Step back and listen – that was the main takeaway as we reached the end of our first ‘Bridge the Gap’ event at the end of August.
The workshop, the first of a series of events over the coming weeks, was run using an open spaces approach – a powerful way to help groups discuss hugely complex issues in an organised way and inspire creative solutions.
Handing control of a meeting to 160 participants online feels a little bit like that moment when a rollercoaster clicks before going into freefall. We have no idea where this is going but let’s enjoy the ride and it was with some nervous energy and excitement that we approached the launch.
The review has already devoted thousands of hours to conversations listening to people with lived experience and the children’s social care workforce, often in smaller groups. However if people discuss problems in silos then they can’t reach solutions that work for everyone. The next natural step is bringing people together in one place to share collective experiences and think about what a future system should look like.
To build our ‘big tent’ we invited a broad range of people to join us – over half the people in the (virtual) room were care experienced and a large proportion of those were young people age 16-25, many more were individuals who applied through the expression of interest earlier in the review (including a lot of social workers) and some were nominated by organisations and charities who work with people with lived experience of children’s social care or are part of the workforce.
From birth parents, foster and kinship carers and adoptive parents to care experienced young people and social workers – everyone who attended the first event had their own individual story about why they came to this place to talk to us about what needs to change in children’s social care.
The launch – called ‘Connect’, was a chance for participants to learn more about the review and to kick-start the conversation. After the initial introductions the big group broke into smaller groups to talk without the presence of anyone from the review team. Even though we know it can feel a little uncomfortable for some we wanted to step out of the room and hand the virtual flipchart pen to participants and hope this will result in richer observations over the course of this deliberative process.
Over the next few weeks participants will come back together in themed groups for a series of ‘explore’ sessions which will provide a space for people to share their own story. The series will conclude with a final ‘Create’ event in October. By this time, we hope participants will have shared some very diverse, perhaps conflicting, opinions but that they will have also found some common ground and be in a place to talk with more clarity about ideas on how to design a future care system.
We hope Bridge the Gap will be a forum for everyone – the review team and participants – to listen to different perspectives. Those attending will be an active part of the process – everyone will be invited to propose or lead topics of conversation. These discussions will go wherever they need to go based on what those attending feel is important, guided by an expert team of facilitators.
We’re really looking forward to seeing where these discussions take us!