Agents Assemble #7 – The School for Change Agents Podcast

Posted by: NHS Horizons - Posted on:

Agents Assemble - 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 7 was released on Friday 4 June 2021. The contributors were Kerry McGinty, Zarah Mowhabuth and Olly Benson. A full transcript is available below. We look at the third and final live session, plus we delve into how School has developed over the years and what it’s been like working on School during the pandemic.  

This transcript has been edited for clarity:

Kerry McGinty 0:08
Welcome to Agents Assemble, the podcast all about the School for Change Agents 2021, brought to you by NHS Horizons. I’m Kerry McGinty, I’m a project manager at NHS Horizons and I’m currently melting like the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. It is so hot in Coventry. And joining me today, as always, is the brilliant Olly and Zarah. So go on, give us your titles again, for anyone new that might be listening.

Zarah Mowhabuth 0:36
Hi, I’m Zarah Mowhabuth. I’m a project manager at NHS Horizons team too. And I’ve been part of the team that brought your School this year.

Olly Benson 0:43
And I’m Olly Benson, so my actual job title I discovered this week is Communities Programme Manager, responsible for creating School and leading on production. And also it is quite hot where I am, I’ve got the window open and I’m also expecting an Amazon delivery. So if I run out, I might be…

Kerry McGinty 0:58
I’m actually nervous for you. That is such a responsibility. Take one headphone out.

So Zarah, you’re just cool as a cucumber. Your dressed as a Zebra.

Zarah Mowhabuth 1:12
I’m just lucky the room that I’m in is just not the sun room. So I am dressed as Zarah the Zebra, which was my animal for when you were at school, and you had to name an animal starting with Z, which you don’t have much for so yep, Zarah this Zebra at your service.

Kerry McGinty 1:27
So I can’t believe it. This is episode seven. I did think it was episode eight earlier until the team corrected me. I’m just living in the future. Basically, we’ve had these three live sessions have now all completed. And yeah, it was just unbelievable. Like we thought, oh, maybe a few people turn up because we are having a lovely heatwave at the moment. It’s half term. And I think we had like about 80 people turn up, didn’t we? Which is really fantastic. But how was the last live session for you guys? Like how did you think it went? Can you even believe it was the last of the live ones, because I felt like we were just talking about starting them to be honest.

Olly Benson 2:04
For me, I think the session I thought was really interesting, one of those ones, where you could just sit back and listen to some really fascinating ideas being discussed. I think the School both on the live sessions and on FutureLearn, you started with some quite simple concepts. And then by the time you hit the end of School, you suddenly realise actually, you’re dealing with quite complex topics and subjects. But I think both in terms of the way Helen and Kathryn present them, they make them simple. But also you because you’ve got that knowledge that you’ve built up over those last few weeks, I think we talk quite a lot about those penny-drop moments where you suddenly see things all falling into place and why we’ve talked about these slightly disparate topics. Because when you get to the subject of complexity, and you see that slide where it says the change agent of the future, you suddenly see them all slotting together.

Kerry McGinty 2:57
As someone that’s kind of nearly new, sometimes it’s like overwhelming to even look at the complexity topic because I’m like, this is too complex. And it’s complex to explain the complexity of the complexity. And it’s like this rabbit hole. But then when you do these live sessions, it really does break it down into these chunks. And one of the things that always resonates with me is that not everything is got a big fix, you’ve got to find a way in yourself to get comfortable with the kind of uncertainty and the unknown. Which is quite a hard thing, if you’re like me, and you’re a bit of a control freak, and you’re just like, well, let’s just get it sorted and done. That makes you feel like a lot better, because automatically when for a lot of people if there’s like a big complex situation or pathways, like in the NHS and then you’re just trying to think of all the solutions, but it’s actually getting comfortable in the complexity. So when Helen and Kathryn remarked on that I was like, Okay, yeah, we’ve got something that we’ve all got to do ourselves; we can’t learn that and just throw ideas on something to make it fixed. Things might be a bit tricky, you might need to do it in a different way. So Zarah, what was one of your standouts from the live session?

