Agents Assemble #6 – The School for Change Agents Podcast
Each week during The School for Change Agents, we make a podcast with behind-the-scenes discussion from the team who create School.
Episode 6 was released on Friday 28 May 2021. The contributors were Helen Bevan, Kerry McGinty, Zarah Mowhabuth, Leigh Kendall and Olly Benson. A full transcript is available below.
This transcript has been edited for clarity:
Kerry McGinty: [00:00:08] Hello and welcome to Episode 6 of Agents Assemble, the podcast brought to you by NHS Horizons and the team who brought you the School for Change Agents 2021. In this podcast we’ll be bringing you behind-the-scenes for good old chinwag, and everyone’s invited. Today we’re going to be discussing the live sessions and we’ve got a very special guest. Before we get started, we better introduce ourselves. I’m Kerry McGinty, a project manager at NHS Horizons and one of the producers of the School for Change Agents.
Olly Benson: [00:00:36] I’m Olly Benson. I am Communities Programme Manager at Horizons and responsible for making the School happen.
Leigh Kendall: [00:00:43] I’m Leigh Kendall, the Programme Lead for Social Influence at NHS Horizons and I do all things social media and comes.
Zarah Mowhabuth: [00:00:51] Hi, I’m Zarah Mowhabuth, I’m a project manager, at NHS Horizons team, and I’ve also been part of the team that brought you School.
Kerry McGinty: [00:00:56] We’re joint by a very special guest today, the Queen of Change and Transformation. That really is, the one and only Helen Bevan. So, Helen, hello. Welcome.
Helen Bevan: [00:01:07] Hi, I’m Helen Bevan and I’m part of the Horizons team as well. And I’m one of the people that founded the School for Change Agents. I’ve been part of the School for Change Agents since 2014 and nearly a 100,00 people later, and I think eight terms, here we are.
Kerry McGinty: [00:01:27] So this podcast would not be happening without your little tiny invention. Just a 100,000 people popping through. But how does it feel for you, Helen? Before we take a dive into the live sessions, how does it feel for you knowing that you’ve started this so long ago and here we are now and it’s still going and it’s getting stronger and stronger?
Helen Bevan: [00:01:48] It’s fantastic, Kerry. It’s really good to see. And the thing about the school is that it’s evolved. What it is now is very different to how it started. When it started, it was called the School for Health and Care Radicals. And when you look at all the work that goes into the School now; when we first started it, we started planning for it four weeks before we actually ran it. But, right from the start, you could see the need for it. And people loved it. And people came back, year after year. And it’s those amazing people, the alumni if you like, of the School, that have fed-back constantly, been part of it, given case-studies, promoted it on social media. And it just kind of goes from strength to strength, really.
Kerry McGinty: [00:02:32] It really is fantastic. And obviously, people are still working their way through the School for Change Agents. So you can even start it now if you want to. It’s open for all. But we’ve been doing three live sessions to go alongside with the School, which has been really fantastic. Olly has been masterminding the tech; we’ve got Leigh on social influence; me and Zarah are popping up and hosted by you, Helen. So how have you found them so far?
Helen Bevan: [00:02:58] Oh, I loved doing the live sessions this year. I think the online School just gets better and better. I think the live School, where we do live sessions with people, is better focussed and just getting a brilliant response to it. We’ve only done two so far, I’ve got one more to go. Really, really enjoyed them. And the great thing for me is, I’ve been a change agent in the National Health Service in England for 30 years. And I like how the School feels to me is all the things that I’ve learned as a change agent over those three decades, all the things have worked that haven’t worked. I feel the School gives me an opportunity to talk about the things that I think really make a difference. And this idea of agency at the heart of the School: the School for Change Agents, agents who use agency. Action that we take to express the power that we’ve got to make a difference. I’d say it’s getting recognised more and more as something that we need to focus on when it comes to making change happen in our world of health and care. When we first started the School for Health and Care Radicals in 2014, it was really, how would I describe it? It was a bit like leftfield, it was this kind of group of people doing this kind of slightly odd stuff and a kind of rebellious heretic.
Kerry McGinty: [00:04:23] The title sounds like a film from the eighties. I mean, The Little Rascals. But yeah, the little radicals of School for Change Agents.
Helen Bevan: [00:04:33] But then we changed it to the School for Change Agents. It’s become much more mainstream now, because I think more and more people are recognising that you’ve got to use your agency. It’s not enough giving people skills or methods or projects. People have got to have the power to make change happen as well. And I think if anything has proved that, it’s what we’ve seen as part of the response to Covid. Because when you look at the people and the places that have been able to move and make change happen really quickly, it’s those organisations where people have had a lot of agency, in a sense, the leaders in those organisations have invested and created the skills and agency in people. And those places that haven’t been able to move so quickly are places where the conditions for agency; people having the confidence, the support to make change happen, haven’t been there as well.
