Who’s making way for who in public involvement?

This morning I listened with interest to the news item about today’s Court of Appeal proceedings on whether wheelchairs users have precedence over parents with pushchairs on buses.

I know where my sympathies lie. With the wheelchair user. On balance, the consequences of denying them access are likely to be more serious and difficult to manage.

There also would seem to be a difference between applying hard fought for rights in a world that largely manifest itself as inaccessible, and widening choice for those for whom it already exists. But maybe not as much as they would like in a perfect world.

I can’t help also observing the self-righteousness with which some parents now push buggies before them (often the size and colour of small armoured cars) through crowded restaurants and streets sending the innocent into disarray. As a parent you wonder what it is they possibly fear so much to behave in such an antisocial way.

Of course the fault does not lie with any poor bus user. Rather it is at the door of the bus company, how it manages its buses and trains its staff.

But is that totally true? Does the episode that has reached the Court of Appeal tell us as much about how it is no longer the social norm to make room and accommodate others. If it was ever thus of course.

Put a hoard of carefree children, tired workers and hassled parents on a bus together and things can soon become incendiary. Even in the short 11 minute journey to our local rail station as I can testify.

Public involvement can have the manner of a bus at times. An increasingly crowded one. In September 106,000 people visited INVOLVE’s website. Two years ago it was less than one fifth of that.

Yesterday the Kings Fund put out a report about public involvement written by device users and carers among others. They note that, in their view, little progress has been made in public involvement. A glass ceiling does indeed exist and the Kings Fund is one of those organisations that – admirable though it is – has found it difficult to find room for service users in how it is governed. Go figure.

Yet it is not just about organisations making space and enabling choice. It is also how we behave towards one another.

I find it faintly dispiriting to see people collect all sorts of public involvement positions as medals on a lapel rather than offer these openings up to colleagues; especially to those who are at the beginning of their journey in public involvement. In fact this is much more troublesome to me than the curse that is more often cited – that of people staying around too long.

Listen to boardroom leaders and they will often comment on how the secret of their success and what they are most proud about is nurturing the talent around them.

We all have a responsibility to do the same, to nurture the talented and interested and make room for others.

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