Public involvement can appear like a foreign country to colleagues. Let’s make it a land they want to come back to.

This time last week I was in France eating baguette and cheese and drinking red wine.  Today it’s a tuna sandwich and packet of Hula Hoops.  Yes, like many others in the UK’s version of France’s ‘La rentree,’ I am returning to work with a bump.

A little later I am off to NHS Expo. It’s the first time I have been there and I am curious what it’s going to be like.  Just another conference or something different?  The latter I hope. What I do know is that tomorrow morning I will be chairing a ‘pop-up university session’ (I am note sure what that is either) entitled:  ‘The NIHR: what’s in it for me?’  Which sounds a little aggressive to be honest.  But I promise I won’t be.

Most of all I am looking forward to working with the wonderful Wendy Mitchell again.  Wendy has dementia and writes a lovely blog called ‘Which me am I today?’ about her lived experience with the disease.  She is also very active on Twitter as @WendyPMitchell.  Last time I worked with Wendy the audience was captivated by her story.  It was difficult to stop the questions.  I am convinced that many will have gone on to discover more afterwards and hopefully made it a way of life.

Thinking about it, public involvement can appear like a foreign country to many of our colleagues.  A place where they speak ‘patient,’ where the food tastes ‘different’ and people drive on the wrong side of the road. A land where for a day or two their digestive system is just not the same.  And sometimes, just sometimes, we can make this worse by our own behaviours and attitudes.

Many of our colleagues only want to visit this land as a tourist and will not stay.  Some have to because they have been told to.  Others realise that they must return to it again and again for one reason or another.  A few will want to make it their way of life and drench themselves in our customs and (good) practices.  So much so that they will one day forget the country from which they came and take up citizenship with us. Yay!

Our task is not to second-guess these motivations whatever the temptations.  But to welcome our colleagues with open arms whatever brings them our way.  To provide maps that help them find the nearest case study or locate their local toolkit.  To encourage them to use the language while accepting that it will often be error strewn and may at times jar with the Oxford English PPI dictionary. Certainly not to strike or put the odd burning tyre in their way.

But we also have every right to bestow certain expectations on our visitors.  An open mind.  A willingness to embrace that which is new and which challenges their own experience.  To try the language.  To understand and observe our customs and traditions as much as possible. To encourage others to visit by telling them about their experience and therefore keeping the PPI economy going.

All I know is that if I was stepping into this land otherwise know as public involvement for the first time I would want someone like Wendy to be my guide. Her insight and generosity would keep me on the right road with a sense of adventure, passion and good humour.

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