Will Griffiths, Programme Manager – Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm, The Health and  Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE)

Phase 1 story (Spring / Summer 2020)

How have you been able to keep a focus on what matters to people during COVID? 

The Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm programme, managed by the ALLIANCE, aims to put the voice of people affected by gambling harms at the heart of action to reduce those harms. To do this it is setting up a Lived Experience Forum. The Forum will create recommendations to speed up delivery of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms launched last April by the Gambling Commission. Engaging people with lived experience is crucial to the success of the programme, and is necessary to tackle stigma associated with gambling. Prior to COVID -19, the plan involved four workshops held throughout Scotland, alongside a series of focus groups. This process would inform and engage people to find out what mattered to them in creating the Lived Experience Forum. These  events were planned for March onwards, with the Forum established towards the late  Summer / early Autumn 2020. Given the public health emergency it would have been inappropriate to launch the forum in March. Since then however, we have grown in confidence on running virtual sessions  and have been exploring other ways of engaging people – one to one phone interviews,  surveys and work through the ALLIANCE’s 2,900 members across Scotland. We need to  respond to different preferences for communication forms and also recognise that people  will want to contribute differently, with some perhaps using or developing skills in  speaking, chairing, reviewing documents and so on.

What have you had to do differently and what made this possible? 

We are now formally launching the programme through a virtual session in July and the  programme’s engagement plan and timescales have been changed to: 

  • Virtual ALLIANCE membership engagement sessions 
  • Four virtual events across Scotland
  • A survey and series of one-to-one interviews with people with lived experience
  • Working with the Third Sector Interface network, Self Management Network  Scotland and Self Management Fund projects’ learning events 
  • Working and developing engagement through ALISS, Discover Digital, Carer  Voices, Community Links Practitioners, and other emerging partnerships. 

These events, survey, interviews and other engagement activities will take place Summer Autumn 2020, with the Forum established in late Autumn 2020, Winter 2020/21.

What have you noticed that has been better?  

In the virtual engagement we have done so far, I’ve been noticing that people give one  another more time and that there is a shift in the power dynamic of the meetings. Because people appreciate that a virtual meeting would descend into chaos if people  speak over one another, they give one another more airtime and make an effort to really  listen to what others are saying. It also flattens out the power dynamics, to a certain  extent. Where a Chief Executive may attend a meeting in a suit and be much more at  home in a round table setting than people with lived experience, the power dynamic is  shifted when everyone is wearing a t-shirt and speaking from their own homes.

How did this make you feel?  

Running an engagement programme during social distancing raises a host of concerns.  One challenge I’ve been grappling with a great deal is how to engage digitally excluded  groups in this work. Usually the ALLIANCE is good at travelling all around Scotland to  deliver sessions, events and engagement, that is not possible at present. However, there  may be benefits also, such as the flattening of the power dynamic mentioned above. I  remain very motivated to continue, as there are key outcomes associated with this work,  with potential to improve health, relationships and financial wellbeing.

What have you learned through this?  

This time has made me appreciate more the benefits of careful planning and preparation  for any engagement work. The ALLIANCE is a very nimble, fast-moving organisation when  it comes to engagement. On coming into post late February, we already had two  workshops lined up for early March. These past few months have made us pause and  reflect on how to do this engagement best and how to reach people effectively.

Phase 2 story (Autumn 2020)

What has continued to help keep a focus on what matters for people during the  pandemic? 

The Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm programme aims to put the voice of people  affected by gambling harms at the heart of action to reduce those harms. To do this it is  engaging people with lived experience of gambling harm throughout Scotland and  working with them to set up a lived experience forum on gambling harms to accelerate  the delivery of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, a strategy launched last  April by the Gambling Commission. 

Engagement activity so far has included: 

  • Series of virtual engagement events with people with experience of gambling  harm 
  • One-to-one interviews with people with lived experience  
  • Virtual ALLIANCE membership engagement sessions 
  • Capturing Humans of Scotland stories showing impact of gambling on people’s  lives 

Engaging people with lived experience of gambling harm is crucial to the success of this  programme and it has been challenging to do meaningful engagement during this time.  Gambling harm is a new area of engagement and it took some time to get the process  started. However, what we’ve learnt is that bringing together an initial small cohort of  people who care deeply about the issue has helped to widen our engagement to other  groups. What often happened was that a person would come in touch with us having  seen a news item or an event report on our website and we’d have a phone call to  understand their interests. It often helped having an invite to a next event for the person  to attend or the option of sharing their story through Humans of Scotland series as a  means of engaging in the future. This helped an ongoing dialogue which in turn built a  relationship even when working remotely.  The main takeaway has been that different approaches work for different people. Being  in a large zoom meeting won’t suit everyone, some prefer to have their views heard over  email, on social media, or in one-to-one calls. Taking the time to do this and to allow  people different ways of getting in touch has helped widen our engagement.

Are there changes that seem to be lasting longer term and are there things that have  slid back to old ways of doing things?  

Because the programme started in late February 2020, the vast majority of events so far  have been held virtually. In some ways it has helped to involve people who we may not  otherwise have engaged with, this includes people in rural communities, carers and  people with disabilities. It has been striking what benefits many people we work with see  in meetings taking place virtually, whether that be that they don’t need to travel or that  they feel more comfortable discussing the issue when at home. A couple have said they  like being able to smoke during the meetings. Most of the cohort we’re working with say they prefer meetings online and hope that this will continue even after restrictions are  lifted, with maybe occasional face to face meetings, but predominantly online for ease of  travel and time.

What difference has this made to people? 

People with experience of gambling harm have said that they feel their contribution is  highly valued. Previously there hasn’t been a Scotland-wide means of influencing policy  relating to gambling harm and many people find it exciting to have a chance to contribute  to identifying where change needs to happen.  

What has been striking to me is that on calls over Zoom people seem more willing to give  one another time for reflection and to develop their points than they might in a face to  face meeting. There seems to be an acceptance that the meeting would descend into  chaos if everyone attempts to speak at once, and allowing people more airtime means  they have the chance to really listen to what is being said. 

I mentioned in my last piece about how online video calls flattens the power dynamic in  the room. It strikes me that everyone is in the same boat to a certain extent. Everyone is  at home, everyone is wearing a t-shirt, and there’s less formality. One of our attendees  remarked to me that in ‘physical meetings you can tell some people think they’re  powerful by the way they move around the room and the way they dress’. But online  people don’t take up physical space in the same way and don’t dress as formally. While  it’s limiting not to meet face to face, there are certain ways in which this flattened power  dynamic leads to more fruitful discussions.

How did this make you feel?  

I’m pleased that we’ve been able to engage with a large number of people using virtual  technology. I’m pleased that we are able to reach groups of people who may not  otherwise be engaged, but I worry about the groups that we’re not engaging with,  especially those who are digitally excluded.

Reflecting on your experiences what have you learned? 

My main takeaway is that it’s important to provide people with a number of ways to  engage. We have rich conversations in our events, but equally deeper themes emerge from our one-to-one conversations and allowing people the opportunity to feed in over  email. The same applies to engaging people face to face, but bearing it in mind is doubly  important when regular means of engagement are off the table.

What difference has it made to you to tell your story as part of this project?  

It is really valuable to take some time to reflect and think back on what’s been happening  in the last six months or so. In a weird way home working and digital meetings have  become a fact of life and it’s valuable to have some time to reflect on how different it  really is. There are obvious downsides, but this process of reflection allows sight of some  potential benefits to this way of working.