A journey of discovery through collaborative working

In 2016, whilst undertaking my Master’s studies, I was offered a fantastic opportunity to extend my recent involvement of working with a local registered stroke charity.  In January 2017, the Stroke Research Group was formed and included; stroke survivors, their carers, a local occupational therapist, charity representative and academic occupational therapists.

The focus of this group was the next phase in a collaborative scoping project proposed by Tendring Specialist Stroke Service and the School of Health and Social Care, University of Essex. This scoping review aimed to explore relevant literature and current practice for younger adult community stroke provision.  Over the ten planned monthly meetings we worked together to review relevant literature, shared knowledge, experiences of stroke and local service provision. Wenger et al (2002) suggests the group offered a community of practice; bringing together specific knowledge, experiences and interests towards a shared understanding of local needs of younger stroke survivors.

As an academic occupational therapist and masters’ student with experience of working with survivors and families, I was invited to facilitate the meetings, including source relevant articles to discuss.  This was an opportunity to enhance my own research skills and professional knowledge, whilst working collaboratively with group members.  From the first meeting, the dedication, commitment and valuable unique experiences of each member was clearly evident.  A sense of responsibility for ensuring the group meetings took place as planned and ran smoothly with opportunities for all to participate, was at times overwhelming.  However, the engagement and encouragement within the group was invaluable to the ongoing sustainability of meetings.

Each meeting took place in a local, accessible venue for approximately 1.5 hours a month with refreshments funded by the charity.  Prior to each meeting, a clear structure with an agreed agenda and access to articles/literature between meetings was needed due to the limited time frame.  Opportunities for sharing local knowledge, resources, articles and invited guests were also discussed.  Records of meetings were maintained to capture discussions from reviewing the literature in relation to local needs including any shared resources and identified next steps.  These were circulated to members with accessible links to literature for review and agreed, which informed the report findings.

All members engaged in reading the information provided, shared their views in relation to local knowledge and own experiences of stroke.  Although there were some changes to attendance from the second meeting, seven members remained consistent throughout. As the meetings progressed we continued to collate an ongoing list of shared resources and discussed how we could share this with the stroke community.

During the last meeting we continued to add to the resource list and worked together with an attempt to map local stroke pathways from hospital to community including longer-term needs.   We applied an underground tube mapping principle suggested by one experienced group member, but soon realised stroke pathways were complex process due to individuals’ unique experiences.  Members brought a range of practical resources to this session; paper, string, post it notes, card, scissors.  Findings were discussed and were related to known resources with active engagement from all.

As the group came to an end, it was agreed we would share the findings in writing initially and arrange a further meeting at a later stage to discuss any next steps.  Members were keen to remain in contact.  Approximately, six months later a follow-up meeting was arranged within 3 days of undertaking a doodle poll and involved all group members.  This demonstrates the dedicated commitment of the group towards their involvement and sharing our findings.

While awaiting this meeting, I started writing our journey of the experience in an accessible report style. This drew upon our findings and was shared with group members to review, with ongoing feedback to achieve the final report.  In June 2018, I discussed the work undertaken by the group with a visiting lecturer from Canada.  Professor Mary Egan was impressed with the collaborative approach to this work and kindly wrote a preface supporting our work.  The final report has now been approved in collaboration with the stroke research group, Tendring Specialist Stroke Service and the School of Health and Social Care.  This is now available with the compiled shared resource list via Tendring Specialist Stroke Services website: http://tendringstroke.org.uk/essex-university-and-tsss-research.

Earlier this year, Tendring Specialist Stroke Services have taken forward the findings from the stroke research group organised a free half day conference in association with the School of Health and Social Care.  This took place on 16th April 2019 with a number of speakers and delegates who shared an interest in reshaping community stroke rehabilitation services for survivors.

About the author: Nikki Williamson is a Lecturer in Occupational Therapy in the School of Health and Social Care. Email: nwill@essex.ac.uk for more information about this topic.

Reference:  Wenger E, McDermott R and Synder W (2002) Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge Harvard Business Review Press