Olly Benson: [00:05:24] I just missed out on the 2014 School and only been in Horizons a few weeks when the 2015 School ran and I was working on another project, so I sort of wasn’t massively involved in it, but very much remember it happening. Some things are sort of constant in school: the slides that were there in 2014 that are still as relevant this year. But also, as you said, the content adapts. And my takeaway from this year is the big theme has been about belonging. And that feels really that it’s come centre-stage to the School curriculum. And I just wondered; that’s something you’ve been working quite a lot over the last year and where that came from, and why you think it’s so important?
Helen Bevan: [00:05:59] Well, when I trained to be a change agent and improvement leader in the NHS, what I got taught were technical improvement methods, which are very important. But in a sense, what I got taught was to lead with methods. So if I was working on a project, how do we reduce waiting time for patients or how do we improve patient safety, we’d lead with method. We’d think about what’s the aim of this project? What are the measures that we need to use? What are the tools that can help us to make a difference? And yes all those things are really important. And what I’ve also learned is, we have to think about belonging and we have to build a sense of belonging for the people who are part of the change, because just the very nature of change and the very nature of being a change agent depends on our ability to work with other people to enable change. So actually, being a change agent is creating a sense of belonging for everybody who’s part of the change. And the thing about belonging is it’s a feeling: when we belong, we feel I’m accepted, I’m respected, I’m listened to. The unique things that I bring to this project or this campaign or this movement is accepted. And I think that if we want to create change and we want the change to be sustained, then we’ve really got to invest in creating that sense of belonging. Because when we’ve got that sense of belonging and we’re working in a team or a group doing the change, that’s when we really create that sense of us in us rather than us and them. And I think it’s one of the strongest foundations for making change happen.
Kerry McGinty: [00:07:47] We’re all getting transfixed. This is what happens; we get an extra bonus live session. So we’re all poppin off, trying to remark on it. But I was just going to say that I think that’s something obviously Helen you’ve been tweeting a lot about. There’s been so much, even on the live sessions. Zarah, you were chatbox monitor and people just kind of going wild for that belonging. It’s like something that they couldn’t put their finger on before, but then they realised that was the kind of key thing; ‘Oh, it’s as simple as that’.
Zarah Mowhabuth: [00:08:15] Yeah, absolutely. And the chatbox was really special, especially this week, like we saw people from different countries come in and explain how it related to them and different jobs as well. I think someone came in from the police service or something like that. And I was like, wow, this is so special, because we’re thinking about this from a health care lens. But look how transferable it is. And you can see it in different occupations and different countries as well. So I think that’s really special, that this idea of belonging and what we speak about in School and what, Helen, you just spoke about is more than just for health care at the moment. It’s a lot wider than that. And I think that’s quite nice.
Leigh Kendall: [00:08:54] I saw that, too. There was a tweet about the graphic about belonging that was shared during the live session this week. Someone tweeted that higher education could use that as well to foster a greater sense of belonging, saying, again, like you’re saying Zarah it’s going way beyond health and care. So that’s fantastic to see.
Olly Benson: [00:09:11] We kind of touch on this in previous podcasts is what I think is really nice about this year, is also how we’ve brought it all together with the Seven Simple Rules and Helen you’ve been working on them for a while. And it feels like a really great way of wrapping up all the ideas around the School.
Helen Bevan: [00:09:28] So we’re going to talk some more about the seven simple rules in the final live session. So this is a trailer. Where the seven simple rules came from, actually, the seven simple rules, when they started it was even earlier than the School for Change Agents. Actually, they started in 2013. Like we in the Horizons team, we collaborate with a lot of people in other places around the world. And one of our favourite collaborations is with the team from Jönköping in Sweden. And it’s a place in the south of Sweden, Jönköping region, it’s like 300,000 people. So as regions go, it’s not that big and yet it’s a beacon of improving health and health care for the world. It’s this little place that just makes amazing things happen. And if you look at the health outcomes that Jönköping gets compared to other regions across Sweden, it consistently does really well. I collaborate with Goran Henriks, who is the Chief Exec of learning for Jönköping region, and we started to do some work in 2013 about actually creating some rules for transformational change. We did a couple of years work on it up to about 2015, and then we put it aside and then we picked it up again.
Helen Bevan: [00:10:52] The idea of simple rules is a really important one. So simple rules mean we’re not dictating this is what you need to do. But these are things which if you’re leaders that want to transform a system, do things differently, then it’s really simple to think about these rules. And over the years, hundreds of people have contributed in various ways. And finally, at the start of this year, 2021, we put the seven rules together.
Helen Bevan: [00:11:20] And so many of the themes you’re you’re right, Olly are themes from school because, the first rule is actually about defining our shared purpose. And we’ve looked at that both in the online sessions and in the live session last week. If we don’t create a sense of shared purpose for the people taking part in the change, then we’re not going to move forward in the right way. Number two is about belonging, which is what we’ve been talking about now. Number three is about saying when we’re trying to make change happen, we should predict and prevent, which means if you think about a health and care system, very often a lot of our focus is on specialist care or hospitals. But actually, if we thought upstream, so we thought about people, their own lives, living in their own communities and actually did more to support people in their health there, we wouldn’t need as much hospital care. And again, that’s one of the great thing about working with Swedish colleagues is because Swedes kind of understand that much better than we do.