Zarah Mowhabuth 4:05
For me it was hearing all the comments in the chat box around the real life situations that people are in when it relates to complexity. So one thing that some of our participants shared was complexity affecting the speed in which things can happen, like you know the answer, you know the change you want to make, but things can be a barrier. And that frustration of being a change agent and not actually being able to do something and how School has actually given them some action points on how to take those first steps. And I really like that, like that connection between the stuff that we’re showcasing in School, and how that can be applied to real life. That was really nice. And also the domino effect. Sitting from where we are where we’re non-clinical is actually so interesting to see how those dominoes affect initially the patient and staff that are working on real life incidences and things like that. Not that we’re not working on real life, but just that domino effect. I think it’s so interesting to see those stories behind it and that really came through the chat-box this week.

Kerry McGinty 5:01
As soon as you get those kind of messages in the chat box, whether that’s in the live session or on FutureLearn, it makes sense from what we’re doing, as you just said, really real. It’s another example of “Oh, here’s my complex situation, thank you that’s given me a spark to try this in a different way or take a step back”. Because sometimes, it’s all “Go, go, go”, but some people think “I’m gonna just to take a minute, think, reframe and then go for it”. So I think that’s such a positive thing.

So yes, three live sessions down and School, obviously, it ain’t over yet. But some people have been finishing – our star pupils have been just cracking on with it. But for us, we’ve obviously been behind the scenes; we’ve been there in our little caves, editing, interviewing people, putting all the jargon through and double-checking and correcting each of our spelling errors. (Mainly me. Sorry, everyone, a lot of work for you all). But for us as a team. This is the behind-the-scenes of the podcast. Let’s have a little chinwag. How has it been this year? This is my first year. But how have you found this run of School, because it’s had some great responses. We’ve tried new things compared to the other years. So, Olly you’ve done 7,000 Schools I remember from the last Zahra just 300 or something! But on a serious note, like talk to me, guys, what do you think about this year’s run of School?

Olly Benson 6:25
About three years ago, I had an initial conversation with somebody called Helen, at FutureLearn, about potentially using FutureLearn as a platform. Until that point we had run School primarily as just a series of webinars. So the very first Schools were all webinars, as Helen Bevan talked about that last week. And then when we realised that actually there were some people who were interested in this, and particularly, they wanted to get some CPD off the back of coming to these webinars, we had to build in a part where we could demonstrate that learning. So initially, it was just filling in a Word document and sending it to us, we marked them and give them a certificate based on that. And what was fascinating was just the amount of effort and what people put into those stories. And we’ve got these lovely documents that we read, and we just kind of said, Yes, they’ve done well and then didn’t have anywhere else to put them. So we started thinking about well is there a way of developing this beyond just a Word document, and we we moved to a sort of more learning management system, which was better in terms of actually being able to deal with all those applications, I think we had about 1,000 people go through that first learning management system. But still, they were very much just writing into boxes that only we got to see. And it didn’t feel like it was actually what we wanted School to be.

School is about that social learning. It’s about not only just sort of seeing what Helen and Kathryn and we put on the platform, but actually what everybody else is reacting to that. And FutureLearn stood out by a long shot as a route where actually it was a really good opportunity to do social learning. So we started having conversations with FutureLearn. We then worked with the Leadership Academy, who already were using FutureLearn. And that’s why we have this partnership with the Leadership Academy. And we ran first one on FutureLearn around this time two years ago. But very much led by the live sessions. And then with the sort of FutureLearn platform providing the additional learning. And we realised that actually, that was the wrong way around, we wanted to get to a point where we were led by the FutureLearn platform. And we rqn the same course again later in 2019, predominantly led by FutureLearn and the learning we got from that was how many people at points-of-care, where they’re not able to necessarily give up an hour on a Tuesday or whenever, in their diary to come to a live session, but be having bite-sized learning was was really valuable to them

We got really excited about “Well there you are, there’s the future”, and then the pandemic happened. And unsurprisingly, we got moved on to other priorities. And running school didn’t feel like the priority. It wasn’t a priority for NHS England and our team and obviously the people who participate in school, so we kind of put it on hold. So to finally got to that point where we’re doing the thing that has been sort of three years in the making, where we’ve got a school that’s led by the FutureLearn and that social learning together, and we’re starting to see the fruits of that I’m really pleased with how in the school

Kerry McGinty 9:16
I started in November 2020. So I’m a relative newbie. When you first describe how somebody was sending in the lined paper, you’ve gone from zero to 100. It’s like now you’re on the online Hogwarts platform whereas before it was very much like have you got your red pen out early, get ready to mark. It is a complete transformation. And Zarah, you’ve obviously done this before quite a few times as well, like Olly, and seeing that change for both of you and seeing how far it’s come it must feel pretty good. You must feel a bit chuffed with yourself.

