A head-hunter has written to me this morning – as they have to many others no doubt – asking whether I know of any good ‘research’ candidates to Chair a panel looking at research into patient and family experience.
My first thought? To ask why the client thinks it’s vital for someone with research experience to hold this position. Would it not be better to have a Chair who has practical insight into the patient experience and their agenda?
A few weeks ago I spoke at an event where the theme was ‘science revolution.’ But, of course, no one really wanted revolution. Rather they all proposed ways which wouldn’t unsettle a sleeping baby. They certainly didn’t challenge the rules of the game or the rule makers.
If revolution really was in the air then perhaps we’d adopt the politics of 1789 and systematically unseat the incumbent Chairs of all health research funding committees and replace them with patients and carers. But that would be an equally unpalatable prospect wouldn’t it?
For the issue is not about replacing one dogma with another but about getting the right person for the job. And this means breaking with convention and opening up more opportunities up to the lay person.
Good Chairs can be ‘cracking’ scientists. But ‘cracking’ scientists do not automatically make good Chairs.
Yes, you want your Chair to be credible with the committee members and have relevant knowledge. But the Chair must also have their eye on other things: bringing independence and objectivity to the discussion, ensuring a collegiate spirit exists in the room, arbitrating when disputes arrive, making sure everyone has a say, setting the committee’s expectations with its secretariat and how it needs to be supported. As Voltaire put it:
Judge of a man by his questions rather than by his answers.
And when so many patients and the public have careers and work or life experience that would make them excellent Chairs – much to the almost comic amazement of colleagues who think patients do nothing else but be a patient – we should be looking to make the most of their skills rather than blindly closing the door.
Over the past year I have seen a number of committees work with patients and the public in the Chair, fulfilling roles as Co-Chairs, or having patient Chairs for specific meetings. Shock, horror, it works!
Let’s hope more organisations follow suit.
(If you are interested in the art of Chairing then I am going to shamelessly recommend a book by a good friend of mine and PPI advocate – Sophie Petit-Zeman: ‘How to be an Even Better Chair: Sensible Advice About Chairing in the Charity, Not-for-Profit and Public Sectors.’ But you might need to source it through your library as it is out of print and second-hand copies go for £39.99 on Amazon!!!)