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Maintaining consumer partnerships

Successful consumer partnerships need ongoing maintenance and mutual input. Reviewing and evaluating your consumer partnerships will be beneficial.

Maintenance and review

Actions for short-term consumer partners

  • Follow up phone calls to offer a debrief following the activity.
  • If the consumers want to participate in future activities, include them in any project/program news you circulate, and invite them to events or networking meetings.
  • Review and revisit applications and ensure the consumer details are stored in a central location that protects their privacy.

Actions for longer-term consumer partners (three months or more)

Regular (quarterly) semi-formal reviews can be helpful. They give you both the opportunity to discuss:

  • ongoing support needs (are they being met, what else may be required, what adaptions need to be made?)
  • willingness and desire to continue in the partnership
  • ongoing education and training, as required and identified
  • goals for the partnership for the next few months
  • concerns (on both sides)
  • review position description and make amendments, where required
  • celebrating the wins.

Once every 12 months (ideally when the committee’s terms of reference and positions are reviewed and up for election), the committee/group should undertake a review of the consumer partnership together. This is an opportunity for everyone to reflect on what is working well, what could be improved and new directions the consumer partnership could take. Whatever is decided should be included into the new terms of reference for the committee.

Tip

It is worth allocating a ‘term of office’ duration to consumer partner roles on committees, just as you would do for the chair, secretary and treasurer.

The same person should not be able to be re-elected into the position any more than two more times following the first 12 months. This provides an opportunity for new and fresh perspectives to come in; for new consumer partners to build capability and more seasoned consumer partners take on mentorship and advisory roles. This ensures capability is built, succession planning is considered and increases the number of active and experienced consumer partners.

When things go wrong

As with any partnership, sometimes things can go wrong. Most risks will be mitigated by:

  • good planning
  • considered recruitment
  • careful selection
  • thorough onboarding
  • regular progress reviews with the consumer partners.

However, on occasions, other issues may arise.

Issues arising in short-term participation

Our fact sheet on managing difficult situations with consumers outlines the steps you can take to manage issues that arise in short-term partnership activities, such as group interviews, small forums and focus groups.

Issues arising in long-term partnerships

Some common issues that arise include:

  • conflict between consumer and other committee members
  • the consumer feels intimidated by another committee member
  • the consumer feels unsafe/undervalued/unsure of role
  • the consumer has a personal agenda and wants to use the partnership to push this at the expense of the goals of the activity/program/project.

Below are some ways to address these issues, and things to consider:

Listen

Be sure to listen carefully and be clear on the exact nature of the problem. You can seek advice from your organisation’s Human Resources team about what direction to take, terminology to use, and how to take a strengths-based approach.

Use your foundations

Use your partnership plan, committee agreement and terms of reference to facilitate a discussion with committee members who may be intimidating or ignoring the consumer contribution.

Revisit shared values one-on-one

Bring the focus back to shared values about psychological safety, commitment to partnership and valuing different views and contributions. Note: this should be done one-on-one initially.

Facilitated conversation

If the consumer would like a facilitated conversation with the other individual and it is safe for all parties to do so, then this encourages problem-solving and a strong interpersonal approach.

Revisit values as a group

As a group, you may need to have a brief session on revisiting values and recommitting to shared goals and principles of partnership.

Use the same approach if the complaint or issue is about the consumer. Use your partnership agreement, position description, code of conduct, terms of reference and group commitment to outline how behaviour is breaching that. The person should be given the opportunity to continue, or if the work no longer fits with their goals and expectations, then support them to resign and exit the position.

Tip

These are not easy conversations to have, but any disrupting influence or event risks creating an unsafe space. If this can prosper, group members will disengage, and your program/project/service could get derailed. It is in the best interests of everyone to resolve issues quickly, compassionately and safely.

Providing feedback and closing the communication loop

The factors that make partnership most meaningful to consumers are most ‘feedback and communication’. Consumers want to know what has happened (and will happen) as a result of their participation. This is true whether they complete a survey or they are members of a committee or board.

To ensure consumers feel genuinely valued (and valuable), it is important to demonstrate and communicate the results of their input. This feedback should always include which of their contributions have not (or cannot) happen and why.

Tip

Providing feedback is just as important for those consumers you have only engaged in a one-off activity (a focus group or a survey).  Here are some ideas:

  • When distributing a survey, include details about where people can receive follow-up or progress information. Every effort should also be made to use the same distribution channels to send out an update 6–12 months after the survey.
  • After short surveys done in waiting rooms or hospital areas, install a poster with an update on the activity occurring because of their feedback.
  • After a focus group, provide participants with updates at the same time as sending general program/project updates to your other stakeholders.

Evaluation

Evaluating consumer partnership activity can serve several purposes, such as:

  • helping to establish whether the partnership activity is making a difference – i.e. what changes have occurred as a result of their input, feedback and suggestions.
  • helping you measure whether attitudes to consumer partnership change over time, and how.
  • helping you measure whether your consumer partners find partnering with your organisation a valuable and fulfilling experience, and what could be done differently (this data could also be submitted as evidence for National Standard 2 within the quality improvement, governance and safety criterion)
  • helping you build a case for change to support funding for more resources to consumer partnership portfolios and positions.

If evaluation is something you are interested in, then information about what you want to evaluate and why should be included in that section of your consumer partnership plan.

Co-design toolkit Resources

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