy when it comes to the complex cultural challenges facing the NHS today where we need to consider people’s feelings, and intensely personal and deep ones at that.

Our own evaluative approach has been considered carefully and reflects the complexity of the environment and landscape we work in, and the aspirations of the campaign itself. It has been formulative, taking the shape of focus groups, interviews, surveys and continuous conversations with members alongside more objective measures.

It’s tempting though, when you know that people would like a neat result, to try to put a round peg in a square hole, but we are working with people in all their complexities, within a complex system. We have found out that we must accept a degree of uncertainty, fight the desire to simplify, which will only take you down the wrong path, and be comfortable with a flexible approach, rather than expect a model result.

The five years of our work have led us to believe firmly that safer care is not possible unless we care for those who care for patients. This marries patient safety to well-being, which is a situation currently not talked about enough.

Yet as it’s talked about more, so will that same question arise; how can you measure it?

Well-being is considered to be very difficult to measure, being subjective on a person to person basis. I am not an expert, but from my own research and our years of experience, we have learned that listening to what people have to tell you is paramount to understanding what will help them and what affect any actions are having. That means really listening, and letting what you hear steer your direction in terms of actions and reactions, rather than engaging just to achieve your already-set objectives or to reinforce your already-held views of what people think or feel.

Over the last few years, I have come across a few useful resources which those who are setting forward the case for caring about staff well-being and who are being asked that question might find interesting;

The Point of Care Foundation recently launched a report – The Case for Employee Engagement in the NHS – which went into depth with three trusts that are amongst the best at staff engagement, and this report shows again the clear connections between staff engagement, staff well-being and patient care. These are not separate entities but interconnected and co-dependent. It is very helpful reading and makes the case for all boards to have staff engagement on their priorities list.

What Works Centre for Wellbeing offer a guide to help organisations (originally aimed at the charities and social enterprises) measure the well-being impact of what they do. It defines wellbeing, some reasons for measuring it, and how it links to other organisational aims.

For more information on what our experience during Sign up to Safety has shown us, that safer care isn’t possible without caring for those who care for patients, you are welcome to read about how we reached this understanding on Suzette’s blog.

About the author;

Cat Harrison is the communications and engagement director for the Sign up to Safety team, and has advised numerous FTSE100 companies as well as national charities and health-related organisations. Her expertise lies in the development of impactful campaigns, the role of language and behaviour in working safely, and how this links with just culture and staff wellbeing. You can tweet her @catharrison4 and read more about the team here.

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