Involvement in Research on Loneliness

Birdseye meeting - newsletter headerReducing loneliness – how do you do that then? Hopefully through recruiting the right Community Navigators! Here we reflect on how involving experts by experience in a recruitment exercise can add value and hopefully contribute to a successful research study. We are experts by experience (people who use their lived experience of mental health to inform and contribute, in this case, to a research project) on the working group of a study involving the McPin Foundation and University College London. The study is looking to see whether support from a Community Navigator can help to increase a person’s social connections in their community and reduce feelings of loneliness. It is focused on people with persistent anxiety or depression.

When the research team were looking for people with lived experience to be involved in the recruitment interviews for the Community Navigators, we thought, count us in! During episodes of poor mental health, we experienced how loneliness and isolation can impact on recovery, and how important it is to reconnect and reengage. This meant we knew what a huge difference that a Community Navigator could make, if the right candidates were chosen.

Throughout the planning process, we had lots of discussions about the qualities and skills that the Community Navigators needed.  They will be working with people for a short time – ten sessions over a six month period, so need to be able to establish rapport quickly and pick up on what a person’s interests are, or might have been in the past, to see if it’s something they would like to do now. Community Navigators also need a good knowledge of the local community, or be able to learn about it, so that they can link people into what’s on offer. We used this understanding to devise a scoring system covering interpersonal skills, such as tone of voice, warmth, body language, eye contact, as well as other key qualities such as creative thinking, spark, flexibility and awareness of community resources.

With two other experts by experience and Kate from the research team, we thought about how we could test these skills in an interview. Asking candidates to take part in a role play was an option, but we eventually decided to ask candidates to respond to scenarios that were based on the types of situations we have faced in our lives.  We came up with three scenarios, covering key elements of the role: helping people to identify interests and activities; supporting someone to attend a community group; and planning the ending of support. We felt these scenarios would help us to pick out those people who would motivate and inspire people experiencing loneliness to connect with others and their community.

We had several planning sessions in the lead up to the interviews. We elected a chair for our recruitment panel and agreed on who would pose the scenarios to candidates. At our final run through meeting, we tried out how the process worked – Jackie was one of the test candidates for this. As we wanted candidates to have ‘a certain something’, ‘a sparkle in their eye’, we planned to make sure candidates were as relaxed as possible when they walked into the room, to get a sense of the ‘real’ them.

Interview day was a busy one as there were nine candidates to see. We had to be particularly mindful of the schedule as the candidates would be interviewed by a second panel straight after us.  This panel was made up of researchers from McPin and UCL, a member of staff from Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (one of the sites where the study will take place), and someone from Wellbeing Enterprises, (a social enterprise who deliver a similar support programme in Merseyside).

At the end of the day, the two panels came together to discuss candidates. It was a very open discussion, and though there were varied opinions about which candidates to choose, everyone’s views were heard and considered. In the end, we reached a consensus on the final three and it was great to hear later that they all said ‘yes’.

Taking part in this process gave us an opportunity to use our skills and express our views about the qualities that we would be looking for in a Community Navigator if we were receiving this support. Other experts by experience who are on the working group also took part in shortlisting candidates. The involvement of experts by experience throughout the recruitment process was a great example of true co-production. A big thank you to our fellow panel members, Kate from UCL and the second interview panel – it was great working with you all!

How do you think experts by experience should be involved in interviews for mental health jobs? What do you think are the advantages and challenges of doing so? Get in touch or tweet us and let us know your thoughts!