Zarah Mowhabuth 9:51
Well, we’re actually a really good scale here, because Olly’s been through quite a lot. I’ve got like the gooey-middle and you’ve got the pandemic end Kerry. This is one of the first projects that I was involved when when I first joined the team. And that was like a whole team project. So it was one thing that the whole team got involved with. And it was a really good project to be part of when you’ve just joined the team, because it was good opportunity to get to know everyone. And we’d all go into Coventry and have lunch together and then go into the Ramada and film. I have this distinct memory of putting containers upside down to get the laptops at a good level to be able to film and things like that. It’s been so different from us all being in one room together to all being in our homes and pulling it off in the same way so that’s a really funny. But it’s worked and we’ve all adapted to being at home so I think it’s been really interesting and I definitely do miss going for cheeky Nando’s with all your colleagues before the School session.

Kerry McGinty 10:54
I mean, who doesn’t. It should be written into everyone’s legal work contracts like must have a cheeky Nando’s once a month with the team.

Yeah, it’s kind of weird for me hearing all that. It sounds amazing. I’ve started so we’ve only ever seen each other in a small rectangle or a large rectangle depending on how many people on the call. But for me, coming in, in a pandemic, working from home, and then like this amazing project of School, you all know the topics so well in, it’s amazing, all the content is there. But I guess the thing that I felt was what can I bring to this team, and that was more from my journalism background.

So I think this year, I think all of us as a little team that are on this podcast, really worked hard to look at the previous year – something I did in my first month of being here – and looking at and saying, okay, but how can we do this different next time? Whether that be make into a video or considering we’ve just made this video, why not make a video for social media? And also the videos, although you don’t want it to be like death by video, I think the videos were really important this year. Even for people taking part in the course, because it has been a bit isolating and as you say, just having that little bit of putting a face to a person: this is a real person telling me about this story.

I mean I’m the Mo fan club, here we go again, she’s on there, but seeing her, although her voice is powerful enough, seeing her and watch her tell her story is like so incredible.

And people like Dr. Esther Murrasy. She’s like a magical Agony Aunt, and obviously she’s got all the doctoratares, she’s a psychologist. But the way she says that she’s so personable. If I met her in person, I’d be “Oh, she would definitely get a cheeky wine after the School for Change Agents live, wouldn’t she?” She’d have a chinwag with us all. It was important that we brought the humanity into it after a year of this being a bit scary for everyone and what everyone’s going through.

But us three actually made a lot of the videos remotely together. And interviewing people was really fun, but it’s also that thing of “Hello, I’ve met you for the first time. Let me interview over a Zoom and then we’re gonna put it out to thousands of people. And how did that differ for you Olly from the other years, because obviously you’ve done a filming in person, but changing that to be just completely virtual filming? How was that for you?

Olly Benson 13:15
I think it’s really difficult actually to do interviews virtually, particularly when they’re people that you don’t know well. So, like you, I’ve got a background in journalism and creating content, and the standard way if you go a do a set up, and you’re chatting to somebody, making them at ease, and you’re setting up the cameras and the lights and just having all that sort of discussion. And you’ve worked out where you’re going to do the filming, and you’ve got a nice setting and everything. And you have none of that really with virtual from a pure production point of view. You have very little control over where somebody is sat, how they’re lit.

Kerry McGinty 13:48
Yeah, like draw the blinds, move your cat to the left.

Olly Benson 13:51
We’ve been really lucky that all our participants come across relatively well from a production point of view. In January/February 2020, we bought a whole load of new equipment to go out and do some filming with. I think some of it hasn’t actually come out of its boxes. Because it’s all sat in Zarah’s house.

Zarah Mowhabuth 14:13
It’s at mine, I’ve just spent loads of time filming my mum and dad on my cat. So that’s the content that we’ve got on this really high tech camera. Because of the pandemic.

