Tess Baird is an unstoppable force. In November 2016 she gathered together a few colleagues and contacts in a small room in London’s Mile End Hospital to explain her bonkers idea. She wanted clinicians and service users to get to understand and communicate with one another in more meaningful and effective ways. The subject in focus was stroke care, which is how I got the call, being a stroke survivor. She reckoned this new groundbreaking bond between patient and practitioner could be found using something called a World Café. I posted a report of that meeting shortly after it took place.
Grand ideas often get lost in what is sometimes called Development Hell, so I turned up to that first meeting, made whatever kind of contribution I could and went home expecting the idea to fizzle out. It didn’t. Emails were exchanged and the spark generated at the first meeting was oxygenated into a comfy campfire, around which a whole bunch of people (plus one newborn child, Leo) sat early in the new year to thrash out some ideas for how quality communication might flourish on the stroke ward. This event quickly got its own hashtag, #trustworldcafe.
Seven round tables in the Garden Room at St Luke’s Community Centre, London EC1, each hosting five or six people, fired up and the room quickly took on the buzz of the marketplace, the sound of chatter and earnest declarations bouncing off the walls. Hot beverages were taken and posh cake digested. And to think some people were pretending to ‘be at work’.
The event swung around four questions. The first asked us to talk in pairs about a time we “totally trusted someone”. What was the experience, what did it feel like? I got chatting with someone who told me how they had ‘bonded’ with their partner over an intense dislike of dating. As described to me this was a proper meeting of minds and outlook that was recognised instantly by both parties. They saw it as an ‘opportunity’ and both were ‘relieved’ to have found a sympathetic ear and a glad eye. It was heartwarming stuff.
We then moved the topic from the personal to the professional and asked what made trusting relationships function in the workplace. The answers we arrived at jointly sounded like statements of the obvious, but put under intense scrutiny started to carry more weight. All the time we were jotting words and phrases on to a paper tablecloth. Lines such as “say what you do and do what you say” and “deliver on promises” put some flesh on to the bones of everyday exchanges that involve trust, and which without trust would collapse. Relying on others is how our lives function.
From working in pairs we moved to working the table, exploring within the group the mechanics of trust and how that might be nurtured. I learned of one stroke survivor’s desire to ride a horse again, having grown up around horses in Romania. By now an artist had been earwigging at each table and was busy creating a ‘live graphic’ of our thoughts. It was worth stopping just to watch as she gave visual birth to all our ideas.
The questions continued. We moved tables, went into huddles, struggled to find answers, but didn’t give up. There was still plenty of cake left. At one table I put forward the idea that every ‘hard’, factual question a patient is asked by a clinician should be offset with a ‘soft’ question that gently explores the patient’s life outside hospital. Cat or dog? was the example I used in a round-the-table demonstration (our table: three dogs, one cat and an awkward “cat and dog”). Questions about football, hobbies, telly, films, etc, can provide the therapist with valuable ‘clues’ that might open a window of opportunity on how best to advance treatment. There was some concern as to how what is essentially small-talk can be parlayed into ‘productivity’, the looming presence of a cash-conscious clipboarding NHS manager being the sticking point. I’m not sure my attempt to liken this kind of information-gathering to ‘detective work’ found any buyers.
So what did I learn at the #trustworldcafe? Too many things to list here, so please check the Twitter feeds for details. But if I had to pick one it would be at the beginning of the session when, by way of a warm-up, Tess gave us a list of questions to ask each other. The last of these was something like, “What is the craziest outcome you can imagine springing from this #trustworldcafe?” To illustrate, Tess told us her answer. It was that news of this event’s runaway success reaches a rich publisher, who invites Tess to write a book about it, earning her £4million. Her newfound wealth somehow puts her in contact with George Clooney, who promptly ditches his existing wife and marries Tess. And everyone lives happily ever after. Such is the power of the hashtag.