Digital methods for engaging people

When involving people in the development of digital products and services, it is worthwhile considering how you can use digital resources to communicate with them during that process.

Historically, face-to-face communication has played an important role in including people in the development of digital products or services. For example, user research has been carried out in research labs, people’s homes or care settings.

However, engaging with people through digital methods such as video conferencing can help you:

  • increase your reach
  • reduce costs
  • get insights in ‘real time’
  • record sessions so that they can be shared with others

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that for the time being, subject to guidelines being updated, it has become essential to conduct engagement activities digitally. NHS England and the NHS Improvement Public Participation Team have put together guidance on ‘Good practice for working with people and communities during the COVID-19 outbreak’.

Important considerations before you start

Most importantly, you should ensure people are comfortable engaging digitally, and that they are able to do so.

You should also make sure people are comfortable using the software you have chosen. You can:

  • send out ‘how to’ guides
  • run a demo session beforehand
  • take screenshots or videos to demonstrate how to use the software

Give people an opportunity to practice. Set up some informal time before the session begins to allow people to test out the software, and practise some of the tools before the session starts.

Think about barriers to participation. For example, do you need to send through data credit before the session? Do participants have access to the devices and software they need?

Methods of engaging digitally

Holding meetings online

You can hold meetings online using:

Working collaboratively online

Sometimes you will want to conduct workshops or work collaboratively online.

For written collaboration, you can use Google Docs.

To share ideas on a virtual whiteboard, you can use Mural or Jamboards.

For polling and questions during presentations, you can use Mentimeter or Slido.

Example: using Facebook to engage people in health services

The NHS Digital Inclusion Programme, working with the Good Things Foundation and Stoke Clinical Commissioning Group, looked at different models for citizen engagement in health services via social media. This included using Facebook to:

  • give access to breast cancer screening, increasing the attendance rates
  • using closed Facebook groups so that people with long term conditions could get answers to questions they would usually take to their GP

Read more about this social media initiative on the Digital Health Lab blog.

Once COVID-19 guidelines have been relaxed, face-to-face approaches should continue to be used as part of the mix. Where possible, we would recommend a multi-channel approach, incorporating digital and face-to-face engagement.