Helen Bevan: [00:12:21] And rule number four is about building agency, again, which is the heart of the school. And number five is about working with paradoxes and contradictions, which, again, such a key skill for a change agent, because, very often we think, oh, this is a problem, we’ve got to solve it. But a lot of our problems are unsolvable. And again, we talk in a school a lot about working with old power and new power. So we work through the formal system and we mobilise with other people to make change happen. And neither of them is the right answer. We need both. So as change agents, we’ve got to be able to work with tensions and contradictions. And then number six is about understanding, learning as a force for transformation. Again, in the same way that I think we don’t focus enough on belonging, we don’t actually think enough about how we build learning in. And then number seven is about doing lots of small scale changes, which are really important. But in the context of a bigger system. Because one of the problems that we have often as change agents is we’re doing small changes all over the place, which are fantastic, but they don’t all add up to big change. They just add up to lots and lots of small changes. So actually having a larger scale framework, a way of thinking within which we’re doing the small changes, make the small changes count more.
Kerry McGinty: [00:13:42] Well, people on FutureLearn Helen are bloomin’ loving your seven rules. Just one of the comments is “his is yet another wow moment in the series of wow moments for me during this course, I can’t wait to implement them”. Another comment was, “These are hugely helpful steps. Can’t wait to revisit each and every time my team reconvenes that this can become part of our everyday working life”. So you must feel a little bit chuffed, an extra Blue Peter badge there for inspiring the masses. But it’s really fantastic to see, isn’t it? And I think it’s just, again, if you want to find out a little bit more about what Helen was talking about, then please do head over to FutureLearn School for Change Agents. It’s not too late to join, or we’ve got one final live session coming up, which is on the 1st of June. And all of the sessions, if you’ve missed them, oh, don’t worry about it: we recorded them. So they’re on the Horizons website. There’s been some amazing feedback from the live sessions, from the School itself, hasn’t there Olly?
Olly Benson: [00:14:45] Yeah, absolutely. And one of the things which I have to admit, I hadn’t actually noticed, but when you finish the School on FutureLearn, you not only can write a comment within the FutureLearn platform, but you can also recommend it, so a bit like when you buy something off Amazon and you get to a review. And it’s one thing people writing nice things to you privately, but when they are putting it out and saying nice things about you publicly. We are currently on 4.9 out of 5. And that’s because one person chose four stars rather than five stars. But everybody else has gone for five stars. And so many really nice comments about they love the content, they love the format, they love some of our case studies and how it’s made them think differently. And I think Helen, you’ve probably experienced this, the thing that School just does, is it gives people a little bit of feeling different about how they view their job, how they view their role and go in and do incredible things as a result.
Helen Bevan: [00:15:43] What I love about school and I love about our team, the Horizons team doing School, it’s truly a joint venture because there’s people like me and Kathryn who do a lot of content, the core content. But, I think how the whole team contributes, the way my Horizons colleagues that are on this podcast now, how you produce it, how you connect it up with social media. All the clever stuff you do. And I think it’s great for everybody taking part and it’s great for our team as well, because it absolutely brings us together with our common purpose as well. And I couldn’t feel prouder of the Horizons team than I do when we’re doing School. I think you do such a great job.
Kerry McGinty: [00:16:25] Oh, this is so cute. I feel like we all need a little group virtual hug now. That was a bit emotional. We just did a little pause there didn’t. We were awww, so that awkward compliment moment. But that was amazing, and it is so true. It is a complete team effort and also the fact that anyone taking part in School, the feedback, all of that doesn’t get ignored. It all feeds into School. So even taking part your part of the team and improving it year on year. So Agents Assemble, as we say. We have got one more session, as we said. So before we go, I think we’re just going to get a little update from Leigh on anything social media wise, all of the places that you need to be following before our next session.
Leigh Kendall: [00:17:12] Thanks, Kerry. So we’ve got a Twitter account @sch4change and our hashtag is #s4ca. And we also got a Facebook group and an Instagram account, which is @HorizonsNHS. So we’ve got a range of social channels, so do come and chat to us and tell us what you’re thinking about School. We’ve been loving getting people’s tweets, reflecting on their learning. And also it’s fantastic to see that people have heard about school from their friends and are just over the moon, that they’ve done School, that they’ve learned so much, and they’re just buzzing with all that thewy’ve learned. So it’s really joyful thing to read your tweets and your Facebook comments. So thank you very much.
Kerry McGinty: [00:17:52] Thank you. Well, that’s just at the end of another Agents Assemble podcast. Thank you to our chief agent, basically like the Thor of The Avengers or would it be the Ironman? I can’t even remember now who’s the lead. But thank you to Helen for joining us for a good old chinwag. I’m sure that you’ll be joining us again over the next few months. And obviously, we’ll be seeing you at the third and final live session.
Helen Bevan: [00:18:15] Hope to see you there.
Kerry McGinty: [00:18:16] Thanks very much for listening. Ta-ra for now
All [00:18:18] Bye