Kerry McGinty 14:26
So that’s a podcast exclusive for everyone. If you wondering what’s going to happen now the Kardashians is going off air; the Mowhabuth’s is gonna be your screens, just Zarah’s cat and mum and dad. Love it.

Olly Benson 14:38
One of the things that we said about this version of school was that we really wanted to put the case-studies front and centre of the School in a way that we hadn’t previously. We’ve always had case-studies and examples from people but very much the content that led was Helen and Kathryn’s content.

We always look at the feedback, we read what people’s comments are and one of the things that we always got with School, was “this is lovely, but I can’t see me doing this stuff”. And that was part of the reason for really pushing people like Benash to the front of School to say, you can do this, there are people exactly like you taking what we’re talking about and doing stuff with it.

What I’m really excited about is then finding more of those people and getting on a train with a camera, like rig, microphone and going making some nice films with them. We can have all the theories we want in the world, but until you actually suddenly go, “Okay, that’s how it relates”. So when we talk about Old Power, New Power, that’s a lovely concept, and people will sit there and nod, but it’s when take Benash and say “Look this is what she’s done”. And when we talk about those concepts, this is what that means in reality, and I think that’s when people suddenly go, “Ok, I understand it now”.

Kerry McGinty 15:46
I think it’s such a good point, because it’s look at anything in life: if you don’t know how to do something, or you kind of know how to do something, you’ve got all the theory, but actually, it’s like, “Oh, but I don’t know how to do that”. It’s like watching a YouTube video with an example or someone showing you in their own little way how to do it. And I think that’s such an important point, because we want more stories like that. And the comments on FutureLearn have just been incredible. And if you’ve been brave enough to share with us your comment, we would love to follow some journeys of the some of the stuff that everybody wants to action. Because the people listening now people taking part, you’rre making School and the changes that you make, even if you think they’re small, you found the courage to share with us to do it. I think it would be fantastic for us to follow that journey.

Olly you’re like our Dumbledore. And we’ve all got on the McGonagall. Zarah because you said Zebra could be a herbology teacher. But it is that big of literally the proud faculty members, that one all of our pupils to just go out and flourish. And for us, if we can follow that journey, we would absolutely love it. So please do get in touch with us. And all you need to do is go on to the horizons website, which is And that’s how you can get in touch with us. Or you can find us on Twitter at @horizonsNHS and just slide in our DMs. We would love to talk to you.

There was like this one comment, actually, I’ll just take a snippet I won’t name the name of the person on FutureLearn. But they said that basically “confession time, when I started the course, I had taken a huge case of imposter syndrome. I didn’t think that I could be a change agents at all. I felt like such a fraud. But now looking at that statement, through enlightened eyes. And all I’ve learned over the past five weeks, I feel inspirational. I feel transformed and awaken. And now I think I can do it.” And that just is absolutely fantastic. So keep your comments coming, get involved if you want to, and you can. And thank you so much, basically.

Olly Benson 17:46
So one thing I was just going to say is we’ve spent this podcast talking about it being the last week of School. We’ve actually still got people joining on FutureLearn. So if you’re listening and you finished School, and you’re wondering what to do, then log back on, go back to week one, look at some of those comments, and respond and encourage people. It’s like turning up as the last people at a party or something when everybody else is going home and you’re like, “Well, I just got here”. We need to recognise that for some people, our week seven is their week one. We want them to have just as great as experience as everybody else. So if you’ve got some time, go and respond to some of the comments.

Kerry McGinty 18:28
Definitely, if you’re anything like me as well, I need to read thigns a few times. So while we’ve got the opportunity, you’ve got a whole eight weeks to go back and reflect on the points that maybe were “Oh, yeah, that was really good. What did that mean?” Again, you’ve still got that chance and always new people to discuss and exchange ideas with for sure.

Well, thank you so much for listening to our podcast. Please do keep letting us know what you think of it, what you think of School and get in touch with on Twitter. But thanks so much again and we will speak to you next week. We’ll bring him behind the scenes even further, if you dare, into our little lives of the School for Change Agents. So that’s all from us for now. Ta ra. Thank you very much.